(Soundbite of music)
GUY RAZ, host:
Every March, the beautiful people, like Madonna and Diddy and Karl Lagerfeld -I don't know if he goes - but the beautiful people, they head down to Miami to join the gods of electronic dance music, and there they float in and out of dance clubs to hear some of the best DJs in the world practice their trade. They come to Miami in March to check out two huge electronic music festivals, the Winter Music Conference and the Ultra Music Festival.
The festival doesn't start till later this month, but the conference, which is a little like the Cannes Film Festival of electronica, kicks off Tuesday. And Sami Yenigun, a music producer here at NPR, who covers dance and electronic music, is with us for a preview of what can expect.
Sami, can we just dance here in the studio?
SAMI YENIGUN: Hey, Guy. If you think you can keep up with me, then I'm down.
RAZ: All right.
YENIGUN: Let's go.
RAZ: Let's go. All right. Let's clear up one thing, Sami. Dance, techno, electronic music, this is mainstream music in virtually every country in the world, except here in the United States. It's not played on the radio. Why do you think that is?
YENIGUN: Well, I mean, it's one of the great mysteries, right, because this music started in Chicago and...
RAZ: And Detroit.
YENIGUN: ...Detroit and, you know, in some respect New York City. Short answer, I don't know. Long answer, I think it might have something to do with kind of how it started. It started in the minority gay black communities of this country. And when it went overseas, it was placed in a new context, and it was allowed to kind of hit the mainstream and hit the top of the charts. And that was something that never really caught on here.
I mean, you see music coming from minority groups, like hip-hop for example...
YENIGUN: ...and still just hitting the mainstream in a real way now.
RAZ: Although, it's huge. I mean, it's one of the biggest parts of the music.
YENIGUN: Now, it is. It's been around since the '80s. I mean, you know, it took a long time for people to start accepting that it was something that could be a mainstream success.
RAZ: And I love this music, but it took me a while to get into it. And it had a lot to do with the three years that I spent as a reporter in Berlin. I talk to people and they say, you know, to me, it sounds like the same thing, the same beat or the same loop over and over again. You must hear that.
YENIGUN: Yeah - no, I hear that. I mean, and at a very basic level, house music and techno music, the structure of it is this four-four structure that has a bass kick on every beat of the measure, right? So there is that basic template for all these songs.
YENIGUN: Now, within that, there's tons of variation and tons of different rhythms and sounds. You know, no two waltzes are the same.
YENIGUN: So I want you to listen to this producer named Michel Cleis.
RAZ: And he's going to be featured at the Winter Music Conference.
YENIGUN: He will be at the Winter Music Conference, yeah.
RAZ: All right. Let's hear him.
(Soundbite of song, "Litoral")
YENIGUN: So he's from Switzerland, and this guy kind of has a funny story. He was a practicing psychologist...
YENIGUN: ...until he broke his leg playing basketball. And so he was stuck at home for three months and got a little cabin fever and decided to start making music. After a while, he developed this sound with all these Latin samples that he uses in a lot of his songs, and then he had this smash song called "La Mezcla." And ever since, he's been producing Latin house tracks that have been really big around the world. This track is called "Litoral."
RAZ: I love this. This is great.
RAZ: It's a lot of fun.
YENIGUN: Yeah. I mean, to me, this song screams summer. And I'm curious to see how it's received because these are the festivals that kind of determine what the big summer dance tracks are going to be.
RAZ: And when you say the big dance tracks of the summer, this is not going to be music played on commercial radio in the U.S. But it is going to be played on the radio in Europe, right?
YENIGUN: Yeah. Absolutely. It's got a much better chance of being on commercial radio in Europe than here.
But with that being said, I mean, this music is kind of on our mainstream radio. You look at the top the charts, right, you've got people like the Black Eyed Peas, who, by the way, Will.i.am is performing at Ultra.
RAZ: And he was actually on our show a few months ago. This is one of the biggest fans in the world.
YENIGUN: Right. He's got the French producer David Guetta, who's also a big draw at Ultra Music Festival, who produced their big hit, "I Gotta Feeling."
(Soundbite of song, "I Gotta Feeling")
BLACK EYED PEAS (Music Group): (Singing) And I'm feeling, that tonight's gonna be a good night, that tonight's gonna be a good night...
RAZ: And, Sami, I got to say, like it or not, this song spent like 10 weeks or something like that at number one on the Billboard charts last year.
YENIGUN: Yeah. That's right.
RAZ: Huge song.
YENIGUN: It was huge. I mean, and there's other things. I mean, you listen to Kesha or Britney Spears or any of these chart toppers, they have this four-four structure with an electronic toolkit making these songs. I mean, this is electronic music in its kind of most diluted form.
RAZ: I'm talking with NPR music producer Sami Yenigun about some of the electronic artists who'll be at the Winter Music Conference and the Ultra Music Festival in Miami this month.
Sami, who is producing that, you know, that really exciting new stuff right now? Who is the biggest DJ in the world right now?
YENIGUN: Well, the biggest DJ in the world - I mean, that's a tough one. DJ Mag puts out a...
RAZ: DJ Magazine.
YENIGUN: ...DJ Magazine, puts out a list of the top 100 DJs in the world every year. And DJ Armin Van Buuren has been at the top of that list for four years running.
YENIGUN: But this year at Ultra, this guy Tiesto is headlining. And he can sell out stadiums all over the world. I mean, he's huge. This is music that builds humongous amounts of tension in something called the build and then releases all of this tension in what's called the drop.
(Soundbite of song, "Zero 76")
RAZ: Okay. So understandably, a lot of people might hear it and say it's impenetrable. You know, it's not accessible. It's not easy for somebody to get right into it.
YENIGUN: Well, there's this stigma attached to dance music that somehow it's anti-intellectual. It's not music that's just made by party animals. I mean, sure, people are dancing at these festivals, but it takes brains to make a track that gets people moving.
YENIGUN: One thing I always try to tell people who haven't listened to much of this type of music is put on a pair of really good headphones and pay attention to the timbres of the sounds themselves. I mean, there's this record label in San Francisco right now called dirtybird, and they've been putting out some of my favorite music recently. The artists on it use really interesting sounds, twisting samples in really bizarre ways that have dark, grimy kind of moods to them. Take a listen to this sample, Guy, and see me if you can recognize where it's from.
(Soundbite of song, "Mr. Spock")
RAZ: I do know that, I believe. And I say this only because we do so much music on this show, 'cause otherwise I wouldn't know it. That's Snoop Dogg and Pharrell.
YENIGUN: Snoop Dogg and Pharrell, "Drop It Like It's Hot. You're exactly right. Now, Justin Martin has taken these mouth pops and clicks from the original, and he's rearranged them to make an up-tempo groover. Now, he's surrounded these sounds with these little details like the hissing and that chubby, wet bass kick. And getting these sounds right is really difficult to do. This is music that doesn't need to be heard at a club or a festival. I mean, you can listen to it in a car or in your headphones in your room at home, but it does work well in a party setting.
RAZ: So I suppose at this conference, the Winter Music Conference, which kicks off on Tuesday, is that right?
YENIGUN: That's right.
RAZ: I guess they'll be talking about the future, I mean, because they always do that at these conferences. What is the future? I mean, what are they going to be saying?
YENIGUN: Well, genres like techno and house have been around since the '80s, but this new type of music called dubstep is a relative newcomer to the world of dance music. It's really hot right now. These songs have a much slower tempo. But as you'll hear, that doesn't really take any of the energy away from them. This is a new track by an artist called Nero.
(Soundbite of song, "Guilt")
NERO (Singer): (Singing) Sometimes we don't know where we're going. Sometimes I feel you should be coming back to me. Time is ticking by without us knowing. Before I knew it, it was way too late to see.
YENIGUN: A couple of days ago this was called the hottest record in the world by "BBC Radio 1" show host Zane Low.
RAZ: And Zane Low, I should mention, he's hugely influential on the British music scene.
YENIGUN: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, he works for Radio 1, and they're kind of the source for a lot of this music, a lot of dance and electronic music. I mean, it's just way bigger over there.
YENIGUN: But if we have enough of these conversations, maybe we can do something about it.
RAZ: Let's do it, man.
YENIGUN: All right.
RAZ: Let's put - you know what, I'm taking the headphones off. Let's go out. Let's go clubbing right now, Sami.
YENIGUN: Let's go clubbing. All right.
RAZ: That's Sami Yenigun. He's a music producer at NPR. He specializes in dance and electronic music. Sami, thanks so much for popping by and giving us a preview of the Winter Music Conference in Miami.
YENIGUN: Thank you, Guy. Appreciate it.
RAZ: And if you want to take a closer listen to any of these tracks, check out our website, nprmusic.org.
(Soundbite of song, "Guilt")
NERO: (Singing) Sometimes we don't know where we're going. Time is ticking by without us knowing. You keep on talking but it makes no sense at all. You try to save me, but you're breaking every rule. Right from the start, you always make me feel a fool. Why can't you hide it from between us after all. You keep on talking but it makes no sense at all. You keep on talking but it makes no sense at all.
RAZ: And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS ON ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Remember, you can hear the best of this program on our podcast. Subscribe or listen at iTunes or at npr.org/weekendatc. We post a new episode Sunday nights.
We're back with a whole new hour of radio tomorrow. Until then, go out and party, thanks for listening and have a great night.
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