‘I have noticed a difference between older EDM stars and younger ones’
I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, Netflix, 2016
An artist does two things. One is the work. This can manifest as an idea, song, text, painting, mix, performance…I can go on and on. And the edge cases here can be fun. Air can be work (Duchamp, Air de Paris), or work can be work (Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ artist residency at New York’s Department of Sanitation), or lack of work can be the work (Nam June Paik, Zen for Film). I love this kinda stuff.
The other thing an artist does is showbiz. Showbiz is anything that happens once the work “leaves the studio.” These two sides of an artist form something like a mobius strip—they are related and continuous, and also completely dependent on each other. So when considering an artist broadly, one needs to take both things into account. In Angello’s case, we can consider the work (i.e. the music) and the showbiz (i.e. everything else).
Despite being a casual fan of EDM, I can’t tell you literally what Steve Angello was doing on stage. Perhaps he was mixing tracks in the traditional sense, one after another, shifting with the crowd’s reaction, or in accordance with some other long perfected and practiced metric. Or maybe not. Maybe he was just playing his iPod, and every once in a while, turning the volume down, and tiredly yelling to the crowd. I really couldn’t say. But I have noticed a difference between older EDM stars and younger ones: For olds like Guetta and Angello, I get a sense that they have spent a considerable amount of their pre-fame life working clubs. Their sets have a kind of narrative and propulsion that seems learned. The younger EDM stars, such as KYGO, don’t have this training, and mainly play their own songs one after the other. So, brass tacks: Angello brought Stavanger a proper audio set. Whether he was doing anything in real-time, or playing a prerecorded track, I am not sure. And I’m also not sure it matters.
The showbiz myth of a rock star is a never-ending near-death party. Think of the famous picture of Motley Crew shattered on heroin in a hot tub. In contrast, a mid-period hip-hop mogul might sell themselves on their business acumen. This is summed up best by Jay Z’s, line, “I’m Not A Businessman, I’m A Business, Man.” Meanwhile the EDM star is sold as the ultimate “always on” worker—polite, “business class,” and 24/7 caked in the glow of a laptop screen. Skrillex famously played 322 shows one year alone (while still managing to produce and record!). In one scene of the Steve Aoki documentary I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, Aoki gets in a fight with his manager because the manager forgot to schedule sleep into his calendar. Imagine a life with hundreds of shows, sometimes two or three in a single day, and where a studio session with Will.i.am, is given priority over sleeping. Damn! The saddest of all was AVICII (R.I.P.), who worked (and partied) himself into sickness, eventually retiring from performing in 2016. In one of his last interviews — before taking his own life in 2018 — he comments, “Why didn’t I stop the ship earlier?”