(This review was written, initially, for a far more mainstream journalistic audience than I generally assume my blog to have. I was initially planning to revise it before posting it here, altering some elements to accomodate for a readership with closer to connoiseur-status music and art-crit knowledge, but I decided against it, and it therefore appears now in its original state. Thus, I apologize for any over-simplifications or unnecesary explanation contained within this piece.)
In the 1950’s, rock’n’roll made it possible for just about any skilled musician to form a band. In the 1970’s, punk made it possible to do so if you barely knew how to play. Now, a new genre is questioning whether you must be a musician at all.
A few years ago, with the fairly sudden popularity of bands that crossed electronic music with indie rock, most notably The Faint and The Postal Service, a bit of a strange phenomenon seems to have occurred that allowed indie and emo scenesters to suddenly admit in public their previously embarrassing tastes for electronic dance music. This transition was influential in giving rise to the extremely short-lived “electro-clash” craze, and, more lastingly, a strange pseudo-sub-genre that is often referred to as “bedroom electro”, due to the fact that the music is usually the product of one individual crafting electronic songs on equipment that is small-scale enough to fit within his bedroom (often, sadly, comprised of nothing at all more than his personal computer and a set of headphones). To be honest, even at this point in its development this do-it-yourself electronica by-product was nothing new, dating back at least to the mid 1990’s, as young fans of Nine Inch Nails began to use their home computers to impersonate Trent Reznor’s commercialized versions of industrial beats (I remember once seeing a computer sequencing software that had all of the electronic noises from a certain Nine Inch Nails record preprogrammed into it so that fans could make new songs using the same sound palate at home). Regardless of its exact origin, the two primary schools (the industrial and the indie) have since caught up with each other and veritably flooded internet sites such as Myspace and Purevolume with computer-generated “bands” whose music rarely exists in any other form besides the MP3 files posted on these sites.
As a musician who myself maintains a recording project with much electronic content that loosely falls, by default, within some of the defining frameworks of this genre, although arriving within those guidelines by different methods and with different influences, I receive almost daily internet solicitation from “projects” of this sort, and, although an occasional gem of creative potential will shine through, most of these acts fall prey to the same parasitic stumbling-blocks that have plagued the genre since its advent.
Frankly, the very nature of Bedroom Electro is also its biggest problem. The vast majority of its proponent artists use virtually nothing besides their home computer in order to write, perform, and record their tracks. Most of what I hear of the material that is floating around the internet calling itself “electro” or “electronica” is created entirely with computer sequencing software such as FruityLoops or Acid, that allows the user to copy, paste, and loop pre-recorded sounds using merely a drag-and-drop style interface. Therefore, creating a song that is most listen-able within this format often demonstrates merely the artist’s computer proficiency, rather than their talent as a musician or songwriter. In fact, the vast majority of the individuals who perpetuate this genre turn out to be “musicians” in no other sense at all.
Of course, there are exceptions. It seems that for every ten mouse-clicking teenagers calling themselves “electronica artists”, there is at least one purveyor of Bedroom Electro who is a legitimate musician, often making electronic music as a “side project” sort of venture to their other musical endeavors. Clearly a distinction must be drawn, therefore, between Bedroom Electro “artists” and “dabblers”. I have personally learned some quick ways to tell the difference, and I’ve stopped listening to the dabblers completely. I’m pretty sure, by this point, that I’ve heard every possible combination of the same bank of sounds that FruityLoops has to offer; it doesn’t seem a necessary use of my time to revisit them ad nauseum.
It seems that this challenge would force a conscious effort, to some extent, onto the actual musicians working the genre to make the chasm of distinction between these two sub-categories wider. Unfortunately, although attempts are often made, they most often fall quite short. The perpetual problem for musicians in this realm becomes how to go about moving the music past Myspace. So you’ve created an internet site where people can listen to your electronic music. So have all of the mouse-clicking dabblers. Where, then, does the next frontier of distinction come? Live performance? A greater deal of tangible (non-electronic) instrumentation? Musical experimentation to a degree at which the capabilities of computer software falls short? All of these solutions have posed perpetual problems for electronic acts of all kinds when attempted.
I initially set upon writing this piece as a review of an E.P. recently released by one such project of this nature that I've been in contact with. This outfit is the brainchild of one musician that I know to be a rather talented individual, although various other members have been added at different points in time to facilitate some of his attempts to move the music “out of the bedroom”. I have seen this project’s mastermind attempt all of the above-stated potential solutions and more since the outfit’s inception, all with rather struggling results. Attempts at live performance have been tainted with either an over-reliance on prerecorded elements that make the audience wonder exactly what is being “performed” live, or an over-abundance of live instruments replacing the electronic sounds on the recording which makes for a very different sounding band. Even on the recordings, it seems that as they add more non-electronic instrumentation (guitars, live drums, etc.) they stray further from their desired sound, and end up fumbling awkwardly with the defining characteristics of being an “electronic” act. Basically, as I listened to their new release, it became evident that the harder that they seem to be trying to distance themselves from the mouse-clicking computer dabblers, the harder it becomes to listen to their music. The more I think about it, the more that I realize that this seems to be a common theme, and quite a dilemma for the more legitimate representatives of the genre to overcome.
Bedroom Electro’s very definition, therefore, appears to be Bedroom Electro’s biggest problem. Until the truly talented experimenters with he genre can find a more effective way to go beyond merely poking their heads with curiosity out of the bedroom door and actually step out into the hallway that leads to the places where the rest of legitimate music resides, it seems hard to take even the most earnest of these outfits seriously, and the average public will continue to have no clear way of distinguishing the musicians from the non. Until that step is made, the harsh truth is that there’s no real reason to peer into the bedroom; there’s not much here to see besides a pile of coats on the bed while the party continues in the other room.