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IMS 2009 - In perspective

"Back to business" was the IMS theme in 2009. But does business really fit with dance music culture?

When you think of dance music conferences, you immediately think of Miami’s WMC parties and its packed clubbing agenda and not so much about long days listening to panels of people talk shop. 2008’s IMS set a precedent, Pete Tong describes: “Seeing 300 of my colleagues and peers sit through every panel side by side for the whole three days. That was absolutely amazing!”. In essence, that is the difference with the IMS, which uses the ADE model of panels of experts discussing openly the challenges and opportunities facing the world of dance music. Obviously though the Ibiza connection is key, something Tong confirms “We’re very proud and very happy for Ibiza. It is very rewarding to be able to run such a high quality conference on the island that sometimes suffers for being seen as just the ultimate party place.

So that’s the theory, what actually happens in practice. You can see the program of panels/events here, but let’s take Thursday morning’s panel on A&R for example. Save for a few Man Utd fans licking their wounds from European Cup defeat to Barcelona the night before, the room was surprisingly busy for a 10am start and the conversation was

open forum for discussion on anything A&R related, and then some!! It took all of 6 minutes before someone in the audience had to use the swear box (Mark Jones, Wall of Sound - pictured left!), then the panel got involved and it became like a docker’s fag break. BUT, the conversation was compelling, how does A&R work in the modern world of dance music? How do you find music? How do you publicise it? What does A&R even mean?

Sure the traditional method still happens, but digitalism means that a whole breed of producers can sit at home on their mac with some software and whack out an electro soundclash within 20 minutes. How do you find those guys and how do they find you? The answer lies fundamentally in a mixture of old and new. Guru Josh’s Infinity was talked about as an example, 52 millions views on youtube propelling it to become one of the biggest selling pop singles worldwide in 2008, but the A&R was essentially old fashioned. Tim Binns from New State Entertainment, whilst on the road with Tiesto saw the amazing reaction to the track; from there it was just about going through the release process, even though at the time Guru Josh was fitting satellite dishes in Ibiza. Binns was adamant though, that the youtube influence was fundamental.

After the "A&R International Rescue: Patchworking the World" Panel, Pete Tong interviewed John Niven, who has written a book called “Kill Your Friends”, a story based on his experience working for London Records (with Tong in fact) that basically rips to shreds the music industry and its modus operandi. Let me say this, John Niven is funny, really funny; he is one of those characters that has you crackin’ up with almost word he says. So in describing his book and making sure the swearbox got an absolute pelting, John explained how his “based on real events” story cuts close to the bone and reveals more than one or two secrets. One particular quote that sticks in my mind was his description of Geri Halliwell as “swimming in a sea of HIV positive, shark infested semen” (!!).

Fundamentally based around mainstream (chart) acts and how that whole game has to be played, Niven’s interview continued the theme of dance music commercialization. That is, the whole system of trying to increase sales, increase exposure and maximize profits. As I looked across to Richie Hawtin who had been there bright and early, I wondered what he made of the way the discussion seemed to be almost ignoring any mention of little things like, errrrmm, the music, art, underground values of dance music. In fact, the exact model labels like Toolroom and Pacha Recordings advocate, is the antithesis of what labels like Perlon, Oslo and Circus Company believe in, the type of labels Hawtin is more likely to look to during his sets.

Interestingly then the point did arise briefly in his interview with Ben Turner, when Hawtin (pictured right) said “I'm a little bit disappointed that it's all about marketing, brand and partnerships. Social networks, communities of like minded individuals. That's what it's all about.” And of course he is right too. Some discussion centred around Deadmau5 and his spanking new deal with Virgin, which is all great if you are Joel Zimmerman and advisors and want to make megabucks, but for me when you’re aiming to get chart exposure, it’s not really about dance music anymore, it’s just music and the distinction is quite different. As the M-nus boss explained, much like Carl Cox too, the whole scene was built and continues to be based on doing something together, communities and shared experiences……..anything else only drives it away into mass consumption land.

Before everyone trotted off to the Finale in Dalt Vila where Basement Jaxx showcased material from their new album, I was fascinated to see Pauli Steinbach (Cocoon Recordings) handing Pete Tong the latest Cocoon tracks/demos. 10 years ago Tongy was shaking off speed garage on his way to tribal and trance land, now he’s playing music from the coolest labels around (La Mezcla got an airing amidst the walls of Dalt Vila). There’s proof if you ever needed it; sure the dance music world wants to get rich, sometimes seemingly Scarface style, but the underground will always resist and it has reached the point where it influences the most important artists in the world. Time for another rebellion I think, Mannheim style.