The Return of the Electronic Dance Music Craze

Gabriella Tutino


Avicii. Swedish House Mafia. Tiesto. These big-time names are on the tips of everyone’s tongues, as each DJ and the music they represent is becoming more prominent and more popular in today’s mainstream music. Example? Both Deadmau5 and producer-DJ David Guetta performed at this year’s Grammy Awards, and dubstep artist Skrillex won three out of the five Grammy nominations he was up for – Best Dance Album, Best Dance Recording, and Best Remix.


In an interview with MTV at the Grammy’s, Guetta said, “It's really exciting, because they wanted to acknowledge electronic dance music, and I think it's amazing for our scene to finally get the respect that I think it deserves.”


The presence of electronic dance music (EDM) at the Grammy’s is just one of the many events pointing to the rise of the music genre. Within the past three years or so, there has been an increase in dance-music festivals and EDM artists at music festivals Stateside: Identity Festival (which debuted in 2011), The Electric Zoo Festival, Dance.Here.Now.Series, Dayglow.


These festivals attract crowds of sometimes 100,000, depending on the size of the venue.


But EDM hasn’t just carved out a niche for itself in the music industry. EDM artists are fusing with pop, hip-hop and rock artists to seamlessly blend into the mainstream, all while delivering a distinct bass-thumping, heart-pulsing dance beat. Turn on almost any Top 40 Radio Station and it’s difficult not to hear a pop song infused with elements of dance.

David Guetta has numerous singles this year, collaborating with some of hip-hop’s most prominent artists: Nicki Minaj on the track “Turn Me On”, Rihanna in “Who’s that Chick?” and Usher in “Without You.” And if artists aren’t laying down their vocals to a dance track, they’re calling in musicians to help produce their albums. A recent example would be the pairing of rock artists Korn and dubstep hero Skrillex for the album Path to Totality, in November 2011.


What marks this recent rise in popularity for EDM? The roots of electronic music dates back to the 1980s, specifically with the invention of the Roland MC303 Groovebox. According to the article The groove in the box: a technologically mediated inspiration in electronic dance music, the predecessors of the Groovebox were machines that “used analogue sound synthesis to produce rhythms and bass and drum sounds.” These systems, known as the Roland TR-808 and TR-909, were used by hip-hop and electro-funk artists Run DMC, Afrika Bambaata and Grandmaster Flash; the rap and techno music these artists produced weaved its way into the mainstream in the mid-90s.


With the introduction of the Groovebox in 1996, the focus shifted to the digital sound generation. The MC303 gained popularity as a composing tool; some artists used it to live DJ sets, while others would mix and pattern tracks.


The article also notes that users of the Groovebox began to apply the following labels to the music they produced--house, techno, trance, electronic music. These new music styles were similar to the ones suggested by the Roland Corporation—techno, jungle, acid, hip-hop and other dance styles. It was early music experimentation.


Newly formed music genres, usually a combination of hip-hop and techno, took hold in Chicago. There, dance groups such as House-O-Matic would form and compete in clubs and venues. The house culture really took flight in the underground scene in Chicago; some of the more famous “trax” are Phuture’s “Acid Trax,” and Frankie Knuckle’s “It’s a Cold World.”


What is remarkable about the EDM scene is how it has shifted geographically and become transatlantic. EDM had at some points, penetrated the mainstream in the United States, but it was still considered an underground scene. The shift and eventual spark came when songs like “Move Your Body” by Marshall Jefferson became popular in Europe. This export started the dialogue of EDM between the continents. One example is the popularity of the English group Soft Cell, known for their single “Tainted Love.” The song became a U.S. hit in 1982; 24 years later, Rihanna releases the single “S.O.S” which samples the 80s synthpop beat. But by the time the 90s were in full swing, rock and its forms—grunge, alternative, metal—were getting on-air coverage.


While EDM was being passed back and forth between the U.S. and Europe, it didn’t really re-emerge onto the Stateside music scene until 2007. In an interview with The Huffington Post, DJ/producer Alain Macklovitch (A-Trak) credited Daft Punk’s Alive 2006/2007 for introducing American kids to electronic dance music—the French EDM duo played at Coachella in California and Lollapalooza in Chicago.


Since then, it has been easier for European DJ’s to perform sets in the United States. More and more singles that fall under the ‘vocal trance’ category have made their way onto the radio; collaborative efforts between American artists and European DJ’s have proven to be the most popular so far. EDM, it seems, is here to stay.

Additional photo: Maiqual Borges, Flickr

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Vadimir Pavlovich, Flickr
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