Sounds of the Future…or Not

Thursday’s New York Times featured a below-the-fold exposition of the fastest growing genre in the musical world: electronic dance. Over the past decade, concert promoters of every kind have been swimming against the tide. The biggest names in planning have come to rely on aging headliners- the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, and the Rolling Stones.

But a quick tour of Dartmouth on a Friday night will reveal a radically new, some might say dubious, taste in sound. Electronic dance music has been around for a long time, but only in recent years has its audience become big enough to fill major venues. In December, the group Swedish House Mafia became the first DJ act to headline Madison Square Garden.

At the same time, electronic styles are rapidly infiltrating the mainstream acts of pop radio. For a musical genre once associated with secret locales and illicit drugs, this is a truly monumental shift. But live electronic music is still a new breed, and its promoters remain fractured and dispersed. 

Having developed on the margins, electronic dance music – high-energy waves of mechanized sound that, at its best, creates a communal experience for a sea of strangers – is dominated by a network of independent promoters.

These promoters are now attracting major attention from investors. The biggest ones have been valued between $20 million and $60 million. But there are worries and fears that the entire genre is a house of cards. And then there is the cultural clash: some EDM promoters have remained true to their underground routes, criticizing the corporate ways of the mainstream concert business. Perhaps they are wise to hold out. But, if the winds of America’s youth change course, it might just be best to take the money and run. 

Thomas L. Hauch