Aptly titled The Electro Wars, this guerilla-styled documentary was created by New York filmmaker Stephen Vasquez after he fell in love with Electro in 2004 while partying at The Annex. Having read the scathingly sarcastic blog post 'Electro Wars' featured on the Hipster Runoff back in 2008, Vasquez decided to produce an in-depth look into this world. A-Trak, Chromeo, DJ Premier, Steve Aoki and beyond share their candid views on just why blog house is dying a slow painful death and how they contributed to a movement that made their pockets fat, even if the music was wack. We caught up with Stephen last year directly after his premiere at WMC's in Miami to discuss how he managed to pull together an A-List cast of artists on a shoe string budget. This is DIY at its best! We also managed to track him down this week on the eve of Electro Wars' livestream viewing on PitchforkTV to find out just how hectic this last year has been!
The Electro Wars Streaming Trailer from The Electro Wars on Vimeo. Hey Stephen, take us back to just after the premiere release of Electro Wars at WMC - how has life just fast tracked into overdrive?
Hey Mafia! Yeah, things have really kicked into overdrive post WMC. I'm revelling in the aftermath, so it's all positive energy! WMC itself was completely disorganized and I will never work with them again!
I'm sorry but WMC is such a touchy subject for me, I've put it behind me. What a nightmare! My original plan was to screen a rough cut of the film for the fans at WMC. What ended up happening was a ‘WMC War' between myself and the staff. They shut the film off fifteen minutes before the ending. I was peeved and still am. The overall reception was positive and even though they saw a hacked version of the film the audience was left wanting for more. I guess it worked out in the end? Maybe I'd like to believe that to soften the blow.
Yeah, takin' the good with the bad! What was the decision to document this genre of music and what made you think this could be a turning point for the ‘blog house' movement...
It was always a conscious decision to document this particular genre as I knew blog house had reached its zenith, but it was still on life support. Most documentaries document genres or movements years after the movement has happened. I took initiative to do it before it became an afterthought.
Was it purely a trial and error kind of production or was it completely story boarded out from day one?
I don't think you can really story board a documentary film, you can definitely plot the points, but the story tends to form organically after a while.
The state of the genre seems, like the sneaker scene, so incredibly oversaturated that we begin to loose sight of why we loved it in the first place. As a director you need to stay neutral in your vision to truly create a balanced documentation - just how challenging was this as the filmmaker?
This is actually a great question. My partner, Carmine Rizzo, asks this very question to all the artists during their interviews. One of the more important questions we tackle is the oversaturation of remixes in the blogosphere. When I developed the concept I was fed up with the abundance of remixes that were flooding the music blogs, primarily the Hype Machine. A lot has changed since then, and for the better I might add. It seems that I wasn't the only one that got wind of the situation, as production went underway the question slowly became dated. What I have been seeing a lot lately is the return of the mash-up remix. Just the other day I heard a Lady Gaga ‘Telephone' mashed up with Metallica and it sounded DOPE!
It seems to be a huge undertaking to get that many high profile artists in the one place... logistically and time wise, how much did that benefit or hinder the whole process?
Logistically it's always great for any independent production to have big names attached, time wise it was a nightmare. I had no definitive deadline to halt the production. As a matter of fact our last interview was with Armand Van Helden. We kept shooting because artists caught wind of the film and wanted to come on board. At this point in time there must be four different versions of the film. I've been trimming the fat because we keep getting interviews.
How difficult was it to get everyone to talk so freely about the industry?
Surprising enough the artists were very passionate and adamant when it came to the dicey questions regarding the music industry, some more than others obviously, but for the most part there was little to no filter during the interviews. Part of this could be because we're an indie production and most of them thought this film would never see the light of day... boy were they wrong. Pardon the shitty comparison, but it kind of reminds me of Borat. Borat was hilarious because a lot of people were unaware of Sasha Cohen's identity, but Bruno was a total bust because now everyone knows who he is.
Who truly stumped you as far as not only their openness but in educating you on the electro scene?
Not so much electro, but his knowledge of the music industry in general - Pitbull! The entire crew was floored after the Pitbull interview, he was extremely articulate, yet he converged his rapper sensibilities with his swagger and jargon. It made for an extremely insightful, yet entertaining interview. Pit definitely steals the show. He will shock many naysayers out there.
Are we finally seeing the ass end of blog house?
Yeah, the blog house era is dead. What we're seeing now is an evolution of that genre/era and a continuation of the sound, the atmospheres, and the subculture in different experimatative forms. Dubstep, Grime, UK Funky, Dutch House and many more genres will begin to step up to the forefront of these Hipster clubs. Music is ever evolving
Why do you think so many kids flocked to electro/blog house in the first place?
Dude, that's a question I ask myself every day. I guess its like any other previous music movement, it was the right time for it to happen. The technology was a tremendous factor in the rise/ popularity of "blog house". This is really one of the first music scenes to permeate through blogs - kids stopped purchasing CDs and started relying on music blogs to satisfy their musical appetites.
Are those kids to blame for the demise of the scene?
I blame the over saturation of music blogs. You can say the cream rises to the top at the end of the day, but even credible blogs fell victim to poorly designed web design archetypes and reposting twenty remixes of the same track in less than a month. When something is catching on like wildfire everyone wants to be a part of it, naturally. Trends come and go but music genres are everlasting, but it seems to me that Blog House kind of came and went. It caught on so quickly - it became so trendy with the Hipster scene that it was more of a scene rather than a music movement. What it did do was influence mainstream/pop music and other musical genres.
Sure, I mean everyone said hip hop was dying yet even through the mass media bastardisation and corporate raping of the genre, it still managed to keep afloat. On top of that, losing a lot artists to a more up-tempo genre a la A-Trak, Pitbull, Black Eyed Peas - is the crossover of the two genres really that close?
A lot of artists do talk about the correlation between hip hop and electro in the film and I think the question you're asking is so thought provoking that it almost inspires me to go back out and reinterview a lot of these guys to find out their thoughts. Personally, I think the corporate machines have already been bit by the Electro bug. They're starting to produce cookie cutter artists such as Ke$ha and Cobrastarship, in order to capitalize on the trend. Because this scene came in so quickly the industry caught wind of it, via their ANRs, and they're seizing the moment, trying to milk it dry as quickly as they can. When Hip-Hop was forming it was a different time. There were no blogs, the business was not as glamorous or fast paced, it took years for the ‘bastardization' of Hip-Hop, it was a gradual process that happened over time.
Have most of the artists that were included seen the film?
NONE of them have watched the film ;-) I want them too, but I'd hate to go the generic route and send them DVD copies, I'd much rather have (most of them) together watching it under one roof. I'd love to hear their comments and reactions in person. Realistically I don't think this will happen, if anything WMC would have been the perfect opportunity since most of them were already there for Ultra.
A year later and the vibe of this doco is still sizzling...
Yeah! The film has really taken on a life of its own in the last year. It's become more of a period piece at this point, rather than a relevant documentation on the dance music scene. The Electro Wars has transcended being a documentary, and has instead become a cultural movement that includes a legion of dedicated fans that perpetuate the 'movement'. As a production company we too have grown. We are now more invested in the scene and work closely with its major players. We're working on several offshoot projects with some heavy hitters in the EDM scene, including Skrillex. Things are looking great. Can't wait to start advertising the sequel as well.
Are there plans for a DVD release? The extras would be bananas!
You're telling me! I can't wait to put together a LOADED DVD release. We're working on that as well. I'll keep you updated!
Make sure to catch a FREE LiVESTREAM viewing of Electro Wars at PitchforkTV April 22-27th.