The EDM Divide
Broadly speaking, if you're an electronic-music fan older than 40, you probably dig Danny Tenaglia more than Skrillex. And chances are, if you're a Skrillex fan younger than 30, you're like, "Who the hell is Danny Tenaglia?"
Coachella 2013 exemplified this generation gap in the world of dance music. On one side of the field, the modern-EDM-focused Sahara tent was a thrill ride tricked out with lasers, lights and LEDs designed to blow kids' minds, featuring acts such as Knife Party, Dog Blood and Wolfgang Gartner playing hyper-aggressive sets full of drops. Your parents would hate it.
Meanwhile, in the Yuma tent, revered and more underground DJs including Pete Tong, Richie Hawtin, Maya Jane Coles and Four Tet played house- and techno-based sets for the more sophisticated audiophile. Your parents could have probably handled it. There were some exceptions, but for the most part, if the Sahara was the future, the Yuma was 1995.
The Yuma was new this year, largely a response to the success of the Sahara and the fist-pumping, underdressed EDM culture that has blossomed in recent years. In fact, quite a few electronic scenesters, now in their 30s and 40s, aren't thrilled their beloved scene is now epitomized by overpaid superstar DJs and the bros who love them. Thus, many tastemakers feel the need to educate young audiences about the genre's history. The kids? They just want to ride the sonic roller coaster.
"Dance music has taken a turn toward big spectacle," says KCRW music director/LA electronic authority Jason Bentley, who played at the Yuma tent. "It all of a sudden became a rock show, which became very concerning to me and a lot of people in the scene. The unifying force of the music and the social dynamic of the scene and community were all of a sudden amended by these rock hallmarks."
Of course, as genres mature, it's traditional for the fans to splinter along age lines. Hip-hop, for example, has largely divided into two camps: older fans, who appreciate the more craft-conscious rap, and younger fans, with their flashier, poppier songs. Similarly, critics of modern, mainstream EDM say DJs don't need to be talented to play it, that laptop "button pushing" doesn't require the technical prowess of mixing records. As Diplo recently told Vibe, "Being a DJ is pretty bullshit. I'm lucky I can produce records, too, because DJs don't do shit." Even Deadmau5 has publicly admitted that with an hour of training and minimal technical knowledge, anyone could do what he does during a live concert.
Meanwhile, the mainstreaming of electronic dance music has ensured that a once-tightknit underground community has been replaced by hordes of aggro fans who don't realize that artists such as Swedish House Mafia and Avicii are directly descended from the house of Detroit and Chicago.
Nowadays, there's so much money in the genre that the spirit of organic, street-born art has been replaced by champagne-drinking VIPs and jetsetting DJs. But is this a natural evolution, or a serious problem?
"I think there's always a divide between generations," says Hard event founder Gary Richards, a rare old-schooler who fully embraces modern EDM. "But if the music is good, it's good. We built a brand that the up-and-comers want to play, and people know they can go there and hear the new music and it's not always about Avicii or Tiësto or whatever. Not to take anything away from them, but it's just not what I do or what our brand is about."
Hard seeks to educate not through the classroom, but through compelling curation, which can also be said about Bentley's radio show Metropolis, Coachella and even EDC. There's a greater opportunity to reach out to kids than ever before, simply because so many are paying attention.
And while the scene may never again be what it used to, the moment's electronic-music bubble will eventually burst. The young folks who stick around will likely dig deeper into the genre, while fairweather fans will move on. And then, no matter who's paying attention, the genre will continue to evolve.
At April's IMS Engage Summit in LA, Skrillex, once-dubbed the Boy King of EDM by LA Weekly, had a positive prognosis. "You have this new bombastic, loud, punk-rock energy, or whatever you want to call it, coming in with electronic music," he said, "and then you have the old-school techno, which comes from a different place and energy. . . . But what I see is that all of it is coming together."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.