The Big Debate: The future of dance music
With the velvety curtains of summer 2018 drawing to a close, another season has passed through the somewhat formulaic pattern of the dance music calendar, a flurry of events pierced annually by a series of jewels in the industry’s crown. The spacings between the sunshine of March’s Miami Music Week madness, and ADE’s blustery October are sandwiched nicely between the excitement of IMS and another Ibiza season, with juggernaut festivals like EDC Las Vegas (May/June), Tomorrowland (July) and Creamfields (August) acting as the filler through our warmest months. But as this particular summer ends, dance music balances on the most delicate of tightropes and finds itself at a junction of uncertainty for the first time in the past decade…
THE RISE OF HOUSE
Music, like fashion, or pop culture in general, has a habit of working in set chunks of ‘trend’, and like fashion, or pop culture – the trends are dictated by the innovators of the industry. When the rollerblade disco-house of the 1980’s exploded through Chicago and found itself in New York’s Studio 54, few could have ever imagined the impact it would have on the next half-century. Whilst Detroit’s techno scene continued to boom on account of the gruff minimalist elements of the music, an altogether different vibe was breaking out in the UK at the start of the 90’s, as ‘Acid House’ warehouses and illegal raves became common practice across London’s weekends, and Manchester’s infamous venue, The Hacienda. With drugs such as LSD and yellow smiling emoji symbols looming large, the sub-genre made way for the trance breakthrough towards the end of the century, with acts like Paul van Dyk, Ferry Corsten, Paul Oakenfold, and Tiësto helping to secure a more commercial flavour for the lasers and booming ice cannons found at famous venues like Amnesia Ibiza; Home to the legendary Thursday night ‘Cream’ residency for more than 15 years.
“ELECTRONIC DANCE MUSIC”
When ‘EDM’ exploded at the tail-end of the noughties’ first decade, dance music was catapulted into the mainstream in a way never seen before. Acts like Swedish House Mafia, and Calvin Harris helped merge the lines between dance and pop, and within weeks, tracks like ‘Miami 2 Ibiza’ and ‘I’m Not Alone’ were dominating the summits of charts worldwide, with lyrics being bellowed across the dancefloors of commercial clubs and student unions on Saturday nights, weekly. Sensing a shift in momentum for the industry, French superstar David Guetta – who had previously enjoyed a fairly underground flavour – performing on Space Ibiza’s terrace with vinyl sets until sunrise – scored 3 consecutive UK number #1 singles in the space of just 2 months via the releases of ‘When Love Takes Over’, ‘Gettin’ Over’, and ‘Sexy Chick.’ Though many corners of the industry criticised Guetta for amalgamating the lines between R&B, and dance, through collaborations with acts like Kelly Rowland and Akon, the fact remains – David proved himself an innovator during a time of change, and shaped the course of dance music forever.
Those who succeed in this game are widely praised – and often criticised – for adventure, and artistic diversity. When Swedish superstar Avicii turned up to Ultra Music Festival in 2013, he was undoubtedly at the peak of his powers. Bringing a fresh melodic sound like no other heard before, here was the poster boy for the tipping point of an EDM bubble which showed no signs of bursting. Never had electronic music been at such forefront of mainstream media coverage, and in the ‘Levels’ producer, a face had been found for a man capable of dominating the genre for many years to come. What followed was nothing short of iconic, with Bergling deciding to debut a genre-change to the biggest dance festival in world music, leaving the Miami crowd open-mouthed, as he played track after track of a country & western-infused unreleased new album, in place of his singalong anthems like “Silhouettes” and “I Could Be The One”. The fuss the fiasco caused is legendary. Dance website Dancing Astronaut labelled the set “too advanced for dance music”, whilst Avicii himself issued an official statement in the aftermath that read:
“Wow, looks like I stirred up some controversy with my set Friday night at UMF. Seeing a lot of people who don’t understand. I really wanted to switch things up and do something fun and different, as I always strive for, and this album is about experimentation and about showing the endless possibilities of house and electronic music. My album is certainly not “country”, and people have gotten hung up on an instrument we used for the live cover of a song. People will soon see what it’s all about.”
Within months, the world had come round to Tim’s line of thinking, with ‘country’ hit ‘Wake Me Up’ gaining multi-platinum certification, racking up almost 1 billion Spotify streams in the process. A pioneer was born.
THE FALL OF EDM
With 2010-2013 widely acknowledged as “the golden era” of EDM, the retirement of Swedish House Mafia (more on that later), ushered in a range of new sub-genres, as Hardwell’s ‘Dirty Dutch’ sound saw the big-room producer claim the #1 spot in DJ Mag’s widely controversial poll. With artists such as Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, and Martin Garrix, both adopting similar styles until the latter’s switch to more melodic tones in 2015, the DJ Mag winners for the next 5 years all resulted in ‘Big-Room’ champions; a clear sign of the changing times in the industry.
With the past half-decade pierced by the introduction of ‘Future House’ around late 2013, thanks to producers such as Oliver Heldens and Tchami, as well as the rise of the trap movement in the United States, or the influx of tech-house which surrounds us currently, the dance landscape has shifted numerous times, lurching dramatically through several sub-genres as it looks to discover one true identity at the aforementioned crossroads with 2019 approaching.
OLD IS THE NEW ‘NEW’
One particular trend we’ve seen in more modern times has arrived in the form of retro-sounding electro synthwave (Ryan Gosling’s ‘Drive’ soundtrack etc). Right now, the 80’s has never been more current, with Netflix originals like ‘Stranger Things’ proving a gigantic hit across all corners of the globe, and minimalist designs, fonts, logos, and clothing, all proving hugely popular. Movies like ‘Bladerunner 2049’ or videos like Virtual Self’s ‘Ghost Voices’ all rely heavily on gorgeous deep purples and blues, as seen in Third Party’s ‘Midnight.’
The elephant in the room here, of course, arrives in the shape of three circular dots which have already ensured that 2019 will be dance music’s most exciting year to date. The return of Swedish House Mafia in Miami this March not only signalled the eagerly anticipated comeback of arguably the biggest dance act of all time, but also promises to herald a new dawn for the industry, and the sounds that will shape the future. If musical trends are influenced by pioneers, then the Swedish trio have certainly already bookmarked their place in the pantheon of modern greats. Selling out New York’s Madison Square Garden venue, or shifting 65,000 tickets to their 2012 show at the MK Bowl, the Scandinavians achieved feats never before seen in dance music, and with their absence (remarkably) actually growing their reputation, the trio have smashed through the glass ceiling of the ‘DJ/producer’ category and find themselves as bonafide global superstars on the Beyonce/Drake/Justin Bieber scale.
SWEDISH BASS MAFIA?
Whilst many dance music fans clamour for the golden age of progressive house to return (Alesso was even the subject of online abuse by passionate fans who felt the producer had abandoned his progressive roots during his Tomorrowland weekend one performance), a resurgence in the movement led by the Swedes might not not quite pan out the way that fans who long for ‘Greyhound 2.0’ initially expect. Judging by the sound of Axwell Λ Ingrosso’s latest track ‘Behold’ and the various heavy tunes dropped in the trio’s Ultra set, (Salvatore Ganacci’s ‘Antidote’ remix, ‘Cobra’ by Magnificence etc), 2019 could see the musical landscape shifting to a much bassier tone than many may initially predict…
Either way, the exciting and unpredictable nature of dance music’s future is #ToBeContinued …
— 1001TracklistsTV (@1001TLtv) August 25, 2018
Image Credit: Rukes.com