2020 was a year that tested the strength of the dance music industry. Yes—it was downright awful—but the year also reinforced the resilience of the EDM community, forcing its members to unlock upsurges of creativity that would've otherwise remained latent.
The unrelenting fury of COVID-19 flung the EDM world—and the live music scene at large—into a free-fall with no parachute. Without the ability to tour, artists, event promoters, venue operators, and practically every music pro found themselves scrambling to acclimate to the new norm. Ultimately, the electronic music space mutated into a socially distanced, Frankenstein-like monstrosity of drive-in shows, quasi-legal raves, and virtual festivals. But even in a year to forget, it remained as captivating as ever.
As we count down the days until we're able to finally tie a bow on the lump of coal that was 2020, here are 20 stories that defined EDM this past year.
The Return of Pendulum After a Decade
When the live music community ate the dust due to the impact of COVID-19, the streaming industry ballooned due to a whirring influx of new music. Producers released new music at a breakneck pace, but it was the momentous September return of Pendulum that went down in EDM lore. The fabled drum & bass group released their first new music in a decade, dropping two new singles—"Driver" and "Nothing for Free"—each of which oozed with the ferocity of Pendulum's iconic sound.
Coachella Abandons 2020 Event Due to COVID-19 Concerns
How the mighty have fallen. When Coachella's organizers finally made the decision to abandon the event's 2020 edition, they proved that even the most powerful and influential festival brands were at the mercy of the virus' wrath. The festival's representatives went on to announce new dates for April 2021, but influencers around the world were forced to hang up their floral head wreaths and write "take me back" Instagram captions.
Lady Gaga Releases Chromatica
Enlisting the help of Tchami, Skrillex, Axwell, Madeon, and Boys Noize, among others, Lady Gaga released her scintillating Chromatica LP in what was a harbinger for the intersection of dance and pop music. While the galactic success of Chromatica speaks volumes for Gaga's own legacy, it is perhaps even more momentous not only for its seminal impact on EDM, but also on women in dance music. "Women will be at the forefront of this culture," said Daouda Leonard, who manages BloodPop®, the longtime Gaga collaborator and Executive Producer and A&R of Chromatica. "Women are at the forefront of dance music and will usher in a new revolution."
deadmau5 Hosts Successful Drive-In Rave
Before socially distanced drive-in raves became the norm, deadmau5 walked the plank during a very precarious time in terms of the virus' impact when he announced his Toronto show. At the time, there had only been a few attempts by promoters, but none with an artist of deadmau5's renown. His "City View Drive-In" concert was under an intense public microscope, but he went on to perform an electrifying set at a safe and highly successful show while flanked by the glittering Toronto skyline.
Tomorrowland Around The World Attracts Over 1,000,000 Viewers
Considering the notion that the preeminent Belgian festival is one of the world's largest and most popular dance music events, expectations were high for Tomorrowland's foray into the virtual concert space. An influx of livestreamed concerts at the time underpinned the rapid saturation of digital music festivals, but a brand of Tomorrowland's size had yet to make an attempt.
Following the Sunday, July 26th conclusion of Tomorrowland Around The World, organizers reported some staggering numbers from Pāpiliōnem, the mystical island they designed for their inaugural digital event. Over 1 million viewers tuned into the stream—an impressive figure considering the fact that the event was not free, like the vast majority of virtual concerts in the COVID-19 epoch.
Twitch vs. the Music Industry
When a deluge of DMCA takedown requests were filed against a legion of Twitch streamers back in June, the debacle lit a fuse that led to an explosive domino effect for the Amazon-owned platform, which emerged as an invaluable streaming destination for DJs in the COVID-19 age.
When Twitch found itself in hot water due to its failure to secure licenses that would allow users to play music in streams, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos appeared before the House Judiciary Committee in a historic antitrust hearing. After Bezos dodged Congress' questions regarding the issue, the music industry came together to slam Twitch before the company ultimately issued an apology.
Ticketmaster Shares Plans to Require Vaccination Proof for Entry to Concerts—Then Backpedals
In November, a bombshell Billboard report quoted Ticketmaster's CEO as saying the ticketing giant was working on a framework for post-pandemic fan safety that would use smartphones to verify fans' vaccination status prior to receiving admission to concerts. However, while the original article noted that Ticketmaster's plan was merely being considered, myriad news outlets went on to report the plan as having been officially established, prompting Ticketmaster to backpedal. "We are not forcing anyone to do anything," Ticketmaster said in an ensuing statement provided to BBC News.
Protesters Chant to Dirtybird Song in Detroit
Following a sweeping music industry blackout on Tuesday, June 2nd, a litany of record labels, streaming services, brands, and artists implemented robust programs and donated millions of dollars to organizations fighting for racial equality and justice in the wake of George Floyd's death.
As nationwide protests mounted, many in the dance music community—such as venerated house and techno record label Dirtybird—aligned in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. At a protest in Detroit, activists marched through the streets and chanted while using a Dirtybird song as a soundtrack, prompting the label to react on Twitter. "People protesting with our music," they wrote. "We are proud."
Bassnectar Retires from Music Following Allegations of Sexual Misconduct
In summer 2020, an Instagram account called @evidenceagainstbassnectar exploded after publishing graphic accounts of sexual misconduct against Bassnectar, prompting him to issue a statement refuting the allegations. "The rumors of sexual misconduct that are circulating about me are completely untrue. I want to leave it at that, because it truly is that simple," Bassnectar wrote at the time. In the wake of perhaps the year's most nuclear #MeToo moment in EDM, the dust never settled, and the dubstep superstar hastily announced an indefinite hiatus from the music industry.
Death of i_o
In late November, tragedy struck the EDM community when renowned producer i_o passed away at the age of 30. The gifted artist was coming into his own, in every sense of the term. Having recently celebrated his momentous signing to Armada Music as well as the launch of his own Label 444 banner, perhaps the most devastating aspect of i_o's sudden death wasn't what he had done so far, but rather how much more he had to accomplish.
The EDM family banded together in mourning following the deflating news of his passing, taking to social media to share their memories of the late music producer, who Insomniac founder Pasquale Rotella called a "beautiful soul."
The Mythical Upcoming Album from Skrillex
Back in March, Skrillex sent his fanbase into a fever pitch when he announced that the first of multiple albums was in its final stages. What followed was a revolving door of Skrillex news that only served to fan the flames of the feverish anticipation surrounding the album, which, at this point, is verging on mythical.
This year, he was spotted in the studio with a bevy of jaw-dropping collaborators, including Justin Bieber, Bruce Johnston of The Beach Boys, Top Dawg Entertainment artist Zacari, and Mike D of legendary hip-hop trio The Beastie Boys, among others. Skrillex also wiped his Instagram back in June, only reinforcing the notion that something massive is on the horizon. He did drop a brand new track, however, offering fans a taste of honey before the hive.
The Release of Underplayed
Featuring interviews with women and several male allies working in all aspects of the industry, the feature-length documentary Underplayed offered crucial insights into just how much work is left to be done for gender equality in the dance music scene. Over the course of the film's 85 minutes, its fundamental message is clear: In EDM, gender bias does more than just pervade all aspects of life for a woman—it has become inescapable. The release of Underplayed, which included discussions with REZZ, Alison Wonderland, and NERVO, among others, was a timely reminder that the future is female.
Excision Launches Subsidia Records
To say Excision launched his new record label in an unorthodox way would be a gross understatement. The Subsidia Records boss debuted the imprint by releasing 118 brand new songs spanning across four different chapters, each of which had their own unique narrative and theme. In doing so, he introduced a bass music utopia that is primed to push the envelope of the genre for years to come.
Avicii's Legacy Lives On
Two years after Avicii's gut-wrenching death, the dance music legend's legacy refused to fade into darkness. The late producer, whose estate posthumously released his third studio album, Tim, was nominated for two Billboard Music Awards at the show's 2020 edition. News of an official museum in Stockholm dedicated to Avicii's legacy also arrived in summer 2020. And earlier in the month of December, Elon Musk shared a preview of his revolutionary Vegas Loop transit system—a video which he called a "tunnel rave"—soundtracked by Avicii's generational anthem "Levels."
Porter Robinson's Secret Sky Music Festival
Back in May, Porter Robinson broke the Internet when he announced Secret Sky Music Festival, his official foray into the virtual music fest scene. The EDM community lost its collective mind when the festival aired, and the event went down as one of the most memorable streams to emerge from the COVID-19 epoch. Robinson debuted new music, Madeon threw down an astonishing performance, and the broadcast raised money for the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Burning Man Cancelled for First Time in History
Festivals across the globe dropped like flies in the wake of the onset of COVID-19, but this one stung. Despite optimism from organizers, Burning Man could not salvage its 2020 edition and ultimately made the difficult decision to cancel for the first time in the event's history. Burning Man Project, a nonprofit that supports the global Burning Man community and produces the beloved annual event in Black Rock City, went on to announce the launch of a virtual shared live experience platform called Kindling.
Death of Cookie Monsta
In early October, the EDM family lost a true electronic music icon and innovator. When Cookie Monsta tragically passed away at the age of 31, he left behind a storied legacy as a pioneer of the dubstep genre, an innovator of music production, and most importantly, an exemplary character and friend to all.
Redpill VR and Ushuaïa Ibiza Develop Groundbreaking Virtual Club Experience
Developing mind-bending, immersive experiences that blend music with virtual reality, leading VR company Redpill is using EDM to shape the future of virtual reality and music. After disrupting the music festival industry by offering a one-of-a-kind VR dance music experience for ravers, the company announced a landmark partnership with Ushuaïa, an illustrious Ibiza venue that is ubiquitously regarded as one of the globe's best clubbing destinations.
David Guetta's "United At Home" Stream Raises Over $700,000 for COVID-19 Relief
Although the COVID-19 pandemic effectively put the live music industry on hold, David Guetta took the streaming game to the next level with his April United at Home live stream. Flanked by two gleaming highrise apartments in the heart of Miami, Guetta performed with festival-grade production and, through his efforts, was able to garner over 12 million viewers online and raise over $700,000 for a number of COVID-19 relief foundations.
Investment Firm Acquires Calvin Harris' Publishing Catalog for $90 Million
In a move that has the looks of a watershed moment for electronic music producers, Calvin Harris sold his entire publishing catalog for a staggering $90 million back in October. Vine Alternative Investments, a New York-based entertainment industry investment firm, forked up a cool $90 million for Harris' vast catalog of dance music hits.