Friday, September 7, 2012

EDM in the Classroom

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of experiencing a wild weekend of dancing at the Electric Zoo Festival in New York City, a huge annual electronic dance music (EDM) festival held on Randall's Island. It was an incredible experience. Thousands of people of all ages, from toddlers to the rare elderly individual, came to this event and danced together to different genres of EDM music and high-powered light shows. I met people from all over the country and even from other countries, including an entertaining trio from London on my ferry ride home the last day and a duo from Serbia.

EDM and Education

Like education, EDM is comprised of many different genres and draws people from all walks of life. Under the umbrella of EDM falls disco-like dance tracks, ambient trance music, punk-rock-esque dubstep and much more, and at EDM festivals, you are likely to find all of these genres of music co-existing. You are also likely to find a very diverse crowd, one that represents different style "cliques" (ravers, hippies, yuppies, etc.), as well as individuals of different socio-economic status, races, and genders from all different regions. This music has a pull that reaches far beyond any one group. In these ways, it is similar to liberal arts education. EDM asks its followers to respected diversity, encourages collaboration, and relies on technology. For this reason, I thought EDM was worth exploring as a tool for thinking about education.

Here are some of the basic concepts of EDM that are useful in the classroom:

Technology immersion and play: Students are often hesitant to learn new technologies or theories, and the education system prefers to "drill" students rather than give them hands on experiences. Electronic dance music obviously makes use of electronics. Technology is a staple of the business, and more so now, then ever. The music is often made on computers, mixed on computers, and played using computers. DJs tell me that when they are first starting to learn the trade, they just have to throw themselves in and play around. James Paul Gee's Why Video Games are Good for the Soul similarly states that students learn through play because it immerses them in worlds that they are forced to learn how to navigate. Students should have the opportunity to play and make mistakes, get feedback from an audience, and continue to improve their craft. 

Social networking: DJs and producers, as well as fans of the music, have said that social networking is a major part of the reason why EDM is becoming so popular. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Hardwell and Morgan Page agree that social networking is essential to the success of the genre. The music stayed underground for years. Considering the music was not mainstream, it was difficult to find and share tracks. Now, they get passed along through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc, and most of the music-makers love it.

 What I learn from these DJs/producers is that people learn when they connect, and they find out things they "never knew they never knew." I see tweets almost daily from my favorite DJ/producers about new facts that they learned. In response, educators should be incorporating these tools in our classroom should be important to us.

Ethnography: Because the scene is bursting into the public eye, people are constantly talking about the EDM community, asking the question "What does it mean to be a fan of EDM?" Those who want to be a part of it or simply learn more about it are trying to navigate the codes and acquire the vocabulary. Blogs like Dancing Astronaut and magazines like Rolling Stone cover what makes this community tick and why it's finally surging into the mainstream after being kept underground for so many years.

Students learning to do ethnographic writing can study these glimpses into the community as a sample of what it means to do research on communities. Though it's clearly satirical, Dom Mazzetti's "Dom Mazzetti vs. EDM" YouTube video is just one example that I have used in the classroom. It's a great way to talk about the use of satire, stereotypes, and alternate forms of learning.

Creating an experience: EDM producers and event organizers aim to create experiences, not just pieces of music. They aim to take listeners on an emotional journey. This is what I also believe any really good piece of writing should do, and exploring how these musicians do it is just one way we can help students think about how they can do it with their own writing.

P.L.U.R. and Everyday Living

Finally, I know that electronic dance music (EDM) gets a bad wrap sometimes because people associate it with party drug culture (which I do not, and have never, participated in), but I think the actually foundations of the EDM movement are very positive and do in someways describe my outlook on teaching and life. Ravers are supposed to live by a code-- PLUR.

PLUR stands for peace, love, unity, and respect. These are the aspects that I feel are essential to living a good life and part of why I love EDM so much. They represent so much of what democratic education ideally intends to do. It encourages diversity, rejects violence, and asks people to collaborate. This doesn't mean that differences cannot exist or that people cannot disagree, but simply that we allow for pluralism and show each other kindness.

To see more about Electric Zoo, you can check out this great photojournal from Rolling Stone:

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