By Preston Maddock
I will admit from the outset that my observations are utterly biased, but I firmly believe the electronic music scene will continue to grow and is quickly becoming an integral part of global culture. Many people from earlier generations don’t seem to understand the phenomenon, and even some of our peers like to mock the music and denounce its apologists as the unsophisticated followers of a fad. I understand the dance scene cynics, but their disbelief in this evolving musical movement is misplaced.
The October issue of Spin magazine has a thorough exposé on what they title “The New Rave Generation.” The birth of electronic music can be traced back to the 1970’s, with the production of the modern turntables and the appearance of avant-garde dance clubs. It was not until the 90s, however, that this scene wrestled a cultural foothold, as places and names now synonymous with the electronic music world became popular in Europe. Musicians like Paul Oakenfold and Prodigy started to gain notoriety, and the Spanish island of Ibiza became the summer sanctuary for a generation of dancing Europeans.
The dance music world has since evolved and become increasingly popular throughout Europe. Yet the trans-Atlantic jump was not made in earnest until relatively recently. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, electronic music in America was genuinely underground. Arguably the best event organizer in music today, Insomniac, was founded in 1993 by promoting dance parties thrown in the warehouses of downtown Los Angeles. The inaugural (and now iconic) Electric Daisy Carnival of 1997 had 5,000 attendees.
Exhibited by the sheer amount of people who attended the most recent celebrated American dance music festivals, this underground movement has become increasingly mainstream: Electric Zoo held on Randall’s Island in New York a few weeks ago had 100,000 attendees, 150,000 people went to Ultra Music festival in Miami this past March, and at this summer’s Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas the audience amounted to almost a quarter million people. This is hardly still a fringe trend.
Nonetheless, an objective observer can comprehend why some would be skeptical of the dance scene’s ascendance. Electronic music concerts and festivals are strewn with lightly clad young bodies bouncing up and down to flashing bright lights. The musicians are not musicians in the traditional sense; their instruments are computers. And most understandably, the music is closely associated with a culture of sex, drugs, and alcohol Americans are viscerally uncomfortable with.
But, remaining objective, aren’t those the same types of reactions people had during the rock-n-roll generation of the 1960s and 1970s, or the hip-hop movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Weren’t these cultural phenomenon’s believed to be societal ills putting fuel to the fire of disaffected youths. It’s ironic, and somewhat sad, that lesson needs to be learned again.
In a column last year titled “The Arena Culture,” New York Times columnist David Brooks dissected a book about the history of western philosophy by Hubert Dreyfus of Berkeley and Sean Dorrance Kelly of Harvard. The authors’ central thesis is the idea that every era has a certain lens it regards humanity through. For the past century, Dreyfus and Kelly claim, we have been in the secular age. As Brooks writes, “there is no shared set of values we all absorb as preconscious assumptions; in our world, individuals have to find or create their own meaning.”
Without a collective sense of spiritual elevation, humans have started to find meaning in moments Dreyfus and Kelly have termed “transcendent wooshes.” Examples of these “wooshes” are things like being a fan at a sports game, attending a political rally, or going to a concert. If we are in an era where meaning is derived from unique moments of elation, the rise of the electronic dance music scene should be no surprise.
The electronic music scene mirrors our generation’s values. We grew up with computers and do not find it inauthentic that music can be made on them. The reliance of the electronic genre on a spider-web of music blogs and websites reflects the value we now place on navigating the cyber world. The music’s worldwide appeal, and its foreign-born luminaries represent the new normal of a globalized world. And the simplicity of wanting to dance with thousands of friends and strangers and experience a “transcendent woosh” resonates with people of all types and persuasions.
The first music concert of my life was going to see The Rolling Stones at Dodger Stadium with my parents. I’ve loved music and concerts ever since seeing one of my father’s favorite bands play that night. This summer before I left to go see Dutch-DJ Afrojack play at the Musicbox in Hollywood, my father stopped me and asked me what the point of going to an electronic music show was? “Aren’t they just standing there pressing buttons?” he asked. I don’t remember what I said, but I wish I had sarcastically responded, “Wasn’t Charlie Watts just sitting there banging a drum?”
Preston is currently a senior at Trinity College in Connecticut majoring in Political Science