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Are Mega-Corporations and Wall Street Killing Electronic Dance Music?

Huge corporations are acquiring rave promotion companies across America, and no one's psyched but Wall Street.

Skrillex performing live earlier this year.
Photo Credit: gillyberlin at Flickr Creative Commons


Over the last two years, electronic music has become bigger across the United States than at any point in history, even at the height of the rave era in the 1990s. For lifelong fans, its sudden rise has been astonishing. For years, while house and techno were born essentially in the Midwest of America, those of us stranded stateside have looked on as electronic became a staple of European pop culture, while we were left seeking out underground clubs and boutique record stores, feeling niche-ier than ever. But now, dance music is so mainstream that the corporate powers that be have rebranded it—electronic dance music, or EDM, which self-respecting dance music fans tend to despise.

As “EDM” spreads, it seems that it could even supplant hip-hop as the country’s dominant youth culture. The evidence is in the music: producer/DJs like Skrillex and Deadmau5 pull millions of dollars in fees, and have become godheads for young fans obsessed with the deep wobble of dubstep. Meanwhile, classic R&B and rap stars like Usher, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj currently rule the Billboard top 10 with singles that sound suspiciously like techno and house.

Where the zeitgeist has changed, so has the money. Gone are the underground warehouse raves of two decades ago (unless you know where to look!). The leading promoters of dance music events are the selfsame huge corporate entities that push the term EDM—and are, some dance fans say, robbing the music of its soul for their own end. (As corporations do.)

This year, the Electric Daisy Carnival, a festival held in Las Vegas, attracted an unprecedented 140,000 people a day. (The slowest day: 90,000.) But the main purveyor of corporate EDM is someone you may have heard of: Live Nation Entertainment, the gianormous entity that was borne of a much-disputed merger between Live Nation promotions (FKA Clear Channel Entertainment) and Ticketmaster, forming what some still see as a monopoly.

This week, Live Nation purchased Hard Events, one of the bigger quasi-underground promotions companies, which throws parties across the country and also puts on a yearly rave cruise called Holy Ship! that’s been a hot ticket among dance fans despite its full-vacation cost. The New York Times:

Big money is flowing into electronic dance music. In the latest example of corporate interest in this once-ignored market, Live Nation Entertainment said on Tuesday that it had acquired Hard Events, a Los Angeles company that has put on popular festivals and concerts across North America.

Yet such investments are fueling fears that a bubble is taking hold in the world of electronic dance music, or E.D.M., jeopardizing the creative and commercial health of the music. The issue has been intensely debated inside the music business, and recently some of the genre’s stars have sounded alarms as well.

Meanwhile, from  early June, a piece titled “ A Concert Mogul is Betting on Electronic Dance Music” detailed how Live Nation’s former mastermind, Robert F.X. Sillerman, is planning to float a whopping $1 billion into the market, investing in already established, smaller concert promoters across the country and letting them bring in the money.

As with every genre before it, corporate influence in a previously untouched genre is cause for handwringing, not least because the dilution of the music seems inevitable the bigger it gets. Live Nation’s acquisition of Hard was especially upsetting, because of Hard’s reputation for supporting underground as well as marquee artists and respecting the purity of the experience. For instance, the upcoming line-up for Hard Summer 2012, in Los Angeles, places big names like Skrillex, Nero and Boyz Noise alongside more boutique artists like Araabmuzik, Buraka Som Sistema and Brenmar. With the influence of Live Nation, one wonders if this sort of juxtaposition will continue to flourish or if ticket prices will become even less affordable?

Deadmau5, for one, seemed verklempt. From the New York Times article: