EDM State of the Union
Dance music in the U.S. is bigger than ever, but will it last?
During a recent visit with the fam, my 18-year-old brother wasted no time in firing up iTunes and sharing his newfound love of electronic-music club-fillers Pretty Lights, Skrillex and Rusko. I’ve been living and breathing this music for more than a decade now, but at his age, the closest I came to the rave world was DJ Shadow and the Prodigy’s “Firestarter” on CD single—remember those?
Does this mean my brother is cooler than me? Eh, probably. But it is also a testament to how much house music’s thump, electro’s growl and dubstep’s bass whomp have pervaded popular culture. My brother’s taste actually puts him on the fringe of this dance-music surge when you consider that hipster superstar Diplo is conjuring anthems for Usher and David Guetta has now climbed the charts without the Black Eyed Peas.
This barrage of beats coming over the airwaves is matched by the rhythms from the summer festival’s speakers. Ultra and Electric Daisy Carnival are more successful than ever; the latter has expanded to dates in five cities. Here, Lollapalooza expanded the size of its DJ stage yet again for the 2012 edition—and even bumped a few of its beat-driven acts up to the main stage. Add Labor Day weekend’s North Coast Music Festival as well as Spring Awakening and Wavefront fests, and Chicago’s got itself an impressive list of all-dance outdoor raves.
Speaking of rave, we’ve seen this beat-driven hype before. In the ’90s, we got our first taste of electronic dance culture courtesy of big beat. The Chemical Brothers, Orbital and the pyromaniacs of my youth were supposedly destined to change the face of popular music forever. And while those acts and the candy-colored mega parties they headlined did make a permanent impact on the underground dance community, the biggest lasting impression was an Ecstasy backlash and a hangover.
Dance music didn’t stick around last time for two reasons. First, as progressive as American ears can be, we weren’t ready for it. Record labels saw electronic music’s popularity in the U.K. and the rest of Europe, wanted to cash in on it here and imported sleek foreign acts to sell to us like Mini Coopers. When radio didn’t bite and sales didn’t spike, they abandoned it to warehouses and Midwestern cornfields. Second, many kids were in it for the drugs and not the music. The year 2003 saw the RAVE act, or Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy, and not just the corporate world but the government sent us to those cornfields.
So what’s different this time? Not the drugs—sorry, Vice President Biden. The change here is that the music is being embraced wholesale, with fist-pumping arms. Homebred hit makers like the Martinez Brothers are showing up in BlackBerry commercials, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy is a disco-loving demigod, the summer festival season is one big corporate-sponsored rave, and overseas stars like the Swedish House Mafia and Tiësto are getting upwards of six figures to turn our shores into a second home. Like my brother, the U.S.A. may be the younger sibling who’s late to the party, but we’re here now and we mean business. Which, of course, also means big business, and that’s a language all Americans understand.