At last week's two-day EDM Biz conference in Las Vegas, DJ/producer/electro-world shaman Tommie Sunshine broke down mainstream EDM's current youth-market popularity in terms of what's to come. There are kids right now listening to electronic music, he said, who are too young to go to a club. There are children in middle school listening to Skrillex who can't even get into the 18+ events.
But these kids, he continued, are gaining knowledge about their favorite artists, and, in the process, developing a real love for the musical culture founded on the premise of PLUR. Essentially, as this generation ages, an already huge scene is going to become even bigger.
“We,” Sunshine said, “are building an army.”
While there is a certain amount of contentiousness (both inside and outside the industry) concerning mainstream's EDM's musical validity, ultimately what Sunshine was saying — and what the kids are feeling — is that EDM has the power to make people profoundly happy. And if those good vibes are trickling down to the kids, well, that's alright.
Perhaps this sounds like so much self-aggrandizing in a roomful of industry insiders. But the happy vibes that EDM spreads are being felt by kids at the arena shows in same way they were felt by previous generations in basement clubs and warehouses. You need only observe an audience of fans singing about turning up the love at any Swedish House Mafia show for proof.
Or take, for example, Chris. He's a 22-year-old scaffolder from Norwalk, CA, who was in Las Vegas this past weekend for his second Electric Daisy Carnival. Formerly mostly a fan of hip hop, Chris previously held the notion that the electronic world was populated by weirdos, a place where he would “probably get an STD” should he venture in.
Then, in 2011, a friend gave him an extra ticket to see Tiësto at the Home Depot Center. “That show opened me up to a whole other thing,” Chris says. “The music hit me. It was totally fucking awesome.” He cries a little as he recalls the event.
In time, Chris began listening to Swedish House Mafia, Avicii, Calvin Harris, Wolfgang Gartner and the like. He lost 60 pounds, which he attributes to learning to do the shuffle dance popular at EDM shows. At these events, he found his tribe. “At shows I was going to before, people would just look at me weird. At EDM shows everyone is so friendly. It's like a family.”
Chris' conversion was complete when he attended his first Electric Daisy Carnival in 2012. The experience was profound. “I work every day so I can come to things like this,” he says. “EDC is my reward. I miss birthdays and holidays to go to this shit.”
For him, attending the rave is important not just because it's absurdly fun, but because it opens him up to expeiences, ideas and people he wouldn't otherwise encounter. “I met people from New Zealand at EDC yesterday. This event brings the planet together.” Also fundamental is the way EDC and EDM make him feel even after he's back in Norwalk. “This music has introduced me to happier ways,” Chris says. “You just feel the love pump through your veins.”
Here lies the rub. Sure, old-school scenesters might be grumpy that their scene has become commodified, and critics might dismiss mainstream EDM as pop masquerading as dance music. But if it's making a positive difference in people's lives, well, that's important not only to music culture, but to society as a whole. As the adage goes, good vibes are contagious and, as Sunshine emphasized on his panel, “No one is having more fun than we are.”
Chris from Norwalk agrees, showing off the smiley face tattoo he got to commemorate his love for EDM. “It gets more expensive every year,” Chris says of the festival, “but it's worth it. It's been one of the best things that's ever happened to me in my life.”