A popular and currently unavoidable trend on campuses nationwide is the techno music craze. Before I get into it — I fear my previous statements grant too much credit. While “music” may technically be the most appropriate term to categorize this glitchy-sounding, uninspired noise, such a designation undermines the true artistic nature of music. Techno is a poor attempt to substitute robot sounds for what was once actual instrumental and artistic human expression.
A computer is not an instrument. Any Joe Schmo with a MacBook Pro and a Wi-Fi connection can create techno and get his or her sounds out to the public. This ease adds to the commodification of music — a trend already in action. This marginalization should be alarming to true music fans. The logic is simple: if everyone can easily make music, it’ll bring the “music average” down. When a bunch of inexperienced musicians oversaturate listeners with a bunch of bad music, music that was once considered laughable is suddenly considered decent; what was once considered average is then perceived as above average; what was once considered above average will be called great. It’s a phenomenon that happened years ago with pop music. In turn, it becomes more challenging to find good music, and bad musicians will continue to sell out arenas worldwide, tightening their grip on listeners and further perpetuating this cycle.
The concept of techno was doomed from the start, similar to how a picture made in Photoshop can appear similar to an oil painting, yet is worthless in the eyes of art buffs. Techno music made on a computer using synthetic sounds is just as empty. Combining samples of other people’s songs into one and calling it one’s own is like taking a bunch of famous paintings and trying to somehow form them into one new and therefore “original” painting. The catch is that this newly formed painting would look just as terrible as techno sounds because the stolen elements become mere illusions of their original selves. Worse still, the elements lose their intended artistic integrities and purposes.
What bothers me most about techno is how terrible the sound actually is. While real music spurs revolutions, subtlety reflects entire eras, or provides a means of artistic expression, techno has defined itself as a cheap and scattered, non-flowing conglomerate of sounds. Instead of thoughtful lyrics and carefully constructed melodies, techno is characterized by occasional “bass-drops” and wholly unmoving, random lyric samples like “ohhh sometimes, I get a goooood feeling.”
People need to stop pretending that they actually like techno and instead admit that what they like is the experience of going to techno shows — there’s a big difference.
It may seem that rap and hip-hop suffer from the same robot noise syndrome as techno, but at least rap songs often have insightful, calculated lyrics. In this sense, rap is more like real music than techno, as techno is derivative of some kind of primal experience, rather than one of art.
I understand that going to techno shows is a good time and I don’t mean to offend anyone in attendance. I too have been to a techno show and have had a decent time. Instead, I want to distinguish between going to a techno ‘show’ and music ‘concert.’ They’re completely different things. Parading around as if you’re going to a Deadmau5 show because he is such a good musician is disingenuous. If you admit you’re going for the experience — fine — but let’s stop pretending that these D.J.s are actual musicians, or even anything more than decent producers who can put together a synchronized light show.
Going to a musical concert is about watching talented and gifted musicians perform their songs live. Not everyone has the ability to do this, which makes live music so special and awe-inspiring. Techno performers get on stage, hit the ‘play’ button, and watch crowds go wild, all the while collecting big checks from their premium ticket prices. While this type of spectacle isn’t worthless, it’s not as pure nor as genuine a music experience. It begs the question of whether or not these techno “performers” are pulling the wool over our eyes.
I have this theory that techno performers are the ultimate masters of lip-syncing; a Milli Vanilli or Ashlee Simpson on steroids. Think about how easy it is for these people to go on stage and simply press play on a pre-made set of tracks, while, of course, mixing in a few dozen necessary fist pumps. The nature of techno makes it inherently easy to fake a live set, especially in comparison to traditional musicians with real instruments. When someone is faking playing guitar, it’s immediately obvious. When someone is lip-syncing lyrics, it’s laughably noticeable. Techno is able to sidestep this problem because its origin is within a mysterious and unseen computer. No one knows the live performance’s ratio of computer versus actual performance; for all we know, a techno show could be performed by entirely computers. Even the images on the performer’s computers could be simulated, prearranged screenshots like the highly-complex computer screenshots in any N.A.S.A. or sci-fi movie. The elaborately lit techno stage shows become a distraction to mask their lack of substance. Too often, people fall victim to this ruse, in turn assuming techno is a legitimate form of music because they had a good time at the show.
What’s most bothersome is the legitimacy and credibility these techno performers receive. They’re treated like elite musicians and charge lofty ticket prices when indeed they’re more like ringleaders in a circus. They’re at the middle of the show, but the show could go on without them even being in the building. Surely a Bob Dylan show couldn’t go on without Bob Dylan. While it’s great to go and have fun at a techno show, let’s stop putting these individual performers on pedestals and stop pretending we like the “music” they play and start considering that what we really like is the experience. Or, we can just sit around while they dumb down our music and collect the checks.
Ryan Walsh is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.