Is Eminem right about techno-pop music? He's dissed Moby and the entire genre, but he's not alone. Even David Browne admits the thrill is gone these days

By David Browne
September 25, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT
Prodigy: Paul Endicott/ImageDirect

Is Eminem right about techno-pop music?

You remember electronica, or techno, or whatever term you used to describe it over the last decade? I do, and those memories are pretty sweet: Watching the Chemical Brothers engage in knob-twirling and fist-pumping — a PC-era Wayne and Garth — at a packed show. Instantly feeling elated by the mix of beats and hooks on any number of great singles — Moby?s “Go,” Utah Saints? “Something Good,” Underworld?s “Born Slippy.” The sound of John Digweed?s “Heaven Scent” at the climax of the indie rave film “Groove.” Paul Oakenfold?s “Tranceport” album. And on and on.

The key phrase in the paragraph above is “the last decade,” because at this point, the sad fact is that this once-vibrant genre has, like my computer on a bad day, frozen up. Not commercially, in an ironic turn of events: This summer, we?ve witnessed two singles, Dirty Vegas? “Days Go By” and now Daniel Bedingfield?s “Gotta Get Thru This,” blend pop and techno into a pleasant, if inconsequential, middle ground between the two styles. But as nice as it was to hear those bleeps and bloops in “Days Go By” on a top 40 station, there?s no denying that most of the thrill is gone.

The unfortunate reality is that a music steeped in constant change and reinvention has settled into some of its own ruts and routines. Staying the course, rather than innovating, is the current rule of thumb. After a five-year break, the Prodigy returned this summer with a new single, “Baby?s Got a Temper.” I?ve played it several times, and damn if I can remember much about it — which sure wasn?t the case with “Firestarter,” and I don?t just mean Keith Flint?s reverse mohawk in the video.

There?s still just enough to please the ear. Bent?s “Programmed to Love” and Rinocerose?s “Music Kills Me” albums were two highlights of the past year. Moby?s underrated “Play” has many magical moments. And Layo and Bushwacka!?s new “Night Works” has its moments. But they?re exceptions. Most of the rest, particularly the flood of DJ mix albums, feels stuck in time.

Anyone should have seen it coming, since pop genres tend to have roughly five-year lifespans. It?s revealing that electronica and teen pop, both born of the clubhopping and affluent youth culture of the ?90s, are running dry. With any luck, the music, like the economy it once mirrored, is simply going through a slump. “Rave Till Dawn,” goes the title of an anthology in my CD collection. Maybe we?re all realizing exactly how TIRED one gets by that time of day.

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