Ramona Depares    July 2, 2015

Music for the robot generation

The past few years have seen the non-mainstream music scene in Malta grow exponentially. Gigs are more regular and better attended; more and more festivals – including national ones –have indie bands on the line-up; and funding has been extended to support musicians and bands that will not necessarily cater to a massive audience.

In the middle of all this, there’s the elephant in the room; electronic music. Perhaps, few genres attract criticism in quite the same way as electronic, which is almost like the black sheep of the whole music landscape. Particularly on a local level, those who do not follow the scene tend to either ignore it or actively thrash it, while those who do follow it seem to be fragmented in so many cliques so as to lose impact.

The result is a definite awkwardness leading to questions that are even more awkward. “Can you call it real music, even?” I’ve seen variations of comment at least half a dozen times, usually on Facebook. These online wars would be amusing to follow, if only they weren’t also offensive to all electronic music artists and producers.

The question is usually, and predictably, followed by; “it’s made by pressing a button on a computer, so it can’t be music”. Which is, of course, bull.

Contrary to popular belief, the creation of electronic music involves a hell of a lot more equipment, and knowledge of said equipment, than ‘a computer’.

Electronic music is made by artists who have probably sweated blood (ok, slight exaggeration) to figure where exactly to insert that uplifter for a bit of tension, how to combine the melody with a drop to make it hit harder, which section of the frequency range to sidechain… You get the picture. Not quite so simple, now is it?

So yeah – you can say that electronic music is created by a computer, but only if you accept that piano symphonies are created by the piano. In reality, a cursory look at the wider history of electronic music reveals that it has been instrumental in shaping a new movement that sees a fusion between the classical, the pop and the experimental.

From when La Monte Young made droning popular in the 60s, to the advent of synthpop in the 80s, the industrial of the 90s and the dubstep that permeated the noughties, electronic music has left an impact on the wider music scene, whether mainstream or not.

To quote the obvious example, the influence of bands like Kraftwerk – main pioneers of popular electronic music – stretched on for decades and to date their work has been covered, sampled and reworked by most genres including hip hop, pop and R’n’B.

When the list of people who sample your work includes Madonna, Jay Z and Chemical Brothers, it does rather put paid to the idea that unless there’s a human drummer and guitarist, then it’s not real music.

This versatility is, in fact, the main element that characterises the genre. Today, it has evolved beyond the great artists who are synonymous with electronic – think Tangerine Dream, Future Sound of London, Boards of Canada, Venetian Snares – to be adopted by musicians whose primary sound can be anything from hip hop to reggae, pop, metal or even classical, but who are known for including strong electronic highlights in their works.

The same evolution can be seen on the Maltese scene. It started in the 90s, with techno artists like Owen Jay & Duo Blank releasing debut albums Tinittus and Hectic Electric and has grown even stronger today, with contemporary names like Sonitus Eco, Cygna, Stimulus Timbre and Deepfunk wholly embracing the genre.

And it continues even with other Maltese musicians, like Fastidju and Plato’s Dream Machine, who mesh a strong aspect of electronic with other elements and whose albums (released earlier this year) proved to be game-changers.

Seems like we’ve come a long way since music critic Keith Ging said, of one of Kraftwerk’s first performances back in 1975 , “keep the robots out of the music”.

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