Ben Liew used to go to clubs until he went partially deaf in ’07. He was forced to resume interest in dance culture when he joined JUICE in 2008 and is currently recovering from a headache inflicted by Jack U.
Disclaimer: This article contains liberal doses of EDM bashing and heavy doses of EDM-fan bashing. Dash Berlin fans should stop reading right here.
EDM. Damn. Unless you’ve been living under a camel for the past decade, you have no excuse to not know this genre. After nearly 20 years of it in Malaysia, everyone and their little brother has been to a rave. I mean, we’ve got raves disguised as family marathons for Pete Tong’s sake, happening in places like Putrajaya with werewolves chasing you (just like the wholesome family fun we had in the ‘80s, back when young adults didn’t have to worry about being homeless).
My former boss at JUICE even made it a point for us to stop using the term ‘rave’ after a while. ‘Festival’ isn’t any better, joining the ranks of other words that have lost their meaning like ‘hipster’, ‘alternative’, or ‘edgy’. Being an umbrella term for all dance music that is created electronically (which is about 90% of dance music), EDM also suffers from pigeonholing and frequent criticisms even more than say ‘90s alternative during its heyday. There is no ghost of Cobain here to stand guard over EDM’s dignity. Plus, it’s always fun for music snobs (and dance music snobs) to take shots at this barrel of fishes, or sushi, or Steve Aoki (see what I did there?).
I’ve never been into electronic dance music, but I can respect the zeitgeist no matter how shit I find the music. Down with ageism, in with the new and out with the old. Change is constant. Yeah… maybe I am old. I just heard Jack U and now I have a fucking headache (and I used to listen to Napalm Death, mind you). And what the hell is all this ripping off hip hop? It seems every new dance subgenre is just a derivative, over exaggerating one aspect of a particular hip hop beat until it becomes a ‘new sound’. In Diplo and Skrillex’s defence, I only heard that one Jack U track that sounded like a pasar malam in the ‘90s. Maybe they should have added more low horns during the breakdown bits. Nah, it would be a Mark Ronson track then. Fuck that brass monkey.
(Crap, I just heard another Jack U, sorry, Skrillex track, with G-Dragon and it makes me wish North and South Korea were united but still under Kim Jong Un’s rule… so it’ll be justifiable for Seth Rogen and James Franco to go in there and take out both Kim and Dragon.)
Just to play it safe, I checked out a more traditional EDM artiste, Dash Berlin… and it’s the same shit in a different rice bowl! I watched a YouTube of one of his latest festival sets – euphemisms about peace, love, and unity; some token hand gestures; and trance… the bane of modern music, fucking trance, with the slow breakdown parts containing euphoric crescendos (usually when the hypeman yells for you to “Point to the sky!” like Ayah Pin were flying with a cape up there), no wonder the cops think this whole generation is high. I mean, look at that dude with his shirt off… are those nipple-tapes???
Okay, Dash is not that old skool. And yes, trance raves draw about 30,000 people in KL. So I guess I’m going to have 30,000 angry glowsticks shoved up my ass soon. Big deal. The early house scene is calling and asking if you could make it 40,000. Here’s the point of this rant…
Why do I hate EDM so much? Believe it or not, the music itself is fine. I guess I just had more hope in a movement that’s supposed to perpetuate Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect (PLUR). There’s so much potential in dance music – it’s more accessible than rock, it doesn’t condescend newbies and because it’s simplistic in its ideals it doesn’t get hung up with political agendas.
Maybe it’s over commercialised now and maybe we can still find that original vibe at a jungle rave somewhere in Laos, but EDM is pretty much dead as far as having a conscience about itself. All I see are just a bunch of whiners yakking about how unfair the authorities are or how much lack of passion some DJs have or how much they enjoy getting high off their tits. EDM fans have always been a hedonistic bunch. Doesn’t matter which club or festival you go to, or if they’re high or not, everyone’s in their own world. How can there be any decent interaction between fans aside from grinding and the fake kiss or bro-hug? Everyone is too fucking uncomfortable but too fucking busy pretending to like it! That’s why so many fights happen (even amongst the sober audience).
So what makes you think you’re so special, Mr .EDM Fan? Why should your favourite music genre get the support it needs from the government, and if the deal turns sour, get the chance to sue whoever backed out of it with extensive media coverage and echoes on social media? Besides the fact that lots of money is involved with huge sponsors, EDM is just another brand of music.
I understand the legality involved, justice was not served for the organisers of Thirst 2015 and it’s pain to know so many people worked hard for this and just got bumrushed by (if my facts are right) an overzealous PAS lady who sent an official objection letter because it was her “responsibility as a Muslim” to oppose it. The fact that she’s got no jurisdiction over the area, or that approval was given prior to the event and then rejected moments before the event’s doors opened, that’s just fucked up, which is why Farez from indie band The Maharaja Commission (who’s a lawyer by day) wrote the second part to our festival-cancellation introspection (link below). He covers what organisers big and small can do to protect themselves and, should the need arise, take legal action.
But what of the scene itself? The community that makes EDM what it is (at least locally)?
Here’s how to make it better:
First step is admitting there is a problem. All parties – organisers, government, police, and the revellers themselves have to have the same view on drugs. This involves changing the way we look at drugs. Learn from the mistakes of America that wasted billions of taxpayers’ dollars on the War on Drugs. More research has to be done on the matter which will eventually lead to the decriminalisation of marijuana and a re-categorisation of drug classes. The key thing to remember is not to treat users like criminals. We’re here to help, not take advantage of the situation. You need to really understand the role of drugs in civilisation (sometimes, it just can’t be avoided – certain music movements and genres would have never started – checkout 24 Hour Party People). For EDM fans that actually do party clean, stop using the excuse that “not everyone does drugs” when each of you know at least one friend who says they “can’t enjoy it unless they take something.” Help your friends to party clean, or if they don’t want to, just help your friends to stay safe. If they’re into chemicals, make them watch Requiem for a Dream or Spun.
2. Fight for your right to party
Look around you. We’re in the middle of a cultural war. Malaysia is fast becoming an Islamic extremist’s stronghold. Put the fucking nutjobs in their places, don’t let them push you around just because they don’t understand you or are just fucking archaic. This is actually the most important thing to do. If you believe that this is a battle between liberal and conservative, it goes beyond that. Malaysian politics is a bloody daytime drama. The most pious of figures are just plain main wayang sometimes. (How come Thirst got cancelled and EDM Rockstar got to go on? Give me a fucking break and tell me which one looks dodgier?). Every one of these servants-of-God has their own self-serving agenda. Expose them. Know your rights. Use the law to fight them, seek legal assistance if you have to. But don’t just be an angry liberal or worse, play party-politics with the monkeys on top, spread the message of PLUR to the rest of your friends and community. Take time to talk to your parents about the changing times. How else are they going to understand that the kids are alright? More important than the war on drugs, is the war on what we’re allowed to do, say or think. Religious extremism is the anti-thesis of PLUR.
3. Solidarity with other music scenes
They get picked on too all the time. Worst things have happened to underground gigs and even K-pop concerts – has anyone spoken to those ‘confused’ Muslim girls who were bewitched by the Koreans? Probably not cause they’re in hiding out of embarrassment – congrats to the religious nutjobs for destroying their lives. Be aware that the EDM scene is lucky enough to have generous backers or sponsors who want to hone local talent (DJ, producers, etc.) and protect its sanctity. The least you could do is support the smaller music scenes in their times of need.
4. Growing up doesn’t hurt
Stop looking so vapid. You’re representing the EDM community now so whatever you do or however you behave will go in the books of those who are observing; be it normal folks who are wondering what’s going on, or the enemies of liberalism who ban your events from happening. Take notes from the hardcore scene. Start activism in music. Enlighten yourself with knowledge. And read the festival booklet cover-to-cover. We spent a lot of time putting that together. You’re welcome, mofo.
Perhaps one day, after years of honing a true culture of PLUR, the dancefloors in Malaysia will turn into this place where the abandonment of our useless identities happens. There will be no race, religion or politics on the ‘floor. There will be no Bumiputera or non-Bumi. Classism, gender or sexual preferences won’t matter. It will be 1Malaysia 1World 1Love realised. Dr M and PM Najib will spin side-by-side. Anwar will be on the podium. All will be forgiven.
Or we can just wait for the next Daft Punk album to come out in another 10 years. Yeah, that’s way easier, don’t you think? Then we can just spend our time talking about the music and how good raves were when we used to have ‘em.
For the 2nd part of this #Thirst2015-cancellation introspective, checkout lawyer/bassman Farez Jinnah’s take on the issue here.
It’s not EDM, but you can checkout Ben’s punk rock band at www.facebook.com/BensBiatches