In Defense of Nicky Romero and Mainstream EDM
Expectations rule everything we do, whether we like it or not. Expectations inform our realities in ways that can be both good or bad and can turn what could objectively be said to be a good time…into a really shitty experience. Whether it’s something as trivial as trying a new restaurant based on Yelp reviews or something as life-altering as committing to a relationship based upon your personal expectations of someone, expectations set your subjective standard of what you will define as a good time or positive experience, usually and unfortunately based on someone else’s subjective standard of what they consider to be such. As a result, people feel a certain confidence in their expected experience through their understanding of these expectations and can even write off experiences wholly unfamiliar to them on this basis. I did this with Nicky Romero.
Despite what this may do to my credibility as an EDM blogger, I could not name a single Nicky Romero track. I know he’s Dutch. I know people’s reaction to my seeing him on Halloween was, “He’s…umm…not really your style.” I know he is usually lumped in with Tiësto and Hardwell. I know Hardwell did that song “Spaceman” I listened to a few times after I went to Electric Zoo in 2012. And I know that Hardwell came off to me as the lowest common denominator in EDM and the electronic music equivalent of Taylor Swift; a generic, commercialized and less-than-nuanced style of music who catered to a similar breed of fan. Ipso facto, I expected Nicky Romero to sound like Hardwell, so I expected I wouldn’t like him or his show.
You all know we’re guilty of this kind of thinking. It’s only reasonable. This thinking most likely and more often than not saves us the time and expense of having to experience a hundred shitty things only to find one we like. I went to Pier of Fear 2014 expecting the worst, with said expectations based upon the (attenuated at best) connections made above. Nicky Romero, combined with his guests, Dirty South, Don Diablo, John Dahlback, Ansolo, Arno Cost and Elephante were sure to not only play music I disdain, but attract a crowd I could not stand. I could not have been more wrong.
What can I tell you about the lineup that you don’t already know? Nicky Romero is currently ranked as the 8th best DJ in the world, according to our favorite poll. He has countless sets you can stream and has made some undoubtedly popular songs with many of the artists that define popular EDM. Same with many of his guests. I do have to admit a curious first time musical experience though. Despite what I figured to be fun-reducing tools, earplugs (DUBS Acoustic Filters, to be specific) actually made for a unique experience. These particular earplugs, I suspect, were designed to filter out the higher ranges of the audio spectrum, sounds high pitched relative to bass coming out of speakers the size of some smaller Manhattan apartments, such as human voices (This is not based on any kind of evidence or science, rather what I assume they are designed to do.). Whenever I popped in the ear plugs, the persistent chatter of thousands of people in a warehouse was drowned out and only the beat itself seemed to come through. As a consequence however, some of the higher pitched sounds in the music were also lost in the fray. I was about 50/50 in my usage of earplugs throughout the show and, despite the slight muddling of a fraction of the higher points of the tracks being played, it was a good balance of sonic quality and ear health. Regardless, I’ll definitely be adding these to my regular collection of things I bring to shows, since hours of pulsing bass can leave me looking for some audio clarity and respite. But, as I said before, I clearly wasn’t there for the music, I was there for the experience.
I’d been to Pier of Fear in New York before. Held at Pier 94 on New York City’s Hudson River, it is a unique (coming from a native land-locked Texan) and enjoyable, albeit windy, location. The stage is set at the farthest point over the water, projecting the sounds back at the island of Manhattan, leaving you a massive pier of a dance floor on which to enjoy the evening. Moreover, there were no lines for security (Unlike my experience with Mad Decent Block Party, which might be the most haphazard and unprofessional event in the history of event organization, where one is expected to stand in the security line for well over an hour and a half.) and there was a bar, accessible and line free, for what seemed about every 15 feet. RPM Presents is a wonderful example of providing what fans want, at or above expectations. The Halloween-colored balloons that were released at the drop of one Romero’s many were also pretty dope. Cuz balloons.
Over everything though, the crowd is what really caught me by surprise. After moving past my personal phase of “raging” (somewhere immediately prior to my discovery of “Scary Monsters, Nice Sprites”) I began, over time, gravitating to what I thought would be a more laid back crowd; deep house aficionados, underground artists, and people who like black and white pictures and cigarettes. For all of their self-righteous pretentiousness, I thought I would be among a crowd who wanted nothing else than to dance and appreciate the music. However, after my last few experiences with more “underground” clubs and their fans, I have begun to think I’ve just lost touch with the concert-going experience. I don’t want shove everyone else who was having fun out of the way so I could find my friends so they could join me as I shoved my way back to the only bar serving $20 beers, taking selfies every 10 feet. I didn’t want to just get trapped in an endless cycle of texting, then snapchatting, then texting, then snapchatting, then texting, just to prove I was at a more unique show or more exclusive party. I wanted to fucking dance. And the rage bros at Pier of Fear, despite our physical, psychological, and aesthetic differences, wanted to do just that (save the one guy who I saw actually FaceTiming some relative during the show. Seriously guy, what the fuck?).
The entire experience made me draw a distinction between what my expectations are and what I believe to be the objective of the evening. If I’m going to try and experience music that I like by an artist I enjoy, Nicky Romero’s show was not the place. I should clearly choose an artist who produces the type of music I prefer. However, if I want to have an entire experience, in a gestalt sense, not based solely on the artists I’m seeing and the music that is playing, but on the crowd, the venue, the visuals, and, for lack of a better term, the vibe, I will seriously consider shows like Pier of Fear from now on. If I want to appreciate the music and support an artist I like, I will suffer through the conditions of more “underground clubs.” But if I want a complete party “experience,” and I may regret admitting this out loud, much less admitting it on the vast, endless, and un-deletable internet, I think I might start turning to the likes of Nicky Romero and the rest of the DJ Mag Top 100. So, if you’re anything like me, and occasionally lapse into the belief that I’m above this kind of mainstream EDM “scene,” remember that they don’t promise musical prodigies or some one of a kind piece of art. They promise dancing, fun, and an experience that you won’t forget, and they don’t lie.
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