Dance Music, Vibes & Economic Downturns: An Idea

Then & Now - EDMTunes - Dance Music & Economic Downturns
Image from:

This one’s gonna be kind of out there, but if you stick with me, I think you’ll agree with what I’m laying out here. The tl;dr? The type/genre of dance music popular in the United States is influenced by how good the economy was a year or so before hand, with artists reacting to conditions on the ground and the frustration/euphoria associated with being broke/not broke.

When it comes to surviving in the world of electronic dance music, it’s not just about innovation and talent, but knowing what the crowd wants. This can be as microscopic as the milliseconds in between nailing a drop or transition, and as macroscopic as looking at how Trance has changed over the history of the A State of Trance podcast.

Responding to the audience at your local club is now equally important to knowing & producing what’s getting clicks on the internet. In the late 90’s, if you wanted to hear new music, you headed down to Virgin or Tower Records and put all of the Ministry of Sound compilations and whatever they had into your face. These days, any laptop producer can hop through hashtags & sub-reddits in minutes, reaching the depths of weird musical trends and really bad ideas in the amount of time it used to take me to realize I couldn’t afford the latest UK/Japanese electronic compilation back in 2001.

Some experts think that the audience determines what’s famous, while other more cynical scenesters believe we’re all being spoon fed hits from the big labels, the pop music machine & other preordained winners. While I think it’s somewhere in the middle, there’s a trend that everyone in the industry misses, and it’s directly related to how broke you & your friends are – or aren’t. Naturally, this lags a bit behind the financial events, as it takes time for the culture or your fam to fully experience upward and downward economic pressures.

If you were a fan of dance music around 1999/2000, you know that Trance was THE genre. The major chords, glittery beats and absolutely sugar coated sounds of the late 90’s lead right up to the dot com crash & 9/11. You can see this reflected in the Billboard hits of those years. The heady days of the pre-dot com bubble burst were wealthy, if not a bit irrationally exuberant. The biggest problem the president had was his lie about a blowjob, and the news story of the summer was shark attacks off the coast of Florida. In 2001, The Crystal Method & Jamiroquai dominated and the #1 song in 2002 on the dance charts was DJ Sammy’s Heaven. It doesn’t get more high fructose corn syrup than that.

As the decade wore on, you could track the friction, fear & frustration if you looked. The Chemical brothers, Madonna & Fatboy Slim dominated until 2008. The heady times of borrowing and flipping houses before the crash could be perfectly encapsulated by Tiesto’s Elements of Life, if viewed through a champagne flute.

The sharp downturn took a little time to be felt, but by the time 2010/2012 arrived, you saw the dance charts take a turn, leading to the explosion of dubstep, heavy electro, and big room banger feels. Dirtier, grimy tunes that people raged to all over the country for years. You could almost feel the grime & frustration launching the careers of many EDM household names. The American college scene experienced EDM in ways not seen since before the RAVE Act was passed in 2004, and they were all broke as fuck. The economic downturn broke apart a lot of lives, which puts Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites into context for anyone looking back at the period decades from now.

But of course, this is only a pendulum, as we can see now, the melodic, major chord styled music is returning, with the Swedish House Mafia, Avicii, Zedd & Major Lazer’s Lean On. Lean On has 1.197 billion views y’all. Let’s just take a minute to think about how much we would have laughed in 2012 if you told us a tonally major, non-dubstep, non-big room, non-electro track would be the #1 song of 2015, and that by Spring Break 2016, you’d need to refer to him as “Two-Time Grammy Award Winner Skrillex.”

Some producers had lavish dubstep events, or grimy hard trance ones. Of course, not everyone had events where the median wage matched the BPM of the set list exactly, but you get what I’m trying to say. Can you imagine if someone had tried to play late 90’s/early 2000’s trance in 2012? Or crunchy, ridiculous hardstyle in 1999 at the club where Robert Miles’ Children was on repeat? It wouldn’t have worked, and the crowd would’ve thrown garbage at the DJ.

 I think it’s all in what people are feeling, a combo of their tastes, what they expect from the event, what their friends like & the specific tunes they consume. It’s always possible to stun a crowd with something totally new, and people go to festivals to seek that out. But let’s be real, when was the last time a Drum & Bass or Breaks DJ had a headline set at a festival with 60,000 or more in the USA? There are certain unspoken rules in EDM across the world, and you’ve gotta have a pretty adoring crowd before you break them

I wrote before that we’re seeing the return of Trance as a genre to the forefront of EDM, and I think the continued dominance of that major chord structure and progressive vibe will be prominent this summer. Dreamstate seems to have a permanent home at Electric Daisy Carnival now, and with ASOT, FSOE & other Trance-only events like Transmission in Prague and OZARA in Hungary becoming hubs for the global trance community.

Other major chord-possessing/euphoria inducing genres will see more success as well. Progressive acts such as Prydz are seeing exceptional success. The rumors Swedish House Mafia may be coming out of retirement, as they clearly smell the blood in the water. They, like the best in the industry know where the ears will be this summer, and I bet they’re speculating on cost vs. profit as we speak. If you were at Ultra Music Festival, you saw Martin Garrix prove my point better than this article ever could. Progressive, front & center!

While this synchronization may not have been present at the House in Chicago, or in the Detroit studios where TR-808s & 303s were being used to invent Techno, as the market has globalized, market forces began to take hold. And with them, this odd little trend that I just described. What do you think? Let us know, start a fight with your friends, see what they think.