Anyone that knows me knows I listen to a lot of electronic dance music. I don’t care what style… I enjoy everything from deep house and techno to trance and tropical. I’ve really been getting into tropical lately listening to guys like Kygo and Robin Schulz. I blame my coworker Bradford Schaub for my obsession with Kygo.
There are so many DJs out there, and anymore, it seems we live in a world where every DJ is trying to break into the mainstream. There are, however, a small subset of artists who prefer to remain under the radar. These DJs can best be defined as “underground.”
One DJ I’ve been listening to a lot is Kill! Club. He is actually a good friend of mine, and his podcast Shattered Dreams might be the best podcast I’ve heard in years. I can’t wait for a new episode to drop, and I get excited when I see one has been released. I am the same with guys like Airwave and Hardwell. I actually told Sheryl today, “I hate to admit this, but Hardwell might be my new favorite DJ.”
It was actually a conversation with Kill! Club (aka Phil Flowers) that inspired this blog post. We were talking about underground DJs, and when he asked who I thought was underground, I mentioned names like Erick Morillo, Richie Hawtin and John Digweed. Sure, these guys are selling out night after night, but the way I see it, they are underground. But Phil disagrees. He commented, saying, “If you think you are playing underground and more than 2 of your friends like it, it’s not underground.” He’s got a good point.
While I sit here trying to define what underground means to me, it seems everyone else is trying to do the same. DJMag, known for their Top 100 DJs list, doesn’t blatantly define it on their website. They are known for promoting the biggest and best names in dance music, so that doesn’t surprise me. But on sites like SoundCloud, you can find more music than you could even listen to from some of the biggest names out there to guys that you’ve never heard. But while SoundCloud doesn’t “define” what underground means, Wikipedia does.
According to Wikipedia, “The term underground dance music (short version in music jargon: UDM) has been applied to artistic dance music movements, such as early 1970s disco and 1980s Chicago house, but the term has since then come to be defined by any electronic dance or house music artist/band that avoids becoming a trend/mainstream nowadays. Other early ‘underground dance music’ artists include Little Louie Vega, Tony Humphries, Larry Levan, David Mancuso, Frankie Knuckles, Nicky Siano, Lenties Deep and many others. In the late 1970s, the term underground dance music was associated with the music initially played at places like Paradise Garage, The Loft and The Warehouse.”
As you can see, it is more than a club banger and a headlining gig at Ultra Music Festival. There is a lot of history with underground dance music, and I can imagine myself in a club, perhaps literally underground, listening to some of these DJs perform. To Phil’s point, I bet more than 2 people like what Louie Vega and Nicky Siano are producing… But still.
So what does underground mean to me? Is Phil underground? Is Joris Voorn underground? Is Seth Troxler or Scuba underground? I guess that is really how you define it. I consider Kill! Club underground. Not because of his popularity, but because I can imagine seeing him live with 3 of my closest friends. To me, it’s the small clubs, the late nights, and the songs that you are tapping your foot to days later that define the style. To me, underground isn’t a bad thing, and quite frankly, it might be a style you could hope people think of when thinking of your music. I bet guys like Erick Morillo aren’t complaining night after night.
As you can see, defining underground isn’t easy. The genre is complex, and while I think one DJ is underground another might not. I am curious… Who are some of your favorite underground DJs? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, and regardless of what you are listening, turn it up!
Oh, and while I was writing this, I tweeted, asking, “Who are some of your favorite underground DJs?” @krisstrauss replied, saying, “So does that mean dead DJs?” He’s so funny!
*Also, during our conversation, Phil introduced me to Going Deeper, a DJ duo that has worked with some pretty big labels, and has a legit podcast on their SoundCloud page. I was so impressed with their sound, I reached out for an interview. So watch this space!