At some stage in the mid-2000s EDM came to no longer function as a catch-all term to describe a broad range of electronic-based dance music forms and was usurped by critics and promoters as a genre of its own – that of a dance-pop orientated movement featuring catchy chorus hooks, swelling bass lines and polished, squeaky synths. With the simultaneous rise of large scale commercial music festivals in North America and Europe, the multi-day festival has become entrenched as the most marketable and most profitable event format; the one with the highest guarantee of providing a fun experience for consumers.
What we now call EDM is a phenomenon which can be traced to European big name acts which emerged around the middle of the last decade. Alongside the mass marketable trance superstar DJ as epitomised by Tiesto’s performance at the 2004 Olympics opening ceremony in Athens, indie-dance acts (a la Justice, Crookers and Ed Banger Records) began to forge an instantly popular electronic aesthetic which gave nods to hip hop brashness and exuberance, paving the way for modern fist pumping interpretations of house music.
The sleeping giant awakes
In a progression that’s perhaps somewhat overdue, owing to the fact electronic music was largely formulated in northern US cities during the late 70s and 80s. The beginning of the 2010s has finally ushered in a ravenous American market for danceable technology-driven beats.
While this culture expanded across the Atlantic to find a new home driven by pioneering figures in Europe, the scene remained largely underground for two decades before rapidly expanding amidst festival culture frenzy, to the stage where modern EDM now holds a gargantuan audience and is becoming cross-pollinated with a myriad of popular music forms. What characterises festival-ready EDM is the distinctly American celebrity culture it is infused with. While space for rock acts at major festivals is being eroded by EDM artists across the board, the expectation of the crowd and the attitude of the promoters remain curiously unchanged. While DJ-equipment can be seen as currently replacing the guitar as the most revered stage instrument, the cult of the rock star lives on in the aspects of showmanship that have been appropriated by modern DJ performers. Whereas DJs were previously evaluated on their mixing technique and song selection, the EDM DJ typically works the crowd through raised arm gestures and other more flamboyant acts (we’re all familiar with Steve Aoki’s spraying champagne over the crowd routine) as well as space-age mise en scene, pyrotechnics and all manners of strobe lighting. The EDM DJ is put on a pedestal as showman, entertainer, spectacle.
DJs now find themselves in the much-abhorred predicament of having to ‘play the hits’. In promoting their music in a pop mould, fans attending their concerts are no longer content with the conventional DJs role of mixing (mostly other artist’s) tracks in order to create an optimum dance friendly atmosphere for the audience. In one sense, the role of the DJ has not changed significantly with EDM – the job of the DJ remains rooted in assessing the crowd and providing the right songs that will sufficiently animate it – however, the mechanisms of this process have changed dramatically. With the knowledge that the crowd want to hear recognisable singles alongside an impressive visual element, the DJ’s task in assessing the crowd becomes simplified to preparing a premixed set, involving pacing the major songs in a palatable sequence, and timing these with the visual feasts technology has to offer.
Live and dangerous
In a starkly honest tumblr post, perhaps responding to some heavy criticism directed toward him, Deadmau5 has seemingly blown the whistle on this current breed of ‘live’ DJ acts. He points out the embellishment at work to ensure the appearance of a live performance, which is plugged by promoters in order to appease festival goers paying top dollar to witness this DJ on stage. While he acknowledges most EDM DJs are indeed talented musicians and it does take a lot of work to produce a good track, ‘performing live’ is presented a bit of a tenuous statement these days, largely amounting to premixed tracks with some cursory live instrumentation, such as adding in keyboard lines over a prepared beat.
On top of this the pairing electronic artists with differing styles one after another disrupts the time honoured concept of the subtle job of the warm up DJ. This creates a situation in which the DJ must enter on to a stage and immediately summon the atmosphere necessary to rouse the crowd. In this sense it is perhaps unsurprising that DJs and promoters are going to such lengths with planned music, glossy sets and visuals to ensure an engaging performance is packed into a time slot which a DJ ordinarily wouldn’t be limited to.
While celebrity DJs introduce swelling legions of fans to electronic music, and certainly a body of fans do end up familiarising themselves with the underground roots of the music they’re listening to, the current trend seems to only open doors to DJs who can produce big-room anthems, meaning that only the most glamorous, only the ones prepared to jump around the stage or have their decks placed inside an extravagant LED-powered cube will be acquire valuable funds. There is a certain utilitarian element to the way concert promoters are organising these festivals. While festivals which were originally rock-based like Coachella can be seen as reacting to the times, newer festivals seem to be seizing the trend and squeezing it for every dollar its worth. This is epitomised by Las Vegas, never exactly considered a hot-bed of creativity for house music culture, now drawing upwards of 320,000 people to Electric Daisy Carnival each year.
The ‘technofied’ society
In an attempt to account for the sudden craze of mainstream attention for electronic music in America, veteran DJ Richie Hawtin has pointed to our modern embracing of all things technological. ‘The world is a more technofied society today’, he says, ‘LED lights, smart phones, devices… technology is so ubiquitous’. Perhaps we are now just used to a world in which machines feed creative output, and EDM is simply art catching up with it in popular consciousness.
With today’s rock stars formulating music on laptops to ‘press play’ in order to perform to hungry summer audiences, it’s hard not to become concerned at the digitalised route culture is taking. Web entrepreneurs are responding to this trend, coming up with new ways of providing EDM to fans. Among the various DJ mixing and concert locator apps is an intriguing recent invention called Mixify which allows users to chat to DJs while they perform, as well as providing personalised graphics to go with the set and the ability to show the feed on TV screens in one’s living room. Marketing itself as a ‘virtual festival experience’, this app seems to be striving to herald the end of people even bothering to go to electronic concerts anymore. Although not geared specifically towards EDM artists and being open to any DJ who wishes to communicate with fans while performing a set, this ease of accessibility serves to highlight how electronic music is rapidly shedding its underground club roots, embracing the virtual notion of ‘real time’ interactivity as the be all and end all of musical experience.
While festival culture mutates on one hand to beckon the purely digital sphere and on the other hand celebrates the premixed ‘hands in the air’ experience, we’ve drawn up a small list of summer festivals bubbling under the surface to provide a more authentic atmosphere and richer musical experience.
Emerging as part of an explosion of compact electronic festivals skirting the shores of the Adriatic in recent years, Dimensions has established itself as an underground music lover’s festival boasting ‘a higher technical specification of sound systems than you will find at any other festival of its size’. In addition to an attention to sonic detail, Dimensions is also known and widely lauded for its unique setting in Pula’s Fort Punta Christo; its cavernous system of high walls providing an environment palatable to both stage acoustics and hidden adventures for fans. The opening ceremony is scheduled to kick off in Pula’s well-reserved Roman amphitheatre, alongside this there will be a day-long pre-party featuring boat rides out to the sea. Beach stages open at midday each day and feature acts until 8pm when the fun moves back inside to the fort right up until 6am.
Despite the hype it has attained this festival keeps its tickets limited (last year saw the amount of tickets available drop from 15000 to 5000), maintaining a commitment to an underground ethos.
If your idea of a good time is vibing to Moodymann, Theo Parrish, Boddika, Omar S, Jimmy Edgar, Move D, Mount Kimbie, Space Dimension Controller and Pangaea and over a hundred more sharing an abandoned fort stage alongside some of Europe’s most alluring beaches, then make a date for this September.
Body and Soul (Ireland)
Founded on a holistic ethos and situated among the wooded grounds of Ballinlough Castle in County Westmeath in Ireland, Body and Soul provides a refreshingly enchanting and secluded take of the conventional British and Irish tents-in-a-field-with-music-nearby summer festival. With paths running through mysterious forests linking hidden stages to the rolling meadows of the campsite and the picturesque lake, Body and Soul is a true explorer’s festival. With deliberately confusing routes to stage areas – sometimes misleadingly winding up among the old walled gardens of the castle – this festival is aimed to those who are comfortable with stumbling upon acts and living for a weekend of spontaneity.
Body and Soul has emerged as a festival brand in Ireland, beginning as an autonomous section of the much larger Electric Picnic. The organisers are building upon their fame slowly, focusing on unconventional folk and electronic acts and focusing on spirituality and health-themed activities such as forest hot tubs and meditation venues to provide a pared-down, commercially ignorant vibe.
This year’s line-up welcomes the likes of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Solange, Mmoths, Pantha du Prince and Fish go Deep, as well as a raucous final night party in a secret location among the woods.
While the previous two festivals provide a somewhat intimate musical experience, Kazantip is a festival which has swelled in size to the extent that for two weeks a year, it now considers itself a nation in its own right. What started as a kite surfing competition on the shores of the Black Sea has now developed into one of Eastern Europe’s most unhinged and long lasting summer time festivals.
The Kazantip organisers have formulated an ingenious ‘party republic’ complete with many of the mechanisms of a modern day sovereign state. Referring to their tickets as ‘Party Passports’ (complete with face shot) which give you access to all areas of the venue, Kazantip offers a deeply immersive festival experience among a huge collection of fellow partiers, a tradition which has led to it being termed the ‘Woodstock of the East’.
One of the highlights of the festival is the ‘Freak Parade’ – a well-established procession of attendees in wild costume running through the campsite. As well as this, each Thursday a mass marriage ceremony is held. Brides are invited to dress up in their unique gowns for the event. The marriage licence is considered valid within the Kazantip Republic, with their website assuring potential newlyweds that ‘the Kazantip Institute of Weddings takes its job very seriously’.
Like any functioning republic, visitors to Kantazip are bound by a code of laws – the official Constitution of the Kazantip Republic – which states that the culture of the Republic is free to enjoy without interference from others. While there is no media outlet in the Republic people do post advertisements for parties being organised as well as lost and found notices on various noticeboards around the campsite, preserving the feel of an independent nation.
The festival also boasts a tradition of sunset parties in which bunches of helium filled balloons are passed out to individuals, who are invited to make a wish and release their balloons into the sky in unison as the sun goes down.
If all these activities weren’t enough, Kazantip is also of course renowned for its unrivalled array of music venues, featuring fourteen dance floors pumping music twenty one hours of the day. With this year’s line-up hosting Wanklemut, M.A.N.D.Y., Ricardo Villalobos, Booka Shade, Jamie Jones, Mano le Tough among many, many others, and tickets priced between €80-160 Kazantip looks like one of the best bang for your buck festivals to emerge in years.
July 31 – August 14
Text by Evan Musgrave