If the frustrating new documentary The Electro Wars gets any kind of notable media attention (it gives major shout-outs to the significance of music blogs, so we're guessing it will), we guarantee “the war” will end with more than a few artist and DJ casualties and no Jedi mind trick will prevent it.
It's official. The word “electro” is once and for all, a joke, a slag, insipid prefix for lazy outsiders who feel the need to label and codify. Like “goth,” “raver” (and maybe “hesher” before it), the word has come to be associated with a youthful contingent based on style and music preferences, and while it's certainly helpful –especially for journalists– to have descriptive terms for scenes and sounds, ultimately, the labeling and lumping becomes meaningless, insulting even.
Wednesday night, we attended the LA premiere for the documentary by Stephen Alex Vasquez, a NY-based filmmaker who's chosen to explore the current “electro scene,” via a video-game-graphics-packed procession of interviews and timelines. Questions about where it came from, where it's going and how it's affected mainstream music (and more specifically hip-hop) are posed to the likes of A-Trak, Diplo, DJ Premier, Dave-1 (Chromeo), Moby, Crookers, Spank Rock, Pitbull and LMFAO (comedic relief?), Armand Van Helden, Steve Aoki, Franki Chan, Q-Bert, Laidback Luke and the holy grail of the nu-electronic sensations (at least as presented in the movie): Justice.
“It doesn't mean anything.” We hear these words came from both Frenchies' own mouths when they're asked what electro means to them. Granted it's a rogue-style interview, backstage in a crowded dressing room just after the duo's show, and they're reluctant to talk to begin with. But by the time we finally see the scraggly pair on screen (the movie feels like a My Date With Drew stalker type caper at times) other talking heads essentially say the same thing.
Techno, house, trance, dubstep, disco, jungle, electro-rap, newer names like “blog house” (lo-fi bedroom beats spread via the net)… Though the genres have all become more and more blurred, these terms and styles of dance music do have certain nuances and rhythm structures that make them recognizable (as well as contexts of time and place that make them significant). Wars attempts to chronicle electronic dance music in a historical way, and it hits some important points, but ultimately it fails. Chicago, Detroit and New York DJs and clubs get their props, but the UK dance music scene is barely even mentioned and LA's early underground warehouse rave period (flier culture, map points, etc) and the dance music publications that covered it and more (URB, BPM) not at all.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment, at least for the LA crowd we spoke with after the screening, was the film's shortage of Los Angeles footage. Even if Vasquez and co. made a conscious decision to keep focus on the new wave of electro only, there were big black holes here.
Many interviewees cite LA, and specifically the partnership (and ultimate break-up) of promoter/DJs Franki Chan and Steve Aoki as the catalyst for the nu-electro resurgence in California and eventually the US itself. We were there watching and writing about this shift as it happened well over 5 years ago. We saw both deejays' playlists (and their respective labels Dim Mak and IHeartComix) grow and evolve from rock and celeb-party schlock to more innovative synth-driven concoctions and acts. Both individually brought new artists like MSTRKRFT and Justice to LA audiences and forged relationships with everyone from the Ed Banger crew to Peaches, MIA, and, more recently, the Black Eyed Peas and Kanye West (who ultimately played big roles in the genre's mainstreaming).
Thanks largely to these two (who both come off articulate in the flick), plus social networking and photo blogs (the Cobrasnake is interviewed), electronic dance music got hip again right before our eyes, with fans going from cologne-wearing weekend warriors and baggy-panted jiggy heads at the “super-clubs,” to a younger, punkier-seeming hip-kid crowd in tight jeans and shaggy haircuts on Cahuenga and beyond. We weren't the only ones who felt The Electro Wars should have shown more of that last night. Cahuenga Wars… hmmm… now that'd be another movie entirely.