Thom Yorke is no fan of most electronic dance music today. That should be no surprise if you’re the least bit familiar with his bands Radiohead or Atoms for Peace, which show far more interest in abstraction and complexity than so much recent EDM’s Ibiza-via-Vegas glitz. What’s more interesting, though, is how Yorke and fellow Atoms for Peace member (and longtime Radiohead producer) Nigel Godrich explain their distaste for the megaclub-and-velvet-ropes scene.
Basically, they compare it to fashion. In this analogy, shared in an interview with Rolling Stone, artists like Flying Lotus and others associated with Los Angeles’s Low End Theory venue are “haute couture” — Godrich actually uses this phrase! — while more popular producers like David Guetta and Calvin Harris are the cheap, trendy stores where most of us can afford to shop.
“It’s the H&M,” Godrich is quoted as saying, while Yorke reportedly laughed happily. “That’s how it works. You have some people being very, very dangerous and experimental, and then it trickles into, you know, making ridiculous hats that eventually get copied by your high-street stores.” We like FlyLo, too, but “dangerous”? Should we protect our children?
While Godrich singled out Guetta and Harris specifically, Yorke was more circumspect. The most scathing the Radiohead frontman got was right after Godrich reportedly called mainstream electronic music “horrible,” a “distillation” of the “sort of avant-garde end of it.” According to RS, Yorke made scrubbing gestures, saying: “They wash the surface off and they’ve cleaned it up and Auto-Tuned it. It’s like, ‘Fuck you!'”
As irritating as it is to see members of a famously anti-corporate band blithely endorse the aristocratic view that all the best shit is too fancy for us plebes, they have a point. Other performers much more open about wanting to make money, from Drake to The-Dream, have complained about four-on-the-floor’s Top 40 stranglehold. Dan Snaith of Caribou and Daphni has not inaccurately described an “EDM barfsplosion.” And it was in pointing to Snaith that Yorke was able to get his view across without such elitist undertones.
For me, personally, signing up to that whole thing doesn’t feel right,” Yorke is quoted as saying of mainstream DJ culture. “It’s not why we’re into this. I mean, it’s fun to DJ, but … I mean, the Daphni record, [Dan Snaith] did that because he had started DJing a lot more and he felt like there were tunes in his head that he wanted to play but didn’t have, so he had to make them. That’s a little bit of the reason we’re interested in this. It’s why I write music — because I can’t find it. I can hear it but I can’t find it anywhere.”
As for Radiohead, you can find their music in average-people stores, but don’t hold your breath for a new album. Yorke told RS he doesn’t know when Radiohead will work on another record together. And he said that “Identikit,” one of two tracks he revealed on Reddit the band had recorded with Jack White, still isn’t finished. Maybe the EDM barfsplosion finally is: At the very least, three tracks at the top of the Hot 100 last week were ballads, not club anthems.
And finally, what does H&M model Beyoncé think of all this?