The Art of Electronica

by Leah Zwemke, published August 7th 2011

At 6 p.m. on a Tuesday, everything from the open containers of Chinese take-out in his kitchen to the video game system in his living room seems typical of a 24-year-old’s apartment.  What a visitor might miss, however, is that Jason Pavlow is more than just your average Chinese food-loving twenty-something.  He is also part of a group of technology-savvy ‘€œbasement DJs.’€

A graduate of Southern Connecticut State University,  Pavlow now shares an apartment in Allston with his brother and a mutual friend.  His closet is full of khakis and work shirts, a Bruins jersey hangs on his wall, a pile of clothes is taking over his bed and two guitars sit by a speaker in the corner.  On his dresser, next to a piece of paraphernalia and can of Canadian Blue Beer, is a Vestax Spin D-Jay turntable hooked up to his MacBook.

He pulls up a program on his laptop that works with the turntable along with an iTunes window.  He drags certain songs to the program, adjusts the beats per minute and starts to mix and scratch using the connected turntable to control the songs he’s chosen on the computer.  For 10 minutes Pavlow, headphones on, bounces to the beat while moving his hands from his keyboard to the turntable with expert precision, completely absorbed.

‘€œIf you can put yourself into a different world with music, dancing or not, you’re not thinking about other things,’€ says Pavlow.

New easy-to-use technology is making the art of electronic music more accessible to people like Pavlow, who has two jobs and belongs to a recreational soccer league, leaving only enough time for DJing to be a hobby.  This is the same technology available to professional DJs, helping to merge the two levels into one community, one that must fight the constant criticism that using a computer program does not take the same skill as playing a live instrument.

While the lack of live instruments loses the genre respect, it does make the electronic genre unique.  Additionally, computer music’s main set of influences come from outside the U.S., giving it a ‘€œEuro-chic’€ appeal.

Maurice Methot, professor of new media at Emerson College, is an electronic music artist and has been since the mid ‘€˜80s.  He recognizes the foreign influence on the genre.

‘€œBecause it wasn’t coming from America, people could hear it without prejudices,’€ says Methot.  ‘€œSome of the weird stuff was more acceptable.’€

Not only can this influence be heard in the music, but it has also spilled over into the way electro concerts are performed, which are similar to the European ‘€œdisco’€ scene.  There are flashy light shows, slide shows of intricate images to go along with the music and dancers in minimal clothing.  Everything about the genre screams ‘€œparty,’€ so it’s no wonder why it has taken off and is dominating the music scene.

This sense of fun and, as Pavlow mentioned, escapism, is achieved by the daring and unspecific efforts of electro artists.

‘€œMusic isn’t about the amount of expertise,’€ says Methot, ‘€œit’s the amount of soul you put into it.’€

Important influences include Daft Punk from France and Deadmau5 from Canada, both of whom are now well known around the world, and they definitely bring the weird.  For example, these artists are known for the strange props they perform with; Deadmau5 sports a foam mouse head and Daft Punk wear robot helmets.

The unassuming nature of Pavlow’s apartment makes it hard to imagine his interests are so far-out.  He works as a server at Boston Beer Works and just started selling real estate; he also likes sports and knows how to play the trumpet.  The electro scene would seem to be out of his comfort zone.

However, like Pavlow says, ‘€œElectronic music allows people to personalize what they love.  No one has to limit themselves anymore.’€

Electronic music is especially exploding at parties and raves.  College-aged students and even younger kids are excited to ‘€˜get down’ at different venues that host these types of concerts.  However, what they don’t see behind the glare of the light shows, deep bass and flashy attire, is the long history of electronic music.

While there is no definite date of creation, experts believe electronic music started in the 1960s.

Martha Peabody, professor of sound health and vocals at Northeastern University, cites the musicians György Ligeti and Milton Babbitt as founding fathers of experimental, electronic music.  Ligeti, from Austria, and Babbitt, from America, both started with classical composition and then discovered electronic sound in the ‘€˜60s.

Soon after experimentation with music began, like Ligeti and Babbitt’s, technology became easily available for those who wanted to mimic the electronic sound.

For example, the electronics company MOOG celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2010.  According to a timeline on MoogMusic.com, in 1970 they created the Mini Moog Model D, a synthesizer  that ‘€œintroduced synthesis to the touring musician’€¦and helped define the music of the 20th century.’€

Just as DJing technology is available to both professionals and amateurs, all levels of musicians used the Mini Moog.

Peabody recalls teaching at Salisbury School in Connecticut during the ‘€˜70s and using a Moog with her students.  The 16 to 18-year-old students were just as interested in the sound as young people in 2011.  Peabody says the interest was generated by the students’ ability ‘€œto create and find sound’€ with this new device.

Soon after the Moog and other synthesizers were created, new technology emerged that gave people more freedom and options while creating their own sound.

According to Methot, electronic music may have gotten its start in the ‘€˜60s, however, ‘€œit exploded with MIDI,’€ a musical instrument with a digital interface developed in 1983.  MIDI allowed artists to connect their computer to an instrument, which gave birth to the term ‘€œcomputer music.’€

‘€œEven in my experience during 1984/85, [as an electronic musician] you immediately identify yourself as avant-garde,’€ says Methot.

Around this time, the European influence on the genre was evident.  Bands from Germany like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk were major contributors to electronic music, according to Methot and Peabody.  However, as music progressed, American hip-hop artists also gained a major role in the production of computer music.

Hip-hop has created the ‘€œmost amazing constructions of electronic music,’€ says Methot. Artists like Public Enemy began ‘€œreconstructing [music] and putting it back together,’€ he says.  ‘€œRemix culture was 10-15 years before Daft Punk.’€

Public Enemy’s second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back, is a good example of remixing, with tracks like ‘€œShow ‘€˜Em Whatcha Got,’€ which samples the song ‘€œDarkest Light’€ by Lafayette Afro Rock Band.  According to Billboard’s Top 200, Public Enemy’s album was the #42 best selling record in 1988.

Throughout their career, the group kept their remixed sound, but as artists like Daft Punk came on the scene with their original, purely electronic composition, it was clear Euro-style electronic music began to dominate hip-hop sampling culture.  In 2001, Daft Punk’s Discovery was #44 on Billboard’s top 200, while just a year before, Public Enemy’s Revolverloution was at #110.

According to Methot, however, this type of music is old news.  ‘€œDeadmau5, Daft Punk; it’s been done,’€ he says.  ‘€œMusic never moves forward, new technologies emerge that you assumed were obsolete’€¦ [but their] dominance will fade. The new-ness of the sound makes people over do it a little,’€ he says.

Every Tuesday night, the migration of 18+ party people to The Middle East for Throwed Indie/ Electro Dance party makes it hard to believe Euro-style electronic music will be a fleeting trend.

‘€œI like the chaos of it all,’€ says Throwed employee Josh Larson.  ‘€œAfter we set everything up, I generally sit back and watch people go crazy; girls making out and people [basically] having sex on the dance floor’€¦ no Throwed is alike,’€ says 21-year-old Larson.

As the opening DJ begins at 9 p.m., attendees definitely start to go crazy.  Adorned with shiny bandeau tops, tight pants, gelled Mohawks and some wearing only underwear, people start to dance in a huddled clump, pressing forward to the stage.  The energy moving forward is hot and intense.  Larson says when you come to Throwed, ‘€œpeople know you’re looking to party.’€

Throwed started in 2008 as another dance party called ‘€œPaper,’€ which was hosted at Harpers Ferry.  Once they switched venues and changed names, Throwed was selling out the upstairs of the Middle East.  By spring 2010, the party moved to the larger downstairs of the club, and continues to grow.  In January 2011 The Boston Pheonix cited Throwed as ‘€œBoston’s biggest dance party.’€

Eric ‘€œEmarcé’€ Marcelino of New Bedford is the founder and resident DJ at Throwed, which is now co-owned by local DJ Jellz and Michael Krilivsky, the owner of Red Blue Records and Lets Rage Clothing in Boston.

Marcelino says he started the weekly event because, ‘€œI wanted my own dance party where I was booking the talent.’€

The DJ got his start in a local band called ‘€œSex Positions.’€  After they broke up he started to put on dance parties.

‘€œI am me, I’m not copying anyone,’€ says Marcelino of his DJing style.  He does cite, however, influences like Daft Punk and Justice, another electronic group from France.

As Throwed continues to make its mark on Boston’s electronic scene, it is not without opposition.  A group on Facebook called ‘€œEnough with the THROWED pictures,’€ referencing the multiple pictures posted weekly from the dance party, bashes the event.  It has 273 ‘€œlikes,’€ or members.

One member writes, ‘€œ[Throwed is] just a bunch of freshman in college who are like ‘€˜whoa no mom dad and high school chaperones kewl!’ and dress slutty and all dance the same with sketchy gross guys.’€  Another user makes the statement ‘€œWE KNOW YOU HAVE BIG GAUGES AND STUPID “F*** OFF” KNUCKLE TATTOOS F***.’€  A term commonly used to describe this personality is a ‘€œhipster.’€

Those who work Throwed understand hipsters are their main audience.  In addition to embracing their critiqued demographic, Throwed also uses Facebook to help promote their event despite the fact it is also host to many who dislike the event.  Krilvisky is in charge of event promotion.

‘€œSocial networking makes s*** bigger,’€ says Krilvisky, but in this industry, ‘€œyou have to take charge, you have to make yourself famous.’€

Electronic music has been making a statement since its start.  It’s experimental and catches people’s attention, especially today as the genre becomes partnered with a big party scene.  What happens next, however, is unclear.

Edmund Campion, professor of music and director of The Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT) at UC Berkeley, is on the forefront of electronic music.

At CNMAT, student’s work to answer the question ‘€œWhat is new music?’€ says Campion.  Graduate students here work with ‘€œemerging technologies’€ and ‘€œnew tools,’€ he says.

One thing is for sure; music is definitely not going to lose its electronic influence.  According to Campion, ‘€œIt’s [considered] electronic if sound comes out of a loud speaker.’€  With such a broad categorization, it will be hard to escape the electrification of music.

Methot agrees that electro sound will continue to develop, yet he is not sure what direction it will take. He does have theories, however, that the computer will soon be able to ‘€œmimic tape,’€ which would mean it could create sound more on its own by using a series of random numbers.

As new technology develops, allowing the genre to progress, music will become more and more accessible.  The tools already available make this possible to a certain extent.

‘€œWe have access to more music now,’€ says Campion.  ‘€œWe are able to listen to music all over the world’€¦ [and are therefore] exposed to more.’€  In addition to music availability, Campion also recognizes that technology ‘€œhas made more people composers.’€

These ‘€œcomposers’€ encompass the emerging ‘€œbasement DJs’€ like Pavlow, as well as more established musicians like Marcelino.

They are the DJs who ‘€œlike DJing because [they] want to keep the beat going’€¦ [and] help people escape,’€ says Pavlow.

It’s music for those in the clump of sweaty bodies at Throwed, dancing to the point of exhaustion and saturation.

‘€œSo many people love to be a part of something,’€ says Dean Pasciuto, a Throwed employee.  ‘€œThere’s a Throwed family,’€ the 21-year-old Salem State Student adds.

A party-goer gets nudged in the back, but he ignores it and keeps dancing, staring at Emarcé dancing and using his computer to create the ear shattering bass coming from the speakers.  The DJ is wearing a bright bathing suit bottom with a busy pattern and a track jacket.

‘€œEmarcé has the whole Euro-DJ thing down,’€ says Larson.  ‘€œOn stage, you’ll see him jumping up and down, feeling the vibes.’€

As the dancers on stage continue to whip their hair and encourage audience members to do the same, everyone in the pit looks blissful.  The heat, sweat, smells and lack of personal space are all just a part of the genre they love.

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