By Conor Bulkeley-Krane
Catlin Speak (Portland, Oregon)
The 2016 Grammy Awards featured a rare electronic music performance, by Justin Bieber, Diplo, and Skrillex, and deserving musicians won the awards available to electronic artists.
The institution responsible for voting for music’s biggest prize, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States, are often criticized for making old-fashioned, publicly disconnected and occasionally racist decisions.
The nominees in the electronic music categories, Best Dance/Electronic Album and Best Dance Recording, often embody these out-of touch traits. In the past, the Academy usually nominated only the biggest names, who frequently were pop artists who merely dabbled in electronic music.
This year, however a much more representative group was nominated. This year, the nominees for Best Dance/Electronic Album included Caribou’s “Our Love,” The Chemical Brothers’ “Born In The Echoes,”Disclosure’s “Caracal,” Jamie xx’s “In Colour,” and Skrillex and Diplo’s “Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü.” While this list is nowhere close to comprehensively representing all factions of electronic music, the selection this year covered a lot of bases.
Electronic music is composed of many different distinct genres and subgenres, from UK Drum & Bass, Moombahton, Trance, all shades of House and countless other genres. This year’s awards were refreshing because the Academy nominated albums from usually overlooked genres.
Caribou’s album “Our Love” contained many thumping techno and house tracks that demonstrate the Academy paying homage to electronic music’s roots.
“Born in The Echoes” by The Chemical Brothers consisted of trippy, spacey electronica, which is a sound that has endured throughout all of electronic music’s rich history.
Disclosure has always been a pop group influenced by club sounds, and despite the fact that they are labeled as deep-house artists, they have always attempted to brand themselves as Top 40 Radio artists. Their album was well done, but barely electronic music.
Their nomination is representative of the Grammy’s general attitude. “In Colour” was an innovative and well produced electronica album, that while a tad unrepresentative of the overall genre, was deserved of the nomination.
“Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü” was an album that consisted of interesting, aggressive bass music. Their nomination was a nod to the “EDM,” festival movement that has dominated electronic music’s reputation in recent years.
Skrillex and Diplo won the award for Best Dance/Electronic Album and Best Dance Recording for “Where Are Ü Now” with Justin Bieber. Even though their sound is one of the more “poppy” and mainstream electronic, it represents the academy’s forward thinking progress in evaluating electronic music.
It would appear as if this years awards ceremonies bolstered electronic music’s recognition and widespread musical status. A closer examination, however, reveals a multi-faceted reality.
Justin Bieber, Skrillex, and Diplo’s performance was groundbreaking in many ways, but detrimental to the overall electronic music movement.
Many hoped that they would embrace the unique fusion of future bass style electronic music and radio pop that made the song groundbreaking with a performance that was different from the expected. Instead, they converted a wonderfully unique electronic song into an emotionless mediocre acoustic performance. One would hope that if they chose to embrace the musical elements of the song that the actual composition would grow in musical merit with a key change or some interesting new melody. Instead the performance was aggressively vanilla and instantly forgettable.
The supergroup Jack Ü had a chance to challenge the status quo by bringing electronic music to the grammy in a surprising way. Instead, they dumbed down an incredibly distinctive song into something easily digestible by the masses and in doing so, robbed themselves and the entire electronic music community from an amazing opportunity.
Photo Credit: Alan Light