Following a hugely successful 10 days in Miami for The Ultra Music Festival and Winter Music Conference last month, the genre is more powerful than ever back in the country where the journey began, the USA. Just over a year ago many of us were babbling in admiration at how David Guetta appeared to have cracked the secret code and broken onto mainstream American radio. We all predicted that EDM (Electronic Dance Music, you can’t call it “house” anymore!) was going to explode.
Twelve months later that impact seems to be tenfold. For three nights at Ultra in front of 60,000 people per show, the likes of Afrojack, Avicii, Skrillex, Tiesto, David Guetta, Fatboy Slim and Chase & Status tore into the audience with slick aural and visual assaults to rival the best in stadium rock. Just two blocks away, Swedish House Mafia were hosting their own sold out two-day extravaganza alongside Calvin Harris. Madonna felt moved enough by all this commotion to go and introduce Avicii - a DJ who had just remixed her new single Girls Gone Wild – to the stage. She then got a social media kicking from Deadmau5 for making an alleged drugs reference which made worldwide news. There was a time when the scene needed endorsement by stars of her ilk, but now has more social media clout than Madonna. How times have changed.
This summer Avicii, Afrojack and Kaskade are all doing 30-plus date arena tours, as Las Vegas hotels boast 50 exclusive DJ residencies and 300,000 people are predicted to attend the Electric Daisy Carnival in June. Whilst David Guetta’s success story follows reasonably conventional industry rules it’s incredible to think that Swedish House Mafia – who haven’t yet made an artist album – look set to fill the Milton Keynes Bowl in July. The closer you look, the more remarkable the feats. Brazil, India and China are warming up. The game has well and truly changed, forever. But success inevitably attracts attention - and now numerous extremely wealthy individuals, big business and VC funds are eager to buy into the EDM action.
If allowed to run riot with their corporate machinery, these same people will destroy the scene. Wikipedia the word ‘stampede’ and I think you’ll get the picture. Now is the time for those involved to sharpen up and play their very best game; to develop the scene steadily, keeping it true to its roots. Reading Nile Rogers’ brilliant autobiography Le Freak, one is poignantly reminded of the irony of it all. At the peak of the disco boom America turned on its creators and publicly humiliated them by burning 12” singles in baseball stadiums. Looking back to the first wave of dance music can teach us an interesting lesson. In 1988 I was involved in bringing house music from Chicago and New York back to the UK. We had No.1 records and gave birth to Club Culture, whilst America kept it in the closet because they thought it was music for the gay scene. We enjoyed our own boom decade but the scene eventually suffered a major setback in 2000 when the money generated couldn’t sustain the huge infrastructure and investment. Clubs, labels and magazines closed. DJs migrated off around the world.
The money at stake now dwarfs what was on the table back then, but the history should come as a warning shot to all about selling the genre short and being seduced by cheque book-waving billionaires with no care or vision for the long term game. Even at the peak of all the excitement in Miami last month, the LA District Attorney was arresting two of the countries leading ‘rave’ promoters along with some of the management team at the LA Coliseum on charges of bribery and corruption - charges they both deny. None of this success would have happened without the long-term nurturing of the dance scene’s clubs and festivals. There would be no David Guetta or Swedish House Mafia without the clubs in Ibiza. And there would be no stickiness to EDM’s crossover in the US without the years of development on the underground of the festivals like EDC, Ultra, HARD, Electric Zoo, the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, Monster Massive and Nocturnal. We need the underground as much as we need Las Vegas - maybe more so. Without a place for all these ideas to develop and come to fruition you won’t get the end result.