By: Jenna Horning
“Asking an artist to never change their style is like asking a child to never go thru puberty,” tweets OWSLA artist Josh Pan.
The idea of an artist’s musical evolution has been percolating in my mind for a long time – a lot longer than I’d like to admit. Every artist begins their music career in a particular way, and with a certain sound. The first couple of tracks that an artist produces is likely a representation of the first sounds they’ve ever experimented with. If an artist is confident enough in their own work, the first tracks released might be the results of those early experiments. They might get lucky, and receive recognition for those first sounds, but in a sense it’s also burdensome. Fans will always remember artists for the original style in which they first heard them – making it difficult for an artist to evolve.
As a huge electronic music fan, I’ve seen many artists change their style. Whether I like it or not, it’s inevitable. Among the first electronic artists I ever listened to were Skrillex and Dillon Francis. Due to changes in style, and an influx of new EDM talent, I don’t listen to either of them very much anymore.
Back in the day, Skrillex was considered one of a kind, and was perhaps the most mainstream DJ making dubstep. He has been cited by many DJs as being a major influence and inspiration. It was Skrillex, a.k.a. Sonny Moore, who helped to start the careers of now huge EDM stars Zedd and Porter Robinson. When he began, he made well known classics like Bangarang and Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, but what Skrillex fan can forget his remix of Nero’s Promises, or of Benny Benassi’s Cinema? Or even his last full-length release Recess?
Time has passed and now a lot of Moore’s work rests in collaborating with other artists. He began collaborating with longtime friend and fellow dance music legend Diplo. I remember seeing a tweet from DJ Snake, claiming that their collaboration with Justin Bieber was going to be good. I remember the shock, that these extremely successful and high powered DJs were working with Justin Bieber. This was back when Bieber had fallen off the deep end, and was starting to climb back up again in the international music scene. The song created by the three actually went on to win a Grammy for Best Dance Recording – Bieber’s first Grammy award. Since then, Moore has gone on to produce multiple tracks on Bieber’s Grammy nominated album Purpose. Now, DJs working with pop stars and incorporating dance elements into pop music is expected. It is no longer new or shocking.
Moore has gone back to his roots, officially rejoining hardcore band, From First to Last. I likely won’t follow him there. Moore made harder music before he was a DJ, so who am I to say that his band’s music is bad, or isn’t who Moore really is?
Moore’s changed a lot since he began producing back in 2010. I discovered Moore at a time when he was one of the only producers making dubstep, and that’s how I, in a sense, know him. I still want him to play the hits. To recreate his earlier work, and even the evolved Recess album. But even if he did make that kind of music again, would I have the same feeling as I did the first time I listened to Kyoto?
Another example of an artist who has reconstructed their style is Dillon Francis. When I first began listening to him back in 2013, he was clearly moombahton. To the uninitiated, that’s one part house, two parts reggaeton. That’s how I recognized him, and that’s how I wanted to recognize him. I remember seeing him for the first time at my first dance music event in Calgary, in the summer of 2013. He asked, “Who’s ready for some moombahton in the park?” To mind, he is one of the only artists I can think of that made moombahton. The popular EDM market today often seems saturated with radio friendly dance hits, and the unique stuff that no one else thought to make is harder to find. Thats what Dillon Francis was for.
I feel some trepidation in discussing Francis’ latest music. I remember I once saw a tweet that a fan posted on Twitter about Francis being a sellout, and not liking his new music. He was understandably upset. All told, I agreed with that fan, but I’m also reckoning with the fact that I’m not the one charged with making music. To this day, I miss old school blonde Dillon Francis, obsessed with tacos and making silly YouTube videos. Just like every other artist, he evolves, be it through his personal image or through his music. I remembering downloading every song I could find of his. What Dillon Francis fan could forget Bootleg Fireworks or Beautician 2.0?
Since those earlier works, he has released music falling under a broader electronic category than just moombahton. His full length album, Money Sucks, Friends Rule featured a broad spectrum of tracks, including the electro-house Set Me Free with Martin Garrix. Perhaps the most popular and arguably best song on the album is Get Low with DJ Snake. He also collaborated with tropical house DJ Kygo to create the beautiful Coming Over, with James Hershey. So while there are a lot of Francis’ new tracks that I don’t like, there are also some that I do.
It goes to show that experimentation can benefit the fans. The artist might make tracks that they like, but the risk of alienating them is ever present.
Francis and Skrillex have collaborated in the past. They created a bumping track, Bun up The Dance, as well as a less than stellar rebirth of GTA’s Red Lips.
Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Lorde. Everyone likes an their artist in a certain way, and as long as they stay that way while just different enough from album to album, fans seem to be happy. The question is whether that is sustainable. Artists are creative, and they can’t be kept in a box of what everyone wants them to be. Public opinion lies on a spectrum in which some fans want everything to be different, while other fans want everything to be the same.
Pop music has become saturated with EDM and dance influences. I love EDM and have had my fair share of obsessions with pop, but I’m growing tired of pop music sounding like The Chainsmokers. As music fans, we need to be patient with the artists we respect and adore. It’s not possible for them to create tracks that every fan likes, but it is possible for us to continue to appreciate them as people ,and as musicians.
(Feature Photo: @DillonFrancis on Instagram)