The 20teens are seeing the return of electronic dance music in a big way. In the late 80’s and 90’s, house music and other electronic styles in a few cases transitioned into the mainstream, especially in countries outside the U.S. But today, names like Avicii, Swedish House Mafia and Tiesto are not only on the tongues of electronic dance music (EDM) lovers. Both Deadmou5 and producer-DJ David Guetta performed at last year’s Grammy Awards, and dubstep artist Skrillex won three out of the five Grammy nominations he was up for.
In the past four years, five new EDM festivals have popped up stateside: Identity Festival, the Electric Zoo Festival, Dance.Here.Now.Series and Dayglow, and they attract upwards of 100,000 revelers. EDM is no longer a niche carved out by DJ’s, fans and a few record labels. Its artists are fusing with pop, hip-hop and rock artists entering the mainstream and giving fans of other genres the bass-thumping, heart-pulsing beats they were too young to get 20 years ago. Turn on a pop radio station today, and it’s difficult to find a song not infused with elements of dance music.
When a friend was in town recently to see Holy Ghost at Chicago’s Metro, I tagged along. The New York-based take the stage with a group of six or seven other guys to play their brand of synthpop, essentially EDM but with real instruments, too.
Before the show, we went to Raw Bar and Grill next to Metro. You could see the place was in transition, trying to swim with the Wrigleyville fishes, but having some difficulty wiping away decades of supper club patina, and not being sure it wants to. But it’s difficult not to take pleasure occasionally in the institution of the supper club. In early autumn, my wife and I were in Door County, Wisconsin, the peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan where people from places like Chicago go to spend money in the summer, and a beautiful place. When we found a neon sign as big as a house in front of a place calling itself a supper club, we had to inside. It was called Florian II.
We walked through several dining rooms added on over the years. They still served mini loaves of bread and baked potatoes, and you could see the years on the waitresses (not servers) by looking at their eye shadow, like counting the rings of a tree. Raw Bar and Grill was like that. In the midst of individually wrapped pats of butter and idiosyncratic décor was a small stage where Ronald, who had worked there for 14 years, played piano. Though we were one of two parties in the place over the dinner hour on a Friday, he still played. Sinatra, Nora Jones, the “Hillstreet Blues” theme. Afterward, he came around to the tables to make sure we were all enjoying ourselves.
Watching young people on the dance floor after that was a bit shocking. I was not there to dance, maybe because I had done enough of that sort of thing in years past. My interest was in being at a show again and watching what were fine musicians. There were tech geeks in t-shirts manning synthesizers, but it was the drummer’s miracle-working that at times left my mouth agape. Another guy had six different keyboards and worked like an amphetamine alchemist, on to the next sonic transfiguration before I could realize what just happened. I must have been the only person in the middle of the floor not moving and just watching. I thought I caught the lead singer’s eye a couple of times, and the look on his face was one of someone who fears they are being stalked. Was I about to pull out a pistol I’d smuggled in, because if I couldn’t have that lead singer, no one could?
When a woman beside me stopped dancing to ask if I was “okay,” what she meant was “why aren’t you doing what I’m doing.” Yes, why wasn’t I? I saw King Crimson with my father a few years ago in a big auditorium with a lot of other people his age. There were chairs. Was I just not moved by the spirit of EDM? Standing in the middle of a dancing throng, was I stumbling headlong into middle age? Was it more enjoyable to watch Ronald play the “Hillstreet Blues” theme? Well, yes. Also the sound at the Metro is crap.