Call me nostalgic, old fashioned or an old fashioned nostalgic, but I really miss those days when the dance floor was all about dancing. Blinded only by the strobes, with no flashlights between my eyes and the music, it was all about the dancing. Back in the 90s’, there was no backstage crowd, while the DJ was hidden somewhere out of the clubheads’ eyesight, letting only the music speak for themselves. Back 15 years ago, there were online communities supporting their local heroes and underground webzines documenting fresh music subgenres. DJs were as humble as their technical rider, filled only with the needed gear and not with bottles of expensive booze and party favors.
And then came social media, the digital mirror filtering all the imperfections and augmenting an artificial self constructed image, hyper-inflated by followers who actually follow a trend and not a feeling. Carefully constructed DJ sets that tell a story got replaced by 30 seconds videos with half naked people cheering a drop. Promoters and venues seized this momentum, to book artists based on cold figures like reach, followers and engagement. Human connection got lost in translation. The underground culture, the very lifeblood of the mainstream, was turned upside down into becoming just a tag, stripped of its content. In order to survive and make a profit, its scene quickly adopted the mainstream habits: the bigger awareness on social media for a DJ, the better chances to be booked, no matter the music they play. The more likes you got on a 30 seconds Reel, the better.
I think the only way to change things is a big crash of the mass events and more support and interest to little to mid-size events. It becomes a nice place to start from scratch and rebuild on what really matters.
In a conversation I had with Pheek, the Canadian producer who’s been active in the underground for 30 years, he managed to perfectly summarize the state of our subculture: “The problem I see is deeper than what we can actually think of. There are a lot of general values in club goers that are going to harm talent. People who go out now have different ways of being than before and I’m not saying this in a nostalgic way, it is factual. As long as we turn events in circus where self image is more important than the music, there will always be a problematic for fostering raw talent. How can you promote talent when you focus on a show that costs a lot of money and with people expecting headlines who costs a lot of money? There’s no room for risks and I don’t blame it. I think the only way to change things is a big crash of the mass events and more support and interest to little to mid-size events. It becomes a nice place to start from scratch and rebuild on what really matters. What I want is little events of die hard music lovers, limited capacity but with maximum comfort.”
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While scrolling through instagram (the irony…), a post from Vera, one of our favourite artists, captured my attention: “A video with people reacting on a DJ playing is not at all reflecting the quality of their set OR any artistic value. I urge you (n.r. promoters) to also keep promoting their actual art, like productions, mixes, articles or interviews where the artist speaks about their art. Since a while there is a trend of posting „hand-in-the-air-videos” resulting in decreasing popularity among DJs that have a different approach, while others become famous because of it. I personally feel this sends the wrong message, it forces artist to adapt to this development and it changes the way people think of what is a „good DJ set”. Our art is about LISTENING not about watching. By choosing to promote with video footage you take away the attention from the music. How can a 10 sec video represent ANYTHING really? It is easy to make people scream and raise their hands, anyone car do that, as we can see on IG, but it’s an art to take them on a journey and let the music unfold over several hours to create an authentic atmosphere.”
The underground culture always found alternative ways to self-sustain. But will it adapt to the fast paced digital world, while preserving the artistic art and allowing real artists to express themselves?
Not intending to find a solution, yet to see how these issues are perceived through the eyes of humans involved in the underground culture, we challenged a few of them to give us their perspective by answering a few questions, just to see if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel or our beloved scene is just doomed to be absorbed by entertaining DJs, bubble bath pool parties and selfies from the backstage.
The underground culture as we know it may not survive, but will adapt to finding new ways of gaining followers (pun intended :D). Buried under a thick layer of digital noise, it will find resources to get over a death like hibernation to a new life!
There is a vicious circle, as artists tend to keep their social media profiles as underground as possible, yet at the same time clubs and promoters are tempted to book artists with bigger followers base, in order to sell tickets and sustain their business. Do you think there is a way to break this circle and make everyone happy?
Artists are booked based on their performance quality, style, match with the club’s taste, stickiness and connection with the crowd, professionalism, and word of mouth – or at least that’s how it works at Guesthouse. Reputation surpasses social media popularity. These promotional tools help keep artists top of mind for fans and promoters alike, but a selector’s value goes beyond the social media followers.
Nevertheless, there is a need to be out there, but it also matters how you manage your presence as an artist. There are creative and original ways to be yourself on social media and show a complementary side of who you are as an artist – and build a stronger image without compromising or missing out on its benefits.
Sonia Lore, Artist PR:
To break the cycle of relying on social media metrics, the underground electronic music scene could benefit from fostering a community-centric approach. Instead of prioritizing follower counts, clubs and promoters might focus on the unique experiences and quality that underground artists bring. This can involve developing a more nuanced understanding of an artist’s influence, perhaps through engagement with the local music scene, word-of-mouth recommendations, or demonstrated skill in performances, rather than just online presence. Establishing alternative platforms dedicated to the promotion of underground acts could also help, where the value is placed on artistic merit and cultural contribution rather than social media popularity.
Breaking the circle between artists wanting to keep their social media profiles underground and promoters looking for artists with a larger following can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. Breaking the cycle of underground artists and promoters seeking larger followings may require a shift in industry culture and a willingness to experiment with new approaches. It’s essential for both artists and promoters to recognize the value in supporting emerging talent and cultivating a diverse and vibrant music scene.
First I don’t want to play in clubs who are looking for IG followers. Promoters should respect my work, as I have been in the underground scene for over 17 Years. The scene has changed in the last 3 years. I can feel that every weekend and a lot of promoters are looking for IG DJ´s with „fake followers“, but this is up to them. Quality will never die.
How much do videos shot at parties and festivals hurt the underground scene?
Bianca: It’s in the scale of things and the way of doing it, as with everything else. I don’t think it impacts the atmosphere of a hedonism escape if a designated person discreetly captures 10 minutes during a night to summarize the energy of a 12-hour party. However, I find 10 people flashing their phones in the air, constantly recording, can steal the show and disrupt the intimacy and magic of the moment, especially in the context of the underground scene. Parties and festivals are places to escape the everyday grind, not to keep yourself grounded with a phone in your hands. No video can reenact how it felt to be there.
Sonia: Funny question, because I’m a videographer at parties 🤣… but this is my job, not of the public. They need to have fun, listen to the music, understand it, dance it out on the dance floor. Videos shot at parties and festivals can have a dual effect on the underground scene. On one hand, they can expose the scene to wider audiences, helping artists and events gain recognition. However, they can also dilute the exclusive, intimate vibe that characterizes the underground ethos by broadcasting what was meant to be a localized experience to a global audience. To mitigate this, some events impose restrictions on filming, helping to preserve the uniqueness of the live experience and maintaining the underground allure.
Nils: I remember my time when I started going out a lot, there was no chance to make any videos or pictures with my Nokia mobile phone :) We talked after that weekend face to face about a party or a night…Now, people send videos during the night to friends and tell them to come to the club or not.
Simone: Videos shot at parties and festivals can both help and harm the underground scene. They provide exposure but may compromise privacy, affect authenticity, and lead to legal challenges. Balancing promotion and preservation is key, and content creators should act responsibly. The impact varies based on factors like intent and the scene’s values.
Considering that underground acts need underground promotion, beside more or less already established DJs and producers, how one can discover new artists, in order to attend parties where they would play?
Bianca: I think networking, sharing what we appreciate, and curiosity—giving an opportunity to listen to something new—are key. Promotion by word of mouth, personal experience, and sharing findings are most genuine and traditional.
I’d also like to emphasise on how a newcomer defines their personal branding, from their stage name to their track names and visuals. As an artist, music should reflect your taste, while “packaging” should speak to the audience you’d like to have. Depending on how this is executed, it can be a deal maker or deal breaker, since it still accounts as a first impression.
Sonia: To discover new underground artists without relying on mainstream social media algorithms, enthusiasts can explore several avenues. Community radio stations, underground music blogs, and independent record labels often spotlight emerging talent. Networking within the scene through attending local shows, joining music forums, and following artist-curated playlists can lead to new discoveries. Additionally, music sharing platforms that cater to the underground community can be invaluable resources for finding artists that resonate with the core values of the scene.
Nils: The next promoter generation should be supportive & trust their local DJ`s and give them a platform for their DJ Sets. Also with podcast, there is a chance for the next DJ generation to show the world their work.
Simone: To discover new underground artists and find parties where they play:
- Online Platforms: Explore SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Mixcloud, and underground music forums to find emerging talents.
- Social Media: Follow DJs, producers, and labels on platforms like Instagram and Twitter for updates on new artists and events.
- Local Scene: Attend smaller local events, open mics, and underground clubs to discover new talent.
- Record Labels: Check out labels known for promoting underground artists, as they often showcase fresh talent.
- Event Listings: Use event listing websites and apps to find parties and events featuring underground artists in your area.