When M.I.A. takes the stage Saturday to close Hard NYC, she’ll be performing on land that once exclusively belonged to the royal governors of New York. A crowd in the tens of thousands will descend on this historically important site for a festival of electronic dance music (EDM).
There are bigger festivals, but consider the takeover of a national monument a symbol that EDM has arrived.
EDM is actually an umbrella term, encompassing endless genres from house to techno, dubstep to trance — all of which have their own subgenres. However, regardless of what you call it, a movement that started in Detroit and Chicago has gone national.
For the first time it is being accepted by the musical powers that be, evidenced by everything from EDM artists headlining at Coachella and Bonnaroo to artists like Deadmau5 and David Guetta signing with EMI. “Before when I went to America, it was OK but more of an underground scene,” Guetta said. “Now it’s huge. It became as big as in Europe, but there’s even more excitement.”
“The electronic industry was the first genre of music to really embrace the Internet — for obvious reasons; the music is made on computers,” said Ben Turner, owner of Graphite media and co-founder of the Ibiza Intl. Music Summit. “We could ride through the recession because of how we embraced technology.”
Most electronic artists have taken to spreading their music virally, deemphasizing the typical album release format.
“If you are looking at recorded rights only, it’s not the easiest base to cash,” said Nick Gatfield, the head of A&R at EMI. “Album sales eventually will come, but it’s not the key to breaking artists.”
The big question is whether the boom can be sustained. Everyone has a different answer for why it never worked in the 1990s — the stigma of drugs and ravers, greed, bad collaborations. “Everyone realized electro music culture is in its most comfortable position when it’s slightly bubbling under the mainstream,” Turner said. “What’s happening in the U.S. is a really interesting test.”
Now, the drug issue has reared its head again after a 15-year-old girl died from an overdose earlier this month after attending L.A.’s Electric Daisy Carnival event. Subsequently, plans for a Hard LA event were cancelled.
Yet, most feel these incidents are now tragic blips, not a trend. Those who lived through the genre’s failure in the late 1990s are the prime organizers, trying to make sure the events are not only fun but also safe. Hard NYC will proceed as scheduled and the Hard LA lineup has mostly been added to Hard’s Summer Festival in L.A. on Aug. 7.