September 1997
s m u g
ear candy
by Joe Procopio


Look. Let's get this settled for once and for all. Electronica, the media-spawned buzzword that describes the weaving of keyboards, samples, and computers into alternative music, is not the next wave of pop. You can bank on this. I'm serious. The next time you walk into your local branch for a withdrawal, make an offhanded remark to the teller along the lines of, "Gee, it's hot today. And not only has Electronica not happened, it's not going to happen." I guarantee you he or she will slip an extra twenty in with your bills.

The music press has jumped all over the Electronica bandwagon, so much so that one would think there was yet another "British Invasion" being ignored in its wake. This month alone, the Prodigy graced the cover of SPIN while Keith Flint, Prodigy's reverse-mohawked singer/screamer/dancer, glared maniacally from the cover of Rolling Stone's annual "Hot" issue.

Here's my take on all the media coverage, for what it is worth. Grunge is dead, long live the new queen. And she's got a Moog.

What is Electronica? Well, the alternative press will freely admit that it's a term that they've coined to cover the fact that they've ignored the rave scene for about a decade. And the rave scene has always had trouble defining itself anyway. On one hand it's kind of a hippie-dippie, up with people, herbal ecstasy and bottled water, dance-the-night-away escapism. It's also got a kind of revolution-baby, down with the subdivision, express-yourself-before-you-wreck-yourself vibe. And finally, there's hardcore, the acid-dropping, smack habit, lost weekend, art-sex scene.

Getting back to the music, Electronica may refer to anything from Kraftwerk-esque German monotone to dub to drum-and-bass to house to techno to ambient to, I don't know, you could probably lump Spice Girls in there soon, I wouldn't be surprised if the Dust Brothers produced at least one song on their next record.

For the moment, the Electronica elite consist primarily of the Prodigy, the Orb, Orbital, the Chemical Brothers, FSOL, Tricky and Daft Punk, and extending out to include, at a minimum, Moby, Aphex Twin, Sneaker Pimps, NIN, Atari Teenage Riot, Massive Attack, Portishead, Bjork, and Goldie.

You get the idea.

U2 is not Electronica.

So Electronica is hot. Hot hot hot. And it's apparently here to stay. But where is here? And what made Electronica the flava of the month?

Okay, well, what about the BillBoard charts? Since the incorporation of SoundScan into Billboard's Top 200 a few years back, a look at the charts should tell us what the kids are buying these days. Please, Billboard, make me hip! Well, first of all, if you believe this process isn't monkeyed with...

But forego that for a minute, the charts actually don't help us at all. Sure, Prodigy's Fat of the Land debuted at number one the week of its release. And the album sales there are strong. But one record does not a movement make. If one was to rely strictly on album sales, Electronica would pale in comparison to the Great Soundtrack Revival (Men in Black, Batman and Robin, Nothing to Lose, My Best Friend's Wedding, Space Jam), the Cheese Rock Wave (Hanson, Spice Girls, Jewel), or the Ongoing Country Onslaught (Garth Brooks, Leann Rimes).

The kids're listening, but they're not buying. And any weasel, minion-of-Satan, record company exec will tell you that's a death blow for any act, movement, or Jackson.

Note: Did anyone notice that Pure Moods, one of those K-Tel type supersap collections, has been in the Top 20 for a while?

Prozac nation indeed.

How about MTV? Well, grunge would have been a localized Northwest phenom and the flannel industry would have gone belly up had it not been for the constant rotation of the video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" back in late 1991-early 1992. This is perhaps Electronica's greatest chance to overthrow America. But, and I'm no expert here, every time I click over to MTV, I see Hanson. I find myself strangely hypnotized, and then I snap out of it and turn it off. So we'll have to leave this section under-researched.

Well, are they kicking it on the road? This is also difficult to determine. First of all, no one is kicking it on the road. Summer tours in general are getting crushed with poor ticket sales. Apparently, we all have better things to do, although I've got to admit that I for one am feeling a bit hard pressed to shell out the obscene shed money for package tours these days. But, beyond the economics, the live show is also Electronica's worst nightmare. The music just isn't suited for live performance (Hey! Check out how he's swingin' that Mac!), with possible exceptions coming again from Prodigy and Nine-Inch-Nails. Alas, here's a bright spot. Lollapalooza, the annual barometer for what Perry Farrell thinks is cool (or at least what a bunch of people who suck up to him think is cool), is featuring Orbital and Tricky on the same bill and will rotate Prodigy, the Orb, and Devo (perhaps the progenitors of Electronica) in the closing spot later in the tour.

But then again, we all know where Lollapalooza is headed after last year's Metalpalooza and the previous year's Courtneypalooza. Lollapalooza isn't selling out. Lilith Fair, however, is. Thus, the Summer Tour Scene really suggests more of a folk-girl movement.

The antidote to the live show is the dance club, Electronica's haven. And I've got to give it this, it's all the rage in Europe. But then, what plays over there has such a hard time playing over here. Not only that, but over there, it's not new. The techno scene has been up and running in Europe for well over a decade. There, grunge was sort of a hiccup.

The same may be said for Florida, where the club is king. However, Florida is kind of like Europe. It's just out there.

So Electronica is hot. Hot hot crazy hot. Why? Well, when you get down to it, I think it's mostly because Rolling Stone, SPIN and MTV are telling us so. I went back to the Rolling Stone "Hot" issue. And when I did, I remembered that a couple years back, their "Hot Actor" was David Caruso, just after he had left NYPD Blue for the big screen. Now that's fishy. So I checked out a few more current hot items.

Hot Frenzy: Swedish Bands
Hot Geek Scene: Challenge Square Dancing
Hot Lingo: Talking Like a Brit
Hot Country: Scotland

Cor Blimey! Of course! So Electronica was what we were square dancing to while munching on haggis at the A-Ha/ABBA double-bill! Wot? Righto!

Come on, they're pulling our chains here, right?

No. Grunge is dead. Finally, totally, with the demise of Soundgarden, the success of Foo Fighters and the disappearance of Pearl Jam. And now pop music sucks. Just like it did in '87 before U2 released The Joshua Tree and just like it did in '91 before Nirvana released Nevermind. But Electronica's not the white knight that the industry is looking for. It ain't gonna play in the midwest, where they're still living out the East/West gangland rapper wars.

We'll just have to wait for the next big thing.


back to the junk drawer

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