This last weekend saw Canada’s biggest two-day electronic music festival of all time at Downsview Park in Toronto, VELD. The famous Canadian DJ deadmau5 headlined alongside Swedish DJ Avicii, who is immensely popular in Canada.
I recently sat down with the prominent blogger for Toronto’s infamous Guvernment nightclub Sean Moffatt to understand what’s behind electronic dance music’s sudden surge in popularity in the last few years.
He is the co-creator of Toronto dance music blog ibizadreaming alongside walking music librarian Justin Patoka. EDM is now at the point where it has become mainstream and other major artists from other genres are incorporating various forms of electronic dance music. For example, Moffatt says that Avicii remixed a Madonna record and DJ Calvin Harris produced a number one record for Rihanna.
The electronic synthesizer was invented in 1876 by Elisha Gray, who lost out to famous Canadian Alexander Graham Bell for the telephone patent. However, it wasn’t until the widespread introduction of the electric guitar in the 1960s by legendary bands such as The Beatles that electronic music would take off.
It eventually gave way to the creation of disco in the 1970s and electronic dance music throughout the 1980s due to technological advancement. Musicians continued to innovate with electronic sounds over the next three decades. After all, the sounds were sharper and can be regarded as better sounding than acoustic by the keen listener.
Still, EDM remained in the rave and club scene for years until finally breaking away from the underground or alternative scene when branded as “electronica” in the late 1990s as dance music reached number one on the Billboard charts. By this time, the likes of music file sharing services like Napster had become incredibly popular, allowing for the greater exposure of music via a different medium than the compact disc, the cassette, the 8-track, and the record album.
Moffatt believes that the growth in popularity of dance music is due to the proliferation of music on the Internet’s various mediums. There’s no question that MySpace helped fuel electronic dance music to continue to gain more popularity. DJs finally had a conduit to express themselves in a different way outside of the traditionally tightly controlled music world.
The rise of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter alongside music sharing services like SoundCloud only furthered the popularity of EDM. Moffatt says: “Radio chose not to play dance music, it didn’t fit, and before the Internet, file sharing, and YouTube, radio dominated how we heard music. Once artists were given these social outlets they were able to share records and sounds with people who otherwise would not be exposed to them. Dance music has been around for a long time, but it has never had the proper distribution to an audience. Now that exists I think you will continue to see it grow and be accepted as one of the dominant genres within the music industry.”
Other music journalists have perhaps suggested that electronic dance music is the great escape for a millennial generation that has faced high unemployment and poor job prospects. And while there’s no doubt there is controversy over the fact that drug usage has been associated with EDM for decades on end, most people are actually quite ignorant about the genre as there are many sub-styles. Therefore, much like other genres, EDM just isn’t about DJs blasting the same kind of music from behind a computer screen as some people may stereotypically believe.
Moffatt believes that the two most popular sub-genres today are progressive house and trance. Another, DJ Skrillex, crosses over between electro and dubstep.
Skrillex’s style from Moffatt’s experience at The Guverment nightclub is something he believes is currently serving as North America’s “gateway drug” into deeper dubstep sounds. But there are two types of people when it comes to dubstep—those who hate it, and those who love it.
At the time of the interview, Moffatt has also just come back from Tomorrowland in Boom, which is a town outside Brussels, Belgium. At the 8th annual edition, Moffatt saw that sub-genre Q-Dance has a large following as well. Q-Dance focuses on the harder styles of electronic dance music like techno, hardhouse, hardstyle, and hardcore.
While house music generally plays at 115 to 135 beats per minute, techno, trance, and hardhouse are generally played at 130 to 160 beats per minute. Hardcore is anything above 150 beats per minute.
Genres like happy hardcore, drum and bass, and gabber take EDM up to 160 to 180 beats per minute. Industrial hardcore can potentially go up to 350 BPM, speedcore up to 600 BPM and splittercore up to 800 BPM. EDM is further ridiculously known as extracore when BPM exceed 1,000 and can no longer be distinguished as beats but rather as audio tones.
For Moffatt though, tech-house is his preferred sound. “The groovy tracks always flow seamlessly into one another and actually have danceable personalities,” he explains. “They are groovy and oftentimes the sounds you hear as you walk past the bars and patios on King Street (In Toronto). The older I get the more appealing this sub-genre becomes, and it’s at the point where it’s overtaking my iPod.”
In fact, electronic dance music is not only taking over iPods, it is also finally being played on the radio, by smartphones, tablets, and personal computers.
Electronic dance music has incredible relevancy to the tech world as the speed of innovation and invention continue to accelerate. Tech entrepreneurs are often pretty crazy and work outlandish hours, so they may need an accompanying crazy sound. There’s no question that electro could pump up a company on a daily basis and could become the choice of music at a groovy startup as well. That’s not to mention that in the coming years we could see all kinds of innovation and invention in music unlike prior decades with an ever increasing number of mediums and technologies available.