Every child of the 80s and 90s remembers the first time they ever heard Sandstorm. Since the fateful day that track came into the world, the artist responsible for it has proven time and time again that there’s nothing inherently wrong with accessibility. Enter Darude, the trance legend with the stalwart belief that popular music has as much a positive role to play in EDM as the underground. “The more people that hear my music, our music, it feeds the scene; new people learn about dance music.”
In the 90s, our movement hadn’t yet reached the commercial heights it’s accomplished today. It began with smaller crowds that seemingly grew exponentially every year. As the momentum continued to build, so did the popularity of EDM, bringing us to today where tens of millions of fans worldwide live by the music. As more people come into the fold though, it’s easy to fall into a destructive mindset brought on by the specter of pop music. That’s where an artist with an open mind like Darude’s can see the intrinsic value of his mainstream counterparts.
The person who comes to Lucky the first time ever, that gives them a chance. They hear those tracks and they’re like the ‘baby food’ for them. In a week, or a year, they start realizing that ‘this is not enough for me’ and ‘I’ve heard enough of the same,’ and then they start looking to the sub genres and different things. The mainstream is the stepping stone.
For long-time DJ/ Producers like Darude, it’s very easy to get stuck in a genre. Any step outside of the norm can make a crowd uneasy or disinterested. Darude is continually combatting this by introducing new and different music into his sets, candy-coated with music the crowd is familiar with. “The greatest satisfaction is if I can play a couple of tracks the crowd doesn’t know, but they’re still feeling it.” It’s all about gaining the trust of the crowd by giving them what they want to draw them in, and then introducing them to something they never would have expected once they’re in the room. The trick is getting them into the room in the first place.
Tonight [for example] the crowd seems to be going to the bar immediately if I play something they don’t know. So I’ll play a track that’s similar, maybe that they don’t know, then I’ll need to play a classic, and then they’ll be pulled in. Those are my compromises.
Introducing new sounding sets always carries with it a warning label. Individuals are quick to judge the DJ for playing tracks that have been played too much. The flip side of that coin though, is that we often forget artists have their own preferences as much as we fans do. That being so, you won’t catch Darude dropping a popular song he himself doesn’t enjoy. “Which came first the chicken or the egg: Me liking the track, seeing that it works, or both? I don’t think I’ve ever played a track that I hadn’t liked myself.”
It takes a lot to produce original sounding music in today’s music scene, but Darude pushes hard to make sure his sets stay diverse. His live performance will always include a few new tracks, some classics, and popular music sprinkled in, all layered together to captivate the crowd. That blend essentially serves to give us dance music that contains both depth and mass-appeal. With the ever-developing technologies at producers’ disposal though, many can lose site of either or both of those facets.
It’s really difficult weeding out the average, so-so good-sounding music that doesn’t have any content. Technology now and all kinds of tutorials and all kinds of preset sounds and loops make it so anyone with half an ear can make decent sounding production, but that doesn’t mean that there’s content, meaning the hooks, the inspirational things that actually make people go bonkers.
But for the myriad of artists out there like Darude who manage to perfectly balance content with production, it becomes important not to give the idea of “popularity” a negative connotation. He astutely notes that there are “always some people who don’t think you should make money with your art or that you should make it so popular that everyone likes it. (That) somehow it dilutes the value of the art. I don’t feel like that. I never did.” As our scene continues to grow, change, and evolve, we’re constantly looking for the next big thing. The question Darude is challenging us to ask ourselves along the way is simple: Are we going to dismiss what’s popular just because other people like it too? Or can we enjoy our music for the sake of the music itself? The choice is ours, so let’s make the right one together.
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