By Jim Fusilli
Though the conversation was always convivial, last night as the South by Southwest Interactive ended and SXSW Music began, electronic-music pioneers Joel Zimmerman and Richie Hawtin delivered a pointed message: Today’s electronic dance music suffers from the pursuit of commercial success and the ease with which the music can be made.
Better known as Deadmau5 and Plastikman, respectively, Zimmerman and Hawtin agreed many of today’s EDM musicians have developed an instinct to copy rather than create. The irony, they said, is that there’s a vast array of software available to create new sounds, but artists are following a narrow path while using them.
Zimmerman, who is 32, and Hawtin, 42, spoke before a capacity crowd at the Austin Convention Center. They reminisced about the early days of making electronic music on equipment picked up at pawnshops.
“We were two kids who found a love of technology,” Hawtin said. “We’re two geeks.”
The availability of new technologies, and the pace at which they arrive, can be overwhelming, they agreed.
“What do you lose when everything is easy and accessible?” Hawtin asked. “There’s very little time to practice.”
“I have to take crash courses on all these things that come out,” Zimmerman added.
Now on hiatus, Zimmerman said his time away from electronic music opened his mind to the possibility of new modes of music making. Referencing his fiancé Kat Von D, he said, “One good thing that came out of me disappearing for awhile and living with Kat, she’s a very organic musician. No technology of any kind. It was nice to get my head out of the over-complication of the studio.”
“I’ve always aspired to be a lot more underground and less big room sound. I listen to techno, to the dubby old stuff, your stuff,” he said, nodding toward Hawtin. “It’s nice to know I can break out of a mousehead.”
Hawtin pointed to the dilemma Zimmerman faces as a global EDM brand. “You’re the number-one gatekeeper in electronic music. It’s your responsibility to open the door as wide as possible.”
Zimmerman allowed that his image can be a burden. Five year olds like Deadmau5, he said, perhaps more so because of the brand than the music. Without the mousehead, he conceded, young listeners might not be interested.
Because today’s EDM artists want commercial success, they conform to the market’s tastes. If they don’t, the audience will move on to someone who will.
“My first record came out in 1990,” Hawtin said. “I had to slow burn. I don’t know if it’s as easy for the new artists to stay in control.”
“The songs sound the same,” said Zimmerman, calling it “cookie-cutter stuff.”
He said, “I’m surprised the record companies that sign these people aren’t just going home and making the music themselves. Cut out the middleman.”
“There’s a manual now,” Hawtin said. “The attraction was doing something different. I had to do my own thing. The double-edged sword is taking a little bit of the life out of it. Maybe that’s why EDM is so big now. It’s homogenized.”
[This article has been modified from its original version.]
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