18th Annual Electric Daisy Carnival - Day 3

If you perform with a giant light-up mouse helmet on your head, chances are you understand how to grab people’s attention. Whether Twitter-feuding with Arcade Fire, describing a rival DJ/producer as “McDonald’s,” or admitting that entertainers like himself mostly just press play on stage, Joel Thomas Zimmerman has repeatedly proven to be a natural born lightning rod. As Deadmau5, Zimmerman was one of the iconic figures in electronic dance music’s rise to become this decade’s defining musical movement so far. When the Grammys needed DJs to indicate their grand institutional anointment of EDM in 2012, it was Deadmau5 (and Euro-Muppet David Guetta) who ended up on stage clusterfucking it up with Foo Fighters, Chris Brown, and Lil Wayne. So although you have to take everything Deadmau5 says with a glacier of salt — incidentally, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see him performing atop a glacier of salt — you also have to pay the guy some mind. He’s been instrumental in EDM’s build, and now he says the drop is coming.

In a recent London Evening Standard feature, Deadmau5 declared that the EDM bubble is going to burst, and that when the end comes it’s going to be even swifter and more merciless than disco’s sudden demise. We’re talking Electric Forest gone Game Of Thrones — although we probably won’t see the equivalent of Disco Demolition Night since you can’t detonate a SoundCloud page. “Disco had a longer run than EDM has, to be honest about it, and that died in a fucking hurry,” Deadmau5 told the Standard. “EDM is way more susceptible because that was in a time when they didn’t have mass social media and all that shit. It’s not gonna be me saying, ’OK, EDM’s done,’ and the whole thing falls apart, but I think it’ll eventually fuck itself so hard.” He also swore off music festivals, the EDM boom’s cultural Petri dish, claiming they are stealing brand-thunder from musicians by making the festival experience the main attraction. And he made sure to point out, with extreme derisiveness, that his new while(1<2) is “not just ’dance’ music.”

EDM as we know it — by which I mean the euphoric drug-and-bass culture parodied in SNL’s recent “When Will The Bass Drop?” sketch, not the vast spectrum that is electronic dance music in general — is still a thriving, lucrative entity. I can assure you from personal experience that the DJ-centric Sahara Tent was Coachella’s biggest draw this year, and Calvin Harris, who helped shepherd the current wave of EDM into the mainstream with Rihanna’s “We Found Love” and his own “Feel So Close” among other hits, attracted the largest mass of humanity at the main stage all weekend. In terms of festivals where EDM is explicitly the main course, the fourth annual Las Vegas edition Electric Daisy Carnival, was the most profitable yet, bringing 400,000 people and $322.3 million to Sin City. Vegas in particular has developed an elaborate ecosystem of clubs striving to recreate that euphoric festival experience on a nightly basis, though even a year ago promoters were wondering how long the craze could last.

Like disco before it, EDM culture’s hedonistic tendencies are taking a toll, with unusually high numbers of fans ending up in the hospital or worse. But beyond the risk of physical burnout for those who rage is a more universal sense among EDM partisans and haters alike that it’s time to move on. Even a relatively narrow definition of “festival EDM” would have to include everything from the starry-eyed trance-pop sounds of Guetta, Harris, and Zedd to the booming trap-rave of Baauer, RL Grime, and TNGHT. Yet all for all the innovation and microevolution within the EDM milieu, a feeling of stasis has crept in. One leading figure inside the scene, 21-year-old former child prodigy Porter Robinson, told Reddit users he feels constrained by his genre’s formulaic requirements: “there are moves you HAVE to do in an ’EDM’ track to make it work.” Even those who haven’t spent the past decade readily subjecting themselves to what Robinson described as “main-stage, 128 BPM, 1-2-3 JUMP banger type stuff” have been inundated by the sounds of festival EDM at every turn. It’s been two years since the likes of Taylor Swift and Alex Clare were lacing their folk-pop hits with dubstep drops. Since then we’ve seen Avicii hybridize in the opposite direction, weaving folk sounds into his glowstick-waving club tracks. Everyone from Korn to Kanye has dabbled in dubstep. Skrillex presided over a Bonnaroo superjam. And again, even the fucking Grammys decided this stuff was cool more than two years ago. At this point, it’s almost more surprising when music in the pop sphere doesn’t bear the marks of EDM. Like jazz, rock, and hip-hop before it, it is the air we breathe.

Yet the mainstream is bound to react against a sound that has been so pervasive for so long. As The Guardian pointed out a couple years back, this decade’s EDM movement is more widespread than the ’90s Big Beat trend, the last time electronic music was supposedly taking over forever. The current strain of dance music has become such a cultural landmark that it seems far more likely to evolve than to die. The mere existence of the SNL parody indicates the genre’s endurance, yet it also suggests a level of saturation that almost demands a backlash. You could argue (as I did two years ago) that the Mumford-folk thing emerged as a conscious alternative to EDM, but within mainstream dance music, the EDM backlash began in earnest last year. Surprisingly, it was spearheaded by Daft Punk, the French robot-men whose wildly successful pyramid stage show helped inspire the EDM craze in the first place. Random Access Memories famously attempted to “Give Life Back To Music” via retro disco sounds created largely with live instruments. Together with aging pop singers like Pharrell, Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, and Katy Perry, they helped launch a disco revival that cast dance music as something more lighthearted — and more palatable to older generations — than dunderheaded so-called “brostep.” Meanwhile, Disclosure and Duke Dumont helped bring classic house sounds back into the mainstream as well, a movement that started in the UK and is now seeping into the US thanks to the late-breaking stateside success of Disclosure’s “Latch.”

Like the disco revival, retro house music appeals to a broader contingent than just the youth brigade that comprises EDM’s core audience in part because it is inherently lighter, happier, and more approachable than aggro bass drops and in-your-face synth melodies, but also because it’s older and therefore more familiar. That’s been the case with all the culturally resonant alternatives to EDM so far. Part of the reason EDM took off is because it presented something truly new that a generation could call its own. It was the sound of genuine innovation, and it inspired all kinds of exciting (if often ugly) experiments. But everything calcifies eventually. Although that Transformers computerized bass sound is probably never going to disappear entirely from the pop music vocabulary, my first reaction upon hearing it in the decent new Keyshia Cole single was how dated it sounded — as played out as the Transformers franchise itself. When Skrillex, the perfecter of the gnarly digitized drop and the face of brostep, released his perfectly serviceable debut album Recess at long last this year, the prevailing feeling was that it had arrived too late. Whereas EPs such as 2010′s Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites and 2011′s Bangarang scanned as bold, zeitgeist-grabbing gestures, a record embodying Skrillex’s admittedly diverse signature sound now felt like a relic even coming from Skrillex himself. We’ve been there, we’ve done that. It’s time to branch out, and we’re seeing those kinds of signs from EDM’s major players and newcomers alike.

Disco didn’t die at the dawn of the ’80s so much as it dispersed, going back underground via rave culture and mutating into new strains like techno, house, and Italo disco while Michael Jackson ushered the sounds of disco out into pop music at large. In the same way, we’ve already witnessed ’10s EDM augmented and splintering away from the stereotypical untz-untz wub-wub-wub. Guys like Deadmau5 and Robinson are building massive stage shows to take the spectacle of big-budget EDM productions to their logical prog-rock extremes, though Robinson’s M83-influenced Worlds (which The Fader described as “post-EDM”) captures prog’s breathless scope, whereas Deadmau5′s new while(1<2) mostly just meanders like an overlong Rick Wakeman solo. And just as punk rock emerged partly in response to prog excess, Rolling Stone recently heralded the dawn of “EDM’s punk phase” as radio programmers embrace even more aggressive dance tracks like DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s #4 smash “Turn Down For What” in response to social media. Bassnectar hasn’t cracked the upper reaches of the pop charts yet, but his own new album Noise Vs. Beauty continues his reign as EDM’s preeminent rock ’n’ roller.

It’s not just that EDM is dividing into a prog side versus a punk side. Global dance music scouting services such as Diplo’s Mad Decent and A-Trak’s Fool’s Gold are always digging up exciting new mutations, and now they’ve got a bigger platform than ever to foist them on the world. DJ Dodger Stadium is about to drop an entire album of crushing yet melancholy techno, and their Body High scene remains a boiling cauldron of ideas. Pitchfork praised Rustie’s new “Raptor” as the birth of “happy trap,” excitedly proclaiming that the song “would rather soundtrack a kid’s bouncy-castle birthday than any sort of bro-down.” Meanwhile, critical darlings like Zola Jesus and Caribou, both of whom have found fertile creative outposts on the fringes of pop and experimental electronica, are moving toward the center with songs (“Dangerous Days” and “Can’t Do Without You,” respectively) that could feasibly fit into the EDM-informed top 40 landscape with the right marketing push. These are just a few of the many new sounds that are moving festival EDM beyond your basic “1-2-3 JUMP” template, and who knows which SoundCloud upstart is about to revolutionize the form or how many micro-scenes around the world are about to burst into the global consciousness.

So is EDM going to bottom out like Deadmau5 says? If he means the build-drop formula will lose its cultural currency and events like Ultra will go the way of the sock-hop, sure. These formats will become passé soon enough, and someday they’ll be the go-to shorthand for movie directors looking to evoke this time in history. The many, many second-tier festival DJs are bound for extinction, their dopey grins and hands-in-the-air gestures already a cliché. EDM’s initial “OH MY GOD!” rush is passing away, with only the distant promise of nostalgia to brighten the future. But the advancement Deadmau5 sees in his own music is actually happening across the board, and much of it is better than what he has to offer. Essentially we have an “EDM is dead/ Long live EDM” situation. We’ve felt the splash; now we get to sit back and enjoy the ripples.

Comments (15)
  1. I really hope someone is doing an in-depth story about all the deaths at festivals recently. I feel like I have seen a lot of them as of late. When I saw the title of this article I originally thought it was about that.

  2. I’m not sure why Deadmau5 is so obsessed with the popularity of his music or what people like Win Butler say about him. If he is tired of making this “festival EDM”, as you call it, then by all means move on to something else that inspires him creatively, but I don’t really see the point in throwing the EDM scene (that has made him his millions by the way..) under the bus in interviews. Daft Punk made it very clear they aren’t interested in making sample driven dance music at this point in their career by putting out RAM, and didn’t have to talk shit on anyone when they did it.

  3. At any given time there’s always some kind of “fad” in pop music. Pop itself is a genre hardly defined by specific instrumentation but by catchy hooks and pulling influence from whatever is popular then, hense the name. I remember the late 90′s when latin took off in pop music: Ricky Martin, J-Lo, Marc Antony, Santana, etc. Early 2000′s saw a lot of hip-hop beat-type influence shared by the big acts like N*SYNC, Britney Spears, and Timberland really hit it off as a pop producer from that point. EDM/dubstep is the newest fad in pop right now and as history has shown it will die off at some point in favor or something else. And it’ll probably come back too in the future. Because, again, that’s what pop is. When one producer goes on a limb and tries out something new and proves successful, the other producers and artists rip it off to safely ride the wave.

  4. Deadmau5 is an interesting character, he loves sensational statements or flying off the wall at someone in the industry. But I do think he raises a good point about social media’s role on how perceptions will change quicker these days and movements will happen quicker. Look at how quickly EDM has taken over in the US, so will it crash quicker than it rose?

    On the other hand in Europe, the electronic music scene has been around for a while. Joy Division and the Hacienda echoed new sounds around the streets of Manchester, UK, throughout the early 90s. While in Detroit, house came through in the mid 90s. Trance and techno flourished in Netherlands and Germany. These scenes existed and evolved for over 25 years to where we are today. The cause? Pop producers starting to introducing some house and trance sounds into commercial pop sounds. You could hear elements throughout the last decade that came to a crescendo when David Guetta got involved with a shit load of pop acts.

    Will it last? No. Will it get more popular? Undoubtably. When will it decline? No fucking idea. But electronic music will splinter back into new sub-genres that we have no idea about today. My money’s on minimal folktronica

  5. well, what other kind of music can you dress in jorts and wear flourescent tank tops that look like your an extra in saved by the bell. Whatever that music is, will be the one that take over after EDM. until then, EDM it is.

  6. I really liked this article. Approached this topic from a reasonable angle, in any case, which is more than I can say for a lot of my friends. I sure do think deadmau5 is an asshole but I can’t say he’s off-base.

    I can’t possibly see EDM dying a worse death than disco. The rampant social prejudices that fueled the anti-disco backlash—homophobia, racism, sexism—I would say have changed for the better, for the most part. Like, in the late 70s gay marriage would have been a laughable idea, and now it’s legal in a lot of states. And I think few would argue that hip-hop, with its origins in urban African-American life, isn’t a prevailing force in music culture nowadays.

    But this build-drop-rinse-repeat formula is definitely lose its prevalence. EDM’s been way too stuck in that rut for it to really continue unimpeded. For one, electro-pop, which found it awesome for a while (see: “We Found Love,” “Gangnam Style,” “Hold It Against Me”) now seems to be bored with it. BEYONCÉ and Pure Heroine, two of the more influential albums of 2013, both explicitly eschewed the format (for the most part). Most crucially, though, Porter Robinson’s and Bassnectar’s recent output seems less interested in it, and they’re big-bucks EDM at this point.

    It will be interesting to see what EDM is like in a year or two. Hopefully, the term will have changed to something better than “electronic dance music.” That phrase is so terribly vague.

  7. “Surprisingly, it was spearheaded by Daft Punk, the French robot-men whose wildly successful pyramid stage show helped inspire the EDM craze in the first place. Random Access Memories famously attempted to “Give Life Back To Music” via retro disco sounds created largely with live instruments. Together with aging pop singers like Pharrell, Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, and Katy Perry, they helped launch a disco revival that cast dance music as something more lighthearted — and more palatable to older generations — than dunderheaded so-called “brostep.””

    I object to this because Daft Punk didn’t launch any kind of revival, it was already around for years. Nu-Disco was popping up in French and European clubs beginning in the late ’00s, and was even present stateside a year or two prior to Daft Punk’s record in the works of Johnny Jewel and his many Italians Do It Better off-shoots and other similarly-minded musicians like Sam Flax. In fact, Jewel and Flax were doing the AOR disco thing Daft Punk hopped on, using a rock format to make disco palatable to non-dance music fans. All Daft Punk did was create a “Dream Team” version of that by getting Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder on their record.

  8. the interesting thing about edm is that it is less like a typical genre and more like westerns.

    clint eastwood is bassnectar
    skrillex is john wayne
    gary cooper is deadmau5

    people that like westerns, watch westerns all the time, they’re all the same and they love it, they are more interested in watching westerns than anything else. edm will splinter into a still popular subgenre, and what will backlash against it ? the opposite of course always has the most power against the popular, which is like instrumentation – folk music (which is less potent bc it already backlashed against hip hop – sufjan, iron and wine) punk music (which is less potent bc its agression kind of resonates with edm) i would say soft rock, as weird as it sounds, is the perfect backlash to this, but you can’t take drugs to that can you ?

    i just woke up, so perhaps this will make no sense when i gain consciousness, but right now, i feel like im so smart.

  9. I’m still mad that you guys are still trying to make trap-rave a thing. But I guess it’s better than “trap-step”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post, reply to, or rate a comment.

%s1 / %s2