Elektro Exclusive interview w/ Tommie Sunshine
Electronic music has experienced a surge in popularity over the past few years, with explosive growth in the US leading the way. However, the trend has come with the expected tug of war between the ‘old guard’ and the new generation of DJs/Producers; ‘real house music lovers’ versus ‘big room festival electro house’; pre-recorded sets versus spontaneity, and so on. There has not really been much middle ground reached by either side that aims to move the scene forward in a positive light. It has either been a negative-nancy mentality (DJ x or y sold out; full of teenie-boppers; Bieberfication of the music) or arguments aiming to provide feedback that come across misunderstood (deadmau5 comes to mind).
Nevertheless, there have been artists who have successfully gapped the two generations. Enter Tommie Sunshine, one of the few artists going back to early 90s who has embraced the current state of electronic music with open arms. For those of our readers unfamiliar with Tommie, he has been in scene since the 1980s, DJ-ing (almost by circumstance) since the early 90s, and has a long string of work attributed to his name from recent remixes of Katy Perry to Matchbox Twenty to Azealia Banks. We had an opportunity to chat with the always outspoken artist, who offered his frank views on the current state of electronic music.
There has been a gradual evolution in the current state of dance music; it hasn’t just appeared out of the blue as some sources have claimed. However, the context is important. Technological innovation should be viewed as one of the primary drivers in the present expansion of electronic music, providing the necessary tools to ease the ability to make and share music. In this sense, “it is categorically different than dance music 5, 10, 20 years ago.” With this exposure at their fingertips, “producers can go from dance to pop in 18 months, which has not existed until now.” David Guetta, of course, has been at the forefront of the scene’s explosion, and the poster child for both praises and criticism. Tommie points out that “Guetta is holding open the door that [Guetta] opened...and has ultimate respect for Guetta.”
the life cycle
Like all things, there is a life cycle in electronic music. When reflecting on his beginnings, Tommie notes that “for the first 10 years of going out from 1986-1996…never took what I was doing seriously. I wanted to take drugs and flip out.” He started DJ-ing in the rave scene in the early 90s and was initially drawn to the “aggressiveness of hard industrial, hard techno, 150 to 220bpm Dutch gabber in Chicago.” It wasn’t until later that he got past this phase that Tommie sought out other genres within the art form.
Similarly, there is probably “an eighteen month life expectancy in this music” for the casual fan. The individuals who discovered it on the spur, “taken to Pacha for the first time, popping a pill, will burn it the ground until [they finally] get bored.” It’s not necessarily the case that everyone is supposed to “invest further past this fickle stage.” In fact, the “majority of people going to a nightclub in 2012 are there to blow off steam and could care less about who is playing. Chances are, they don’t even know who the DJ is. The DJ’s job is to rock a room.”
the journey & an ADD serving up of music
From a high level, it’s not fair to compare the developed scene in Europe with the revived genre in the US. “In Europe, individuals can attend these clubs/festivals when they’re 16” whereas the US provides totally different exposure since “the only place where <21 can hear dance music is festivals” (us clubs are pre-dominantly 21+). < p>
The festival circuit in North America and beyond (expansion of Ultra & EDC; Electric Zoo; Hard; etc) has been one of the drivers of spreading electronic dance music to the masses, and one of the primary sources of criticism. However, the reality is that “it is not possible at a festival with a one hour set” to offer anything other than an “ADD serving up of music.” There is “zero room for journey” in such a short time frame and realistically, the best approach is “a need to smash it out.” As was the case when Tommie was exposed to the scene during the first leg of his career, the younger generations, who aren’t able to attend shows at US clubs, are there to have an awesome time and “want to see madness at festivals.” For this reason, “there are a fair amount of individuals interested in being an entertainer. Steve Aoki is upfront about this and [Tommie] respects him for this. Not everyone needs the ‘richness’ and you shouldn’t expect young kids to get into [the more refined] music.”
For individuals who want the more refined experience, Tommie recommends places such as Cielo as an option but the festivals “are not what these events are for.” Tents such as the Sunday School at Electric Zoo should not expect a larger crowd. Think of it this way, there is a reason “an opera house holds maybe a 1,000 individuals but MSG has capacity for 20,000.”
Growth EP & looking ahead
There are many misconceptions out there on Tommie Sunshine the artist. Some individuals still consider him as the “rock remix guy.” But as is reflected in his views above, he is enthusiastic and open-minded about the current environment. “Growing with and seeking out new music, musically not being left behind” is important to Tommie. Growth EP (Scion A/V) comes full circle, bridging the gap between Tommie’s roots and current music, “bringing to the forefront…gabber, hip house, classic Chicago MC Fast Eddie” with more of the mainstream flavor (there is a track featuring the vocalist Polina). Looking ahead to 2013, Tommie is very excited for the industry and personal goals, continuing his prolific work with Disco Fries along with working with artists such as Downlow’d and Go Freek.
At the end of the day, Tommie continues to be one of the few individuals trying to push the genre forward and having an open mindedness about the music. The following perfectly sums up his half-glass full attitude that should be the norm in the industry: “a good party is a good party…whether in a warehouse, Pacha, or festival [surrounded by 50,000].”
Download the 'Growth' EP HERE21>