Editorial: A Wasted Opportunity To Positively Represent Dance Music

Editorial: A Wasted Opportunity To Positively Represent Dance Music

by Mikey Lavery

In 2003, clubbers around the world witnessed one of the defining moments in electronic dance music history. Tiesto In Concert was the first large scale DJ event that was solely based around one artist in a concert style setting. The event, which to this day remains one of the illustrious “were you there when…” moments, transformed the Dutch DJ into one of the very first industry superstars—not to mention the highest earning and most successful dance music artists of our time. Its aftermath created a ripple effect across clubland that, ultimately, resulted in the DJ shows we all know and love today.

Tiesto is a pioneer in dance music. Back in the early 2000s, he became a clubbing brand unlike anyone else. The years that followed saw him shape dance music, specifically trance, in a way that many thought unimaginable. Fast forward a decade and he’s still one of the scene’s biggest stars, a figure that all dance music fans (and even non-EDM fans) across the world instantly recognize, regardless of what genre of music they listen to. Simply put, Tiesto is one of most prominent and influential figures in Electronic Dance Music, a title he’s rightfully earned.

There are, however, occasions when even the cream at the top can begin to sour and find itself out of flavor. For Tiesto, that time may just have arrived.

This week saw the release of his latest single, Wasted, a lyric driven track that tells the story of how life and people are better when they are wasted (the assumption being that one is under the influence of a controlled substance). The word wasted indicates that you would be beyond any state of sobriety, on the verge of being out of control, due to that substance. Although the track does not specifically mention any form of substance use, the message is insinuated. Wasted is like nothing heard before from the man who brought us groundbreaking albums, such as the In Search Of Sunrise series, as well as introduced generations of clubbers to some of dance music’s most iconic trance tracks. Within hours of Wasted’s release, dance music’s social media pages were flooded with comments from fans not quite sure what to make of it. Some liked it; some hated it; and others were simply confused as to why the “King of Trance” was not only changing his musical direction (again), but releasing a track that sounds like a Top 40 pop song.

Upon releasing the track, Tiesto took to Facebook, saying, “For many years, I’ve wanted to make a song that straddles the line between indie/alternative rock and dance music. … It may sound a little different from what you were maybe expecting to hear but I’ve always made the music I wanted to make. I’m incredibly proud and excited about this track! Expect the unexpected.”

I’m guessing the Indie/Rock alternative mix is still being worked on, because Wasted is aimed at no one else other than the teenage pop audience and has been made with one thing in mind: commercial chart success. And this is where the problem lies.

Forget the fact that it’s a very poor piece of music from an artist from which you would expect so much more. The biggest letdown is the message it sends to an audience who is constantly being told about the dangers of being wasted. It’s hard to listen to it and not wonder why those involved thought it would be OK to release a piece of music containing lyrics that glorify that state of mind. What’s even more mind-blowing is that they did this as the dance music scene is slowly recovering from the major problems it had in 2013 with drug deaths and media scrutiny.

It was only one year ago that a spate of drugs deaths at EDM events caused a mass media panic and left us, the clubbers, looking on as our scene took punches from all corners. For weeks, sometimes months, dance music and all who were involved in it, took criticism as the media focused on looking for any piece of ammunition they could find that would hurt us. This resulted in fabricated news stories and false information fed to homes across the country by news outlets determined to bring EDM culture to a halt. Every story focused on the drug use within the dance music community and each one used the music itself as the connection to the deaths. People who had never attended an event—never mind listened to a track from it—used their uneducated voices to imply that “everyone” who attended these “raves” acted like “drug addled zombies.” Undercover journalists attended dance music events and tricked people into talking about drugs while secretly filming them for a headline news story. It was sensationalism newscasting at its best. The result saw promoters facing difficulties trying to run events, meeting tough opposition from law enforcement and licensing officials accusing festival-goers and clubbers of over indulgence … or getting wasted.

Then, as if we didn’t have enough problems, the new public interest in dance music and the “EDM” sound attracted music artists from other genres to latch themselves on to what they saw as a money making machine, resulting in releases with the noticeable builds and drops seen in “EDM” tracks. However, instead of the end result being a track fit for any DJ set, we saw both the track and the artist wrapped in a package of a provocative nature, and presented to a commercial audience with lyrics laced with drug references and, in some cases, as much exposed flesh on display as possible before deemed unfit for broadcast. We had pop songs with lyrics that included the word "Molly," a drug tied to the dance music scene. When the media picked up on it, everyone from local news networks to CNN, associated the artist, and the track, with the electronic dance music culture.

Using drug references in songs is nothing new in the music world. Hip Hop artists have been rapping about marijuana for years with platinum selling artists like Snoop Dogg and Cyprus Hill making their careers out of talking about getting high. Then there is the rock world, which is awash with bands whose frontmen have written iconic songs about hard drug abuse, most speaking about personal experiences. Guns N’ Roses had Mr Brownstone, which singled out the day in the life of a heroin addict and Eric Clapton gave us Cocaine, a song not only about the drug, but also named after it. The Beatles sang about LSD and mind altering drugs in multiple songs and even before this “EDM” boom we’re witnessing now, dance music had tracks which were about drug taking. Cajmere and his alter ego Green Velvet’s LaLa Land told clubbers across the world that there was “Somethin’ bout those little pills, unreal the thrills, they yield until they kill a million brain cells,” an obvious reference to ecstasy while Oliver Chesler’s The Horrorist and his One Night In New York City went even further, and spoke about an innocent suburban girl going for a night out in NYC which resulted in her being drugged and date raped. Broadcast standards said the track was "completely unacceptable for free-to-air television, especially during a weekend when children can view this damaging material.” The track went on to hit the No.1 spot on the Deutsche Dance Chart in 2001 and saw numerous remixes on some of the world’s biggest music labels such as Sony and Warner.

So what is the difference between the above and what Tiesto has done with Wasted? It all comes down to timing and packaging. In the past, music was labeled under a specific genre where crossovers were rare. Rock was rock and had its crowd, Hip Hop was marketed towards a certain audience and any drug and violence content was heavily regulated for airplay whereas pop music was commercial with a mostly clean-cut image and in almost every household across the country. For the dance music community, albeit popular across the world, times were very different and it was not as accessible as it is today. To listen to a track, you had to either buy it vinyl, specifically tune in to a dance music radio station or go to a club to hear it. Today, dance music is everywhere and can be heard on almost every commercial radio station, used as backing for television commercials and even in grocery stores. The eyes of the world are upon us and we have a duty as a scene and, most importantly, a community, to keep those who look in on us for our flaws—and we have our flaws—away from the side that doesn’t need to be brought to the public’s attention. The side which the people behind the scenes have worked so hard to flush out by incorporating a safe clubbing environment for the fans. The side in which the mainstream media are so desperate to knock us down with. The side in which Tiesto put together in Wasted, and handed it over to those looking in, in a nicely wrapped package, complete with a bow on top.

And this is the deeper-rooted problem: the style of the music and how it’s branded. Wasted is, quite simply, a commercial pop song aiming for chart success. If he had remixed a song under the same title from a band, or one of the aforementioned tracks from the world of rock or hip hop which had drug references, then everything would not have been looked at differently. It would NOT have been his track and it would NOT have stemmed from the “EDM” scene. But he didn’t. This is Tiesto’s track, released under his name, and this is where he and his management have failed the dance music community. The audience Wasted will appeal to—those that do not go to dance music events or clubs—will listen to the track and sing the lyrics with the easy-to-remember words. But the problem is, they are under the legal age of consumption of alcohol. To them, getting wasted is something that they should be educated on not to do. While parents all over the country are teaching their children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, the kids have a new single telling them:

I like us better when we're wasted
It makes it easier to fake it
The only time we really talk
Is when our clothes are coming off
I like us better when we're wasted
It makes it easier to say it
Lay all your laundry on the bed
And then I'll lay in it instead
I like us better when we're wasted

And its source? The electronic dance music scene, courtesy of one of its most famous DJs.

With the recent criticism that this industry has faced, the question has to be asked: Why would a DJ like Tiesto make such an inappropriate, ill-informed and irresponsible decision to bring the one part of our scene we’ve all worked so hard to get rid of back into the firing line? Wasted not only implies that clubbers love to go out and get wasted, but it also portrays the activity as a good thing to do.

The only thing wasted here is all of the hard work we’ve put in to rid ourselves of the oft-branded dirty drug tag. This is all of the ammunition the mainstream media need to attack the electronic dance music scene once again. Thanks to Tiesto and his lack of forward thinking, you can rest assured they’re reloading fast.

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