Bienen and Weinberg junior Zoe Morfas studied the electronic music scene in Berlin, Germany for her summer research project, “EDM: From Production to Performance.” While electronic dance music in the U.S. is often associated with mainstream sounds and large festivals, electronic music in Berlin is darker and more experimental.
“My goals were to study the relationship between producers, DJs and audience in a live performance setting, as well as some of the business aspects of the techno music scene in Berlin,” Morfas said.
For her research, Morfas spent three weeks in Berlin, during which she interviewed electronic music producers Foreign Guest, Danny Kotz and DALIYAMA, and also attended live performances. She said the inspiration for this research came from a desire to experience techno music in the club settings they were meant to be heard in.
Morfas was drawn to Berlin’s techno scene in part due to its history. A sense of freedom leading up to and following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 led to the opening of many clubs and the creation of electronic music events such as Love Parade. This played a critical role in the development of the city’s techno music scene.
Morfas, who studies music composition at Northwestern, produces electronic music herself. Because of this, she focused on the compositional aspects of electronic music, but she noted that these aspects were intertwined with the business side of the industry.
Morfas described a feedback loop in the business side of the EDM industry: Producers create music for labels, which release records that are bought by DJs. Then, DJs cater the tracks they play to the aesthetic of the venues they perform in.
“Say you have a club that’s in a warehouse, and they’re known for a very dark, grimy sound. You’re not going to be playing some upbeat, light kind of stuff — you’re going to be playing that grungy, grimy sound that they want,” Morfas said. “Producers keep this stuff in mind when they’re writing their tracks — they think about where they want it to be performed, by who and what kind of audience they want to receive this music.
Although some people perceive EDM as being an easy genre to produce music for, Morfas found many of complexities in the scene through her research.
“You have all these layers as to why these producers are making these decisions, and a lot of people think, ‘Oh it’s just kind of simple music,’’ Morfas said. “But a producer goes in, and they’re thinking about all these details. ‘Who’s going to perform this?’ ‘What kind of style and aesthetic am I hoping to accomplish?’ and ‘How am I going to create my unique sound that’s going to stand out compared to all these other artists who are also trying to make their sound stand out?’ There’s so much to think about.”
More details about Morfas’ research can be found on her website.