What 'EDM' Truly Means
"EDM is a phase," "EDM is a trend," "EDM isn’t going to last" - these have all been said time and time again. Since the birth of dance music in America in the 70s and 80s up until now, what was once called house, disco, and techno has firmly cemented itself now as EDM, and it's an integral part of American culture. These three letters have taken electronic dance music and the core foundation of dance music and truly turned it on its head.
To understand the full "flip" so to speak, you have to look back into the history of dance music. In 1979, Detroit radio host Steve Dahl held a “Disco Demolition” at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois. The “Disco Demolition” was primarily attended by thousands of white rock music fans, and Dahl encouraged everyone to bring disco records so they could shatter them and blow them up during the break of a doubleheader between the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox. The event eventually turned into a riot - thousands of fans stormed the field and thousands more hopped the fences to get into the event to show their distaste for disco. The event was reminiscent of an authoritarian book burning. As a result, the disco sound went underground, and in Detroit and Chicago, techno and house music were born.
In Detroit, affluent African American teenagers who wanted to separate themselves from their less fortunate counterparts looked abroad for inspiration - and thus Detroit techno was born. In Chicago, house music was born out of a double exclusion - the music was named after the club where it was most typically played, The Warehouse in Chicago. The Warehouse was notorious for being a primarily African American club, and was frequented by gays - and thus, house music stood as an escape for many of America's most segregated classes.
Even in the late 90s and early 2000s, electronic dance music had not been accepted into American culture like it is now. Raves were underground - organizers had to deal with shady promoters, sketchy venues, and police, while attendees dealt with the risks of being robbed, or driving out to the desert only to find that they were lied to and no rave was occurring. Nowadays, festival promoters and organizers like Pasquale Rotella of Insomniac are celebrated as icons and heroes in the dance music community - and for good reason. Events like EDC are multimillion dollar events - with over 300,000 attendees who have no fear of the event being shut down by police or showing up to the Las Vegas Speedway only to find that EDC was not happening. With dance music playing such a huge social and cultural role in America now, it is clear that it is here to stay, for better or for worse.
With dance music being thrust into the spotlight by the media, it has come to an interesting crossroad - the culture, identity, and music that was born out of exclusion and encourages individuality and spirituality is being commercialized by big corporations. EDM has taken the role of pop music for Generation Y, and its popularity comes with the opportunity to capitalize and make money. SFX Entertainment, one of the biggest names in event production, puts on TomorrowLand in Belgium along with TomorrowWorld in Georgia and Electric Zoo in New York. SFX Entertainment is considered by many, alongside Insomniac, as a powerhouse in event production, procuring big events, big stages, and star-studded lineups. When SFX went public, their IPO documents used the term “EMC” - electronic music culture - in an attempt to brand their product and turn it into something more than music - a culture.
Is all of this publicity a bad thing? Many dance music veterans seem to think so. These dance music fans look at this massive influx of new fans in disgust, as a group of people who don’t understand the scene that they are joining and that they don’t respect a scene that’s been around since the 1980s. They look at terms like “EDM” and think big-room house, big tent electro, American dubstep - things that sell and things that are mainstream within the dance music community. Artists like Hardwell, Tiesto, Steve Aoki, and Afrojack, who aim to please the masses, are considered sellouts and mainstream - two things that clash with the ideals that birthed dance music. One of the most outspoken producers of this era, Seth Troxler, said during a keynote speech at Amsterdam Dance Event this year “I feel like EDM and underground dance music shouldn’t necessarily be united, as we don’t share common goals or interests. When I got into electronic music as a kid, the whole point was it existed outside the establishment and allowed us to be who we really are. We are different cultures, and we should stay different cultures."
While many pundits may associate EDM with main stage and "big room" sounds, EDM has come to mean a lot more than that. As a term, it covers all genres of dance music from big room house to electro and even techno, tech house, and happy hardcore. But beyond the genres it covers, EDM is a movement. While EDM is a shallow definition of the ever-growing dance music culture, it does what it means to do - it stands as an introduction. When techno pioneer Carl Cox asked how he felt about the term “EDM,” he said “EDM’s an entry level to dance music, and I’m very happy about that. We fought so long for dance music to be respected [in America]. EDM is a sound that America has latched on to, but once people start begin going left and right of that scene, they’re going to find their Art Department's, their Loco Dice's, and their Sven Vath's - and that’s a really good place to be.” And that’s exactly what EDM is. It’s an opportunity. It’s a gateway to the entire community that’s been built for years and years, and to the culture that’s so prevalent and so everlasting.
EDM is an opportunity to find new music beyond that entry-level understanding of big room house, electro, progressive, and dubstep. It encourages people to go out and find their niche, the Tchami’s, or the Hot Since 82's or Len Faki's. Beyond music, EDM is a gateway to this vast and massive community that has been built up for years and years, and for the culture that’s so prevalent and everlasting, it's the fundamental basis of this music. So while Mr. Troxler is correct in saying that EDM and underground dance music don’t share common goals and interests, I disagree that they shouldn’t be united and they should stay separate cultures. EDM gives people the chance to find the underground. It allows people who are truly passionate about this music and who want to see this community grow and thrive with the introduction they need, before they dive in and truly immerse themselves in the Seth Troxler’s and Carl Cox’s. Simply put, EDM is a chance.
Cover photo credit: Rukes