"Keep it Real" - the great Authenticity Debate

Words by: Cila Warncke
Posted: 1/11/10 11

The calendar is liberally studded with electronic music anniversaries: 30 years of Chicago house, 25 years of Detroit techno, (nearly) 25 years since the British Balearic invasion, 15 years of the Amsterdam Dance Event. The ultimate proof of maturity, however, is that the dance industry has taken to wondering aloud about authenticity.

It is a well-known fact a scene has to reach a critical mass before it is able to "sell out" and - judging by the crowd in attendance at an ADE panel discussion on "Being Authentic" - the clubland is ready and able to make the leap from underground to mainstream. But is it willing? What happens when a sub-culture goes over-ground? What's gained and what's lost?

For better or worse, people seem to have a fairly limited definition of what constitutes "authenticity." The attitude seems to be, if it's popular and/or lucrative, it's not "real". As evidence of this two names crop up all the time as code-words for sell-out: David Guetta and Lady Gaga. Say what you will about Guetta's taste in music or product placement, the man has picked his furrow and plowed it to the bitter end. Far from changing with the whim of fashion, he stuck hard and fast to his pop-dance formula and the rest of the world slowly came into line.

Isn't that authentic? As for the much-maligned Lady Gaga, if anyone can think of another working artist who is remotely as interesting, challenging or successful as her, I'll eat my copy of "Fame Monster".

If obscurity and poverty don't prove authenticity, what does? According to Tommie Sunshine who, to his credit, is happy to play Lady Gaga alongside obscure house records, it boils down not to what you do, but how you do it. One DJ's authentic mode may be to play Swedish House Mafia remixes at +11 all night. Another's might be to spend six hours playing a minimal drum loop (though I hope to not be at that club).

The point is, as long as an artist is doing what he or she wants to do - as long as they are expressing their true passion - it counts. Dutch jock Chuckie argues the same point, saying that as long as a DJ never plays a record he doesn't like then he's keeping it real.

It would be hard to find a better definition of authenticity, but there is a danger inherent in prioritising doing things "my way" above everything else. A look at industry events like the ADE and the International Music Summit in Ibiza highlight a worrying trend towards insularity and routine. By focusing so intently on house, trance and techno they exclude huge swathes of exciting electronic music. Club culture has its roots in basements and underground clubs but, let's face it, the DJ/vinyl geek/warehouse scene is only one tiny element of the current electronic scene. Industry events should be flinging open their doors to new sounds, and actively engaging with new scenes. Where, for example, are the representatives of dubstep, which exploded into the mainstream this year?

And why isn't the industry making more noise about fantastic artists like Goldfrapp, Hot Chip and the LCD Soundsystem? A lingering attachment to DJ culture is probably part of it - there are still people who can't get their head around live instruments in dance music - but you don't have to exclude new sounds and artists in order to be authentic. Being able to change, adapt and improve while remaining true to yourself and your vision is the ultimate measure of authenticity.

Being Authentic


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