I recently spoke with Tom Holkenborg, the Dutch musician better known as Junkie XL, about his highly anticipated new album, Synthesized, released on Nov. 27. Wanting to create this album differently than his past efforts, Holkenborg decided against locking himself in the studio for five to six months. Instead, he drew inspiration from his personal music vault, with shelves containing thousands of records of all genres and decades.
"I wanted to kick that thing and see what records would fall out," he said. "And see what records would fall on top of each other. And see if that would inspire me to make tracks. Eventually, it really did. So that is the common thread between the songs."
The definition of "synthesized" is to form an entity by combining multiple elements. But synthesized isn't so much Holkenborg's new album title as it is the appropriate adjective to describe the ever-growing dance/electronica genre.
One of the best depictions was The Recording Academy's recent one-of-a-kind partnership with Hyundai to produce the groundbreaking documentary film, Re:Generation. The film featured some of the world's most renowned producers and DJs who were assigned a musical genre to remix and "regenerate." The result? A sound that proved just as natural as anything you've heard from the genre before, mixing styles such as classical, country and rock with dance/electronica.
And the trend continues. On Nov. 27 Tiësto released an exclusive compilation album, Dance (RED) Save Lives, which features the GRAMMY-nominated DJ teaming with Calvin Harris, Avicii, Diplo, Laidback Luke, Martin Solveig, and U2's Bono. I believe it is this type of innovation and the spirit of collaboration that fuels a constant flow of creativity in dance/electronica and helps draw it into the mainstream.
Whereas dance/electronica once occupied the basement and raves of the world as "trance" or "house," its recent resurgence finds the genre's artists on the covers of Rolling Stone, GQ, Esquire, and Details. There's a race-to-the-top DJ war in Las Vegas, while three dance/electronica artists appeared on Pollstar's mid-year list of Top 100 North American Tours.
This year will be remembered as the year that American culture came alight with dance/electronica, and a significant part of this growth and resurgence is the genre's unprecedented "synthesizing."