Music genres are suitably imprecise modes of documentation for the self and identity, crystallizing memories in a vague enough way as to not trigger an inner alienation, a sense that you were not as you remembered yourself, as you inevitably aren’t. They don’t have coherent ideologies, anymore than selves do —just a mix of shifting and often contradictory concerns as they try to balance novelty with tradition.
This video for Knife Party’s “Internet Friends” (2011) made me wonder whether EDM acts will start trying to cash in on being the opposition to the Internet and social media as a surveilled and captured space — Facebook as the new “mainstream” that can be set up as a straw man to build your subculture against. The essence of the pitch would be that at the club, you are not tracked and monitored, you are freed to be yourself, freed into a collective anonymity, a merging with the crowd facilitated by the DJ — a rehash of the sort of utopian rave ideology of the 1990s that Sarah Thornton discusses in Club Cultures.
Thornton, drawing on Simon Frith’s work, details the backlash that has attended every new media technology, which must first must be “enculturated” before it can yield its new forms of authenticity. In the meantime, new technologies are derided as inauthentic, as destroying the very possibility for authenticity. In that context, the Knife Party track (and the Chainsmokers’ “#Selfie” and so on) is part of a reactionary wave against a newly emerging form that has yet to disclose its forms of authenticity.
(That would potentially mark this moment as unusually open in terms of identity construction, free from any settled dogma about how to be “authentic” in online media. But it is only open insofar as the critiques of online media keep them unsettled enough to render any of their modes of identity suspect but not invalid.)
In this twist, techno music sets itself up as anti-technological, and music itself a kind of metonym for the ineffable presence that allegedly can’t be replicated online. That seems linkable to the old idea that electronic music would have no celebrities and the crowd would be the star, watching itself dance and so on: EDM was supposed to be pro-ephemeral all the way down, against the kind anyone’s gaining cultural capital at any level. (Thornton does a lot to deflate that idea.) The music’s sonic hallmarks constantly change and spawn myriad subgenres, but these matter less than the overriding commonality of constant change. Ephemerality is the only important characteristic of the genre; listeners have to know to enjoy the sounds now because they will sound stupid in a few months, and this makes the enjoyment keener. (Possibly true of “dated”-sounding pop in general.)
Such music is constructed deliberately to be recognizably trendy — the trendy component (features like autotune from a few years ago) is a marker that assures that it can be tracked on its passage through the hype cycle, on its journey from insiders to outsiders. So it makes “in the know” status something that needs to be constantly reaffirmed, and positions listeners along a status-inflected time continuum of who got there early and late.
But equally significant, perhaps, is how deliberate trendiness, a rejection of an effort to sound “timeless” in favor of music that has an obvious expiration date, allows consumers to experience ephemerality in the moment, even before a thing has extinguished itself. The imminent disappearance of such music allows it to seem transcendent and nostalgic as it is happening.
One can already imagine remembering in the future how of one’s present time one was by enjoying such stuff.