By Calvin Barr
Last year, I watched the annual Leadership Summit for Google DoubleClick. Much to my delight, one of the speakers, Laura Desmond, Global CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group allegorically discussed EDM as an example of what she believes the advertising industry needs to be doing. The artists and DJs, she explained, are constantly making their own music evolve. They watch responses on dance floors, follow what’s trending on social media, and habitually share or collaborate with one another on content. It’s a means of adapting to the “right now” marketplace of today, which is arguably non-negotiable for consumers everywhere.
Ironically EDM, particularly in its more mainstream incarnations, is subject to some of the same criticisms that Laura’s analogy pointed out: when a successful formula is found, be it for a song or an ad for energy drinks, innovation may become compromised if it’s overused. Hence, groups like Gunslinger, whose slogan is “Tired of the same old EDM? Well then…Try some Alternative Dance!”
Based in Los Angeles, and self-described as a ‘genre-jumping group of DJs, producers, and musicians,” they recently added the three-track EP album Mental Noise to their inventory of alternate dance and electro house music. Alternative dance, which is an ambiguous genre to some, is traditionally a blend of rock and electronica. I got the impression that Gunslinger is a group whose goal is to take the idea to the next level.
Each song has an individualistic sound, layering different stems in and out of the track. At the same time, a lot of thought evidently went into the application of different EDM subgenres in each. “Deep,” the first, is easily the more experimental, creating a tense but catchy polyphony between a steady, pounding bass, industrial-sounding, atonal melodies, varying sound effects, and high-energy house music. The volume and pace intensify together, but each section is notably different. Mental Noise, the titular second track, employs similar sound effects, but the whole piece is less erratic, more relaxed, and a bit trance-like. The speed remains pretty moderate, and a distinct chorus is present. Similarly, the final track “Roadhouse” has a lighter, techno-like feel. Like the first two, the song builds climatically, however the peaks are less forceful and blend more evenly with the rest of the music.
What also makes the music both enjoyable and memorable is the feeling of following a narrative, in the sense that one could simultaneously dance to it and ponder what it may be trying to say. Knife Party’s “Abandon Ship” was brought to mind here. In the first track of the debut studio album, a narrator alludes to a fallen (or possibly reincarnated) kingdom, then leaves the progression of the story to the imagination of the listener.
My overall impression of Mental Noise was that it did what great EDM seeks to do: mix sounds that embrace the abstract, and aren’t constrained to chords and background beats that many casual radio listeners may be all too familiar with. Of course one can lose themselves profusely in an Avicii or Calvin Harris chart-topper. But creating new, perhaps bolder avenues through which EDM fans can achieve this is both inspiring and necessary.