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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 March 2019

A guide to Electronic Dance Music (EDM) ahead of Abu Dhabi’s F1

As the massive Dutch electronic festival brand Sensation rolls into Dubai, and with a host of arena dance events to come before the end of the year, we take a closer look at EDM.
A DJ Steve Aoki gig. Pedro Fi˙za / Demotix/ Corbis
A DJ Steve Aoki gig. Pedro Fi˙za / Demotix/ Corbis

Trends in music are always changing, and if there is one ­buzzword that has defined the shifting sounds of the 2010s, it is EDM.

The weird thing about it? Electronic dance music has been around for decades.

Of course, ideas are often created first and labelled later – from bebop to hip-hop to punk, the stylistic innovations came first and the names were coined later.

What’s different in this case is that we’ve been listening to electronic dance music, without the three-letter abbreviation since the late 1980s, when the synth-driven offshoots of disco coming out of Chicago began invading European dance floors.

By the 1990s, pop artists had caught on, with everyone from Madonna to U2 incorporating this thing called “house” into their music – so named, it’s said, after the legendary Chicago club The Warehouse, where it was born.

The new wave

The EDM name was coined by the American media in 2010, in a bid to describe the sudden wave of electronic sounds that were dominating the Billboard charts.

The sparks came from Daft Punk’s influential Alive 2007 United States arena tour, and the flame was lit by David Guetta, whose string of smash collaborations with the likes of Rihanna and Snoop Dogg crucially flipped things around to make the DJ, not the vocalist, the star.

Both acts were French, and had been creating music since the early 90s – the US just hadn’t caught on yet.

Much like The Beatles-led “British invasion” of the 60s, it was only after home-grown house had been repackaged as EDM and sold back to the US from abroad that North America turned to its own.

In the space of a few years Deadmau5, Skrillex and Kaskade have accumulated a combined fortune of US$50 million (Dh184 million), largely earned from huge arena gigs at which DJs are embraced as the rock stars of the 21st century.

Soon we arrived at Steve Aoki, who alone boasts a $23m ­fortune.

What exactly is EDM?

In the past two years the term EDM has spread like wildfire – but its sudden arrival means many are confused about where the genre begins and ends.

Within the music community, most use it to identify the new generation of young DJs – largely Dutch, Swedish or American – who have enjoyed unprecedented chart success as electronic producers.

This includes guys such as Avicii, Zedd (both 25), Hardwell (26) and Martin Garrix (just 18) – all are under 30 and happy to embrace a new-wave tag that has made them rich overnight.

Elsewhere, older performers such as Calvin Harris and Guetta, known for producing the electro-house and house-pop that was the template for EDM, have been taken under the genre’s wing.

But many veterans regard the very term EDM as derogatory, a label applied to a new wave of reductive, chart-friendly, teen-baiting music aimed at the mass market.

“Noise” is how established house DJ Mike Bufton describes the genre. The 33-year-old, otherwise known as Mr Mr, has hosted Audio Tonic club nights at Dubai’s 360° for nine years.

“I always call EDM puerile,” he says. “It just doesn’t haven’t any substance, any heart or soul – it’s just noise.”

Critical backlash

Elsewhere, particularly in the US, the term has been adopted as a description for all forms of electronic dance music.

The sudden explosion of dance sounds has forced editors to pay attention to a formerly marginalised genre.

Music that was once the domain of the clubs, and could be easily avoided by the mainstream rock/pop press, is now selling out huge arenas.

Two telling local examples are tomorrow’s Sensation festival in Dubai, which stars Garrix alongside house mainstay Roger Sanchez, and Armin van Buuren’s headline slot at this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after-race concert on November 21 at the du Arena on Yas Island.

Greg Stainer is one half of the UAE duo Hollaphonic, frequently labelled as an EDM act. He points out there is no such genre listed on Beatport, the industry-standard download site that most DJs now use to source new music.

“What we’ve come to call EDM is an offshoot of electro-house,” he says, “which strips away many of the melodic instruments and vocals found in house, instead focusing on a distorted baseline and 4/4 drum beat, building to a drop – a moment of silence – ­before kicking in heavier.”

Another characteristic of EDM is sidechain compression, an effect that effectively turns down other musical elements during the kick drum to ensure maximum audio impact.

Looking forward

How long the term EDM remains in the popular vocabulary will depend on whether it continues to be associated with this festival-ready mutation of electro-house, or whether the abbreviation is embraced by the rest of the world as an umbrella term for all electronic music, as it has by some already, in the same way that rock ’n’ roll or hip-hop were.

Stainer is optimistic the abbreviation will be more than a passing buzzword.

“EDM is a lifestyle brand more than a music genre,” he says. “You’ve got hip-hop, country music – and now EDM.”

But as for the music itself, both DJs agree that what we’re hearing now won’t last long.

“EDM won’t last more than a year, and then it will morph into something else,” says Bufton.

Stainer reckons there’s a little more life left in EDM, giving the genre “another year or two” – before adding with a smile “but house music will be here ­forever”.

rgarratt@thenational.ae

Updated: October 29, 2014 04:00 AM

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