Music by VICE

Will All This Bad EDM Be A Good Thing For Dance Culture?

We asked DJ Sprinkles, The Black Madonna, Ben Klock, A-Trak and more to weigh in on the gateway drug music theory.

by Joel Fowler
Sep 15 2015, 2:30pm

Joel Benjamin

Illustrations by Joel Benjamin

We've been living in the midst of an EDM invasion, picking up momentum like that boulder in Indiana Jones. Electronic music is pop music now, with its requisite garbage and gems—as well as its outspoken detractors. As Seth Troxler put it to THUMP in a recent interview, speaking on behalf of underground producers everywhere, "We're part of a dance culture that is making music based on an idea that is completely authentic, whereas they're making music that is based on profit." Still, labeling the entire EDM movement "Sonic Ear Rape," as he did at Tomorrowland, might be more reductive than insightful. In a recent New York Times interview, Nick Sabine of Resident Advisor posed an alternative interpretation, suggesting that so-called "mainstream music" might serve as a gateway to more adventurous sounds: "Look at the sheer volume of people who now embrace E.D.M. as something they enjoy," he said. "You only need 5 percent of those millions and millions to dig a little deeper to discover electronic music in more depth."

Can exposure to bad music lead listeners to the good? Is mainstream EDM a tidal wave of hot garbage? Is there such a thing as good and bad music to begin with? As electronic music continues to travel from niche gatherings in dark rooms to multi-million dollar spectacles, these questions have been bubbling up more and more in the dance community. We asked our favorite artists and music world personalities to weigh in, including DJ Sprinkles, The Black Madonna, Ben Klock, A-Trak, Move D, and even a music professor from Berklee. Here are the answers from the ones who were cool enough to get back to us.

THUMP: What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
It always comes down to the contexts and situations through which we are exposed to certain audio. The relationships between sounds and contexts are usually what motivate someone to find out more about something. It is about social relations—not just the music itself. I mean, what usually makes music crappy is less how it sounds, and more who it culturally serves, right?

As a kid, I was drawn to electronic music—specifically, early techno-pop (not to be confused with techno)—precisely because it was something other than the rock & roll soundtrack associated with the popular kids who harassed and bashed me daily. They were the same kids buying into racist and homophobic "Disco Sucks" campaigns. I felt disempowered by the culture that empowered them, so I was drawn to other cultural spaces, and those spaces had a different soundtrack. I would argue they (and most people) liked rock or country precisely because of the cultural relations associated with those sounds—whether they fit into those spaces, or simply aspired to do so.

DJ Sprinkles tells it like it is

Although I had a lot of punk friends, I disliked punk rock because it was still rock to my ears, dominated by guitar. Yet, it was through the P.E.A.C.E./War punk compilation that I first heard industrial ambient by Crass, which led to my interest in early SPK, Lustmord, Laibach, etc. And despite how influential and important those records were and continue to be for me, owning them also crystallized my dislike of mainstream industrial and industrial dance music, like NIN, etc. So the boundaries of taste are often in flux, and there is a constant relationship to the "crappy" that informs our tastes—at times even more than the sounds we like. It's all woven into social power dynamics, and where one situates herself within those dynamics.

Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
I believe the subjective is conditioned by experience and contexts; it allows for a degree of variability in taste and opinion, but that is usually either about acceptance or rejection of a status quo, not limitless possibilities or endless imagination, etc. "Good' and "bad" are also obviously contextual, and not inherent. For example, one might assume most people feel "morally outraged" at the idea of women who commit adultery being publicly stoned to death, yet in certain localities, it is precisely "moral outrage" that mandates such a penalty. So it is an extremely dangerous position for anyone to ever essentialize moral notions of "good" and "bad," as well as to over-prioritize the scope of their subjective capacity for choice.

When WHAM! first came out, I really despised them so much, because of the "Choose Life" T-shirt George Michael wore in the "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" video (which I would still say is a horrible song regardless). In the US, that read like an anti-abortion slogan. In fact, a lot of the religious nuts at my school liked WHAM! because of how they interpreted the T-shirt. None of us had any idea it was a slogan for some anti-drug campaign in the UK. I'm deliberately citing kind of "lame"' musical references to get the point across simply that it's never "just about the music." It's all webs of time, context, and experience. That was the message behind the title of my K-S.H.E album, "Routes Not Roots."

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
I've seen people argue that everyone likes some type of bullshit first, and that everybody essentially gets in via the gateway drug theory. For me, that was definitely not the case. I was mostly turned off by popular rave music in the mid-'90s, until I heard jungle. Jungle had a direct connection hip-hop and reggae through sampling, and only once I got in through that door was I able to understand the roots of techno and house music, and how far from rave culture those things were. And that's how I got into dance music. Had I only been exposed to trance and the other most popular stuff at that time, I probably wouldn't have ever gone down this path.

The worst dance music comes off as cheesy, un-funky drivel. The best way to have that not turn off a large chunk of people is to have quality music being championed. Say what you like about the explosions of alternative music and hip-hop in the '90s, but those were originally led by quality artists selling in big numbers, being played on the radio, with tons of fans. Part of the reason dance music never took off in the US is because it has mostly been only the worst lowest common denominator shit leading the way, aside from the massive commercial success of vocal pop house in the early '90s. I'm still waiting for the dance music equivalent of Nirvana to come reset people's expectations away from the equivalent of hair metal that we have running the show currently.

Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
People mistake their right to like anything they choose as being the same as everything being equally good. That's just not the case. People eat at McDonald's every day and like it, but it doesn't make that food as good as what you'll find at the best restaurants being prepared by the best chefs. EDM is currently the McDonald's of dance music, and the problem with that whole culture of shallow, uncreative, lowest common denominator music and culture is that it doesn't provide a path for people to become more discerning.

The wave of techno and house that is currently coming up in America is gaining traction primarily because it is rooted in the histories of those genres, especially as black music genres, and has nothing to do with the rave or EDM scenes. In cities like NYC, Detroit, and Chicago, there are cultures for this music that have [been around] for over 40 years in some cases. EDM lacks that, as did rave, and this is why their use as a "gateway drug" will never really amount to much. Just shrugging our collective shoulders and hoping that in a few years some of these kids might magically suddenly like what we do is not going to help anything.

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
I don't think the gateway drug theory is a theory. We know it happens; it's happening now. EDM services a very young audience, and most people's taste develops to a large degree between their teenage and early adult years. At my college radio station, there were people that got into DJing because they'd played Dance Dance Revolution or loved the electronic music in anime. And this has always been happening; you have to figure that someone who loved the song "Kung Fu Fighting" eventually found their way to The Warehouse and stayed there.

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In 1991, I was really into "James Brown Is Dead," so I am proof of the concept. "Sesame's Treet" and that Alpha Team "Speed Racer" record were songs I just loved, and they're certainly not where I ended up! But in general, the crossover dance music from the late '80s and '90s was better than festival whomp that's floating around now. More than being good dance records, my "gateway drugs" were just good pop music. New Order, CeCe Peniston, Crystal Waters, Deee-Lite, Depeche Mode—those have all aged beautifully. I don't think EDM is going to age well, because in addition to often being shitty dance music, it's shitty pop music. But I'm sure lots of people will enter through the doors of EDM and find their way to all kinds of awesome places.

Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
Can't it be both? It's a paradox. Intellectually, I know that music is subjective, but viscerally, I know some of it just bad. More than "bad" or "good," I would probably argue that music either works or it doesn't. I enjoy and play a lot of allegedly lowbrow shit. A lot of people would probably say it's "bad music," but I hope I am able to draw a line between that lowbrow stuff and the things that are filed neatly in the "good" column. If your feet are moving and you feel a little more affection for the person dancing next to you, then it works and it's "good music." On the other hand, EDM really is just bad, isn't it?

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
When I was a teen, I discovered WKTU & WBLS on the radio, which had some pretty good dance programming. I thought I was pretty cool, because I was listening to stuff the older kids in the hood were into. In the neighborhood, we were listening to salsa, soul, Top 40 shit, early hip-hop—but the older kids were hanging out in the clubs.

So I headed to the clubs, but it wasn't until I walked into Paradise Garage that I knew the music was different. I was instantly hooked—WTF was that sound?! Those songs? The beats?! That was the underground back then: it was gay and hidden away from mainstream society. There was no LOGO channel, no Caitlyn Jenner. Gays were marginalized along with people of color, and gay music was dance music and disco. The Garage was full of blacks and 'ricans, so I connected. And even though the music was insane, it connected to the rhythms of salsa and soul I was hearing up in the Bronx on the street. It was new but familiar somehow; it spoke to me. I think it happens differently today because of computers and social media, but the craving to keep exploring and growing musically is the same. [Good music] is just easier to find now.

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
I got into electronic music around 2005, when I befriended some of the French guys, like the Ed Banger and Institubes families. I didn't like the clean stuff—I liked distorted, dirty, off-kilter beats, the weird swing of the UK's fidget sound, and the distortion of Mr. Oizo, SebastiAn, and Justice. Producers like Laidback Luke and Angello & Ingrosso helped tune my ear to what we call "big room." Their tracks were dope. Eventually, I started embracing more of the bigger tracks; it boiled down to whether I thought it was good or not.

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I believe in this theory because I've seen it first-hand. Someone would first hear about EDM through commercial, vocal chart-toppers, or a couple years ago, grinding dubstep. The next year, they're talking about Gesaffelstein or Art Department or going to Croatia for a summer to hear "pure" house music until the sun comes up.

Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
I definitely think that music, like any art, should be objectively evaluated as good or bad. You can have preferences, and there are grey zones in the middle, but something that is good is universally good. There are fans out there who think that commercial and underground are incompatible, when in reality, their underground heroes probably appreciate the good hits, too. A lot of commercial songs are cookie-cutter crap. The funny thing is, there's as much copycatting in the underground scenes. I never paid attention to those categories. When we sign artists to Fool's Gold, it's not about what box they fit in, it's simply about asking, Is it dope?

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
I guess there is a higher chance of encountering "good" music through channels of lower quality music than without such channels. However, all that depends a lot on the individual, so I find it difficult to make a general statement about this. The first music I consciously listened to was mainstream pop music I heard on the radio. Obviously, when you're a kid, you start acquiring a taste, and you have to listen to a lot of crap in order to find out what you really like. After a while, I ended up listening to purely electronic mainstream pop, since it resonated more with me than other things. Refining my taste more and more, I ended up listening to electronic underground music, and abandoned the mainstream altogether. So, in a way, I went from arbitrary music to very refined and specific musical styles. But I can't really say why this was the case; looking back, it almost seems like a development I had no control over.

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Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
Over the last 15 years or so, I have converted from a "relativist" to an "objectivist" [point of view]. I do believe that "things"—entities or immaterial emissions—do have an objectively "good" or "right" form or "way to be." Let's say that when studying the physical and mathematical background of music, one ultimately has to come to the conclusion that there are good and bad musical emissions. One may say that the cultural, historical, personal background of every single human being results in subjective "opinions" or "taste," yet I would really like to appeal to the "core" human being inside all of us, which I believe that, if stripped from those backgrounds, connects to the universal "good." In the end, it comes down to frequencies and resonances, and those contain a strikingly profound objectivity.

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
I was lucky growing up with a full record collection, so pretty much everything was available, but the Beatles were my first hardcore music addiction. Once you listen to something to death, you become ready to explore new things. From the Beatles, [I went] to Vanilla Fudge to Kraftwerk to Syd Barrett to Rare Bird to Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Wonder to Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin to AC/DC to Aerosmith to Run-D.M.C. to Grandmaster Flash to Malcolm McLaren to Herbie Hancock to Bill Laswell to Manu Dibango to Fela Kuti to Mulato Astatke to Miles to Joao Gilberto to Serge Gainsbourg to Paolo Conte to Lonnie Liston Smith to The J.B.s to Aphex and back to The Beatles... And yes, some of this was not as cool. But you wanna know and dip your nose into everything, don't you?

Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
There are objective criteria for characterizing music, and they are valid. However, you cannot make the equation: the more (or less) complex, the better. The respiration of music and what she does to you is totally subjective. Music that reaches people's hearts transcends mere analysis and definition. Also, music can be nostalgic, up to date, or ahead of its time—and all kinds are valid. It's like a good dish or a fulfilled sexual life: it's the variation on and refinement of the "same old, same old" that makes the difference, ultimately.

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
In the fledgling days of electronic music in America, figuring out what you liked was like going on a quest: going to parties to hear different DJs, getting mixtapes (usually with no tracklisting), going to the record store trying to find the songs on the mixtapes and looking in the different genre bins, collecting flyers, ordering zines. Long story short, the first things I got into were the big dance acts at the time, like Orbital, Moby, Prodigy, industrial stuff like Meat Beat Manifesto and Skinny Puppy, and trance, which back then meant R&S Records and Sven Vath. It took me a long time of going to all sorts of parties before I could whittle down the difference between styles and what I was really into.

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The way I see it, a certain percentage of teenagers that end up at raves or festivals get captivated by the music, and a certain amount are just there for the drugs and the partying and because their friends are there. If you're into the music, then you naturally want to go deeper and discover more artists. Sometimes you start with generic EDM (or bad pop or rock music) because that's what's available to you, and then you discover there is a whole large, deep culture with many different types of music and moods. And this discovery changes you. I think people are looking for their tribe where they feel comfortable and accepted, and music can be very important to that.

Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
Some EDM is exactly like mainstream pop music—it's very formulaic and engineered to make you feel a certain way—but for me, it can lack mystery or a certain "voice" or personality that I can gravitate towards. Nowadays, like pop artists, electronic musicians and DJs can feel very manufactured, which for me takes away the punk/DIY/underground/raw/real/down-for-whatever feel that drew me to electronic music and the rave scene in the first place.

I think there is "good taste" and "bad taste" in music, art, life, etc. But sometimes things that are not "tasteful" or "well-done" can make you feel really good. One day you eat a fancy organic roast chicken with kale for dinner, and one day it's Cheetos and a hot dog, you know? As electronic music has grown, I've seen a lot of people try to draw these huge barriers between what is "grown-up" or "adult" what is "teeny-bopper" or "immature" music, but I don't really see it like that. Maybe that's because I come from a time when all the headliners of a party—whether they were doing trance, house, jungle, techno— would play back-to-back on the same stage.

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
I know lots of people whose entry point to dance music was generic or commercial dance music. Even if only a small percentage of them decide to dig a bit deeper, that will still mean substantial numbers of people finding their way to "good" music. An intriguing counter to that is people who started off being into "good music" and then went the other way. I did a club night called Pure that ran from 1990 to 2000 that in my opinion played great music. I sometimes get Facebook messages from people who used to go who tell me how much it changed their lives, and often, when I look at their profiles, I see they are now listening to what I think is dreadful music. I find that quite interesting, and I think it's partly down to them not going out anymore and being led by the media rather than hearing good music played out.

Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
I often argue that taste is subjective, and that when someone says someone else has great taste, often they mean they have similar taste to themselves. But then I'll have the misfortune of hearing something like that horrendous track by the Chainsmokers, which leads me to think a lot of music is just plain bad.

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
I believe that a person's listening taste can evolve and expand over time, but that it's not necessarily on a trajectory of accessible to complex. There are a number of factors that can steer the evolution, such as peer group identity, exposure through education and mass marketing, a propensity for following those who have been anointed as tastemakers, and a person's natural ability to hear, and thus appreciate, the complexities in less accessible music.

My own trajectory was actually the opposite of the gateway theory. Through family influences, education, and the need to identify with a fringe peer group, I developed an early affinity for jazz and contemporary classical music. As I have gotten older, I have gained an appreciation for music that is less harmonically complex, but well-crafted and skillfully performed. I'm also more conscious of marketing strategies and the routes artists are taking to find their audience.

Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
It's difficult, if not impossible, to apply objective standards of good and bad to music. As the saying goes, One person's poison is another person's ambrosia. That's what keeps the industry going.

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
I grew up in New York City in the 1980s. I started going to dance clubs when I was 14, and bought records—some great, some awful—on the recommendations of people. I never found myself stuck in a single scene. I went to clubs with DJs, and punk rock shows, and goth/industrial shows, and metal shows, and rap shows, and arena rock, and the Grateful Dead. My curiosity guided me—and the curiosity of my friends guided me. So much of it was trial and error, and holding onto the things that were worth doing again.

Theoretically, I totally believe in the gateway drug: you have to start somewhere. But I think you're far better off starting in a place that's rich and full of interesting meanings, surrounded by weird people telling you things you've never heard before, than in a generic space. Can you find good stuff if you just go to EDM festivals? Absolutely. It's rare that an EDM festival doesn't book at least a few acts that are of some qualitative interest for even the choosiest people. And there's also the theory of, "Who cares? I am at a festival to have fun with friends and dance a lot, not be culturally challenged." It's hard to argue with that point of view, because it is undeniably true. But then, if that's your approach, we're not playing the same game of life.

Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
I used to believe in the "good" or "bad" a lot more than I do now. In my 20s, I used that Duke Ellington quote of there being only two kinds of music—"good music, and the other kind"—all the time. But there is also a basic argument for, "I like it—so fuck you." And I do believe that a world with bad music is better than a world with no music at all.

That said, as I have grown older, I've come to believe that "good" versus "bad" boils down to intentions. Is it done with care and with love and for creative reasons? Or does it seem shoddy, a business decision, an un-thought-through land-grab? Quite often, these distinctions are not clear-cut, and recognizing them takes a bit of experience. But once you get that skill, you can spot [the latter kind of music from] a mile away—in the sound of a drum-machine or a synth, in the design of a logo, or the title of a song. When you do, does it make a track or an artist objectively "bad"? No. But I think it makes it bullshit on some level, and my world is too crowded for that.

What's your take on the gateway drug theory?
I think people listen to generic music to be comforted, and those people never hope to be challenged by new ideas or wander into new experiences. If anything, my music [has been] the gateway drug to less provocative music—a yellow brick road to popular artists who use counter-culture aesthetics to sell the same tropes of popular dance and hip-hop music disguised as something more.

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Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
Even when there is scientific proof, we still manage to make all aspects of life subjective. The question isn't if there is good or bad music; the question is if people have interest in upholding the importance of skill, craft, influence, and innovation above the numbers that make popular music popular.

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
As someone who's written about dance music for the entirety of my career, I've personally experienced judgments made against me based on taste. I think the reason why I feel a little raw about it is because the euphoric rush I get from listening to dance music has always been something purely emotional and life-affirming—even when I was ten years old, listening to DJ Sammy's "Heaven" on Z100 late on a Saturday night. Taste is almost always personal, and even if insults against taste leave the relative mark of a bruised apple, there's still a bruise.

I'm guilty of judging, too, though, despite the creeping feeling that scrutinizing people's enjoyment of specific things—music, movies, TV shows, whatever—has something inherently classist about it. What is classism, after all, if not criticizing others for essentially not having access—financial, experiential, or otherwise—to the hottest and most original or indigenous sounds? If a 22-year-old out there is vibing on terrible tech-house covers of Pete Yorn's "Strange Condition" (this actually exists) instead of Lit City Trax or whatever, what's the damage that's actually being done? Maybe five years from now, that same individual will be babbling in your ear about the latest post-deconstructionist techno being made by an impeccably coiffed group of Bosnian teenagers that dress like Kevin Arnold from The Wonder Years—a situation that would suggest that he or she has "progressed" in taste. To which I would ask, who cares? How does it affect you?

Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
As with so-called "nerd culture" at large, the expression and criticism of taste in dance music is often provincial and defensive—a reiteration that this little corner of the world is yours, perhaps. The internet makes said provincialism and defensiveness all the more insufferable, because expressing yourself on the internet is inherently performative, and there's nothing more performative than expressing provincialism and defensiveness.

Perhaps the reason why the discussion of "What is good taste in dance music?" continues to rage on is because it's easier to address than the larger issue at hand—specifically, the erasure of people of color and non-heteronormative sexuality in mainstream dance culture. I don't think it's necessarily a problem that there are participants in EDM culture—let the kids like what they like!—but I do think "How did we get to this point of cultural erasure?" is a question worth attempting to explain in full.

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
Popular music in the '90s was very influenced by house. I mean, it was house! "Vogue" by Madonna was produced by Shep Pettibone; house artists like C+C Music Factory, Jodi Watley, Crystal Waters, and Propellerheads were all putting out amazingly popular songs on pop radio. For a kid growing up now, maybe it's less about EDM as the gateway, and more about songs like "On The Regular" by Shamir or "Latch" by Disclosure, both of which are legitimately good crossovers from dance music into pop.

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What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
That's an ongoing question I have with myself. I'm sure there are people who make their way to more researched music through the gateway of commercial, easy-to-digest (or not-so-easy to digest, depending on the point of view) music. For me, it was not really like that. Let's say I understood old effective Josh Wink tracks long before I started understanding the more heady Jeff Mills productions. Don't get me wrong: I don't compare Wink at all with EDM, it's just that Josh Wink was more accessible to me before I dug into more complicated "arty" music. But in general, I think the majority of people will stay on the other side of dance music, and just move onto the next hype instead of digging deeper into quality stuff.

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Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
In my socialist, zen, everyone-is-equal way, I want to say that it's all just subjective. Still, a view of the ocean is obviously more beautiful than a trash bin or a grey concrete wall on a grey day; there are things that are just more beautiful than others. Even in a genre you are not so familiar with, you can still hear if it's a well-made production, filled with passion and original ideas, rather than a poor copy of something everyone has already heard.

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
I disagree with it. If you're into [EDM], you're a different cut of a person with a different philosophy on life. Back in the day, when white kids would get into house coming from grunge, that was a true cross-over; but EDM seems to keep the fans into it. If they're on the fence or still exploring, sure, it's possible. But diehard EDM fans? Naw. If it reflects their lifestyle and they don't wanna dig deeper, then that's who they are.

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I came up in Detroit at a time where this music made you participate in it one way or another. That's different to me from EDM; EDM is a marketing brainless phenomenon that works for the mainstream. The minute you play something that's true to the roots and techno, somebody who is into EDM will run away. It's really far outside the realm of real house and techno.

Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
If I want to say EDM is crap, that's subjective. If I want to say trap music is crap (which it is), that's subjective. I mean, maybe it's just that I don't think [trap and EDM] are spiritual. You don't find tones in trap that speak to you in a deeper way. Maybe people do, but I certainly wouldn't be looking there for that experience. Trap and EDM are the worst shit ever.

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
However you get there is great. You always end up finding the real shit once you start with the artificial, because it's human nature to want to go further. It's like starting out popping Oxycontin and ending up mainlining pure Afghan heroin: once you start, you have to get to the essence.

When I started buying records, I was buying "Rhythm Is A Dancer" and "Pump Up The Jam." Not everyone has someone to show them right off the bat where the underground is, if that even exists anymore. People who really love something will always dig deeper into what they are passionate about.

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Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
There is absolutely good and bad. As time goes on, the amount you are exposed to is increased. You see that something is either just a copy of something done many times before, or entirely unique at that given time. That's why it's great to go revisit stuff ten years later and see if it still holds up to you.

I remember getting into fights in record stores with DJs who would say to me, "I really like the record you're trying to turn me onto, but I can't play it." That shit drove me nuts. DJs tend to be the most close-minded people when it comes to music, because they are constantly looking at music as a tool. The average person tends to be more open and have better taste in music because they allow themselves to react to their emotions.

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
For me, it's not about people "learning" to like the correct music through listening to shit. It's more a matter of acclimatizing oneself to electronic music—to the idea of 4/4 (or whatever) beats, music without vocals, music where hooks aren't always there. More and more, I find people who like both EDM and "deeper" stuff side-by-side, and see no difference between the two.

"EDM kids" are some of the most open-minded about electronic music—what they lack in knowledge, they make up for in hunger or curiosity. They're sponges for new stuff, because it's a new world to them. They should be encouraged, not scared off by grumpy old dudes.

Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
As a music critic, I think I'm supposed to believe in "good" and "bad." While there is definitely music out there that I think is bad, I can also see what people enjoy in pretty much any music, and appreciate it for that. I'm not much of a fan of EDM at all—and I've tried—but it's hard to argue with an arena packed with people having the time of their lives. You don't have to like the music, but dismissing it all offhand is a bit silly.

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
I 100 percent believe in it. I really got into techno through early '90s UK rave—music that at the time, while being new and exciting, was certainly not considered "sophisticated." When I finally heard "Strings of Life," I thought Derrick May had sampled Altern8, which more or less sums up how kids digest music and the fact that there is nothing wrong with it. That said, kids also can tell a hit a mile away, and have almost zero tolerance for pretension or bullshit.

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What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
It's quite interesting that people like David Guetta, Bob Sinclar, and Steve Angello started the opposite way: by making and knowing loads about "underground" and more obscure music, but ending up creating some of the most hated (and loved) music on the planet.

Within music there is also a difference in time. EDM culture reaches maximum speed by creating euphoria, but it will rinse off almost immediately. A party like the Loft might stay with you longer, but if your only experiences with music are an instant euphoria rush, the Loft will be difficult to understand.

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
To me, everything is a gateway to something else in life. It just depends on if you take that route. I do believe that the resurgence of EDM has influenced a new generation of young people to look further into the genre and its more introspective styles. I admit I enjoyed a lot of pop-oriented music as a young person, but many things I thought were pop-dance then have become classics now. Popular music lead me to more interesting music, and working at the shop, of course, skyrocketed me into it. But to say it was "good music," as in better than the popular kind, is not necessarily true.

Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
Music is subjective, period! But there can be an overwhelming majority of people who agree that something is not appealing, like Aqua's "Barbie Girl" or Rednex's "Cotton Eye Joe."

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
Music is a journey. You are going to swallow what is directly in front of you until you realize the world outside. That's when the exploration begins. I don't believe that anyone rolls out of the crib and immediately has perfect taste. You have to listen to a lot of bad to really know what is good.

Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
100 percent subjective. I can't tell you how many times I have hated something and then come back to it later and realized that I loved it. Most stuff isn't like that, but I believe there is something for everyone.

What's your take on the gateway drug music theory?
Everyone has their starting point in their musical journey. In Holland, it used to be gabber or happy hardcore that pulled many into techno or house. Nowadays, it's EDM. As long as it's kids pre-puberty, I see no harm. If you're still into EDM in your late teens or even as an adult, I guess there is no musical journey—just an annual trip to an all-in resort in Marbella with no adventures into the deep rainforests of music. Most people are perfectly fine with an annual trip to the same location, but they'll miss out on a lot of magic!

Do you believe music is subjective, or is there such a thing as "good" and "bad"?
Of course there is a good and bad! But you'll have to make rules [as to] how to judge the good or bad. Otherwise it's pointless discussions about what's good for making money or good from an artistic point [of view].

Joel is the Publisher of THUMP and owned a Vengaboys CD. @freemagic