EDM—What is it and why are the Americans so hyped about it?

Drum and Bass | Friday 14th June 2013 | jim


EDM—Electronic Dance Music—American Rave Music, Popular Dance Music, Revolutionary, Origins of Dance Music, SHIT!

Whatever you want to call it or describe it as there is no doubt that these three letters—E—D—M—are causing quite a buzz on the internet and across music blogs, especially with a newer generation of the ‘rave scene’ and in particular in America.

But, what is it, and should people in the dance music industry be worried about it?

To state that EDM is a new thing seems a little naïve. In reality it stands for electronic dance music and this was, arguably, first created back in the 70s by Giorgio Moroder and vocalist Donna Summer with the song I Feel Love (a ground-breaking dance hit, which had been created with no traditional instruments). With the introduction of synths into the dance music scene EDM or electronic dance music had been created. But the acronym EDM wasn’t really used until the 90s and even then only really in the US. In the rest of the world they were content using the actual phrase, or using the sub genres which music under the huge umbrella genre of EDM really came under, such as house, techno, trance etc.

To begin with the rave scene acted as a counter to the alcohol-fuelled ‘nightclubs,’ through which popular music pumped. These warehouse parties, or acid house raves and the outdoor festival scene in the late 80s and 90s were the proving grounds for electronic dance music, and were the place were underground electronic music progressed, changed and was experimented with. Of course as with all underground music some of it broke into the mainstream with artists such as the Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk, but despite breaking into the mainstream all these artists kept their roots at heart.

Fast forward to today and the phrase EDM seems to have been mutated and bastardised somewhat, leaving a bitter debate in the dance community as to what is going on. The EDM scene, which has become a genre in its own right today, despite actually just standing for electronic dance music, is mostly dominant in the US.  

The US has taken rave culture from the rest of the world who created it, and Americanised it. EDM is super-high energy, and some would describe as depthless, and just a constant pounding of electronic mindless drivel. On the one side of the argument some would say that EDM is diluting dance music and failing to introduce anything new to the audience, and others would describe EDM as truly revolutionary and buzzing with creative energy.

As someone fairly passionate about EDM I think I sit on the side of main European dance music fans and producers, and consider it to be fairly depthless. I understand the appeal of this high-octane madness, that has a sister genre called brostep, but I don’t think you can really engage with it and really consider that a real creative drive was needed to create it.

Artists such as David Guetta, Skrillex, Swedish House Mafia and Deadmau5, while not all American and don’t all have the style do all come under the umbrella of EDM. David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia are both European and both huge mega stars in their own right and there is no doubt that they are super-talented music producers, but as they've gained success (especially in America) their music seems to have become bland and repetitive. Once trailblazers in their individual fields they now ride the crest of the finance/fame wave that is sweeping across dance music and into the mainstream. But the wave is sure to break, and the high water mark it leaves will be just an impression of what EDM was, there will be real substance.

Skrillex and Deadmau5 back up an American (and actually Canadian) side of the music, and while they also are both creative and talented also create mind-numbingly intense songs. There is nothing wrong with intensity, as long as you have breaks or think it may be going somewhere, not just repetitive drops and calms that seem to have no real point. Looking at comments under a Skrillex song that seemed to break his normal bro-step mode, the ‘real’ Skrillex fans began screaming out: ‘where is the drop’ as if they had lost a member of their family in a maze of delirium. I think though what people really should have been saying was at least he can actually produce other types of music. Today with the rise of computers and music production software, and the ease of being able to download programmes illegally, anyone can make music. I think the real difference is making music that has depth, and control and a sense of progression. But then again, all props to the undercut, greasy-haired guy, he has found a type of music he can pump into those drug-filled kids in America, and he is making mad amounts of money out of them, and really I wish I was him.

Dance music journalist Ben Gomori, in an interview with Mixmag, said that ‘in the US mainstream, dance music is once again being exploited. I simply mean that I don’t believe that many of its most commercial protagonists give a flying-fuck about it or its long-term future. As we’ve seen with hip-hop, the American music mainstream has a way of taking something incredible that it originally created and bastardising it almost beyond recognition.’

I think Ben has hit the nail on the head. Dance music began in the underground as did hip-hop, and was all about progressing music and pushing the music to something else, but EDM is not. It is a melange of other genres, not a progression, and it is not going anywhere. It may have seemed new, and out there, to begin with, but its not really progressing.

Ben continued to sum this up stating: ‘If this is the beginning of a brave new world that sees electronic pop take more risks and become more sophisticated, then great. If it provides a gateway into less commercially minded, more underground dance music to millions of Americans then even better. But at this point I don’t feel hugely sanguine about the situation. I see an increasing polarisation, with EDM continuing to become a caricature of itself until it implodes into nothingness.’

As Daft Punk described EDM, ‘it is like a energy drink, its very efficient at adding energy to the body, but it lacks depth.’ You can have energy in the music but no soul. As with all caffeine highs there will have to be a crash, and unless EDM takes a turn and changes itself up, this crash will leave nothing but a mind-dubbing ringing in the ears of a distant drop from yet another mass-produced EDM masterpiece.


Written by Jim Roberts