I was such a little prick in the 6th grade. Granted, I think most people despise their younger selves on one level or another, but trust me, I was the worst. I had made my through a few Fall Out Boy albums, the Guitar Hero 3 soundtrack, and Dark Side of the Moon; so basically, I thought I knew everything about music. Armed with this omniscience, I would run around my middle school telling everyone that whatever they were listening to was shit. The number one thing I hated, though, was electronic music. My impression was that it was quite easy to create. I would picture Skrillex (the only EDM artist I knew at the time) standing in front of tens of thousands of people, pressing a big button that says “music,” and then easily reaping the same rewards that REAL MUSICIANS who played REAL MUSIC worked so hard to attain.
Nowadays, I rarely hear the complaint that “EDM takes no skill to make.” Maybe it’s because I’ve surrounded myself with smarter people than whoever I was hanging out with in middle school, but I’d like to believe it’s because by now most know that this just isn’t true. Anyone who has sat down in front of a laptop and opened Pro Tools can tell you that. Yes, there are some fist-pump-y, low-expectation-y, same-thing-every-time-y sub sections of EDM that require less technical knowledge to succeed in; but that’s more about the fans. Regardless of genre, there are always going to be crowds who couldn’t care less about how well you do whatever you do, who just want you to shut up and play the hits.
What I will grant my 6th grade self is that EDM has a bit more of a disparity between technicality and accessibility than other areas of music. On one side of the aisle, you’ve got Martin Garrix or Hardwell (or whoever is headlining Perry’s this year, I don’t fucking know.) Remember that Zac Efron movie about him being a terrible DJ or whatever? These are the guys his character was modeled after. On the other side of the aisle, we’ve got people like Sam Gellaitry or Hudson Mohawke. In terms of labels, these guys do a similar thing. There’s build-ups, drops, and cute saccharine melodies played on weird instruments over a whole lot of sub bass. The difference is that (and I say this knowing full well that it sounds pretentious as fuck) the music of Gellaitry and HudMo involves a lot more skill. They’re layering ten snare drums on top of each other, spending days crafting a synth in Massive, and giving fastidious attention to a thing that an untrained ear can’t even pick up.
So what’s the big deal? Can’t Jeff Beck and the Beatles coexist in the same genre? Of course they can. The problem I see, as of right now, is that there aren’t too many artists in between the Hardwell’s and the HudMo’s. Most EDM artists are picking a side, and sticking to it. There are a few exceptions: Disclosure, Kaytranada, and Flume come to mind. But with each, the separation remains. Disclosure has the popularity, but not really the technical aspects; they’re more focused on songwriting. Kaytranada has the technicality, but doesn’t appeal to or play to big festival crowds. Flume has both the festival crowds and the technicality, but he doesn’t always utilize his skill tastefully or with a pop sensibility (his lackluster new album Skin is proof of this.)
Louis the Child is the group currently linking all these regions of electronic music. Their newest single, “Weekend”, is a great example of this. At first listen, it seems a fairly innocent party anthem. Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt, who come together to form Icona Pop, deliver some charged gang vocals about “turning up” and being “lit” (yeah, the lyrics are admittedly a bit vanilla.) Despite this, the two have good flow and chemistry, and the chorus is catchy as hell. It’s about as summer anthem-y as it gets.
Of course, the instrumental is really where this song is made. Icona Pop wouldn’t sound half as good if the track wasn’t tweaked to perfectly accommodate their presence. In the verse, as the vocal dynamic remains lowered, they sing over sparse bass drum kicks and finger snaps (this is a bit misleading, though, as the rhythms are really interesting and engaging.) Once we arrive at the chorus, the rhythms continue, but this time they’re accompanied by cloaked melodies encircling the mix, gradually getting louder and louder. Then, there’s a drop.
This drop intrigues me for two reasons. Firstly, it demonstrates a somewhat novel song structure that Louis the Child used on their previous single, “It’s Strange.” There’s an intro and a verse, as is to be expected. After listening to a lot of future bass, I’d expect a buildup here. Instead, our young Chicago duo throws us a chorus. We get a fantastic hook, sung with energy by Icona Pop. Then, on top of this, we get a well-produced and cleanly-executed drop. This is a commonality between both “It’s Strange” and “Weekend.” However, the drop of the latter also innovates in the way of its sound. Again, Louis the Child strays from future bass tropes; this drop does not feature the deep, booming bass of Flume, nor the overt technicality of Sam Gellaitry. In its place are a totally infectious synth lead, fluttering hi hats, and echoing drum hits. It acts as a second, mostly different chorus, that doubles the melodic content of the song.
All of this musicality, featured in both these two originals and Louis the Child’s remixes, is underscored by a whole lot of production. It’s tasteful, thoughtful, and poppy. Because of this, it can be very difficult to notice (amidst dancing and singing along) that these instrumentals are also very complex. You may not pick up on it at all, and that might just be the point. Most people aren’t listening to these songs to pick them apart, or analyze every aspect. Most people would rather just enjoy the music. Louis the Child are, very respectably, making music for most people.
Written by Preston Fulks