It’s a notion that started expanding the mainstream pool of sounds in 2013 and continued through this year. Now we’ve got Tiesto and MoTi trying to create an acid house track, and deep house-lite producers scoring No. 1s on the Beatport Top 10.
Yet even with this spirit of experimentation, EDM keeps on falling back on the fact that much of what’s out there is very formulaic and restricted to a specific group of sounds. Is it the producers’ fault, or the fact that when fans hear a new sample or beat they flip their lids and freak out, saying on the internet, “But this sound isn’t progressive house/trap/dubstep!”, and then move onto another producer. Making a hit and getting people to still buy your records have started to mean producers do the same thing over and over.
Along these lines, the year saw Dirty Dutch house hit a wall and David Guetta realize that no one takes him seriously anymore. Not everyone really got the message, and the second half of the year saw Avicii put out “The Days,” a forgettable single featuring Robbie Williams.
Nevertheless, chart results and hit singles from this past year suggest that 2015 might turn around.
Going Indie/Underground/Away from the Mainstream
While some view dance music purely through a black-and-white perspective, with “mainstream” as bad and anything underground or indie as “good,” there’s far more nuances between these two distinctions. At times, a “mainstream” track pops out and is worth a few listens, while in others, something underground bores the listener with its pretentious minimalism.
2014 might have been the year these nuances became more present. Big-name EDM producers started moving away from pop star collaborations and began asking themselves, “Why is it no one takes me seriously?” What we got in response was a series of mainstream tracks in which producers were trying harder to sound distinct.
Some worked: Calvin Harris’ “Slow Acid” and W&W and Headhunterz’s “We Control The Sound” still sound fresh. Others were less-exceptional improvements, like David Guetta and Showtek’s “Bad” or what Axwell Λ Ingrosso have done post-Swedish House Mafia.
But it’s not just the artists themselves realizing that Big Room and progressive house have turned into a big crock of run-of-the-mill nonsense. Listeners felt this, too, and with releases by Oliver Heldens, Tchami, Disclosure, and Dusky charting high on Beatport, it seems that what’s hot doesn’t always follow a strict crescendo-and-drop formula.
Deep and Future House
There wasn’t always such a sharp boundary between deep house and electro and progressive styles. Up until about 2012, none of these tracks were really “mainstream,” anyway, especially in the U.S. But that changed about two or three years ago, and deep house has turned into the style for “serious” dance music listeners, while progressive and Big Room are branded as frivolous party music.
However, the hipster-esque attitude of “deep house is so innovative, complex, and obscure, EDM listeners just can’t comprehend it” is now being broken down. The second half of 2014 saw Oliver Heldens tear up the Beatport Top 10 with “Can’t Stop Playing,” “Koala,” and “Gecko,” while Tchami is being helmed as the harbinger of “future house,” a style that’s been around for a few years but hadn’t received much attention until 2014. At the same time, a few mainstream producers like Steve Aoki and Dillon Francis have spoken (either seriously or in jest) about trying out deep house, while Laidback Luke made an official move, first with “Bae” and now with “S.A.X.”
That’s not to say that everything out there that’s deep house is worthwhile listening to. Ultra’s compilation for this genre turned out to be a snoozefest, while Tchami’s remixes all seem to scream, “Can’t you see how old-school I am?” Still, it’s a trend that should take off as a low-key counterpart to progressive house in the mainstream sphere.
Most of the criticism lobbed at Hardstyle leans toward its image and its history as a working class dance music style. Yet when you strip these away, Hardstyle has one aspect going for it that dubstep and trap didn’t seem to have: it blends better with other EDM styles.
For the past couple of years, it seemed that mainstream producers would include these latter two styles into their tracks or sets, and the beats, instrumentation, or quality immediately jumps out. It’s like the producer’s saying, “See how on-trend I am?”
Hardstyle, instead, kind of creeps in before you notice it. The beats get more repetitive, and the tempo becomes faster, but these elements – and perhaps because Hardstyle’s kind of simple – make a new undercurrent to standard progressive house or trouse textures. And what’s resulted has been a series of collaborations between Hardstyle producers and those better known in the EDM sphere (W&W, Hardwell, David Guetta, and Martin Garrix, to name a few) that, frankly, make big room or trouse seem less generic.
With “We Control The Sound” ending 2014, these collaborations should become more commonplace in 2015.
With Nicky Romero being the exception, Dirty Dutch Big Room producers have gotten especially lazy. We’ve reached a point that nearly every track put out by Chuckie, Afrojack, Quintino, MoTi, and Martin Garrix is about the same: sounds all appear to come from one source, while the crescendo-drop-crescendo-drop structure has become a predictable formula with the connotations of “Get excited and put your hands in the air here.”
As a counterpart, Melbourne Bounce gained more traction this year and will likely continue through 2015. This underground Australian style championed by Will Sparks, Joel Fletcher, and Timmy Trumpet (and in the U.S. by TJR, Brass Knuckles, Landis, and The Chainsmokers) has been criticized for sounding too much like big room, but that’s kind of the point: It’s a variation on a theme that clearly does something different. There’s a distinct groove without lessening the aggressiveness and grit, while the chord-based character of Dirty Dutch has been replaced by marching-band style horns. It’s still grandiose, it still has drops, but there are obvious distinctions between each track.