DEMUR Takes Aim at Ghostwriting & Creative Stagnation in Dance Music: Exclusive Interview
On December 9th, 2015, a Facebook account attributed to DEMUR posted an image of the DJs Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike. The pair had been awarded the top spot on DJ Mag's annual top 100 ranking a few months before, but DEMUR appeared to object to the decision. The cartoon sported a sarcastic message referring to the duo as "DJs" in scare quotes, and the caption to the Facebook post read "the Emperor's New Clothes."
After a teaser – "Is it just me, or are all the cheesy big room DJs basically the same?" – DEMUR returned nine days later with a depiction of a factory labeled "Dutch DJ Cloning Facility." In this image (see above), a throng of aspiring DJs marched out of a production plant like storm troopers, each dressed in the manner of the Dutch producer Hardwell, who took DJ Mag's No. 1 spot the year before Vegas and Mike. Boxes of supplies for this army stood nearby with labels like "Pre Recorded Sets." Several more of these artworks, which DEMUR labels propaganda, popped up in the subsequent months.
Speaking on the phone with Billboard Dance earlier this month – his first-ever interview – DEMUR identifies the moment that he decided he had to speak about the state of mainstream dance music.
"If there was one point where this shit hit the precipice of bullshit-ery," he declares, "it was that moment in dance music history: Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike buying their way to the top spot of DJ Mag. There is such a trend to copy what's hot instead of progressing forward. If you have the right connections, you can blow up and play mainstage and actually do nothing. I couldn't stand by and not say anything."
To get his message across in a world full of memes, DEMUR borrows from modern conceptions of 1940s totalitarian propaganda. He relies heavily on repetition and stark military imagery – bombs that evoke World War II, old gas masks, and vintage-looking army helmets. But he's also happy to dip into more playful sectors of popular culture. One image turns Star Wars into DJ Wars, calling out those artists whom he believes have joined the dark side. In addition, DEMUR makes music of his own that dovetails with his mission to "stir a little shit up, make a little chaos." His latest track, "Declaration," is premiering exclusively on Billboard Dance today.
DEMUR's campaign comes at a time when anxiety over originality is high. In dance music, accusations are often thrown around on Twitter. (In the larger pop world, several high-profile cases of possible plagiarism have gone to trial.) Last July, deadmau5 accused the producer Zimmer of being "a fuckin thief," alleging that Zimmer's "Heartbreak Reputation" was similar to deadmau5 and Kaskade's "I Remember." After David Guetta released a song that DJ Snake and Diplo considered close to their hit collaboration, "Lean On," both men aimed caustic tweets at Guetta. "I respect my elders, but when they straight jack us its clap back season," Diplo wrote. "And it's hard to be my elder cuz I'm old af."
DEMUR is concerned about creative stagnation. "We're in a drought right now," he asserts. "The majority of commercial dance music is really fine with just riding along and not going for new sounds." His goal? "I just want people to know what's going on and make conscious decisions – find DJs that are taking chances and support them. Those are the people that are going to be the future of this genre."
He recently added false-advertising – in the form of ghost-writing – to his catalog of grievances by posting his most acerbic graphic to date. The picture was titled "The 4 Steps To Bigroom DJ Success." The first step? "Be a douche." Second: Hire somebody else to do the work. The graphic mentioned three new acts in addition to Vegas and Mike: DJ Carnage, Danny Avila, and DVBBS. Representatives for the latter three did not respond to email requests for comment about the picture; a rep for Vegas and Mike pointed Billboard to an interview the duo did last month, in which they discussed allegations of ghostwriting and buying votes for the DJ Mag ranking.
A similar debate about authorship developed last year in hip-hop when Meek Mill famously accused Drake of relying on words written by others. DEMUR takes a moment to clarify his position on ghostwriting. "The thing that I have an issue with is people lying," he notes. "There's guys out there that don't produce, go on a fucking YouTube channel about teaching production, and then pretend like they know what they're talking about. That shit I have a problem with. You work with somebody; it's not that big a deal. Don't be a fraud, lie to your audience, and pretend you do something when you don't."
His latest graphic, premiering on Billboard Dance below, suggests that the media, driven by the click-centric calculations of the internet era, is also a part of the problem: the headlines in the picture focus on Afrojack's cars and Skrillex's outfits, while other content goes mostly uncovered – or at least unnoticed.
Unsurprisingly, DEMUR's message hasn't been popular with everyone. "People don't want you to bring those issues to the public," he notes. "It's essentially fucking with their livelihood. It's easy to regurgitate the same shit, get a ghost producer, and lie about everything that you do." He suggests that "industry insiders" have asked him "to tone it down" and not "call out individuals."
"It would be beneficial from a career aspect to just make memes that are still viral but inoffensive," he admits. "But I just can't do that." To those urging him to "stay quiet," he says, "if you're getting mad at somebody for speaking the truth, you're doing something wrong." To everybody else: "find somebody that's doing something new. Support the f--k out of them."