The line stretches down the city block and around the corner, growing faster than the security staff can manage. Despite the wait to get inside, everyone in line is smiling. Kayla, 18, and Alex, 20, are dressed in pink tutus and body glitter, shivering as they wait in line.
They exchange nervous laughter as they pass a tiny plastic bag between their hands, dipping their fingers inside and quickly stashing it in their rhinestone-studded bras after getting a taste of its contents.
“I’ve never been to one of these before, but I already love it,” said the younger of the two.“I haven’t been this excited in forever!” Their faces pucker from the taste, but they are laughing.
It is 11:57 p.m., and their night is only just beginning. It’s a cold February Friday night in Minneapolis, Minn., and the hugely popular electronic music duo Big Gigantic
is in town to play for a sold-out crowd at the Skyway Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. Kayla and Alex say that they and their group of friends bought tickets to the show a month ago after seeing the venue’s Facebook posts advertising the event. They are part of a new generation of electronic music fans—a generation that is constantly plugged into social media and into the electronic music culture
. A generation that is causing rapid evolution in a scene long known for existing underground, away from the influences of mainstream popular culture.
Social Media Has Changed EDM Forever
According to a June 2013 study by EventBrite, a major ticketing platform for electronic music events, over 67% of attendees of these events become aware of electronic music shows via social media. “Now it’s all online, on Facebook
and Twitter. Anyone can find out about a show now,” said Jonathan Adams*, 24.
“These shows never used to sell out completely,” said Adams as he sipped a drink and looked out at the young Skyway crowd. “When I was 16 attending electronic music events, you had to hear about it from someone who heard about it from someone else.” No longer is the scene hidden underground, in clandestine after-hours shows whose addresses could only be found on tiny flyers hours before the events took place. Dance music fans are now able to find out about shows months in advance via online platforms, and event promoters are using social media more than anything else to entice fans and elevate attendance to numbers that the genre could never have anticipated a decade ago. Ultra Music Festival
is an example of just how much social media has impacted the electronic music culture. In 2005, attendance at the festival was 45,000. In 2013, that number was 330,000.
As it becomes easier and easier to access the genre and its events via the Internet, there is no question that electronic dance music is quickly shifting away from its underground roots and is becoming fixed in today’s popular culture. There now exists a debate between dance music purists who think the popularization of EDM is killing it slowly, and those who see only positives coming out of the genre finally getting mainstream attention. “I don’t think it’s ‘underground’ versus ‘overground’,” legendary electronic music producer and DJ Carl Cox
told EDM news site WhiteRaverRafting.com. “I just think it’s pop culture versus people who actually love the music. Some of these people have no clue why they are standing in front of these DJs in the first place.” Traditionalists of the genre worry that the newer, younger fans that are attracted to the music are threatening the integrity of the dance music community. “When I first got into the scene there was no "EDM." Now "EDM" is a term that encompasses several different genres that the average "EDM" fan is not aware of,” said Brian Mathison, a 27-year-old engineer living in St. Paul, Minn. “It has exploded in popularity in the past two to three years and has developed its own culture along with it. “I think the major driving factor behind this popularity is the availability of a club scene for the 18+ crowd. The culture is losing its uniqueness, as it is becoming mainstream as well.
’--Peace Love Unity Respect--has been replaced with ‘RAGE’--doing as many drugs and drinking as much alcohol as humanly possible; with this major change there has been a general lack of respect for fellow partygoers.” On the other side of the argument lies Chris Denu, a 23-year-old electronic music producer from Minneapolis. “I think like with most genres that have gone through this growing phase, the popularity of the music just leaves more room for innovation and more room for new people to come up in the scene,” said Denu. “I think in the end this growth in popularity will be very beneficial for the EDM scene as a whole, for everyone involved.” Mihir Pendurkar, a founding member of Twin Cities electronic music promotion group Rowdy Beats, also feels optimistic about the future of electronic music in the face of its recent boom. “I think it's pretty evident, at least through our constant search for new music, that the recent boom in EDM has inspired up and coming artists to become more creative,” he said. “There has been strong criticism about the homogenization of EDM, so I think it's really revolutionizing the culture and music in terms of bringing forth melodies and beats that elicit strong emotions and move people. “Our future is very technology based, and given that there is such a strong emphasis on electronics, I don't see the "bubble" will pop - if anything, it will keep growing and morphing to continue to evoke emotions.” Still, Mathison often sees the younger generation of electronic music fans as a nuisance. He describes them as participating in a constant “cool contest” with their peers, behavior that cheapens the value of dance music and what it stands for. “The way to win this contest is to do lots of molly and wear very bright clothes and sunglasses even in a dark club,” he said. “Its not enough to just do molly, they need everyone to know that they are doing it. So the easiest way to do this is to wear a t-shirt that says it: ‘Where’s Molly?’ or ‘Sex/Drugs/Dubstep’.
“I used to get angry at these people for their ignorance, now I just laugh.” Adams, who often attends shows with Mathison, tends to agree. “Shows now are more targeted towards younger people, through those social media channels, which is fine,” said Adams. “But when you’re young, you’re more likely to make irresponsible decisions about drugs and alcohol which can be obvious at shows. Sometimes it feels like I’m going to a children’s playground at these events.” Andy Hobday of Rowdy Beats recognizes the history of drug use in the electronic music culture but sees past the negative publicity around the issue. “Frankly, people will always find an excuse to use drugs whether they are attending concerts or not,” he said. “Unfortunately, people are quick to criticize the scene without really ever experiencing it for themselves and they don’t realize that there is so much more to the scene than meets the eye. “What often gets overlooked are all the positive aspects of rave culture and the EDM scene, which far outweigh the negative effects,” Hobday said. “These include such things as the community and the bond that is created, the sharing of the love of music and the freedom to truly express yourself with no fear of judgment. “In my mind, the rest of the world actually has quite a lot to learn from the scene. “
Regardless of opinion, dance music fans young and old can agree that most are there for one thing: pure love of the music. “Listening to artists and then exploring more into EDM, I found songs that send chills down your spine, elevate your imagination and bring out feelings that I didn't even know I had,” said Pendurkar. “The thirst for this feeling continues to draw me towards discovering new music.” Even cynic Brian Mathison admits that through his frustration with the current state of the scene, his appreciation for the music remains. “I just absolutely love this music. Electronic music has a range of sound and beat structure that is impossible to find in any other genre,” he said. “The music will always be a part of my life. It’s just the events that are losing their luster.” *Names have been changed.