“Electronic dance music” is a clunky, broken catch-all label for what we love here.
The genre trappings that critics slam mainstream producers don’t accurately describe artists producing thoughtful, innovative creations under the ugly “EDM” moniker.
Who’s to blame them? That’s the nature of most every genre: A shallow pool of tired templates and recycled sounds settle at the top, and then risky, forward-thinking music is out there for those willing to dive deeper into the genre’s creative depths.
Still, I don’t think bass music as whole is given a pass yet. In the past decade the sound stagnating at the surface has been entirely oversaturated in pop culture, and “dubstep” became an easy target for most of the people that hated it. It was purely hype music, blasting during video game expos or background music during Super Bowl commercials.
Last year Anthony Fantano, a popular Youtube music critic with over a million subscribers, described electronic dance music in an interview as purposeful, but not emotionally resonant.
“While there are a lot of good artists and people in that community who watch my show, ultimately to the audience a lot of it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a soundtrack to a party, which is totally fine,” Fantano said.
“People aren’t listening to that in the same way that they do a Kendrick Lamar record, where they are trying to establish an emotional connection to what’s going on.” -Anthony Fantano
It’s a diplomatic take, one that I disagree with.
These free-form bass artists won’t be heard roaring obnoxiously at award shows, thankfully. Instead, they’ve dedicated their output towards being challenging and thought-provoking experiences.
It’s short-sighted to say these artists don’t have emotional depth because the genre they’re pigeonholed under isn’t broadly accepted as “headphone music.” Whether that’s a stigma that will change or not is anyone’s guess, but it’s fascinating to watch the plates shift beneath the mainstream EDM crust.
Here are five artists that go against the grain:
You’d be hard pressed to find one song from CharlestheFirst that doesn’t make you feel old as time, or small as an atom. There’s a light melodic tenderness to his songs that’s rare for bass music so deep and heavy, and it makes it that much more satisfying when one of his tracks rattles your whole house. Charles is in a league of his own.
France’s CloZee makes intricate, cinematic bass music that’s regularly just as weird as it is beautiful. Her classical guitar training comes through in many of her songs, as do organic samples like bird chirps and wind chimes woven cleverly through even her heaviest tracks. The natural, emotional side of her work sets her miles apart from her bass music contemporaries.
Someone that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough in these circles is South Africa’s Chee, who puts a ridiculous amount of depth and feeling into his songs. Through spacey compositions like “Genesism” or intense hitters like “Trigger” from his Fear Monger release, Chee’s sound design is bold and unique. With a slot at The Untz Festival this year, here’s hoping Chee earns many more fans.
Portugal’s Holly simply does not stop making amazing, weird tunes. While he’s more trap-oriented than the other artists on this list, he consistently pushes boundaries with experimental song structures and mind-boggling sound design. We need some more American dates from this one.
5. Ivy Lab
London natives Ivy Lab have really impressed with their wonky, brazen production skills. Their recent single “Cake” hits with a certain alien hip-hop shuffle that’s a fresh departure from any standard “dubstep.” At the end, it shifts to an emotional, dusty beat that we absolutely love. We’re curious to see what comes next from Ivy Lab and their 20/20 LDN label.
These producers make songs you can stick your whole head into, pure and sweet. They don’t need to be played in a dingy underground club to be emotionally resonant, and crowds are responding to that as their prominence on dedicated lineups like The Untz Festival and Emissions West Coast Bass Culture grows and grows.
“EDM” might deserve every eye-roll, even from die-hard fans of the sound and culture. But the stigma surrounding it at large does no justice to the fierce innovation rippling through the bass music underground.