Is electronic more (or less) creative now than in the past?

Spacetime

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Nov 6, 2021
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This is a hard question to unpack, and I swing back and forth between beliefs. On one hand it feels like we have more genres and sounds than ever before, with almost every possible sound niche being catered for somewhere and a constant stream of blending of old and new, this genre with that genre, and so on. I never know how to label half the music I hear. The tools of music production are so abundant that creation is everywhere.

On the other hand, electronic music can feel more generic than ever before, and when I think about the most creative artists of this decade I struggle to think of any that might sit next to some of the great names from yesteryear. I asked chat GPT who are the most creative artists and they listed Aphex Twin, Kraftwerk, Daft Punk, Leftfield and Brian Eno.

Is electronic music more creative now than in the past?
 
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dmgtz96

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Interesting topic. I would say that, for the genres that existed in the past, no, with some caveats. The following is just my guess, as I haven't done any real research on this topic, and I don't truly know the state of music production circa early 2000s.

A few things could have happened between the past (let's say, before the early 2000s) and today that caused significant declines in perceived creativity. The proliferation of DAWs + Internet communities allowed amateur producers to start creating electronic music without expensive hardware. Correct me if I'm wrong, but in the 80s and 90s, electronic music was largely created by musicians and, essentially, audio engineers who had the access to the limited expensive hardware of the day: Roland TB-303 for acid, Roland JP-8000 for those saws, and so on. There weren't many sample packs available, so producers had to synthesize their music and samples largely from scratch, possibly programming it in real time (such as Acid Eiffel from 1993). Chances are, these owners were also the few people who had access to the hardware manuals, so only they would have known how to use the hardware to synthesize the sounds they wanted. Their focus wasn't necessarily to create massive pop hits, though some of them sold a lot of records. Some simply wanted to make a name for themselves in the underground electronic music scene, which was just about to turn mainstream in 2000. (Massive mainstream hits like Children were rare.) Others, like Tiesto, were more like architects who deferred to the real music producers who actually knew how to use the hardware.

While DAWs proliferated, and the Internet allowed music production communities* to form, producers also started creating and selling sample packs. That would make sense - if you're talented enough to create good samples from scratch, wouldn't it make sense to earn your money that way instead of hoping for a hit?

Then, as music production became more accessible, less talented producers started releasing generic/derivative electronic music. Ultimately, producers just wanted to create hits with the general public to earn $$$, which came at the expense of originality and creativity. Why spend so much time creating kicks and saws from scratch when you can just load up some samples from a cheap sample pack?
The more removed the producers were from the fundamentals of music synthesis, the more generic electronic music as a genre became.

....

Then, there is also the fact that we tend to have a rosy view of the past. There is a lot, a lot of bad electronic music from back then that no one remembers today. Yes, there are the classics - Gouryella, or Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works, or Acid Eiffel, but there are also many releases that time forgot because they just weren't interesting or creative enough compared to the rest. And this is true for music in general - you can take a random week where The Beatles released a song, and I'm sure you can look up a bunch of songs released that same week that no one cares about today.


* I'm thinking of tranceaddict, trancenu, dogs on acid, and possibly even the SectionZ community where deadmau5's earlier work as halcyon441 was hosted
 

nightslapper

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Oct 5, 2023
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it has a couple of perspectives so there can't be simple yes or no to me

modern technologies and software make it so much easier to produce these days, yet they're mostly used in a very formulaic way

the genres tend to narrow into niches, for example the melodic techno sound has its own 'rules' and 95% of the tracks releasee in that genre follow them, same goes for what was once called 'trance 2.0' aka the Anjuna sound of the 2010s, or future rave with its bleepy synths and big sub bass etc

the older stuff had less inner boundaries but more technican limitations, with nowadays it's the opposite, anyone has capacity to create wild things but one can barely break the industry patterns
 
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HTY

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The answer for me seems obvious and thats today's music is much less creative. No famous electronic DJs are making out the box or even original music.

We may have more genres but they all sound like they are made in a genre factory. It feels like the goal is to produce a track for the sake of the subgenre, instead of for the sake of music.

But to not be entirely cynical, I will admit that underground music feels more creative today then it did in 10 years ago, in 2014. I don't even know what underground house and trance was like then but I don't remember being as interested as I am today.
 

facade1984

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Apr 27, 2021
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I think one reason is we have a bunch of people making music who just aren't creative. They can nail the technical side of things but lack the imagination and/or they only wanna release music to chase gigs/get in the charts. Fewer and fewer people seem to do it for themselves/love of the craft and just opt for instant gratification instead. The upside of this however is that it lets the true artists shine as they really stand out from the rest of the formulaic crap
 

TRANCEBLASTER

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Jul 21, 2020
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well.. in 2025 will be my 30 years of music addiction.. I had some struggle in 2002 (still no internet at home, the music on compilations was more and more commercial)... then later another struggle in 2006 (most of the Trance, Techno and Progressive started to sound very digilazed, thin and really souless, ofc in the days I had no clue about digital vs analog sound).. then in 2009 I needed to switch to 'vinyl releases' because it was super hard to find anything good on digital only labels.. since then im pretty lucky with releases..

ofc my homework is always to find new artists and new labels, because mostly the new and fresh is the most interesting in electronic music

imho its more about WHAT and WHERE you search, the music is creative as 10, 20 or 30 years ago
 
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Ar7

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A good starting point for such a discussion is Sturgeon’s law - 90% of everything published is garbage. Applies to any genre across any time period. A second point to keep in mind is that there is no objective measuring scale for creativity, quality, emotionality etc. Thus to make matters worse, not only is 90% of published music is garbage, but most people disagree on which pieces constitute the “good” 10%.

To illustrate this fact it is quite amusing to read history books that note period reviews of famous composers where there always is a part of the general public that describes the now canonical pieces as “noise”.

Another fact to consider is the role of chance/luck, since it is impossible to predict which pieces become famous. Unfortunately, it has little to do with quality, even in its subjective form. Here a good question to ask is would Beethoven be as famous or as appreciated if he was born today? Probably not.

So what next? Here I like to follow Taleb’s rule that the older something is the better it is, because it is more likely (note, likely, not guaranteed) that time has managed to weed out the junk.

That’s why the music today is probably as good as it ever was and even if it isn’t, we won’t be able to agree on this fact. And that’s why I’ve given up on following the latest movies, albums, books etc, chances are most of them are garbage and I don’t want to spend the immense time needed to find the gems. I will let time do that :)

PS That’s also why I always turn off all recommendation algorithms, since they are just a pool of swirling nonsense perpetually refeeding you junk.
 

Hensmon

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A good starting point for such a discussion is Sturgeon’s law - 90% of everything published is garbage. Applies to any genre across any time period.

Ha never heard of this law. Not sure if it works fully tbh. There is much much more music being made today than 20 years ago, so the 10% that's supposedly quality should be 10x the amount of what we had in the past, but that's not what we see. We'd have more quality to choose from than ever before, but it feels the opposite is true.

It also implies that quality is this static/fixed thing and therefore outside of the influences of economics, technology and culture. The world has a direct impact on creativity, its health and as a benchmark. The state of it absolutely fluctuates and changes. It may be 5% one year, but 30% another.
 
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Ar7

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I think it’s less about the specific percentage rather than the fact that the clear majority is low quality.
 
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Jetflag

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Depends on how you define creative

from a pioneering/ doing more with less perspective there’s little doubt that trailblazers like Schulze or Vangelis where more creative, often having build their own instruments etc.

from a prolific/ output perspective and with the major landscapes of electronic music charted and small-sub genre nooks and crannies of that being explored and invented (not to mention the continuously expanding musical toolkits and availability) you could make a very compelling case of this day and age being the “creative golden age” of electronic music.
 
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May 4, 2022
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Non debatable music had more creativity 20 years ago. I was growing up with Orbital, Underworld, Prodigy, Leftfield, FSOL and Aphex Twin, as was most of the UK and we weren’t having to dig deep in some obscure underground record shop, this was played on the radio, even sometimes on the most mainstream charts. What do this generation have as equivalent? Nothing. There’s not a single artist that stands alongside that list of names I mentioned above. It’s not solely that there’s no creative artists, it’s like our collective appetite for music that pushes boundaries has vanished. Orbital would be ignored today, probably 10 buys on Bandcamp. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy. As we got less creative music out capacity to appreciate it got less, and the entire culture of that music just erodes until we end up where we are now.
 

TRANCEBLASTER

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Non debatable music had more creativity 20 years ago. I was growing up with Orbital, Underworld, Prodigy, Leftfield, FSOL and Aphex Twin, as was most of the UK and we weren’t having to dig deep in some obscure underground record shop, this was played on the radio, even sometimes on the most mainstream charts. What do this generation have as equivalent? Nothing. There’s not a single artist that stands alongside that list of names I mentioned above. It’s not solely that there’s no creative artists, it’s like our collective appetite for music that pushes boundaries has vanished. Orbital would be ignored today, probably 10 buys on Bandcamp. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy. As we got less creative music out capacity to appreciate it got less, and the entire culture of that music just erodes until we end up where we are now.

yes 'XL Recordings', 'R&S' and 'Warp' did really a great job in the early days, you all were pretty lucky in the UK, the music was supported by magazines, TV and radio, it must be super easy back then... we easterlings had super hard time to find any good music even in those times)

well magazines, TV and also radio are pretty dead now.. we (only) have the internet and its very tricky.. the good stuff never pops out randomly, thats the main difference, but I still believe that when you search for it you will find it.. the good creative music
 
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Pokkryshkin

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I think there are a lot of high-class sound engineers these days, but few good musicians. There is a lot of self-copying, even the original melody cannot be created, although I think this applies not only to music but also to other types of art. Perhaps the problem is not that good musicians have run out, but that no one needs their work, since it is not commercially profitable.
 
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Jetflag

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Also worth pointing out here is that "I liked certain stuff in my 20's more." Isn't a testament to levels of creativity then versus now.

You could make a very good case that say: a Skrillex production is more creative on a musical level then a beloved and classic trancer anno 1999..
 
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It's not about personal nostalgia in the 20's and It's not a controversial or complicated statement to unpack. Creativity was objectively in a better place. Those artists I mentioned were renowned for it and spurred on decades of influence, not just across the UK but arguably the world. Yeah there are creative artists now, but were not seeing them operate at even close to the same level, and there's far less to choose from to make that case anyway.

Would love someone to make a list of 10 artists they believe are the most creative in the last 10 years, and compare to the names I mentioned.

I only listed a few big ones and personal favorite too. There are so many more from this time, endless names to choose from e.g KLF, The Orb, Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers, Moby, Massive Attack, Boards of Canada, Fat Boy Slim, Autechre .... Even artists like LTJ Bukem were breaking ground like never seen. We haven't even got to the Trance/Techno artists yet...
 
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Jetflag

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Creativity was objectively in a better place.
Whats the exact "objective" metric here?

creativity is, put very short, the ability to create musical products or elements therein that are novel and/or intentive.

Now the list you pulled up (Orbital, Underworld, Prodigy, Leftfield, FSOL and Aphex Twin) is impressive. but mostly focus around novel sampling and sounddesign. which, you know...fine..but thats one creative element.

In terms of for instance innovative melody structures. most of the productions from that age say: 90%, don't get passed the three chords to put it like that.. where as (semi) pop compositions like Strobe by deadmau5 or Porter Robinsons - Language outmatch them on novel chord progression alone. (so the way bass interacts with melody etc.)

Would love someone to make a list of 10 artists they believe are the most creative in the last 10 years, and compare to the names I mentioned.
Well I can do a devils advocate and pull one together just for the shits and giggles of the discussion..

but before we start the pissing contest:

few rules: we only judge on the creative factor and preferably something demonstrable/measurable (such as novel/unique sampling in Prodigy productions, as opposed to novel/unique melodic sequencing in case of say Tycho.

we're not allowed to go "but this has more soul, whereas this is soulless, or this feels cringe etc." or any other subjective bollocks. Neither are we allowed to do a popularity appeal (yeah but this didn't even chart/I never heard of this guy before)

Deal?
 
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