Over the past few decades, electronic music has evolved from a niche subculture to a global phenomenon, dominating dance floors and festival stages around the world. However, this transformation has come at a cost as the genre has become increasingly commercialized, with big corporations and brands investing heavily in music and its associated culture. While this has brought some benefits to the scene, such as increased exposure and opportunities for artists, it has also raised critical questions about the future of underground electronic music and its values of authenticity and inclusivity.
The tension between commercialization and authenticity is at the heart of the issue. The underground electronic music scene is a culture and a community that values inclusion, authenticity, creativity, and individuality. However, as the scene has become more commercialized, these values have been increasingly eroded. Brands and corporations are eager to capitalize on the popularity of electronic music, diluting its core values and turning it into a commodity.
“It is a complex issue and although maybe more prevalent at the moment, it’s nothing new. Those more interested in money than music have always pillaged the underground for their own commercial gain,” says DJ, producer, editor, and radio broadcaster Dave Seaman. “I think fans can see through it though. When something is done purely for financial reasons, without integrity, you can generally spot it a mile off. On the positive side, the underground will always regenerate. Always has and always will. It’s just the nature of things.”
One of the most visible effects of commercialization has been the proliferation of festivals and large-scale events. While these events can provide valuable exposure and opportunities for artists, most of them prioritize profit over artistry. With big sponsors and brands investing millions of dollars in these events, the focus is often on headliners and big-name acts, rather than on the more experimental and boundary-pushing sounds that constantly define the underground scene and subsequently seep into the mainstream.
Moreover, commercialization often means that underground electronic music becomes subject to the same forces of capitalism and consumerism that define our daily lives. This can lead to a focus on profit over artistic expression, with artists and labels feeling pressure to create music that will sell, rather than music that is true to their creative vision. The obvious result is a lack of innovation and authenticity in the genre, as artists and labels are more likely to stick to tried-and-true formulas that are more likely to be commercially successful.
Inclusivity, in particular, is a critical cornerstone that should be added to the core values of the electronic music scene. The scene should be a safe and welcoming space for all, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or other identities. Unfortunately, commercialization often leads to more segregation and exclusivity, as festivals and events cater to specific demographics and exclude others. The scene must prioritize inclusivity and actively work to create a more diverse and welcoming community.
To be sure, there are some positive aspects to the commercialization of electronic music. It has brought the genre to a wider audience, allowing more people to discover the joys of electronic music and its associated culture. Additionally, it has created new opportunities for artists, from major-label deals to sponsorship and endorsement deals. However, these benefits must be weighed against the potential risks and downsides of commercialization, including the loss of authenticity and inclusivity.
In conclusion, the commercialization of underground electronic music is a complex issue that requires a balance between increased exposure and opportunities and the preservation of the scene’s core values. Artists, labels, and fans must be more intentional and conscious in their engagement with the commercial aspects of the scene. This could mean being more selective about the brands and corporations they work with, prioritizing creative integrity over profit, and actively seeking out and supporting artists who are pushing the boundaries of the genre.