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No thanks: We don't need tribute bands in electronic music

Electronic music doesn't need tribute bands yet - and that's a good thing

  • John Ochoa
  • 30 August 2017

A few weekends ago, Mixmag walks into The Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles with the best intentions: a curious mind, a set of open ears, a pair of worn-in dancing shoes and a sprightly, up-for-anything attitude. How could we not? We were about to witness Daft Punk take the stage.

But before you result to immense hardcore FOMOing at the thought of missing the best night of your life, rest assured that you didn’t.

The show in question was a headlining show by One More Time, one of many Daft Punk tribute groups honoring the French duo by “recreating the incredible act that we all wish we could see just ‘one more time,’” per their official bio. If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then One More Time is serving up one of the most massive plates of adulation ever. Like their idols, One More Time consists of two DJs, who don full-fledged robot costumes and replica LED helmets inspired by the original duo’s iconic aesthetic, rinsing all the Daft Punk classics and fan-favorite anthems your heart could ever desire. These guys even tour with a “full-scale” pyramid stage production reminiscent of the Coachella 2006 and Alive 2007 days.

For many Daft Punk stans the world over, One More Time is as close as they’ll ever get to experiencing Guy-Manuel and Thomas live and in the flesh. And therein lies a debatable question: Do we really need tribute acts in electronic music?

A quick history lesson: The weird world of tribute acts has long been viewed as the ridiculed, misunderstood underbelly of the music industry, where would-be musicians and rock star rejects go to die. The tribute scene is nothing new, dating back to the mid-‘70s in Southern California, considered to be the birthplace of the tribute movement by many. Nowadays, it’s a worldwide phenomenon raking in big money: The tribute band industry accounts for 3.5 per cent of the gross domestic product in the US and employs 2.5 million musicians and more than double that for associated road and show jobs.

For decades, the tribute industry has been dominated by rock acts and classic rock homages. But nowadays, we’re seeing a new class of electronic-centric tributes popping up around the world in droves.

Need proof? Well, there’s the aforementioned One More Time. There’s also Europe’s Daft Punk Tribute, UK’s own Digital Love, Ireland's Daft As Punk and Australia’s Discovery — all of them, you guessed it, Daft Punk tribute acts.

Elsewhere, there’s Electro 80’s, “the UK’s premier 1980s electronic tribute band”, which focuses on covers of electro/electronic artists like Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, OMD, Depeche Mode and others; Digital Daze, a San Diego-based trio specializing in live covers and remixes of pop-EDM tracks, like 'Lean On' from Major Lazer & DJ Snake and 'How Deep Is Your Love' from Calvin Harris & Disciples; and Demon Days, a Gorillaz tribute band. Even deadmau5, who’s famed Cube stage production received a not-so-welcomed “tribute” last year, gets his own homage by way of notexactlymau5 and Livemau5.

And with all of this, we find ourselves banging our heads on our CDJs over and over and asking ourselves, “Why, how and WTF?!”

Nostalgia always wins. There’s nothing that’ll take you back to your fleeting youth faster than your first glow stick memories at the rave or your best glitter-filled days on the dancefloor. Maybe it was Avicii’s 'Levels' or Marshall Jefferson’s 'Move Your Body' or maybe even Daft Punk’s 'Around the World', but one track turned you on to this beautiful musical world of ours, and you still get the chills listening to it today.

But electronic music is supposed to be the sound of the future. For fuck’s sake, literally half of our newly minted genres have the word future in their names (see future house and future bass). The tribute band phenomenon is meant to remember the past, not the now and definitely not the future.

Tribute acts work perfectly in the rock world, where the genre’s many heritage acts no longer perform or have passed away. That’s one of the main reasons why there are nearly 30,000 Beatles tribute acts alone. 30 fucking thousand!

Whereas classic rock acts have had decades to build their legacies and create a market for tribute bands, electronic artists are still working to that point. The truth of the matter is, we don't have as many greats in dance music, comparatively, which means we have less to tribute. For every Daft Punk that’s born, we get a Martin Garrix. For every Bangalter, we get a BL3ND. We’ve still got a long way to go before we start relying on tribute acts for musical relief, and that’s something to be proud about. We should be celebrating our loud, neon-lit road ahead, not relishing in the days gone by.

Besides, we already own the best form of musical tribute that’s virtually exclusive to electronic music: the remix, where one artist takes inspiration from another and creates a “tribute” to the original. Remixing remains one of the backbones driving our culture forward, and with each new remix we reimagine the tribute concept for these modern times. Daft Punk will be the first to agree here: Their Alive 2007 live album is composed of new songs created from live edits and chopped-up remixes built solely on their own extensive discography. If that’s not the epitome of a tribute, then we need to reconsider its definition.

"We’ve still got a long way to go before we start relying on tribute acts for musical relief, and that’s something to be proud about."

While we’re on the topic of electronic exclusivities, let’s not forget that dance music is one of the few, if only, genres where artists and DJs play music not wholly bound to their own canon. To limit a performance or DJ set to one artist, one style, and one sound seems almost backwards in our future-funky world. If Mixmag wanted to listen to a straight-up Daft Punk DJ set, we could bask in the shower-less, pants-less comforts of our own homes.

Let’s be real here: The need for tribute bands in electronic music is unnecessary and somewhat corny right now, with a special, italicized emphasis on right now. For one day, when the real Guy-Manuel and Thomas hang up their robot suits for good, we may need your Daft Punk tribute act to step up to the challenge and fill the void. Heck, you can even call yourselves Robot Rock.

But today, let’s dance in the now and smile for the future. We’re far too young to relive our glory days.

John Ochoa is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter here


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