I'm straight edge because I sincerely feel that doing drugs and drinking alcohol doesn't particularly lead anywhere constructive for me anymore. Similarly, as a 35-year-old African-American male, there's something really off to me about the potentially toxic relationship between dance and rap in EDM these days feeling like “nothing progressive ventured, nothing progressive gained.” In my view, dance music and drugs always created the intellectual and creative spaces where the water was troubled, where the unusual was welcomed. It was a space where nothing was deconstructed, but rather everything that was new, exciting and worthwhile came to be. The story of Electric Zoo 2013 was just how pervasive RAP – and no, not trap-as-EDM, hip-house, freestyle or whatever – but RAP, in the persona of everything from Biggie samples and sadly enough, poppin' a molly and sweatin' (until death, unfortunately) were. In somehow finding a way to make both drugs and music safe in being spectacular yet again, hopefully we can find solutions to what could very well be a troubling era for the future of dance music.
As probably the one “resident black guy” of the Electric Zoo press corps of the past five years, rap's transition from the 800-pound gorilla in the corner to the belle of the ball has been troubling. From the curious booking of, yet good-time vibes delivered by Snoop Dogg as “DJ Snoopadelic” in 2011 to Saturday's Fool's Gold Records day at the Riverside tent involving mixtape DJ Green Lantern and rap production legends Just Blaze and araabMUZIK literally playing straight-up rap music, things have changed. There's something in the very real notion of rap influencing the very vapid, temporal and surreal notions of dance that's already concerning. As well, the idea that rap is primarily the art form of poor blacks, and events like Zoo being the domain of (if you look at the exorbitant ticket prices) privileged whites and other non-black races, it's the last domain of the kind of latent racism that is troubling as hell.
When rap hit mainstream dance at the same time MDMA use hit mainstream rap, I had an intense feeling that this trade was insidious and ultimately opening Pandora's Box. In fact, it's one of the reasons that I was initially so supportive of moombahton. The idea that Latin sounds had always been so complementary to dance definitely gave me a far warmer sensation as an intelligent and aware black person than, say, the idea that Waka Flocka and Steve Aoki could be friends. While their partnership on a musical level could spell Billboard chart stardom, on a human and emotional level, the first second Waka yells “turn up,” the molly's getting popped or copious amounts of the libation of your choice are being consumed in excess. Yes, this sounds like terrible stereotyping, but, in seeing where dance's new imperative have taken us with two dead revelers at Electric Zoo, there may be something to this idea.
Yes, dance music's superstars are still dance music's superstars. Rap being in the room can reinforce lessons about turning up and popping molly, but we're still at a place where, on top of the industry, rap's influence is not yet pervasive – for now. Sebastian Ingrosso was still headlining Sunday's event, and would've played his Tommy Trash-collaboration “Reload” for the likely hundredth time over the weekend. However, during his closing set on Friday night, in the midst of dropping his good-time jug band electro grooves, the snares began to roll and the tell-tale 808s began to snap and rumble forth from the massive speakers. The crowd stopped, and the energy briefly dissipated. The crowd didn't want to head to Tim Berling's traps of Stockholm, yet, amazingly they cheered soon thereafter when he dropped his “I'm a fucking alcoholic” vocal sample, an allusion to yes, his recent bout with alcoholism – still the widely accepted notion of being too “turnt up” for your own good.
Again, I'm straight edge because I feel that doing drugs and abusing alcohol doesn't lead anywhere constructive for myself, and I have my doubts about it’s benefits for most everyone else as well. However, just because two kids died at Electric Zoo, dance music will not die in the United States. America is a society driven on pure capitalistic greed. That being said, maybe it will take the cataclysmic effect of death from Pandora's Box being opened and the evil spirits of dance and rap commingling for dance and rap to interact in a – necessary for dance – safe, yet spectacular, manner. Turn up must turn down in order for progression to happen and for EDM to live into the future.