The death of the superstar DJ
It’s an early Friday evening. I’m at the F Bar in Mumbai. The entire place is awash in green light. A visibly restless Mux Mool, dressed in an Iron Maiden tshirt is walking around the space, casually striking up conversations with people. Jornalists and bloggers start taking their seats around an LED-lit stage as the first of the Heineken Green Room Sessions begins. The Green Room Sessions are a series of interactions with fresh, new artists in intimate settings at unique venues, presented by Heineken. The idea is to bring new, extremely talented yet unheard musicians and artists to India. Mux Mool, electronica artist and producer is the first to be featured in these sessions. He takes his seat before a Macbook and a mixer, and the event begins.
I was personally interested in this interaction with Mux Mool, especially because he’s signed up with Ghostly International, which also has a lot of my favourite artists on their roster including Gold Panda, Phantogram, School of Seven Bells, Com Truise and Dabrye. I even featured Chain by School Of Seven Bells on LSD a while ago. While Mux Mool does belong to the high-finesse electronic sphere that Ghostly excels in, his own music bears a markedly different style. Mux’s creative process is heavily influenced by big drum mainstream artists like Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim as well as electronica artists like Daft Punk. But his style is entirely different, filled with a lot of hip-hop styled building-foundation-quaking beats and stabbing synths.
Born Brian Lindgren, Mux represents a whole new breed of indie and electronic artists who have made the internet their main stage. Being discovered by a record label for the music he put out on MySpace, Mux comes from a generation of DJs and producers who look at the process of creating music from a completely new perspective. Gone are the days when a DJ would need an expensive studio, months of recording time and crates of alcohol and drugs to get an album produced. The balance of power has now started to shift towards DJs who no longer need pricey studio and equipment, who need only a laptop and a pair of headphones, or in Mux’s case in-ear earphones (he chooses to mix his tracks wearing them since he believes that’s how most music is listened to today), and mix entirely on software. And with the web and torrents becoming evangelists for talented artists, the heavy-handedness of big brother record labels has started to wane away.
Mux’s first album, Skulltaste, was produced by Ghostly International with a staggering 20 songs, almost as if they were unsure what would or wouldn’t stick. His second album, Planet High School released this year has about half that number but shows signs of maturity and refinement. Both are filled to the brim with incredible block party rocking hip-hop sounds, almost like it was written as the soundtrack to an indie version of Project X. It’s quite evident that Mux enjoys the music he produces. And that’s something I find interesting about him. He’s as much of a facilitator as he as an artist. It’s not like he’s the star of the party, but more like the host, making sure everyone’s having a great time, bringing the party to the people, taking sounds and vibes from around him, filtering and mashing it up, and then throwing it back at the crowd.
I guess it’s this idea of innovation and creativity that underlines his pro-torrent, pro-file-sharing stance. Believing that music should be free, Mux puts a lot of music out on the web. It’s something I’ve seen happen quite often in the past few years. Mainstream artists like Nine Inch nails and Radiohead as well as indie artists have suddenly changed the music distribution game by letting fans download music for free, and charging for live concerts. Mux follows the same philosophy, that kids today will listen to only what they like, regardless of what the source is. The democracy and shifting of power and choice leads to new ways of building a fanbase around the music. An artist could invest less money in trippy lights at a gig than blow up truckloads on fancy studio equipment and time, choosing to mix on laptops and tablets. This whole bottom-up approach has started to equal the playing field in ways unimaginable. No longer are superstar DJs, with one or two arena-packing anthems, who refuse to reinvent themselves safe from young talented artists. This lean, mean approach also started to make labels irrelevant, as the web opens up a wider vista for distribution. Kids who hang out at Soundcloud and MySpace don’t need to buy a CD. Word of mouth spreads faster than press. Twitter and Facebook become the next place for cornershop talk. Suddenly that kid with a noisy basement is headlining a music festival.
Mux also warns about the flip side to making music, being seduced by its peripheral attractions. Real talent doesn’t need to buy into the whole ‘sex drugs party’ ideology to be a good artist, which is unfortunately what younger DJs are buying into. It’s easier to compromise on the music innovation when you know that playing the staple sounds will bring in the crowd and the money. By guarding music trends and sounds too closely with copyrights and legalities, innovation and creativity is stifled. That doesn’t mean that music samples should be appropriated as is. As Mux would put it, the original source should be acknowledged and respected, and the sample should be used in a new way to create something that’s truly original.
Besides being a DJ Mux is also a visual artist and hopes to someday create his own comic book strip. For now as this interactive session winds down to a close, he’s gearing up for a manic party later on. A few hours later and I am back at the F Bar for the Mux Mool party. The music is neither commercial nor predicatable, true to Mux’s style. Heavy hip-hop beats and reverb sounds fuse with synths, boops, beeps and glitches to create a dopamine-releasing soundscape. My theory about him being a bliss-inducing facilitator comes true as he interacts with the audience, taking cues from the crowd and using them to fire lasers and chest thumping drumbeats back at them.
Electronica has matured far beyond the constrains of EDM, and much of this can be credited to younger DJs like Mux Mool. The web has suddenly transformed the way music is produced and absorbed. While it hasn’t killed off the star DJ, it sure has put them in its crosshair. With a new democratic approach, the focus has now shifted to the audience and what they seek, making innovation crucial not only to indie artists but to the big names as well. And the ones who stand to gain the most is the bass-hungry audience, resulting in smarter, awesome music experiences. All the boats rise with the water.
Also check out Ghostly International for lot more awesome electronic music.