This is Part 10 of 10 in a series analyzing the way that Reverbnation, the popular artist/dj/rapper/band ranking website, ranks artists
(scroll below for a super long play list of awesome electronic music you can stream for free)
Background: After nearly 3 gruelling days, we completed our Focus Group. And then, for the first time, we showed our 5 Judges the results of their music evaluations. The results sheet we provided them listed the name of the top songs/tracks (sorted in their final order), the name of the artist/group who created the song, and the artist’s rank on the Reverbnation Charts. We then gave our Judges an hour to surf through the Reverbnation website. We concluded with a final debrief. Excerpts of this final debrief are included below.
MONSTER LOOP: First, thanks for undertaking this monumental task – listening to so much music. We promised we’d give you a chance to provide your final thoughts.
Seth. I’m reading the final results. I have a lot of thoughts going on in my head… but I can’t get any words out…
MONSTER LOOP: No problem, we’ll help start the discussion. So, looking through the list of the final 20 tracks based on your results… any surprises? A couple things we noticed were, a lot of different styles are represented in your list and that, out of the 100 different artists and 260 tracks we began with, your final 20 has one artist, Burn in Noise with two tracks in your top 5, and then there are two artists, Laura Escude’ and Going after Zen,who both have 2 tracks in your top 20. Maybe you could talk about that briefly.
Mike. I did not have a preconceived idea of where [the final rankings list] would end up. I’m not surprised there’s an artist or two with more than a track in our top 20 but I am surprised we have an artist in our Top 5 twice – none of us even realized those two tracks were by the same artist. So, you know, we are for sure curious about him.
Jason. What makes Gustavo so good is, it all comes together… production, sounds, rhythm, beat, and you never get bored, he keeps changing it up and takes you on a journey. Cheers to him.
MONSTER LOOP: The other artists with multiple songs in your list, Laura Escude’ and ‘Going after Zen‘ aka Chris Hirons – any comments you want to add?
Seth I have a comment. ‘Going after Zen‘ – Chris Hirons you say? (yes) He is super smooth – very polished, incredibly talented – it’s obvious. It’s pretty flawless, his work. It’s also very interesting and gets better the more you hear it. He’s a pro, pure and simple. I think the same goes for Laura Escude’ – those two have a very polished product. You can also tell those two are thinkers – it comes out in the music. There are a lot of subtle complex things going on in their tracks that are like, “whoa” – I never would have thought to do that. But they make it sound simple.
Katja If you’re into power or intensity in techno, those two aren’t for you. It’s downbeat, IDM, ambient. And very good.
MONSTER LOOP: When we noticed those two receiving high scores, we did a little research on them. Laura Escude’ is actually an Ableton Live instructor and appears to work behind the scenes with some major global artists. Chris Hirons is a bit of an enigma – it was not easy to find out much about him or Stickleback (aka Ben Heppel).
Mike It’s interesting you say that because, maybe it partly explains why, in this anonymous listening process, we liked them so much, but those 3 artists were ranked between 1000-1050 – which is just shocking honestly. What I’m wondering is, you know, if they aren’t ranked higher because they don’t put much effort into marketing themselves. Their music is just phenomenal.
MONSTER LOOP: The very reason for putting this Focus Group together was to find and promote artists that are extremely talented but that people might not know about. Let’s shift topics for a moment. Right now we hear a lot about Dubstep, but Burn in Noise, which did very well in your reviews, his Electronic Music style is Psytrance, as is the case with Amit Bharadwaj and Infected Mushroom, who also did well. Scanning through your final 20, Psytrance and a Downbeat-type sound seem strongly represented.
Jason. Yeah, but I’m not sure how much you can read into that. It could be we just heard artists this weekend that are really good that happen to make those styles.
Jose. And I did hear some dubstep that was really good. I think Downlink is Dubstep. And Excision… Datsik, those artists from Canada that did Dubstep were good.
MONSTER LOOP: Let’s talk about that briefly. After day 1, some of the highest scores were by 3 or 4 artists that make Dubstep. But we noticed their scores started to decrease a bit as the weekend went on.
Seth. I’m one of those who started decreasing their score. I was not super familiar with Dubstep. Sure, I’ve heard about it, but it’s still relatively new on the scene so I haven’t heard as much of that style. So when I heard it this weekend- my first reaction was “WOW, this is some powerful <bleep>. It’s new, it’s different, it has a lot of bells and whistles. I wouldn’t say it’s “cool” because there’s nothing laid back about it. It’s kind of hyper. But then, after hearing it over and over I, you know, it started to wear on me a bit. So as the competition went on, and tracks were eliminated, the Dubstep music was being compared against some great Psytrance and other styles and, for me at least, it wasn’t quite as good. In contrast, the music by Amit Bharadwaj & Burn in Noise seemed to sound better the more I heard it, to hold up better..
Mike. I thought Infected Mushroom was very slick. I liked the track that made our list a lot. Those guys remind me of Depeche Mode or early Ministry. But that’s also what worries me about them.
MONSTER LOOP: Worries? What do you mean?
Mike. Well, back in the mid-1980′s, Ministry released this EP called “Twitch” which I think is one of the best Electronic Music releases ever. Part of what made it so good was that it was just way ahead of its time. They actually made most of those tracks back in 1982, which I think was around the same time Soft Cell released their version of “Tainted Love.” ”Twitch” – and you’d have to hear it really to appreciate it – was radical. It was RADICAL compared to the music being created at that time. And it was a key link in the chain of what we know called “Electronica.” After they released “Twitch,” though, Ministry went into this very different direction with “Land of Rape and Honey.” They go full-on metal with an army of electric guitars, etc. And Ministry became, for me, the Darth Vader of electronic music – they went to the dark side. And a lot of people stopped listening to them at that point, including me. Of course, a lot of people started to listen to them. They reinvented themselves basically. But in a way that was not techno or electronica.
Jose. If Ministry was Darth Vader who was Obi-Wan Kanobi? (laughter)
Mike. Obi-Wan Kanobi was Front 242. Both bands were on the cutting edge at that time. And they even worked together for awhile. But compare their sound by the late 1980′s. Ministry releases “The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste” around the same time Front 242 releases “Front by Front.” Front by Front, that’s one of the greatest electronic dance music releases by any artist, ever. Front by Front did more to grow Techno music that possibly anything else at the time, and it was a time when Techno needed a force like Front 242. A band not only creative, powerful, but also polished. Their production was as good as anyone’s production in any genre.
Mike. Infected Mushroom is very good. Their track that did best in our review (“Can’t Stop“), it has a lot of diverse elements in it. A few minutes into the song, the guitars kick in and I start having flashbacks to Ministry. What worries me is that, talented Electronica artists in the US, like Infected Mushroom, might take the path Ministry took. I mean, Ministry basically went to the dark side from Industrial Techno to Industrial Metal and I’m sure made millions in the process screaming into microphones to the cacophonous screech of grinding guitars. Another example is Nine Inch Nails (aka Trent Reznor), though not as extreme. Nine Inch Nails was, in the beginning techno – google “Down in it“, his first release. It sounds nothing like Reznor’s later work. Nine Inch Nails was at that time working with Adrian Sherwood. Sherwood produced both ‘Pretty Hate Machine‘ with Nine Inch Nails and ‘Twitch‘ with Ministry. Brilliant productions and way ahead of their time. But they never worked with Sherwood again, as far as I’m aware. And it’s a <bleep> shame. Now, when I hear Infected Mushroom, and I think “NUDE !” from Germany also falls into this category – I think there is the potential for those artists to take that Ministry direction. My advice would be, “Don’t go to the dark side of the force! Follow the example of Front 242.” On the other hand, Front 242 became a bit harsh years later. The dark side is tempting.
Don‘t misinterpret what I‘m saying though. Al Jourgensen is a genius. I just think – and let me interrupt myself to say, “what the <bleep> do I know?” – I never met the guy, just read a lot. Listened to a lot. Anyway, I think Jourgensen just went into this dark place within himself and, you know, it comes out in the music. So he did a brilliant job of expressing this absolute darkness. Can people relate to that? Sure. And this is when I bring it back to my Darth Vader analogy. The dark side is powerful. That is part of its lure. But remember, it’s the dark side of the force. I’m just saying, I hope talented bands like Infected Mushroom, NUDE ! and new kids coming up know that you can be creative, you can make money, you can kick <bleep> with your music without joining the Evil Empire. You mentioned the “New Beat” movement in one of our breaks – that underground electronic music movement came out of Belgium in the late 1980′s, so at the time Front 242 was peaking. And we discussed the “Lords of Acid.” I think the same applies with them. The New Beat was incredible there for awhile and was influenced by the Chicago Acid House, releases like ’House Hallucinates.’ They took the Chicago sound, harnessed it, and made it something highly original. But again, the Lords of Acid - these great pioneers of New Beat – abandoned this incredibly powerful and cool style and went to the dark side. I mean, it started to get ridiculous, like porn videos with an over-the-top aggressive beat. Why? They felt it would help them sell music maybe? I really don’t know.
I’m from Chicago. Grew up here. Love Chicago. Ministry is from here and Rezner is, I believe from Detroit – so also from the Midwest. A lot of great music comes from Chicago – the whole acid house scene started on the south side of Chicago you know – and so this hits close to home for me. TWICE we’ve started something major in Chicago with Techno but then, both times it was Central Europe that took it to the next level. So maybe now with you guys (Monster Loop), maybe you can take Chicago back to being the epicenter of the cutting edge music, as is our tradition.
MONSTER LOOP: That’s kind of you to say that. Thank you.
Mike. I think we have to protect Electronic Music on several fronts: America, in particular, has this tradition with electric guitars. It’s become this cliche’ – that a band has a lead vocalist, a bass guitarist, an electric guitarist, and then a drummer. C’mon – it’s antiquated. So the first “front” to protect is – you don’t have to have guitar! I think this is partly because there’s the temptation to want to have that instrument for live performance. So then the second front, is hip hop. Rap music is really strong in the US. I like rap music, a lot actually, especially old school. But I think that, as Electronica gets more and more popular – and we’re seeing that now – we have to protect Electronica from being overtaken by rappers. Electronica is not rap music. We already have rap music. Rap music can benefit from the developments in Electronica. But I’d prefer not to see Electronica co-opted by these other styles. Pretty Lights is a great example of a good balance of rap/techno. There’s a third front, vocals in general, singers. Listen to Goldfrapp, great vocals. Great music. But it’s in balance. It doesn’t take over. It works with the music. They get equal footing. trezOra – check out his song ‘Loving You.’ Singing. But it doesn’t overpower the song. The French band Air is great about this – great balance between the music and the vocals. So the third front isn’t to resist vocals, it’s that the electronic music not get over powered by them, that the vocals not take center stage. And I think the first clue that the vocals are trying to take center stage is when the band highlights the singer instead of the creators of the music. I never cared for that. It never made sense to me.
I think the risk is related to a desire to perform live. Let’s face it, techno is really studio music. It really is. Live techno sounds like crap – and I’m sorry if I piss someone off saying it. If it doesn’t sound like crap, it’s because you’re triggering pre-recorded loops. And there’s no shame in saying that techno sounds best in a studio setting. So I think there is a temptation to, you know, want a vocalist – it makes more sense live because you can sing live. And a guitar – because it makes sense to play a guitar live, and it’s fun. But good electronic music, it’s layered and it takes hours and hours and hours to craft. It’s just not a “live” style of music. So that’s why DJs got big – because people want a face with the music, so the face became the DJ. And even that got absurd. There’s footage of a DJ – Tiesto maybe? I don’t recall. Anyway, there’s a large crowd, and they’re seated. And they are, they’re basically just watching him DJ up there on stage. So he’s up there playing other people’s music. And they’re cheering for him like he’s a rock star. I don’t get it. I think at that point, that was the point where people began to start moving away from DJs back to creators of electronic music – who, I know, can also be DJs. I think people have to just accept that, this style of music – at least at this stage – the great heavily layered music, as created by the original artist – it’s not a “live” production. Avoid the temptation to try to make it a live production. It is what it is. If you start to shift focus to the vocals and the guitars, and all that – well that’s all good and well, and the music might be fine. But if the focus isn’t on the electronic music, well it’s really not Electronica, is it? If someone reads what I’m saying at some point in the future, I would say, listen to these 20 tracks. THIS is techno.
Well that’s all for now – Monster Loop will post be posting more of the final Focus Group session soon. Right now, we have to fly to San Francisco.