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Invite to Participate in Graduate Research: "IDM as Popular Music"


headplastic
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Hello WATMM, I am a graduate student from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. I am currently conducting a thesis project that analyzes intelligent dance music as popular music. In this analysis, I argue that IDM has a historically fluid relationship with mainstream values and the issues surrounding commercialization, a surplus of electronic music technology, and how popular image (eg. the AFX face) distort our understanding of what deems an artist 'popular' to mass audiences.

The topic is endlessly complex, as this notion of 'mass audience' is becoming more and more outdated and digital communities, such as this, fragment social groups as if they are tribes rather than subcultures or scenes. With the rapid emergence of the online world and digital technology, our ideas of what constitutes a community are changing. This means it is difficult to understand what popular values are in comparison to underground values. What's more, is that the growing impact of brands and commercial identities skew the notion of authentic music.

A key theory that I am utilising in this research is Sarah Thornton's notion of subcultural capital. Essentially, this theory argues that artists, listeners, and related institutions accrue a form of capital that helps to identify if someone or something is part of a subculture or popular culture. These values change depending on the community in question, and can be visualized as a spectrum. For example, some popular IDM artists such as Autechre or Aphex Twin are notorious for creating myths about their identity, actively shitting on pop media, and declining interviews. One could argue they maintain and shield their subcultural values by acting in this manner. I can go into more detail as the discussion unfolds.

If this post and research interests you, feel free to comment or PM me to keep the discussion going. I have various questions prepared in an interview-like format, but I think it is best to remain conversational in this discussion. There are some challenging questions I may offer, but I will wait to see how the discussion unfolds first. Some general research questions as food-for-thought:

- Would you consider the IDM community a diverse social space? Is it a cohesive community or fragmented in some way?

- What constitutes "popular music" in this digital age? Is IDM popular music?

- Does the online underground exist? What kind of impact does it have on listeners?

At times I will have to play devil's advocate, but please keep in mind this is my job, and it's only a means to extract interesting ideas about this important research! Cheers

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36 minutes ago, headplastic said:

For example, some popular IDM artists such as Autechre or Aphex Twin are notorious for creating myths about their identity

not Ae, they've always been straight shooters. they may give obtuse answers to irritate interviewers asking banal questions like "how do you make your music" but they don't tell tall tales like AFX. edit: with the exception of that Max screenshot

anyway, interesting questions.

- Would you consider the IDM community a diverse social space? Is it a cohesive community or fragmented in some way?

I don't think so. it is certainly an open space in the internet age in that anyone can get into it and participate in discussions and share opinions about various artists and releases, but it's not "diverse" in the sense that it attracts and retains a certain fixed demographic predominantly and tends to drive away others. this pertains to the "community" btw, not to the music per se. the community probably coheres around certain approaches or say 'values' in terms of art, music production, aesthetics, etc but I don't think it's socially cohesive, it fragments around personalities.

- What constitutes "popular music" in this digital age? Is IDM popular music?

I can't answer this question at all. I'd say though that over time, the creativity and experimentation in IDM has certainly seeped into popular music, e.g. classic Warp releases from the mid to late 90s sound like they belong in the realm of mainstream music today, have probably influenced production techniques.

- Does the online underground exist? What kind of impact does it have on listeners?

dunno, anyone with any specific music tastes outside of popular music has their own community or space to cling to so "underground" might be becoming increasingly meaningless. the IDM underground has certainly eroded over time, in the sense that, like other styles of music that burst on the scene with freshness and creativity and leave something new in their wake before disappearing/being subsumed, the IDM heavyweights are less unknown/niche now. not a bad thing per se. IDM itself is an increasingly meaningless term, it's had its golden age. the artists will keep doing their thing but the old scene is gone.

Edited by usagi
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16 minutes ago, usagi said:

  not Ae, they've always been straight shooters.

Yeah this. I suggest you read the AAA thread as part of your research.

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it takes a certain kind of person to meticulously archive hour long recordings of squelching fart noises and analyze it in second long intervals.  it takes another kind of person to go to a music festival thats playing something that could be maybe called idm and enjoy dancing to it on mdma.  it's diverse but you're getting a limited sample by asking the internet, specifically asking this particular website.  to accurately perform this research i think youd have to go to music festivals playing idm and randomly sample people.  youd also have to send questions to idm producers big and small.  you could analyze youtube, bandcamp, or soundcloud comments for information on diversity of people

Edited by cyanobacteria
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4 hours ago, headplastic said:

- Would you consider the IDM community a diverse social space? Is it a cohesive community or fragmented in some way?

- What constitutes "popular music" in this digital age? Is IDM popular music?

- Does the online underground exist? What kind of impact does it have on listeners?

Okay, I'm just going on a hunch here. Just what I think. I have done no research in the matter.

I'm not sure there even is a clear-cut IDM community. Isn't it just people who happen to be attracted to the same kind of music? I feel like the IDM community is rather small pockets of friends, or acquaintances finding out about a common love for the same kind of music, or even just individuals, rather splintered over the real world. More-so, I think they find connection on specific places on the internet (like WATMM I guess), or on gigs of IDM-like artists, or on festivals which happen to cater IDM-like music, or on certain record labels. My guess is that it's not a very diverse community. However I do think it's splintered over the world making it somewhat diverse, but only a little bit. I think there are some common parameters among people who like to listen to IDM-like music. Maybe it has to do with something going on in the brain, the heart (however, that's the brain too), something cultural, the background in music, upbringing, certain patterns in (electronic) music? IDM to me is not a clearly defined genre of music. IDM might have some sort of core concept, but I personally find it to be more eclectic, experimental, fuzzy. I think it uses, incorporates, molds and experiments with other music genres. I think closely-related electronic music genres borrow from IDM too. I feel, more recently, Pop music also borrows a bit from IDM & co. I wouldn't define IDM as popular music though. Very few people seem to know of the term IDM, or only know of one or only a few IDM-like artists. Most popular radio stations don't play IDM, or very few of it. I feel like one almost has to actively search for IDM-like music to find it, or find out about it. Me personally, I only first found out about IDM from an Art Teacher who played music in the background from Lusine (L'usine) during some of the art lessons.

I'm not sure if this helps in any way. Just my two cents.
I could be completely wrong though. 🙂

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I think whatever IDM scene there is it's pretty scattered and not that cohesive. For example the BoC fandom doesn't necessarily overlap much with the other IDM fandoms. Braindance fans seem to have their own thing and labels etc. Then there is the more artsy side with labels like Raster and when you go into that direction far enough you start to go into experimental music territory with artists like Mika Vainio. Some stuff is clearly ambient but it gets categorized as IDM by some kind of association.

I can barely call IDM a genre because it doesn't have much genre defining musical features like trance or jungle. It's some electronic weirdness that defies categorization so the stuff gets labeled as IDM. Unless it's too wonky, then it gets labeled "experimental". So there isn't much to build a scene around because the whole concept is so vague.

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21 minutes ago, zkom said:

I can barely call IDM a genre because it doesn't have much genre defining musical features like trance or jungle. It's some electronic weirdness that defies categorization so the stuff gets labeled as IDM. Unless it's too wonky, then it gets labeled "experimental". So there isn't much to build a scene around because the whole concept is so vague.

I'm such an egotistic navelgazer that I keep referring back to my own post that refers back to a post on the IDM list over a decade ago; it's about the term, but there are more general thoughts included and I still stand behind those views.

I still think that IDM is the name of the mailing list and not a musical genre, although it has stuck for so long that It Doesn't Matter™.

Edited by dcom
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I mean the "Intelligent" in IDM does refer to the AI series and two comps, which was dominated by artists who came about at a certain time (B12, Black Dog, Aphex, AE, The Orb, Richie Hawtin etc.) The RA interview with AE around elseq talks about it quite a lot as well, saying it was just a bit of fun, like it was dance music you weren't supposed to dance to kind of thing. That series from Warp really kind of commercialized it and gave it a real central outlet, along with R&S (and their subsidiary Apollo) in Europe.

For WATMM purposes though Incredibly Dumb Muppets works well.

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@headplastic Not sure of this helps, but when you say "IDM as popular music" I associated this immediately with the crossovers happening roughly 10 years ago in hip hop/r&b. Where artists sampled other underground artists (Kanye sampling Aphex). Timbaland and co were borrowing beats and techniques from all over the place and applying it to popular music. Going back further, to the nineties and early 2000, you have crossover stuff like Bjork and Madonna even. I'd mention the trip hop stuff also. Like Massive Attack and Portishead, and the likes. More recently John Frusciante moving over from rock towards IDM is also interesting. And I want to put Trent Reznor there as well. Also stuff like Underworld, Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk. It's not really IDM anymore, I guess, but it's typically electronic music moving into the domain of popular music.

That's what I personally consider as IDM leaking over to "popular music". It's all about crossing over certain barriers. Either by sampling underground stuff directly. By being influenced. Or by Aphex Twin and the likes being played on MTV in the nineties.

My guess is that currently, you could argue that music in the charts is influenced in terms of the production techniques. Music nowadays tends to be built on a grid using software. This has been heavily explored in IDM space, I'd argue. Although not uniquely.

Side note: to me, as a thesis this appears to be a bit too broad a subject though. I'd put more focus on a single artist and the connection with popular music. Kraftwerk would be a good example, I guess. 

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I swear I've seen this thread before. Maybe not in General Banter, but I think it's been posted previously.

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14 minutes ago, Braintree said:

I swear I've seen this thread before. Maybe not in General Banter, but I think it's been posted previously.

If you can find a similar thread, please let me know! It would help with the research

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idm is the music of late 20th century "lads" made in the british uk. austerity economics and conservative politics had created a distinctly daft vibe across the lands. the youth were unimpressed with the way the olds were running things so they went around looking for places to dance and "do drug." ecstasy, acid lsd, mushrooms. weed too, obviously. they would find like, a field, and they would tell everyone to go there to dance. at first, it was a miserable failure. not just the wretched winds and bleak atmospheres of the british land but also, they didn't have the right music. so some people bought old gear from the pawn shops and went on the doll and made "tunes" for people to dance to. this was called "dance music" which had never been done before and it was copied largely from music being made in midwestern inner cities in the united states. they too were undergoing "economics" by the geniuses of the land so they had to make tunes to make life tolerable. with this music in place the brittons invented "raving" and eventually found old factories and warehouses where they could practice their arts. these would be all night affairs and for those who remained into the "wee hours" a new music had to be formed. one could only "rave" for so long. so they invented "chill out" music where you could just sit there and do nothing and the music would just be like a lush atmosphere all around you, soothing you with soft electronic beds and quaint little samples like a rooster saying "cock a doodle do" or something of that sort. at some point, a couple of lads got an idea - what if we combined the rave music and the chill out music? what if it was music meant for dancing but also for just sitting there doing nothing and not even moving? thus, idm was born. they had to call it this because only intelligence could comprehend this paradoxical musical form. the rest is history.

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With all due respect, yeah I can't help but think the whole premise is flawed from the get-go just for the fact you're using the term "IDM" at all. But that's academia for ya. If you have a bit of fun in your pursuit of a stamped and framed piece of paper that hopefully gets you a respectable job one day then kudos to you. (This coming from someone with a B.Mus in Jazz Studies lol) 

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Thanks for the responses here. I'll try to respond to you guys in this post, so far:

@usagi Yeah I know autechre has been pretty straight forward, and I can appreciate them for that. I should have rephrased that statement. I find Squarepusher is similarly outspoken and candid about his ideas especially on the topics of commercializing music and gear obsession. You bring up a good point in regard to how underground scenes have their moment and then ultimately feed into what remains as mainstream. It's similar to what @Satans Little Helperdescribed, crossovers and borrowing may have created an accessible gateway to IDM and the more artsy, experimental output. I mean, for the pop music listener, "Avril 14th" is more accessible than, say, "Ziggomatic 17" yet they are from the same album. How pop musicians sample underground/experimental music seems to shed light on the impact that IDM heavyweights had.

@Alcofribas, prime historical analysis hahah. I wish I could submit that proper! The history of IDM has already been established, this project is to gauge where it fits as popular music, because what defines popular music vs underground music is up for debate. Warp, Rephlex, R&S, among other labels, all had a hand in marketing the music to a wider audience once the rave scene dissolved. Most notably Warp and the AI series, as some of you have mentioned.

@zkom thanks for putting Raster on my radar. Any other labels you could recommend?

@toaoaoadI see what you're saying, and I've definitely heard it before, but the main focus is not on the term itself. If anything, I'm using IDM in the same way popular media does, to gain attention. The term itself is easily dismantled, as we've seen. I opt for the term experimental techno or plainly experimental electronica. IDM is what gets attached to these artists and their music, and that can be productive when discussing commercialization of subgroups and underground musicians. The project is meant to advance the subculture capital theory I outlined above, which is ultimately a social theory. The classification of these terms is not the fun part but it's still something the community can comment on, even if it's grudgingly.

As a general note, I'm aware that the discussion of the term 'IDM' and the semantics of it all are exhausted. I gather that it was never taken very seriously by the artists or the community, but it is still interesting because it stuck in popular culture. Perhaps part of the reason it stuck was the relative controversy around the term.  @zkom mentioned braindance, is that term not synonymous with IDM as a genre? What about 'experimental techno'? I can acknowledge that this kind of discussion can seem pointless but I think it does matter because how we classify music makes a difference to who listens to it, how they find a community, and how well it sells. Popular music is typically based on sales, branding, and an artist's image, especially today with the impact of social media.

If interest remains intact, and we can escape the topic of terminology, respond to this post and I can offer more (interesting) questions.

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