Last week, Island Records added a ready-made star to their roster, signing teen idol Ansel Elgort to a record contract under the artist name DJ Ansolo. No planes crashed, no Buddy Hollys were lost in the making of this deal, and maybe this isn’t quite the day that house music died, but for fans of the genre there’s no denying that the underground days of EDM are over.
EDM is dead, long live EDM.
On the one hand, there’s no denying that the music has never been more present. Electronic soundscapes have taken over the aural landscape like digital overtook celluloid. The electronic transition is so complete that now when artists have live instruments on their records, record labels can advertise the presence of live instruments.
EDM stars are feeling the love, and probably more importantly for most of them, they’re feeling the money. Calvin Harris was one of the world’s highest-grossing musicians last year, raking in $66 million—about $10 million more than Jay Z, to put that in perspective. Music festival attendance is up too, and with the prices for passes to EDM-friendly festivals like Coachella skyrocketing—hell, even AfroPunk Festival started charging this year—the business of EDM has never been better.
So EDM has hit the mainstream. There are lots of mainstream things that still feel inventive and authentic. Rap and hip-hop have been mainstream for a couple decades now—for every Tyga, hip-hop still has enough Kendrick Lamars to even the balance, to breathe life back in when an overinflated fool starts to suck the air out of the room.
But signs have begun to emerge that EDM’s chickens may be coming home to roost. They’re everywhere, really. Last year, reports surfaced that socialite Paris Hilton was paid a ridiculous $2.7 million for a four-night DJ residency at Amnesia nightclub in Ibiza. Hilton confirmed the rumor, and admitted that she is sometimes paid up to $1 million for one DJ appearance.“My mother always told me it’s not polite to discuss money, but it’s true,” she told the New York Post. “I’m very proud. I’ve worked hard.”
Hilton, an “artist” who merely presses play on mixes and waves her arms in the air for an hour or two, exposed the button-pushing/pre-recorded artifice in the “DJ” profession—something that noted turntable curmudgeon Deadmau5 forecast all the way back in 2012, the same year he published an eye-opening piece titled “we all hit play,” confessing: “I think given about 1 hour of instruction, anyone with minimal knowledge of ableton and music tech in general could DO what im doing at a deadmau5 concert.”
Back in April, David Guetta, the godfather of EDM, all but copped to being a fake DJ who’s a slave to his playlists. “Something crazy happened to me,” he said of his Coachella experience. “I’m using Rekordbox and Pioneer to play, and before I saved my playlist to my SD card, my computer crashed. So I just had to put all my music in a random order on USB sticks at the last minute, doing it really old school, scrolling to look for the records I wanted to play next.”
Yes, this is what it’s come to, people:
Hell, a few months ago ex-NBA star Shaquille O’Neal unveiled his new career as a DJ under the moniker “DJ Diesel.” And just the other day the “Human Barbie,” a confirmed space cadet by the name of Valeria Lukyanova, announced that she’s embarked on a new career as a DJ/electronic music producer, replete with an upcoming EP and world tour titled the “Space Barbie Tour.”
Get a whiff of this accompanying press release: “The DJ sessions will resemble a fascinating musical journey into the deep space. Valeria will be using special words from ancient languages, which will result in a meditation right on the dance floor. During her performance the Human Barbie will show special signs with her hands (also known as mudras) demonstrating a deeper immersion into the atmosphere. The setlist will be arranged in a way that touches all the energy centres while increasing the rhythm and changing the consciousness of the audience.”
But back to Ansel, so hot right now, Ansel. It’s not about the movies. There is nothing to be ashamed of in starring in The Fault In Our Stars or Divergent. They’re the kind of movies that pretentious dudes like to talk down to, but those movies are honestly crafted, and their only crime is earnestly attempting to appeal to an audience of teen girls. Even Jason Reitman’s Internet panic movie Men, Women, And Children—the existence of which is an actual abomination on this Earth—also bamboozled a bunch of credible thesps like Judy Greer and Jennifer Garner into making appearances.
But listen, Ansel Elgort? Ansel Elgort is lame. He’s the kind of rich kid who will brag about throwing eggs off his roof and getting away with it. He describes his ideal woman as a sexy couch potato who just wants to watch him play video games and sex him after. His idea of a good way to describe his friendship with a costar is to say, “I never once wanted her sexually.” Anybody might have fallen for a role in the new Carrie movie—great director, and whatever, Julianne Moore fell for it too—but where his costars and his directors have other things to show for their talents, when you add up the combined virtues of Elgort’s performances, you’re still left with a big pile of nothing. His music is as bad as his DJ name and his DJ name is Ansolo, for chrissakes.
This is the EDM that Jack built—Jack being your average straight, white fuckboy of course.
It’s a shame Island Records didn’t sign Elgort a couple of weeks sooner, to give a little more credence to that Zac Efron DJ movie that bombed. Unlike most movies about the latest music fad—shout-out to the “breakdancing” in Body Rock!—We Are Your Friends bombed not because it didn’t get its subject but because it got it too well. The new generation of EDM stars aren’t inspiring so much as they’re insufferable.
But then again maybe longing for the days of house music gone by is just romanticizing a past that was already dead. After all, house music was born in disco clubs and gay clubs 40 years ago, not the basements of the artistes who brought it to the attention of this generation of frat boys and ravers. EDM died the first time in an act that was not so much cultural appropriation as it was cultural gentrification. The white boys took over the EDM clubs and the black, Latino, and gay crowd just shimmied on.
Now on its second wave of colonization, how long can EDM last before the body snatchers check out and find a new arena to settle? What’s going to be the new landing point for disaffected youth whose ambition and resources outweigh their actual ability? When the EDM bubble bursts, what’s going to be the new fuckboy frontier?