Tuesday afternoon, monolithic (and growing) EDM giant SFX Entertainment announced their most audacious move to-date, that being the development of an "electronic music culture"-related broadcast program. Titled Ultimate DJ, the show will be developed by SFX in tandem with British producer/impresario Simon Cowell's Syco Entertainment, with sponsorship coming from mobile technology giant T-Mobile. Billboard's article about the program states that the show will aim to "cover electronic music culture while presenting up-and-coming DJs and producers." On first glance, the idea that the one-time irascible American Idol judge - whose current roster of talent and properties includes the global X Factor and Got Talent TV franchises, as well as artists One Direction and Susan Boyle - is jumping into EDM should be cause for alarm for stalwart EDM fanatics. However, upon a deeper and more nuanced review, this could actually be the amazing thing that dance as a culture needs to prosper and grow into the future.
Foremost, let's be upfront about why this is happening. First, I'm certain that this has minimal (if anything) to do with that one theoretical time Simon Cowell went to Hakkasan and fell in love with the sounds of Calvin Harris. Here are two facts:
- On February 7, 2014, Fox cancelled the American version of X Factor after three seasons
- Insofar as NBC's America's Got Talent, from a premiere episode high of 15.28 million homes tuned in in 2011, the number dropped nearly 27% to 11.22 million in 2013. As far as season finales, the number has dropped nearly 30% from 16.41 to 11.49 million homes tuned in and watching.
Though Cowell's Syco Entertainment is excelling in its musical exploits, American television has become an issue for concern. Thus, though EDM has not been significantly mined to-date for its potential in episodic broadcasting, the fact that the sound has found its way into mainstream top-40 radio and massive attendance and revenue in the live event space makes it ripe for development in this format. T-Mobile's involvement as a mobile platform for viewing the program works, too, as given the broadcast TV ratings drop, numbers for potential show advertisers have to come from somewhere. As well, noting SFX's ability to quickly corner and dominate the market in the genre, the partnership is ideal.
Billboard's article states that Ultimate DJ will be a competition that blends the best of American Idol and EDM in the live and online realm. DJs will first submit tracks for voting via social media, then move on to live competitions and performances in SFX-branded venues. Of course, the idea of illicit voting practices springs to mind, as well as the idea of the program erring in the direction of big room house and dubstep, sounds that have significant financing behind them already and/or a rabid underground community. However, if there is an independent panel choosing the artists on which viewers can vote, the idea that there will be a diversity of sounds represented certainly stands to be the case.
The most significant positive that could emerge from this program is demystifying EDM by presenting DJ/producers as more than nameless faces pushing buttons while standing on platforms. In-depth personality profiles have always been part and parcel of Syco programming, and getting to know about the DJ/producers when they're not spinning or producing will be important. Yes, for every Tiesto there's a BT, for every Aiden Jude there's an Alex Young, and for every Diplo there's a David Heartbreak. Showcasing the diversity of artistic creativity, styles of music produced and personalities in "electronic music culture" may be the show's greatest boon to allowing the scene to gain greater respect in mainstream circles.
Let's keep things really real here. With SFX being the owner of the now-global Electric Zoo festival brand as well as a plethora of other festivals, Beatport, and a number of other organizations and companies, it would behoove them to use this program to showcase a dance music culture that is safe, yet spectacular. Highlighting the marijuana use, pill-popping, gratuitous sexuality, and less-than-savory personalities in the scene would not be the best possible idea. Yes, I'm certain there will be blonde girls in furry boots and glittery outfits dancing everywhere. Also, I'm certain that wide-eyed kids with kandi will be plentiful. As well, given that this is a showcase of everything, I'm almost certain that there will be an outlier or two that is more down with more urban and rap-themed ideals, as well as the nu disco and deep house fiends who love dark rooms and chill vibes.
Though the eventual winner of this program may be a producer who makes sounds more in tune with Joris Voorn than Juelz Santana, or who is more like a plus-sized trap producer who loves Chipotle moreso than a Latino moombahton producer who loves empanadas, it's the fact that all four of these concepts will have equal showcase in front of somewhere around 10-to-15 million people on broadcast TV, untold millions online, and the possibility of millions more in global first run-syndication. For a sound whose roots were in gay bath houses in front of hundreds, to now potentially being a global household brand is impressive. Sure, the douche chills this program gives are real. But chill out for a second and feel that second wave of feelings of where hard work and perseverance of forty years of history have led us to, and enjoy what could feasibly happen next.