The EDM Experience: ¡Viva la Revolución!
Electronic dance music (EDM), dub step, house, and techno have developed into commonplace names in regard 21st century music. Percussive undertones and the infamous “womp” have saturated today’s musical profile, not only making appearances in mainstream music, but also picking up momentum as a separate genre. People use the names listed above interchangeably depending on their knowledge base of electronic music. Newer enthusiasts often use a single one of these, or some other term, as an umbrella to encompass the entirety of electronic music. More passionate individuals may choose an all-encompassing denotation but usually have enough familiarity to differentiate between the various electric sub-genres. Most importantly, almost everybody who is even moderately aware of recent musical trends has heard and experienced the effects of EDM, making it a major cultural influence and loosening hip-hop’s choke hold on mainstream youth music.
EDM is a relatively recent American creation, its roots dating back to the Disco Era, yet EDM has an extensively rich and full pop culture history. In the Disco ’70s, America witnessed a passion for dancing that, to a great extent, started in various Gay communities. At a time when homosexuality was illegal, underground clubs began promoting a carefree, love-intensive, and dance-centered lifestyle. When the Stonewall riots tore down the veil, exposing the world to the Gay lifestyle, Disco nightclubs began entering the mainstream. Due partly to recession, entrepreneurs in 1970s New York City found nightclubs the easiest way to start a low-overhead and quickly profitable venture. Nightclubbers encountered DJs who played a continuous stream of music for energetic youngsters looking to dance all night long. Suddenly, Saturday Night Fever was inspiring a growing number of partiers to model themselves in John Travolta’s image.
In time, DJs like Frankie Knuckles simplified Disco into repetitive 4/4 beats and successfully made house music the sound of Chicago clubs. During the same era, Detroit artists pulled inspiration from their industrial environment to create the sci- fi sounding beats of techno. These styles culminated in Steve Hurley’s 1987 hit “Jack Your Body.” Interesting enough, this song only exploded in Britain but remained unpopular in the United States. In America, house music, the beginning of EDM, was destined to remain underground for a while.
EDM history involves a unique interchange between America and Britain. Americans created the movement, where it mostly stayed underground. Britain’s youth saw EDM’s potential and allowed it to catch like wildfire, and then Britain sold the idea back to America. Therefore, electronic music’s history in England proves relevant, and Saturday Night Fever not only influenced America, it impacted Britain as well. Once the movie debuted, nightclubs sprang up all over Britain. At this time, a man named Pete Waterman produced a show that highlighted popular music trending in nightclubs, and this shot house music into every young person’s household. This created the perfect storm since Waterman’s show coincided with primitive U.S. house hitting British nightclubs and English DJs running with the idea.
Now, to return to “Jack Your Body” for a moment, the hit, while not popular in the U.S., revolutionized youth culture in Britain. Under Margret Thatcher’s strict rule, the youth of the country desperately needed revitalization, which came in the form of house music repeating beats in 4/4 time. Look at videos or pictures of people dancing during the time and you’ll see scenes similar to the ones seen at today’s American raves, clubs, and music festivals. When people heard the music, all they knew was they wanted to dance, they wanted to move. American DJs started realizing that what they saw in Britain fell under the heading of “dancing,” but everyone noticed the dancers didn’t care. They were simply intoxicated by EDM because of the togetherness and unity they felt when listening to such hypnotic rhythms. Put simply, the culture and feeling EDM generates drives the mass interest for the genre today.
EDM not only revitalized youth culture, it changed people stylistically. 1980s high fashion included body tight clothing with high shoulders to depict an elitist sensibility. The clubbing lifestyle put elitists back in their place. Tight clothing didn’t fit into a dancing lifestyle since it didn’t allow movement, and it also promoted overheating; therefore, preferences changed towards more loose-fitting and flowing clothes. Consequently, the shift represented the breaking down of barriers between people. Britain’s youthful anything-goes mentality derives from its 80s clubbing ancestry. High fashion took notice of youth dressing down in the early 90s. Fashion designers embraced the change, spurring the grunge-like style characterized by a baggy, unplanned image.
Before exporting EDM or their house music back to America, Britain was also responsible for exporting several popular sub-genres still circulating America today, to include jungle, drum ‘n’ bass, hardcore, happy hardcore, and trance. During the ’90s, technology costs fell, allowing more and more people to acquire the tools of the trade. Furthermore, innovation drove the creative talents in the industry to add substance to the creations before them and generate something original. Ultimately, the appeal of being able to do it yourself drives American interest and, likewise, drove British interest in the ’90s. Today, people love the ability to buy a laptop and make music that allows them to circumvent the need to spend thousands of dollars on a guitar, drum set, or piano. For example, one young man named Madeon posted a YouTube video that replicated so rapidly that within months, he wound up playing at a major music festival.
Today’s American rave, replete with EDM music, represents a form of collaborative originality similar to the days of Woodstock. On the larger end, a rave can last a full weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, with 50,000 people of all ages dancing to EDM and partying like there’s no tomorrow. People dress in clothing that reflects their own individuality and promotes self-expression in a place where judgment finds no home. In the end, the crowds aspire to exemplify peace, love, unity, and respect — the totems of true EDM culture.
During the early ’90s, electronic music still operated on the margins. People couldn’t find it at massive music festivals or raves, so they created their own. Secret instructions designed to circumvent a police presence would lead hopeful youth to warehouses or fields. One police officer privy to a “secret” rave recalled seeing 20,000 people gathered in a field with music blaring, yet the police could not take action. Although the police looked for reasons why so many people would participate for illicit purposes, they came to realize that all the ravers wanted to do was listen and dance. Today’s American EDM enthusiasts demonstrate a rich passion for their music that has now spread like wildfire throughout the American mainstream.
MDMA is a popular drug in the EDM universe. Created in 1912, the euphoric effects of MDMA didn’t become public until the 1980s, following on the heels of the LSD revolution in the ’60s. The euphoric effects add to people’s passionate pursuance of EDM music, but the ability to dance all night, love one another as their own, and break down walls between classes does not hinge on MDMA usage. EDM’s repetitive nature entrances its listeners, putting them into a transient state where dancing and friendliness denotes an obvious outcome.
EDM culture didn’t explode overnight. Rather, it was always there and someone finally took notice. Lady Gaga produced a song with the Black Eyed Peas in 2009, which showcased house beats behind a pop style. People knew they had heard something important, something they liked. Since then, EDM has injected its influence into every avenue of pop culture from music to advertisements. A few people experimenting with EDM are Brittany Spears, Rihanna, Kanye West, Taylor Swift, the hard rocking musicians like Korn, and Flo Rida. These influentual performers make more than a ripple in the pond. When Rihanna did a single with DJ Calvin Harris, their single went quadruple platinum. In the 2012 Grammys, DJ Skrillex won three. In 2009, David Guetta’s “Love Takes Over” went platinum in seven countries, including America.
With any musical movement comes adversaries, but this discussion should show that EDM will be around for a while. When jazz started, a slew of people from all walks of life spoke out and even preached against it. Similarly, people criticize EDM, labeling it as classless and hedonistic. Regardless, whether they know it or not, everyone has been exposed to the thematic styles of EDM’s repetitive beats. The point is that in a society dictated by technological distance, many Americans, and especially young ones, have found community in the church of dance.