When an artist hits the mainstream, cries of “Sellout!” inevitably follow. But in how many instances does a performer actually admit he or she sold out? The ever-self-aware Canadian producer Deadmau5 did recently. Talking about a dubstep track, he said: “I’m not a fan of dubstep, but I figured I can engineer something that’s at least palatable or on par with the whole Skrillex thing that everyone’s into. I sold out on that one dubstep track, ‘cause I did it for that popularity factor. A lot of pop acts are going to use the whole dance, rave thing that died in ’92 and got revived as mainstream music. They’ll sell it out and oversaturate it.”
No matter if you like, loathe, or believe the producer born Joel Zimmerman sold out, he raises one issue that’s bound to swell now that EDM is a mainstream force: when and how does a DJ sell out?
When Pop Stars Are Featured on Albums
There are dance divas, and then there are pop stars. Dance divas’ vocals intermingle with the synths while injecting a slight humane element into an otherwise robotic-seeming track. Pop stars, on the other hand, take front and center stage. DJs don’t work with pop stars – they accompany them. And, when someone like Rihanna, Usher, Chris Brown, or Will.i.am is placed front and center, the producer and his sounds take a back seat.
Pop star collaborations are a rocket up the charts. If Chris Willis had been the only vocalist on David Guetta’s last two albums, would his climb up the Billboard Hot 100 have been as far, or would have happened at all? Guetta, it appears, has realized this and, to save face, is starting his own label exclusively for instrumental tracks.
When Fame Changes Your Sound
Tied in with pop star collaborations, changing a sound to suit fame embodies selling out. While an artist has to make money, shifting away from your origins distances your fans. As the quintessential sellout act, Metallica should be a reminder for performers across all genres. Just like metalheads weren’t fond of the alternative crossover in the 1990s, EDM fans grow suspicious when a producer switches from instrumental tracks to an album full of vocal collaborations. Or, in Deadmau5’s case, half-heartedly attempts to emulate a trend.
When Stadium Shows Are The Only Tour Stops
EDM’s transference from clubs to the stage, starting over 10 years ago, was a turning point. No longer were obscure beats and synths from a turntable accompanying a warehouse party embodying the genre. The DJ’s creativity was on display, and many of the club elements followed through with the transition. On the other hand, artists like Avicii and Kaskade eschewing clubs entirely on their more recent tours indicate the shift has gone too far, and the genre’s roots are being glossed over.
When The Performer is a One-Trick Pony
Skrillex is equally, if not more so, polarizing than Deadmau5. His adoption of the south London sound, after a brief musical career as an emo kid, isn’t critics’ major gripe; instead, the “Bangarang” producer pulls from the same bag of tricks repeatedly. Skrillex’s style is now labeled “Brostep,” for its darker sound and American origins, but the Los Angeles-based producer’s only distinctiveness is his penchant for throwing in the same samples and sounds over and over. And over. And over.
Skrillex is far from the only EDM performer to resort to such or similar tactics. Eurodance group Cascada built a four-minute template for use over three fairly successful albums. “Everytime We Touch” is now “Everytime We Enter The Studio, We Do The Exact Same Song.”