By: Mary Willson
The last major electronic show I attended was Porter Robinson's World's tour. The 21-year-old DJ used to be known for his wild drops and ultra-fast techno sounds, as heard in his 2011 hit single Spitfire. But in his newest album, he uses sampling to thread together beautiful melodies with gut-wrentching drops that are more emotional than fiery in the way that dubstep drops are.
This album, along with other hit downtempo albums such as ODESZA's In Return and newly popular ambient artists like Kygo, Tycho, Cashmere Cat, Emancipator, Miike Snow, Kaskade and more, point to the downfall of EDM as the culture suffocates in a mass of corporate money, extreme hyped culture, and a fan base absorbed in the scene rather than the song.
In Spin Magazine's review of World's, the author questions the absence of “four-four club kicks and spastic drops of his former cohort,” and acknowledges his move toward “the soaring sonic vistas and lysergic textures of M83, Washed Out, Neon Indian, Tycho, even French chill-meisters Air.” At the concert, the crowd wasn't on the same page as Robinson, like they hadn't heard the album the tour was named after. The crowd was extremely young, screaming at all the wrong times, until Robinson literally stopped the music and told the audience he likes “quiet for the beautiful parts of the songs,” which just brought out more yelling from the crowd.
Something was off, and it wasn't Robinson's performance. The crowds at EDM shows are moving from dedicated electronic fans to mainstream hypers. Part of this is because of the rise of festivals with bills flocked with ultra-popular DJs dominating a single circuit, a culture infused with partying and an industry fueled by mega-money. In the past five years, the growth of EDM has been larger than any other genre growth of the last decade. Electronic dance music (a.k.a. EDM) is the name used to encompass a plethora of electronic subgenres like trap, house and dubstep.
It is a rebranding of techno music, the '90s version of EDM as culture and music critic Simon Reynolds of The Guardian explains in his exploration of the the history for EDM. “What were once called 'raves' are now termed 'festivals'; EDM is what we used to know by the name of techno. Even the drugs have been rebranded: 'molly,' the big new chemical craze, is just ecstasy in powder form (and reputedly purer and stronger) as opposed to pills,” he writes. “The word 'festival' itself represents an attempt by promoters to draw line between today's EDM and '90s rave.”
The festival culture blew up the EDM scene with mega-events such as Electric Daisy Carnival , put on by Insomniac Events, which had approximately 400,000 attendees last year. With the huge festivals, come a bigger problem: keeping up the fan base to support hundreds of festivals, with tens of thousands of fans.
“Whether purposely or inadvertently, we have created a culture in EDM whereby it is no longer about the music. Our culture is now about fame, stardom and name recognition,” the EDM Network editor in chief Albert Berdellans wrote in an editorial called “EDM's Bubble Will Soon Burst.”
“The days of a nameless, faceless master of ceremonies taking the decks, reading the crowd and delivering the exact track and set their expert musical diagnosis demands…are over.”
The insanity of EDM shows is represented by $400 tickets, dangerous drug use, lights and graphics that cost more than the talent, and crowds the size of cities. In an editorial about the consolidation of the EDM industry for The Future Of Music Coalition earlier this year, I explained how EDM has moved from a music culture to a money culture. “SFX Entertainment, run by Robert Sillerman — best known as the founder of the company that ultimately became Live Nation — has been rapidly acquiring major promoters and festivals, including Electric Zoo and Europe's Tomorrowland festival (for $102 million), as well as the digital music store Beatport,” I wrote.
And while all of this may lead the fan to think that this is a sign that EDM is here to stay, the fame has brought down the natural growth of the industry as promoters and artists try to keep up with the hype. Berdellans says that these issues show that “fans have lost their desire for actual musical talent.” And in return, “artists have lost their drive to create meaningful music.” The sad truth fans of EDM must face is that the genre as a whole is young, immature, and enamored by the superficial.
For me, the Porter Robinson concert was my first wake-up call. We now have a fan base that isn't able to be flexible and respect what artists are artistically trying to accomplish. They were looking for the same superficial thrill they expect at an EDM show, rather than enjoying the music they bought tickets to listen to. This all comes back to the same points being made by Berdellans and Reynolds — EDM has moved away from the music, and is all about the culture promoters have created — and the fans are buying it. The artist is now just a face in the scene, rather then being the center of the scene. And that is a problem.