EDM – How’d It Get So Big?

Electronic dance music, also known as EDM, hasn’t always held the place in our culture that it does today. Although the conception of electronic dance music was around in the 70’s, and gained a certain level of exposure in the 80’s, it wasn’t until more recently that the genre truly blossomed into what it is today.  

Check out Armin van Buuren live at Ultra Music Festival in Miami to see where things are at these days with EDM festivals. Massive!

But things haven’t always been this bangin’ for electronic music artists in terms of the public perception of the genre.  It took a while for the genre to catch on, although some people did recognize early on the potential of electronic music, even at the beginning in the 1970’s.

Here is a video showing pioneering electronic musician Jean Michel Jarre playing live in 1976, just to give you some perspective on what’s been happening over the years.  While Jean Michel Jarre is a major pioneer, he was simply helping to open the door to what’s possible today in terms of mass acceptance of the genre.

But the real question we ask is why electronic music has taken the prominent place in our culture that it currently holds?  In other words, how’d it get so big?  Let’s take a look at some of the reasons behind the rise of electronic music, as well as the reasons why this surge in popularity didn’t occur before.

Early Days and Struggle for Acceptance

Prior to the 21st century, electronic music struggled to find its voice anywhere in society other than within the underground music scene. Part of the reason why electronic music was unable to flourish during its adolescent years, was due to the media’s incessant lampooning of the genre. European and American media outlets simultaneously stigmatized electronic music. By conjoining dance music with destructive drug use and damaging lifestyle choices in the popular mind, the media made it very difficult for electronic music to be thoroughly embraced. 

There was also a merging of genres with electronic music mixed with rock music, creating bands that were the very first synth pop bands.  For example, remember The Human League?  They were but one of the bands who integrated electronic music fully into their sound to make what you might call a new hybrid of various types of music.

And it didn’t stop there.  Another wave of bands came along in the late ’80s who embraced electronic and dance elements, such as the whole “Madchester” scene from England.  The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, et al. were part of this next wave of “different” dance-infused rock bands.

But as much as people enjoyed these new and interesting bands, they were still bands.  We still hadn’t hit upon the emergence of the mega-popular EDM DJ, which was to come at the turn of the millennium.  By the end of the 90’s, huge festivals that were once dominated by rock bands, like Lollapalooza, had taken a turn to the electronic bands, which some people loved, and others hated.  Hybrid rock-electronic bands like The Prodigy, Fatboy Slim, and The Chemical Brothers were beginning to usher in a new age of DJs headlining big festivals.

The Social Media Effect

After the year 2000 arrived, with the advent of the internet and its rising popularity, electronic music had new means at its disposal to spread organically throughout the culture. Undoubtedly, social media played an important role in bolstering the growth of electronic music. Musicians now had the opportunity to upload their content and promote their art in a way that reaches the consumer directly.

Rather than allowing for the media to shape their conception of electronic music for them, consumers could see what the genre had to offer for themselves through social media and video streaming platforms.

Word Of Mouth

Another factor is word of mouth. There’s a reason why the phrase “Nothing sells like word of mouth” is commonly uttered in marketing circles. If you haven’t been to an electronic dance music festival yourself, chances are you know somebody who has. This person has probably vehemently evangelized the merit of the event in such a way as to compel scores of others to try out a festival for themselves.

electronic music festival

The fact that festivals can routinely draw crowds of over 200,000 people, is a huge incentive for people to enthusiastically join in. Coachella and Electric Daisy Carnival are prime examples of this trend.

The sense of community and oneness that many attendees attest to, provides something of a spiritual experience. This also adds a layer of interactiveness that festival-goers participate in. In a sense, each listener at a festival becomes a star of their own.

Through the wearing of psychedelic attire, and even the sporting of things such as glow sticks, festival-goers have the opportunity to express themselves in their own unique way. Many of these modes of expression, unique to the electronic music scene, eventually find themselves developing into traditions.

For example, Steve Aoki, an American DJ, has made a tradition out of throwing a cake at a member of his audience during each show. And make no mistake, for Steve Aoki fans, this is considered nothing less than a true pleasure and high honour.

The Compositional Inclusion Of Various Genres

Many schools of thought attribute the rise of electronic music due to the diversity of its genres, which, as we discussed previously, had begun to be absorbed into EDM from the get go. Now, there is literally something out there for everybody. If you like hard, fast paced, quick BPM jams then you might find your refuge in dubstep. If you’re looking for pop style choruses over jazz and soul infused rhythmic tunes, you may enjoy deep-house. From there, there are countless scores of other electronic music genres that appeal to different tastes.

When examining the reasons behind the rise of electronic music, it is also important for us to take a look at how electronic music is made. Electronic music helped to revolutionize the process of creating music, and this process has certainly been met with criticism. Many old school musicians and purists, for example, look down upon the methods with which electronic music producers use to create their tunes.  This of course, dates back to old school hip hop and how those artists used turntables to make their music, and rock fans were never particularly in favor of it then either, just like now.  EDM fans and rock fans, to make a generalization, don’t normally mix well.  Of course, there are always people who are open to everything.  F*ck the haters!

Still, it is not uncommon for people today to raise their brows in contempt by the fact that electronic music producers and DJ’s can create their sounds through the use of a computer alone. But the fact that electronic dance music can be created through the sole use of a computer, has established a somewhat blue collar approach to electronic music production that doesn’t require the ability to read music or play instruments.  

As technology continues to evolve, DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software will as well. DAW’s in many cases, allow for the producer to construct electronic music songs, from start to finish, without the help of anything beyond a computer, and some basic software along with plug-ins. This, as previously touched upon, has revolutionized the music industry, and electronic music in particular. Whether one regards it as a non-instrumental deviation from the pure creation of real music, or a genuine evolution in the process, it has undoubtedly simplified that process for scores of upcoming and ambitious producers trying to get into the industry.

The Fall Of Disco Music

To backtrack for a moment, as disco music was on its way out, electronic music took the reins in terms of being a new, grassroots crowd-gathering, dance-inducing genre of music. As acid house and techno music took hold in Chicago and Detroit in the 80’s, folks began to experience a microcosm of the massively attended festivals that we frequently see today.

EDM Collaborations

Another reason why electronic music is as popular as it is, is the fact that is capable of assimilating all forms of music within its structure, as we’ve repeatedly stated. Electronic music can and does often feature sweeping pop choruses, hip hop bars of lyrics, jazz drumming etc… This is yet another reason why just about anyone can find something that appeals to them, after going through a number of electronic music songs. This versatile structure, has helped to give electronic music universal appeal. When electronic music producers frequently collaborate with other musicians outside of their genre, it creates an effect that inevitably points back to electronic music itself. For example, when David Guetta collaborates with the Black Eyed Peas, and then collaborates with Kelly Rowland, the listener of both tracks understands that the common denominator is electronic music.

We leave you with this…

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