Music Matters: Al Walser, The Heretic of EDM?

Each Tuesday in Music Matters, Matthew Linder explores the intersections of music, culture and faith

 

“It was as perplexing as the 1988 nomination and Grammy win of Jethro Tull’s ‘Crest of a Nave’ album for the best Hard Rock/Metal Performance.”

Back in December when the Grammy nominations were announced, the electronic dance music community was shocked to find little-known Al Walser and his song “I Can’t Live Without You” as one of the nominees for Best Dance Recording. With only 20 views on YouTube (you read that correctly—20), EDM fans were puzzled as were the heavyweights of the genre and fellow nominees, Skrillex, Avicii, Calvin Harris and Swedish House Mafia. It was as perplexing as the 1988 nomination and Grammy win of Jethro Tull’s “Crest of a Nave” album for the best Hard Rock/Metal Performance. In the end, Skrillex’s punk-inspired Dubstep track,”Bangarang”, took home the Grammy.

Though the rhetoric spouted by EDM artists and music media concerning Walser’s nomination, before and after the award show, was vitriolic. Philip Sherburne who covers EDM at Spin Magazine, called into question if Wasler was even an EDM artist:

Walser made for an entertaining diversion, but his nomination was a major embarrassment for the Grammys, proving just how out of touch the RIAA’s members are when it comes to contemporary electronic dance music. The issue wasn’t that he was a total unknown; it was that his song, “Can’t Live Without You” couldn’t by any reasonable standard be considered representative of electronic dance music. Not sonically, not stylistically, not culturally — just, no… So let’s thank Al Walser one last time before we forget his name forever; he cut the sacrificial bull so that EDM may live on.

A number of superstar DJ’s also voiced their ire of over the Grammy nomination:

- “I think the Grammys need to take a hard look at their infrastructure to make sure that something this disgraceful doesn’t happen again,” music producer and DJ Tommie Sunshine said.

- Diplo did respond with an email [sarcastically stating]: “I love Everything about him! (hash)hackthesystem! Dance music sucks anyway!”

- Sunshine [of Skrillex] says the Grammys could suffer a real blow in the eyes of the EDM community if Walser were to win at the Feb. 10 awards show in Los Angeles. He says the short list of acts snubbed by Walser’s inclusion starts and ends with French DJ and producer David Guetta, an international star with several hits to choose from during the nominating period.

“Al Walser’s inclusion as a nominee makes people take the Grammys less seriously and if they expect younger people and fans of EDM to pay attention or care about what they are doing, they better start being more upfront with their process,” Sunshine said.

A lot of blame to put on a small time DJ. So how did an unknown EDM act, with barely any following, obtain a Grammy nomination in a highly competitive category? According to NPR:

To get his spot on the Grammy ballot, Walser heavily marketed himself on Grammy 365, a private social networking website for voting members of the Recording Academy.

“The bottom line is he got the votes,” says Recording Academy Vice President of Awards Bill Freimuth. “He was able to convince enough of our voting members that his recording was of a quality that deserved a Grammy nomination.”

Freimuth says Walser sent out 7,000 emails on the site, poking members to listen to his song.

“It raised a lot of eyebrows,” says Freimuth, “but we looked into it thoroughly, and there were no aberrations in what happened.”

Naturally, Walser was flabbergasted by the response when he used the proper channels to campaign for his song’s inclusion in the Best Dance Recording category:

“I was still surprised by some of the people questioning it, especially when they said it should be fraud or something because that couldn’t be further from the truth, as we all know… The other thing is I hope that this whole story is an inspiration for independent artists. … Maybe I am that little engine that could.”

And this is how some saw Walser, a win for independent artists:

“We believe in fairness, access and a level playing field,” [Rich] Bengloff, [President of the American Association of Independent Music], said. “And those other artists could have also worked the Grammy365 platform if they were so inclined, and I bet a lot of them did. … We just like the fact that The Recording Academy is very inclusive and that they give independents the same access and treat them with the same respect as every other artist that’s out there.”

While  “I Can’t Live Without You” does lack the quality of the other nominees, it is disheartening to see fellow artists place the problems with Grammy voting on a guy who followed all the proper guidelines. For an organization which gave “MacArthur Park” a few Grammys (often referred to as the worst song ever), a guy who worked hard to promote his song is the least of their worries.

There’s a lesson for Christians in this. We tend to act like the Pharisees when Christ has called someone to him who doesn’t fit our man-made conception of a Christian. Jesus ate with sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors and to them he gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven, even though they did not deserve it. Jesus had within his sovereign will the ability to punish them for their sins but instead he gave them the undeserved gift of himself, covering their sins and giving them eternal life. Dr. Rod Rosenbladt sums it up this way in his talk, “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church”:

In heaven we will meet cowards, scum, “bottom-of-the-barrel”, reprehensibles, jerks, deadbeat dads, murderers, all sorts of rabble. And they died believing in Jesus and His blood as their only hope. Ask yourself:  Is sola fide [faith alone] true or is sola fide not true in the case of failing Christians?

Many felt Walser was undeserving of a nomination, but in reality, none of us deserve anything in our life but to die for our sins. We become as arrogant as Walser’s critics when we think we have earned our place in God’s kingdom. By faith alone we received the free life-giving gift of Jesus’ blood and so did those we would never think deserved it.

About Matthew Linder

Matthew Linder is a music professor at National University, married and father of a 2-year-old daughter. He loves Jesus, the Church, biblical theology, and of course, music but despises ketchup. While he appreciates a wide variety of musical styles, he prefers hip-hop, metal, and classical but could live without 90s Christian music. Follow Matthew on Twitter @TheRetuned.


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