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Dance Music Is My Religion: Chromeo's Dave 1 on the Dangers of EDM Dogma

"Dance music is reduced to one idiot standing behind unplugged CDJs jumping around and waiting for the drop."
Raving and religion are not as far apart as you would think. In fact, "God is a DJ" and the all-powerful "church" of rave are such commonly-used metaphors that they have become timeworn adages. But in what other ways can dance music culture be compared to a spiritual practice? To explore this question, THUMP commissioned a series of essays this week loosely based on the theme: dance music is my religion. First up: Dave 1 from Chromeo, who expounds on the difference between religion and dogma—and how the threat of totalitarianism looms over what he calls "big hair metal EDM." 

Religion brings people together. The word "religion" is based on the Latin ligare, which means "to bind," or "to group together." So etymologically speaking, that's literally what it is. I feel like dance music has always had the same function, especially if you look to the fringes, the sub-groups. Whether it was David Mancuso's disco loft parties in New York or crunchy raves in California that people only heard about on Myspace, dance music has always been a vehicle that binds people together.

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What's cool about religion is the sense of community. But the distinction to make here is that religion can turn into dogma—and that's when it becomes dangerous. When you only have one style of music—or even worse, the same song played everywhere—infiltrating the public's consciousness, that becomes the only accepted definition of what music is. As dance music becomes ever more mainstream, I think this threat has also loomed larger over it.

What my brother [A-Trak] and I have noticed from going to big festivals over the last few years is that a lot of people play the same set over and over again. That's how dance music can become dogmatic and totalitarian. That also goes against the origin and function of DJing, which is to play stuff that's unexpected and take the audience in new directions.

The reason why SNL's Davvincii skit hit home wasn't because it applied to just Avicii. It applied to 55 other top DJs perfectly. To continue with the religious terminology, when you've got these guys spreading the exact same gospel worldwide, the music gets devalued. The whole scene becomes a caricature. Dance music is reduced to one idiot standing behind unplugged CDJs jumping around and waiting for the drop. You've got to jump up and down. What are you doing, you're not jumping up? You're not rolling? That's where the religion of dance music becomes totalitarian — when you have to obey, or find somewhere else to party. When you lose the diversity, and the art of DJing turns into this monolithic, unidirectional kind of thing, all you're left with is dogma.

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The danger of the funny EDM hair metal caricature is when it kind of becomes true. When you take all the quirks, peaks, valleys, and varieties of dance music and make them disappear under one entity. Which is why stylistic innovation is so important. I love the way George Clinton's funk transposed church tropes with an extra layer of opulence and theatricality. The reference wasn't even like, the churches of the South or inner city gospel. It was an almost baroque sensibility, and that's what really helped it go over the top. Parliament-Funkadelic was Afrocentric but with a science fiction twist. Bernie Worrell played the organ in front of a giant spaceship, and you had a choir.

When we performed on Letterman, we had a gospel choir with us, to reference that. On the cover of our latest album White Women, we had a woman in a bridal dress. That was a wink towards The Brides of Funkenstein. Look, 50% of our fans are EDM kids. That's dope, and I love that we got a talk box at Electric Daisy Carnival and were the only live band on the lineup. That's us spreading our gospel of funk—blending it with a wry Woody Allen humor, a post-hip-hop sensibility, a sort of ZZ Top iconography, and making it rub shoulders with electronic music. It brings our fans together, on the fringes and with a crossover song like "Jealous," more and more towards the center. Hopefully one day, if we get it good enough, that's what they'll say about us.

As told to Michelle Lhooq.

Watch Chromeo's "The Making of White Women" mini-doc on Noisey

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