Last week, Rolling Stone Italy fired the attack ad posted below at EDM (Electronic Dance Music), presumably on behalf of rock and roll. It’s seen the inevitable blowback responses and the even more inevitable pushback to the blowback responses, but all it really does is make an already murky music industry that much less coherent.
It does, however, ask one interesting question: Is this your drug now?
Because your drug of choice says a lot about you. Do you look for the social lubrication of alcohol? The elated introspection of weed? The quick thrill of coke? The synthetic contentment of molly? They all have their pros and cons (obviously some more serious than others), but when searching for what you want it’s important to know what you’re looking for. And it's important to know that the high you're seeking isn't one definitive thing.
And that’s why this debate between rock and EDM will never be settled.
We’re all looking to just unbalance some chemicals inside us in order to actually feel balanced, but unlike the precision of actual chemistry, that imbalance is something that is qualitative, not quantitative. It’s relative to situation, context, surroundings. That perfect imbalance may come from the cathartic violence of a most pit one time, and it may come from the communal celebration of enjoying a beat drop the next. Just like when you hear true stoners discuss different strains of weed, it isn’t about which will give you the best high, it’s about which will give you the perfect high for that moment.
When trying to recently describe this idea to a friend, all I could think of was one night a few months ago when my street had a block party…
That day, from noon until around 6, small children ran around the rowhouse-lined street that I lived on, jumped in the moon bounce, and got their faces painted. But as soon as it started to get dark, the kids were ushered inside, and the “adults" were left with a noise permit and a closed-off road for the next few hours. We took full advantage of it, rolling kegs out onto the sidewalk and even passing around the occasional jazz cigarette over front porch railings.
Then, around 7, another friend pointed out that the band that had played previously, comprised of a few of my neighbors, had left their equipment out. He asked if I’d be up to jam, and I was happy/inebriated enough to immediately say yes. We asked around for a drummer and a keyboardist and before long, we were all plugged in and ready to go.
Our friends and other neighbors gathered in front of us, and while I’m sure we were somewhere between barely-listenable and sufficient, for those 10 minutes or so, I was reminded of the power that comes from playing an instrument live. They are true weapons for anyone dedicated enough to learn how to use them. Ask any musician, from the guy who only knows a few chords on guitar to the seasoned professional, and they will tell you that they understand how these machines really could kill fascists.
At one point, the drummer and I fell into a real groove and as I fervently soloed over him as best I could, I felt those friends and neighbors watching me. Some danced along, some nodded their heads, and some just donned reassuring smiles, but all of them were there witnessing me do something with every molecule of my being.
And it didn’t matter that it wasn’t perfect; it was real and it was true. And it reminded me that I, Bryce Taylor Rudow, was a source of infinite power.
It was a soul-quenching, individualizing high that took me almost weeks to come down from.
But later that night, after the kegs on the street were kicked, an apparent neighbor swung by my front porch to invite my housemates and I to a party down the street. Emboldened by an already raucous evening and fueled with the promise of whatever was yet to come, we grabbed beers for the road and followed our pied piper to a group-home a few houses down.
There were about 40 or so people buzzing about the fairly large first floor, and what must have been their dining room had been converted into a fairly serviceable dance floor. After brief introductions that fruitlessly competed with the music were made, my friends and I eventually joined the festivities and situated ourselves comfortably between the booze table and one of the speakers.
Soon after, spurred by endorphins and external substances, I decided that one of my all time favorite songs, LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” had to be played. I snaked my way to the front of the room and once the song that was currently playing was done, I casually plugged my iPhone in. I was a bit nervous having done such a brazen (possibly rude) act, but as the crowd recognized the signature piano riff, a giddy “YEAHHHH!!!!” crescendoed through the room, and I felt instantly relieved that my present company understood what we were in for.
As the song built, I ended up in a circle with seven people I didn’t know, all of us screaming along the words to this nostalgia-inducing anthem. And as the instrumental climax hit, those seven strangers and I became believers in musical transubstantiation. It was humanity at its most primal, most basic, and most beautiful.
The dance floor burned on for another hour or so, and I was just another obscured face in a sea of blurred anonymity. I was part of a collective revelry, and I basked in the opportunity to surrender all the shackles of individuality.
It was a freeing euphoria that, while temporary, was so incredibly, incredibly needed.
That night has been one of my favorite in recent memory, and I don’t know if I could ever choose which part was my favorite.
It seems impossible.
Because like rock and EDM, those experiences, while similar, are incomparable. They’re musical apples and oranges, and trying to decide which is better or worse would just drive me bananas (yep, I just made that joke). Maybe this Rolling Stone video does bring up some good points about the vapidity of EDM culture, but all you rock and roll purists remember that your genre has its issues too (Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” has 57 million views on YouTube…).
Sometimes it’s not about the best high, it’s about the one that’s perfect for the moment.