Editorial: Polls in Our Industry Are A Futile Exercise That No Longer Serve An Ethical Purpose

Full disclosure: I wrote this article yesterday, on November 21st 2017, and woke up this morning to the news that Resident Advisor was no longer continuing its Poll

First of all, I have to say that DJ Mag’s poll is only good as scrap paper, or at best as the source of pre-game laughter with your crew. That is if you ever even took a look at a printed version of it. The chart is a joke (artistically), it serves no real purpose (business-speaking),  and is useless (as far as understanding the quality of DJs, its actual intended purpose). It’s talked about for months leading up to and following its results, a peculiar media that does not give a damn about the actual music but is all to do with money and pompousness. Sadly, it’s been like this for years now.

What is new though is the thin wind of dissatisfaction that is now affecting the Resident Advisor. On top of a ranking that has seen Dixon crowned unceremoniously as #1 DJ in the world for 5 years now, in recent years we have also seen the increase of election campaigns by DJs (and their management0 to win votes. What was once an organic poll from real dedicated fans once again lost its intended purpose.  Indeed, the problem was not the ranking itself: it can be challenged. It may not be in agreement with your views as far as placements or exclusions, but that is another story, or controversy for that matter. The problem, we are beginning to understand, is what it takes to end up in that ranking. Artists and their management understand it very well. It is an excuse to raise the stakes, in some cases to double or triple them, and to convince the artists to get involved with the tactics necessary to end up on the poll, and rank higher than years before.

In the past I have received e-mail from well-respected artists asking to be rated on the Resident Advisor poll. They cite that its results “really do make a difference” and more often than not, their requests for votes both on socials and via e-mail, are slightly different than their EDM counter-parts. Instead of solely asking for personal votes they ask for votes for “all the amazing talents in the scene” or “their favorite DJ” — by default hoping to be included themselves, of course.

E-mails and social media posts of that kind always left a sour taste in my mouth. To see so many people get attached to the RA poll voting was disheartening, especially when the voting requests began to pour in from some of the artists I respected the most. What was the difference between that and the DJ Mag Top 100? I realized that the only thing that separated them apart was my subjective opinion that techno and house are better than EDM, but beyond that, not much else.

Sure, the rankings themselves are fun and interesting, and somewhat align with who has done a lot that calendar year, often reflecting emerging trends, highlighting important passages of delivery in our scene and the like. When the RA Poll first came out, it was a fun exercise, a way to give credit and representation to underground music culture. Over the years, as things do, it morphed into a popularity contest driven by money and the prospect of more expensive artist fees.

Simply put, things changed. And it’s ok, because life changes and we all adapt to those changes. We know that most of the artists ranking on the RA poll are true to their music, and that their life is centered upon a deep-rooted passion for that they do. Of course, they need to earn money to pay bills and the rent at the end of the month without struggling in an industry that is essentially the arts, but many of them continue to do so with musical integrity throughout their careers (something that can’t be said for most on the DJ Mag Poll).

The point of this article is to underscore a concept that many believe in, even if many do not always voice it: sometimes it’s better to not mix these two important playing fields — the artistic and the commercial. There is an ethical imperative that drives us not to intertwine the two, but to instead preserve the joy and purity of the underground we all love so much. Techno and house, and club culture as a default, are very much like jazz: born as the antithesis of pop (I do not mean that pop is “bad”, but that is itself another matter worth discussing). Look at it this way: DJ Mag’s ranking is one that screams “This is who is popular right now in the EDM world!” Resident Advisor, on the other hand, began with the honest and pure intention to be a voice of the scene, but has since unfortunately become the inevitable: another ranking poll driven by what’s in and what’s in fashion.

There is another factor to consider: is the RA poll a correct mirroring of a scene born in warehouse fringe clubs filled with the queer, the marginalized and the racially underrepresented? Granted, decades have passed and times have changed, but the question is a valid one, and once we begin to see polls as an exercise of what’s popular we begin to notice how it can be easy for their results to omit important factors and, ultimately, fail to truly represent the core values of the scene the poll is attempting to represent and give a voice to.

Balance is always key in life, and so is recognizing when something born with good intentions has run its course. DJ Mag’s Top 100 Poll has long been obsolete, and unfortunately Resident Advisor’s has followed a similar path in more recent years. Hopefully the esteemed Editors at the publication see it and recognize it before it’s too late.

I have faith they will.