I may be in the minority of older ravers who are not struck dumb by the supersonic evolution of dance music towards its current apotheosis as “EDM.” I get it because I understand some of the basic principles and ideas of the uniquely parasitic US music business. I also see how old guard industry titans like SFX’s Robert Sillerman and Live Nation’s James Barton, whose questionable motivations but hefty investments in some major festival promoters are trying to fill the old bottles of pre-social media music business practices with the new wine of a wild west, post-social media free-for-all.
It’s also difficult to talk about this without coming off as a geezer stuck in the past where “everything was better” and “kids today just don’t understand.” Indeed, that’s how it sounds when many dance music writers attempt to tackle the subject, and it’s fucking annoying.
But there are some troubling trends I’ve noticed when it comes to how we collectively talk about dance music, and it is seriously downgrading dance music’s credibility as a true form of art. It seems to me that all the conversations we should be having about dance music are being shuttled under the rug, and all of the conversations we shouldn’t be having are being perpetuated ad nauseam.
So, I propose to begin a conversation about changing the conversation. I’ll start here with the most important topics the dance music community should start taking very seriously. The first topic of this series is: Corporate takeovers aren't killing dance music...yet.
When Live Nation bought a sizable chunk of Gary Richards’ HARD Events a few years ago, red flags rose all over the dance music underground. This, we argued, is the end of affordable festivals, and, most assuredly, the end of quality dance music. Gary Richards explained, however, that the partnership would increase the ability to bring the unique, underground HARD experience to more people, especially in places like Australia where HARD hosted a stage at Stereosonic for the first time.
But, in a conversation with Billboard in 2012, Richards added a warning: “We're the alternative to that [Mainstream] so we'll go anywhere as long as people are open to it -- and I think they are, it just takes a little education because we aren't the bottle-service type of crowd. We're more trying to keep it real." Since then, we’ve seen the festival expand across the calendar year and even onto cruise ships. Richards recently announced that there would be a second sailing of Holy Ship.
Contrary to the fears of die-hards, the sky did not fall. The talent invited to headline HARD Summer post-Live-Nation-partnership were quality underground all-stars like Claude VonStroke and his Dirtybird coterie. A diverse selection of solid techno up and comers were also given favorable time slots. People flocked in droves despite the ticket prices, and new music tastes were forged. “I think that people are starting to come around to deep house,” Claude VonStroke told Earmilk in August of last year. “It takes a long time…my prediction is that all the kids that saw the giant brostep hammer come down will eventually go back to house music. That stuff was really out there so it will take some time…”
Bud Light Platinum is also making a habit of sinking its claws into the world’s most popular dance music stars including Zedd, whose recent hit “Find You” was engineered to be used during a “Turn Up Your Night” Bud Light TV advertising campaign during the Grammys earlier this year. According to a report from InTheMix, the track “Alludes to the Bud Light Platinum Slogan in its lyrics.” To some, this may be a sign of the imminent apocalypse; it is, of course, part of the sinister business of advertising to highjack our natural emotional impulses derived from intimate experiences with music and trying to attach it to a reliance on beer.
But Zedd’s talent cannot be argued. He’s proven himself one thousand times over, and if his music is inviting to new converts who otherwise would not seek out his music, the laborious and difficult process of deepening an understanding of good dance music can begin. It’s the same process all of us went through, and we all started somewhere. The important next step, then, is to develop an intrinsic desire to want to dig deeper. With more people exposed to dance music, more people will eventually seek a more quality dance music experience. All boats rise.
In the meantime, megaclubs like LA’s Exchange are booking talent like Richie Hawtin, Adam Beyer, Seth Troxler, and Dubfire—and they are selling the place out. Burning Man and The BPM Festival, events where the artists are far from mainstream, are seeing skyrocketing attendance numbers. But if attendance numbers are the only things that are changing, and artists remain free to continue to produce and play quality music, I will consider it a good thing. Let’s just keep a watch on those ticket prices.
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