Over the last 20 years, the expansion and visibility of mega-festivals such Creamfields, Electric Daisy Carnival, FIB, Sonar, Ultra, Sunburn, Tomorrowland etc has placed electronic dance music (and it’s starline of DJs and DJanes
) at the centre of mainstream entertainment. Parallel has been the growth of boutique festivals, much smaller in size, supposedly more intimate, and offering multiple stages, genres, vistas and even decors and cuisines. Massive, big or small, electronic music festivals have reached a clear visible (and audible) state-of-stagnation. SOS electronica !
Be it some exotic ‘cuddle-puddle’ (ecstasy based) festival inside a maharaja’s palace in India or ‘PLUR revivalism’ inside a yet pristine forest in Holland or a Moroccan desert-pool studded with tourists from Europe, the saturation and hegemony is clear, but tacit. The festival curators, bosses, content creators and their corporate buddies are indeed effecting EDM in a detrimental way. Killing the spirit, replicating formats, breeding uniformity, as a scene run amok by cartel based dominance, with talent and diversity dropping off the narrative. Expansionism we call it. Hamburgers or EDM!
The fleeting ethos of solidarity based on music still exists? So what are we opining about? What’s on the horizon?
This article is capturing some emerging opinions and alternatives about the future of electronic music festivals, raves and the need to evolve.
That wanton spirit.
“I grew up in Philadelphia and the rave scene exploded in the city around 1998. Parallel to NYC and LA. The solidarity and freedom many of us found in parking lots, warehouses and illegal spaces was amazing. Without doubt, ecstasy and techno were synonymous for many of us. We were not connected by class nor orientation, but by a fleeting dream. The culture and the code were kind of undefined… I worked as a backstage manager at the infamous Paradise Garage in NYC for 2 years and met some of the pioneers of post-disco and techno, spinning records for a diverse bunch of people every weekend. The club eventually collapsed, as state regulations and the Drug Enforcement Agency imposed severe restrictions and surveillance. The wanton spirit of the rave had crashed… Fast forward 20 years now, the ad-hoc nature of raves and underground clubs has been totally displaced by high rolling entertainment and ‘casino type’ guidelines. The consumption pattern has changed as well, shifting to cocaine, speed and alcohol… and the music is almost unrecognisable, from it’s former raw and unpredictable nature.” states Annabel Gerber, writer and journalist, documenting the rise and fall of electronic music hedonism in America. She adds “beyond the critical and subjective view of the current state of EDM, one has to look at new alternatives and possibilities, collectivise to reclaim the spirit, even if the scope and size is small… always dependent on collective energy and local factors.”
Monkeys flipping onstage!
“one can trace the lineage of electronic music culture over the last 30 years, and it shows many similarities to the rise of jazz, punk, reggae and rock n roll. These localised social movements entered popular culture, resonating and spilling over globally. Yet eventually the nascent energy, some call it soul, was sanitised, re-organised and regulated by big-stake holders. Now the question is how to bring back the organic nature and solidarity? Reinstall the love for music and a diverse inclusive community. Big players want big spectacles. A vast majority of the audience couldn’t care less, if it’s a DJ or DJane or AI-Robots or even monkeys flipping on a table! The stagnation within EDM speaks of the deficiency, elitism and stigmas within the industry. The EDM scene today lacks community ethics. Regionally emerging talent, promoters and audiences do offer new solidarity. plans and consequent action. The internet is a vital space to regenerate, create new currents and heckle the existing conditions. We cannot go back to Detroit or Chicago or Manchester or Berlin with hopes to find the future of techno or house. It has to be local, and locally beneficial, regardless of nationality, race or size. Take places like Iran, Uganda, India and China as examples of where the new horizon or new hopes of techno are in formation… What is going on there? Are we aware?” states Sierra Vandervort, writer and freelance journalist.
Colonised, yet again?
“…that rave is part of a continuum of post-World War II youth empowerment. Much like Jazz, Punk, Soul and Rock. Now that electronic music has had a 30+ year impact on music, dance, fashion, literature, and media. Like jazz, punk, rock and hip-hop, electronic music too has empowered countless young people and artists, for almost three decades. Today EDM festivals pack millions of people annually, not easily dismissed – and, believe me, many people have tried – and remains a stronghold of pop music culture, alongside hip-hop and rock. But we must note, that all of which have been institutionalised, commodified, and, in most cases, canonised. Local electronic music culture around the world is also witnessing commodification and re-colonisation – being invaded or sequestered into homogeneity. Take the example of Nyege Nyege festival in Kampala Uganda – where British online radio station NTS brought a big contingent of DJs in 2016 and 2017 (70% were white english speaking male) – And quick to follow was the globally popular Boiler Room sorority, followed by CTM and Unsound Festival, importing a line of european artists belonging to various cartels. Some may call it diversity, for some it’s simply more ticket sales, yet there is no balance in this kind of institutionally mediated flow, it’s more like a tacit invasion…” states Nico Rosario – Author of ‘Burn This Disco – Stigmas within Dance Music Culture’
“Very often solidarity forms the dominant narrative in many locally active scenes of electronic music. Regardless of genres, spoken languages and geographies. Solidarity generally refers to the degree and type of integration in a society or within a social group. Initially discussed by Emile Durkheim . Historically raves have had a clear anti-system and anti-government stance – Uniting thousands of people, albeit often remaining disconnected, across the world during the 80s, 90s and beyond. Something we hardly see or feel today. But the political statement of rave culture was not geared toward social change, and the rave and EDM scenes cannot be considered social movements in their own right. Yet that narrative and nature itself can transform or transcend. The evolution of this culture cannot be traced inside institutional or corporate spaces, but through solidarity, interaction, activism and even use of specific drugs. Beyond revivalism and nostalgia, one can objectively and actively recreate solidarity and sustainability, re-energising electronic music as a culture, and not just business…” say Philip Kavanaugh and Tammy Anderson at the University of Delaware.
Elusive as ever…
“Looking back at 20+ years of involvement in the electronic music scene of India, made me realise two crucial facets. The zeitgeist so as to say. One, that sounds, tastes, communities and directions always change, always take new forms every few years. New talent is always forthcoming, eager to ride the energy which remains elusive as ever. Invoking hope and action all the time. Two, that a pedagogy of inferiority remains rooted inside the scene, when we see the disparity and imbalance between local talent and the visiting imported DJ. Late 1990s we saw the surge of acid-friendly explorers from Germany, Scandinavia, UK, Israel and America descending on the shoreline of Goa, setting off the first raves and psychedelic sororities in India. Today we witness more than 25 large and small electronic music festivals occurring across the country, where a tacit preference is given to foreign artists and cartel based european and american DJs and DJanes. Indian talent remains a sideshow, and mostly reserved for good looking hipsters and divas playing mainstream electronica. Now the second facet has to change, has to be questioned and even dismantled – if we were to create an inclusive, talent based culture, which actually represents India and Indians” states Audio Pervert, as an artist, curator and part of this on-going dialogue.
A fact that electronic music is often a magnet for moral ambiguity, spoiled identity and incertitude – it has also created space(s) for survival, exploration and escape. That subliminal ethos is not dead. It addresses the needs of each person differently, on her own terms, by her own beat. However that humane facet has gotten robbed and sequestered by commercial interests, nepotism, state intervention and casino-ethics. The next wave of dance music is on its way… or it may already be here (are we listening?). We are poised, once again, but not to repeat this part of EDM history… Stay with the rhythm, the body, your intuitions and most important, freedom.