Hear that pulsing sound? That means its EDM week here at DFW.com. Check out our other stories weve been rolling out this week: Lights All Night (peeling back the curtain on Dallas biggest annual EDM party); Tarrant goes techno; a long history of EDM at the Lizard Lounge in Dallas; an EDM glossary; and a look at the EDM documentary Under the Electric Sky.
Its Saturday night actually early Sunday morning and the Lizard Lounge is as jammed as a downtown freeway at rush hour.
The young, casually dressed crowd is packed in to see a guy who, outside of this setting, could be the poster boy for anonymity. His name is Nathaniel Rathbun, but everyone here knows him by his DJ name, Audien. In the world of EDM, shorthand for electronic dance music, this 22-year-old has star power.
Over the course of two hours, Audiens mixes pack the dance floor with bouncing bodies. Some people are jumping, hollering and raising their hands in both hypnotic salute and sweaty submission.
For Alejandro Lamprópulos, its a bit unexpected. Hes familiar with Audiens music, but the 28-year-old computer engineer from Buenos Aires, who lives in France, didnt think he would see DJs of this caliber while on a business trip to Texas.
It surprised me that there was a place like the Lizard Lounge, says Lamprópulos who has gone to EDM clubs or festivals on three continents. I thought there might be EDM nightclubs, but I never thought that important DJs would play there.
Surprises like his are becoming a thing of the past.
North Texas may not sport the sprawling dance palaces and mega-festivals like those found in Las Vegas or Miami, but EDM has become an increasingly bigger part of the musical landscape. From the annual, multiday Lights All Night Festival that takes over the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in December to acts such as David Guetta and Mystery Skulls being added to such rock-oriented festivals as Suburbia and Homegrown, EDM is making its presence felt.
The Lizard Lounge is even planning to open a smaller, satellite branch, 29 Eleven, on Main Street in Deep Ellum, sometime in the fall, while the Lights All Night organizers are putting together occasional events called Lights Up High in what used to be the Ghostbar on the 32nd floor of the W Hotel.
Its all part of a national trend as EDM has become inescapable. Last months three-day Electric Daisy Carnival festival in Las Vegas drew an estimated 140,000 per day. At Californias multigenre Coachella festival, it was the EDM performers that were drawing bigger crowds than rock headliners like Arcade Fire. Bonnaroo, the large-scale Tennessee rock fest, this year featured a crossover super jam session with DJ Skrillex and friends Janelle Monae, Lauryn Hill, the Doors Robbie Krieger, rapper Mystikal and Cage the Elephant lead singer Matt Shultz among others.
And its not just on stage where EDM is triumphing.
At this years Grammys, French DJ duo Daft Punks Random Access Memories album which spawned the hit collaboration with Pharrell, Get Lucky was awarded Album of the Year as well as Best Dance/Electronica Album.
More recently, Coldplay collaborated with the DJ Avicii for the bands latest single, Sky Full of Stars.
Even if you dont know your Afrojack from your Zedd, youve probably heard both of them in Bud Light commercials, or Martin Garrixs hit Animals in the ad for the Madden 25 video game, Diplos Express Yourself in a Doritos spot, or Shy Kidxs Orion pimping Toyota.
Such corporate connections are one reason why top-tier DJs haul in enough to rival the GDP of small nations. In 2013, Forbes estimated that Calvin Harris made $46 million that year, more than Jay-Z and Katy Perry.
Right behind in the Top 10 are Tiesto ($32 million), Guetta ($30 million), the disbanded Swedish House Mafia ($25 million), Deadmau5 ($21 million) and Avicii ($20 million). Yet, with the possible exception of Skrillex who made the cover of Rolling Stone earlier this year , unlike other pop stars, theyre faceless. (Daft Punk and Deadmau5 emphasize the point by hiding their faces inside headgear.)
For Dallas EDM fan Travis Warner, 29, its a sweet taste of cultural revenge. He remembers how blown away he was as a pre-teen when the first Daft Punk disc came out in 1997 and few others quite got it. It was a new sound for some reason that I connected with, he remembers. Everybody made fun of it. Now, [Daft Punk] has got No. 1 albums and Pharrell and everything.
For another fan, Lisa Van Slett, 33, of Dallas, who loves going to festivals, its about the emotional journey. I like how the DJs can manipulate the feelings of the crowd and they make it emotional with ups and downs.
Its really weird how it got super popular, says Fort Worth DJ Max Reeves, 26, whose stage name is Maxy. This whole festival culture is becoming a niche thing to be into. Everyone wants to go to a festival You dont have to be familiar with the artist to go out there. You can just go out, dance, and have a lot of fun.
Its part of a generational zeitgest; its becoming like Woodstock, Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Doug Elfman told USA Today. For people in their twenties, dance music is just part of their culture and language.
Body sprays and big paydays
But that doesnt mean there hasnt been pushback, both from those who dont like dance music at all and fans who feel that a lot of EDM which they say now is full of anonymous vocals, predictable escalating crescendos followed by the required big bass drops has put dance music into an easily marketed corporate straitjacket. Gone is the experimentation of the underground electronic-music scene and the soulfulness of the original Chicago house-music and Detroit techno subcultures from which it all sprang.
Were getting a lot of watered-down stuff, says Reeves. The big-room [style] all sounds the same and its completely saturated the music.
Saturday Night Live mocked EDM with an Andy Samberg digital short in which he is a DJ who, in the shadow of his laptop, plays video games instead of music and fries eggs on his podium while guys in suits bring him big bags of money and the crowd goes wild anyway.
TV host/author/chef/carnivore Anthony Bourdain, on his highly rated CNN travel show Parts Unknown, savaged dance-music culture in an episode on Las Vegas in which he explored how EDM has upended the entertainment landscape in Sin City. He seems to despise it as much as he does vegetarianism. Anointeth thyself with gel and heavenly body spray, he intoned. Let there be high fiveing and the hugging of many bros, for this is the kingdom and the power.
Some of the most scathing criticisms have come from some of the genres biggest stars. Its already been going down the last couple of years, for me, Deadmau5 (real name Joel Zimmerman) told the London Evening Standard recently. Disco had a longer run than EDM has, to be honest about it, and that died in a [expletive] hurry.
Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim whose Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat is an EDM anthem, told the Wall Street Journal in an article titled The Dumbing Down of Electronic Dance Music, that David Guetta and others took [electronic dance music] out of the underground. Everybody is trying to ride that wave. Theyre just trotting it out.
EDM festivals also still labor under a cloud, going back to the rave days, as an excuse for drug taking and dangerous behavior. Back then, the stereotype of the raver was the drug MDMA or Ecstasy. Now, the cliche is to be rollin on Molly, the powdered form of Ecstasy.
In terms of this side of public perception, this hasnt been a good summer for EDM. There have been several deaths among Electric Daisy Carnival attendees through its history; there were two at the most recent edition last month. This follows on the heels of the death of a 15-year-old girl at EDC in Los Angeles in 2010, a 19-year-old Argyle man at the Dallas edition of EDC in 2011, and two people at EDC in Las Vegas in 2012. (Last year, the final day of New Yorks Electric Zoo festival was canceled after two deaths and four injuries.)
In late June, an Avicii show in Boston made headlines after 36 people were sent to the hospital and another 50 were treated on-site for drug/alcohol-related issues.
Back in 2011, one North Texas club, Afterlife, was shut down after Dallas police charged that illegal drug dealing was taking place on the premises.
Everyone is not there for the music, says Chris Hale, aka Chalé, a Fort Worth DJ and promoter. It used to be PLUR peace, love, unity and respect and that used to be real. Now, people make fun of it. Now, its please let us roll.
But Elle Palmer, who runs the EDM-news/reviews site EDM Sauce, says its too easy to sensationalize these cases. I think its a miracle there arent more [problems]. If you had a bar with 140,000 people in it, what are the odds that only 38 people would have to go to the hospital?
Hale thinks what EDM is going through now is no different from what other forms of music have gone through. In the 80s, you couldnt go to a bar without there being rows of cocaine somewhere, he says.
People who come into the EDM scene, they grow out of that, Palmer adds. The people whove been into it a year or two, you see them say that thats not necessary. Lets just enjoy [the group] Above & Beyond and lay on a blanket.
Then theres the simple fact that EDM cant sustain its current level of saturation. Now that even Disney is marketing Dconstructed, an album of Disney classics such as Circle of Life and Main Street Electrical Parade re-imagined by the likes of Avicii and Kaskade, the bandwagon may well be creaking.
Still, dont expect it to disappear entirely. This stuff has been around a long time, says Fort Worths Jeff Langhammer who DJs under the name of St1gma. People are always going to want to dance. We had disco in the 70s, New Wave in the 80s, Trance in the 90s. Now, its electro-house and all that stuff ... Its not going anywhere.