North West will only end up being the second-most important thing Kanye West will have delivered in the last month. At least his other effort, Yeezus, isn?t the one that you?re going to laugh at on the hit reality holo-show of 2033, Fame Babies. The new album is a chopped-and-screwed, discordant 39-minute time-release cyanide capsule of a record that?s as arrhythmic as it is nasty. This isn?t necessarily a bad thing.
There has been critically lauded EDM-influenced music before, like the monster catalog of LCD Soundsystem. And there has been popular EDM-influenced music before, like the sonic macaroni art of the Black Eyed Peas. But Yeezus, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, might be the first to hit both critical and commercial high notes as a sharply EDM-influenced record.?
From the minute it dropped on June 18 the critical reception was overwhelmingly positive. There?s a certain amount of bullet-proofiness Kanye enjoys in the critical community, and there?s probably a fair amount of Emperor?s New Clothes-ing going on with the reviews (like the breathless proclamations that Kanye was finally getting to confessional lyrics, apparently forgetting ?Runaway?). But the one thing everyone seemed to zero in on was how Kanye embraced electronic dance music on the album.
And that?s terrible for the Las Vegas nightclub industry as it?s currently constructed?around a strict EDM business model. Because once critical and commercial success converge like this, there?s nowhere to go but down.
Like most things in life, you can draw a salient parallel for EDM?s trajectory by looking at disco. We?ll go ahead and put the beginning of the disco era in 1974 with ?Kung Fu Fighting? (because of course), and the end of it in the fall of 1979, after the White Sox Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago and the sudden erasure of disco records from both the area around second base, and the charts.?
What happened in that five-year span? Well, disco had a steady rise in popularity, increasing exposure, and then in June of ?78, you got the Rolling Stones? Some Girls, featuring ?Miss You.? It?s a song that, if Keith Richards? autobiography Life is to be believed, saw Mick Jagger foist the disco-thumper on the rest of the band in a bid for relevance. But it?s also the album that critics generally praised as the strongest effort in six years for a band that, for its 1968-72 stretch from Beggars Banquet to Exile on Main St., built a critical forcefield.?
It was the most critically relevant band to do a disco song at the height of the genre?s popularity. And then the bottom fell out.
Which isn?t entirely surprising. Commercial artists can jump on a trend without worrying about their artistic legacy, so long as they move units. Cutting-edge zeitgeisteteers are so far ahead of the curve that even when brilliant, don?t have to sweat the backlash that taking a bad step will bring.
It?s the Kanyes of the world that have to be careful about adopting new sounds. They need to know an audience is primed to accept a somewhat exotic, but not left-field approach. At the same time, they need to consider how it stacks up to the rest of their catalog. There aren?t a lot of Bowie-esque players in the game who can adapt that effortlessly (and Bowie?s chameleonic abilities are probably overstated?dude has always been just moving faster than the rest of us). The road to hell is paved with Limp Bizkit.?
That, however, leaves the clubs in a bad place, because it looks like Yeezus could be the canary in the coal mine for mass-audience EDM. Yes, it?s always going to have its dedicated followers. Yes, it?s been massive in Europe forever, but no matter how often DJs want to drop that line in interviews, it?s still not going to make Americans follow the same behavioral patterns as Europeans. For one thing, we don?t have nearly the rail infrastructure to start taking trains everywhere.
What seems likely is that more and more artists will start to flirt with EDM. Just like Kiss did with disco on the terrible, terrible 1979 jam ?I Was Made for Loving You.? Just like Lou Reed did with rap, for some reason, in 1985?s? ?The Original Wrapper.? Which worked out well. Once that tipping point is reached, the conditions are ripe for weariness and backlash.
The clubs have moved from mash-up and celebrities to house music. They?ll find a way to adapt to the next thing. It?s just that they?ve built up a business model around the popularity that DJs currently enjoy. Indeed, going so far as to design clubs such as Marquee and Light where the DJ booth is at the center of the clubgoers? attention.?
But when they made that shift the last time, it was because of things like the escalating cost to book celebs every weekend, audience fatigue and diminishing returns. We?ve already got the escalating costs for DJs. Yeezus seems to point to the other two conditions. Or at least to the diminishing returns on what level of service celebrity can bring you at high-end French restaurants. Either way.?