One Metal Head’s Take on Electronic Dance Music

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When’s the drum roll going to kick in? Where are the chord changes? Okay, so that vocal piece is a sample… What, no guitars? How do you NOT get bored with practically nothing happening even after a cycle of 16 bars?

Listening to electronic dance music, a million such questions and doubts come to the typical metal-head’s mind. And so does an almost instantaneous conclusion: this genre is dull, boring, and monotonous. A decade ago, I certainly had such thoughts myself.

Armed with a diploma in audio engineering in one hand and my bass guitar in the other, I had moved to Delhi to work at a radio station with an open mind. (Well, open enough to join an existing heavy metal band rather than starting a new one.) My radio station job required me to visit nightclubs and record interviews with international DJs. This seemed like a scary proposition, for I’d never once stepped foot in a club in my 20-something years of existence. I was also pretty convinced by the myth that the “kick-hat-kick-hat” rhythm would drive me mad. I had no clue about the different genres of electronic dance music. I needed a real induction into this new world that I’d never imagined entering.

I was very fortunate that the pioneers of the Indian DJ scene became my entry point to electronic dance music, the same bunch of guys who eventually became my band mates with Jalebee Cartel. I learned that much like rock music, dance music too had multiple sub-genres: house, progressive house, tech-house, techno, trance, psy-trance, and so on. I gradually began appreciating the intricate arrangements, even though I still looked for a drum roll at the end of every bar. At gigs, I realized that the reason dance music didn’t have as many rolls as I wanted was so that everybody on the floor could move to a straight rhythm. The bouncing yet drone-like bass lines began growing on me. I felt my mind opening up to visualize a whole new space.

It was natural that I began working on break beat grooves – for me, it was a natural progression from a live drum kit. I suddenly felt like god when I found myself creating sounds from simple waveforms. This kicked off my love for sound. Being a technology geek helped because I needed to learn various softwares, tools, and synths to address my gray cell needs. What started out as ‘Learn a synth’ session eventually transformed into ‘Let’s make music while learning’ session. Now I enjoy rhythm-programming because it’s often like mathematics. Playing with filters and oscillators is like working in a physics lab. Yeah, call me geeky, but that’s what I love.

Electronic dance music – or should I say “intelligent” dance music – is not just about making people dance. It’s about an energy that sucks you in. Simply put, it’s the buildup and release of tension. It’s a nice and easy form of music that anybody can appreciate. Meanwhile, the detailed structure and arrangement of producing it not only requires a musical mind but also technical know-how: perhaps the perfect blend to keep my appetite satisfied.

I must admit, though, that I still need Slayer playing in my head before I sleep.

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