The rise of Electronic Dance Music (EDM)

It was the summer of 2004, a sunny day, the opening ceremony of Athens Olympics and DJ Tiesto was supposed to headline this. Such was the power of his performance, the Dutch athletes started dancing in front of the DJ booth and had to be moved on by officials, and a young 10-year-old watching on his TV went bonkers, and this was how I was introduced to the EDM scene. It has been 13 years now I have been listening to electronic music, and I still think that it is one of the best music genres ever to be made.

(And for the persons who think Every ‘Too Taaa Tiii’ sound is called Trance, this article is apparently not for you.)

EDM is now worth $7.1 billion, or roughly 60% more than what it was four years ago. I started to listen to trance around 2005, and it was almost a closet musical enjoyment. I was an Indian teenager, and I knew very few people who shared my preference for electronic music – it was a fringe genre at best. Fast forward to college in 2012, and ever since electronic music has been very well in or close to the mainstream. From David Guetta to The Chainsmokers, it is not only acceptable but commonplace to enjoy and prefer electronic music.

So how did this happen? If it was so uncool and almost nerdy to listen to electronica in 2005, how did that change ten years later? Is the music inherently so different, or did people decide to change their taste?

EDM is a relatively new word, though. I probably never heard of it until the early 2010s. Anyway, what did we call EDM in the 2000s, then? Most people knew it as techno. The general population in the 2000s didn’t really distinguish subgenres of electronic music like we do today(to be honest, most people still don’t do). There just wasn’t enough critical mass of each variety to need more words. If it sounded like video game music, it was techno. Some knew it as electronica, too. In that epoch, this was the reigning umbrella term, synonymous to us saying electronic music. I believe it was spread by niche “electronica” websites (the Geocities type) as well as the now-defunct and other amateur music production sites, where artists were asked to pick from a scanty list of genres to classify their creations — often it was a choice between techno, dance, and electronica.

In the early 2000s, amidst a lot of R&B, boy bands, there was Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Outkast, and such artists whose music revived a bit of the “dance” aspect in the mainstream. Maybe not quite four-to-the-floor, but the production was increasingly picking up elements that already existed in “modern” electronica: compressed kicks, percussive delays and verbs, synths and pads. There was also Daft Punk, though, in my neck of the woods, they didn’t get big until their Discovery album in 2005 (and gained another surge of followers post-Kanye); and Eric Prydz’s Call on Me, which played about 5 times a night at any given fraternity. I believe that both of these artists while trying to go “retro”, helped bring the future. Artists like Fatboy Slim and The Prodigy had started to produce electronic music in the late early 90s, but it wasn’t till the late 90s, the rave culture began to boom, and so did the electronic music. While grunge (and it’s inherent rejection of electronic and synthesised instruments) was taking over the radio in the 90s, electronic music maintained popularity and grew in new ways. Bands such as Skinny Puppy and Kraftwerk firmly set up the Industrial genre (which add metal-style guitars to primarily electronic production).

So much was going on in electronic music in the 90s that I just can’t even summarise it. Bands like Electronic, LA Style, C&C Music Factory, The KLF, The Prodigy, and many others I can’t remember right now had genre hits, MTV hits, and minor crossover hits. All this while the technology was advancing so quickly most professionals didn’t even try to keep up with it (and many outright rejected it, and still do to this day). This was laying the groundwork for what we’ve seen in the last 15 years, like dubstep.

Then began the massive club culture which actually has been the staggering reason for the rise of EDM. People drink, want some catchy tunes to play and dance their butts off without actually knowing what genre they are even listening.

Feel free to call me an elitist, but kids these days don’t actively love or even like electronic music, they like what’s popular. And with the technology we have today, it’s incredibly easy and inexpensive to make ‘electronic’ music. If I were to encapsulate this in a few words, I would say popular music, in general, has become more electronic by nature. But people haven’t started listening to more electronic music.

Take this with a granule of salt as I believe all of today’s mainstream electronic music(pop music) is commercial fodder to generate revenue.

EDM has only recently stepped into the limelight. The genre, however, is hardly juvenile. It began as an underground movement in the 1980s. Similarly to how hip-hop music crossed over into the mainstream in the late 1990s and 2000s, EDM is now coming of age, and in a big way. A generation of music fans is shifting their musical gaze from the hip-hop driven popular music that dominated the 2000s, to the furbish sounds of house, trance, dubstep, glitch, breaks, and the dozens of other sub-genres that fall under the kaleidoscope of EDM. The barrage of attention surrounding the business of EDM demonstrates the current power of the genre and the direction in which key voices are wagering it will go. The trend has attracted the attention of entertainment magnates and entrepreneurs across the world.

The burgeoning of EDM has impacted pop music itself, and an increasing number of stars are turning towards electro beats to fuel their hits. And the only man responsible for this drastic change is DAVID GUETTA. Yes, you have to owe it to him for changing the face of the pop industry and instead infusing it now with catchy disco beats. He cultivated mainstream success by collaborating with stars including Nicki Minaj, Akon, Kid Cudi, and Fergie.

For the electro-elite, live shows are the juiciest source of income. Unencumbered by most “traditional” band equipment, the cost of touring for DJs is meagre. Meanwhile, the demand is skyrocketing. And not to tell, the insane amount of money made by DJs nowadays.

Calvin Harris made 66 million dollars during the past 12 months, taking his net worth to 190 million dollars, The Chainsmokers made 38 million dollars last year while you were humming that song ‘In the backseat of your Uber’.

And not to mention, the evolution of dance music festivals, I already have written an article about Tomorrowland, they have created those places no less than fairylands where one can go and forget the worries of his life and just enjoy some kick-ass music. Festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival, Ultra Music Festival and Dominator, every year get almost half a million audience, shows the popularity of EDM.

India, on the other hand, has too enjoyed its fair share of the genre’s popularity and the money it brings in. However, if my personal views are to be taken, the rise of EDM in India can be narrowed down to only one person: Nikhil Chinapa. The dude is solely responsible for India becoming a global EDM hub, Nikhil actually has brought almost 60 out of Top 100 DJs to India. Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike, Hardwell, Axwell, Armin Van Buuren, Steve Aoki, Above and Beyond, David Guetta, Marshmallow, deadmau5 and even the Dubstep God Skrillex. All have had their shows in India with their fans dancing to their tunes and going crazy at the concert venue, such is the love for EDM here. We have our own global festival called Sunburn attended by over 50,000 people every year having a massive lineup of Top DJs of the world with a blend of our own desi ones too.

Bollywood too has been hit by this EDM wave with almost every music director adding catchy dance tunes to make their music famous. Bollywood actually embraced electronic music way back into the 70s and 80s using Flanger machine effects. Bollywood soundtracks became a behemoth music lab, and the best experiments were catalysed by disco. Bappi Lahiri produced some disco bangers in the 80s, well that goes with his personality too. Roland Jupiter-8 and 303 synthesisers, as well as Roland’s 808 drum machine, were the machines that led to the making of Charanjit Singh‘s Synthesising: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat, the world’s first acid house record.

Meanwhile, during the same period in Goa, French DJs Laurent and Fred Disko, joined by San Francisco native Goa Gil began to throw parties with post-punk and electronic body music. The DJ’s edits for travelling and returning hippie partygoers to the beach started to increase manifold each year. The music began to include trippy psychedelic mandalas and celestial ethnic samples woven in with minatory, sinister vocal exhortations. The music was constructed on the industrial, new beat and high energy music Germany enjoyed before techno. It was named Goa trance. But the genre really took off after constraints preventing Israelis from entering India were lifted in 1988. It created a diaspora of knapsackers who revelled in an open-air dance scene. The gigs included plenty of hash, psychedelic drugs, fluorescent cultural artefacts and thus rose the prominent party scene of Goa, making psychedelic trance famous on the beaches of Vagator, Candolim and Anjuna.

Over in the capital, musicians Gaurav Raina and Tapan Raj, friends since primary school, set up the
MIDIval Punditz in 1996. And two years later, they organised the first Cyber Mehfil, at a tiny venue called Scribbles in South Ex, where they DJed drum & bass, breaks and big beat, genres that had no room to breathe in Delhi because we were too busy listening to “Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast”.

But 1998 marked a turning point for DJs. That year, the first Disco Mixing Championship [DMC] to test the technical proficiency of DJs on turntables was organised in India. A year later, Times Music logged on as a co-sponsor and took it over in the 2000s. They renamed the event to Times War of the DJs, awarding the winner with recording contracts and music videos. For the first time in the history of the scene, the DJ was not simply an anonymous, solitary figure behind a console, but the centre of attention. DJing was being written about and backed by the country’s leading newspaper. It granted the DJ legitimacy and in many ways was responsible for it being a genuine career option for anyone willing to devote years to it.

To reflect this development, in 1999, Ketan Kadam and his business partner, DJ Vishal Shetty, set up Fire and Ice. It was Mumbai’s first super club, establishing the format that most nightspots in the city still follow. Tuesday nights for electronic music, Wednesday nights for Hip Hop and weekends for their Chandni Bar Nights. Clubs like Velocity tried to replicate the formula but failed.

But the holy trinity of the EDM scene as we know it today came together at a one-off club night in 2003 at Rock Bottom in Bombay. DJ couple Pearl and Nikhil Chinapa with their friend Hermit Sethi, founded Submerge. Coupled with the influence of Sunburn from 2007, It was a configuration that allowed Chinapa, Pearl and Sethi to bring some much-needed organisation to the scene. Alcohol companies started to surrogate advertising by organising music festivals.

A decade after Submerge and six years after their affiliation with Percept and Shailendra Singh, and following an embittered split, Chinapa tied-up with LIVE Viacom 18 to and set up VH1 Supersonic in 2013. It was another option and rival to Sunburn that proved that the Indian EDM scene had more than just one choice. And when Twisted Entertainment, a fresh event management company launched Enchanted Valley Carnival, a three-day festival in the plush Aamby Valley township between Mumbai and Pune, India’s EDM fans found themselves going bonkers.

And not to mention, we have also been producing some kick-ass EDM artists whose music will definitely compel you to groove. We all have heard of Nucleya. The bloke is making fucking excellent bass music embezzled by elements of Dubstep, Trap and Desi Bollywood sounds. He is an eargasm altogether. Artists like Sartek whose track ‘Don’t Need Love‘ was signed by Hardwell’s Revealed
Recordings. Rishabh Joshi, who bagged a deal with Armin Van Buuren‘s label Armada, Lost Stories‘ False promises was signed by TiestoArjun Vagale‘s techno beats still give me goosebumps. Also, Ritviz’s Bacardi House Anthem is pretty dope. (S)Haan was the first Indian DJ to perform at the auspicious Tomorrowland festival in Belgium, we have some fantastic local dubstep and psytrance artists too if you are willing to groove your ass off.


And as for myself, my favourite genres are Trance(Uplifting) and Dubstep.
Trance because it was my introduction to Electronic music and it just makes me wanna fly, puts me in a state of ecstasy and makes me forget all my worries(No bro, I am not high).

And Dubstep was there for me when I was undergoing mental breakdown. I really enjoyed those monster drops pitching in with some kick ass drums. Skrillex, FuntCase, Excision and Benga we’re the saviors for me.

So, will mainstream EDM ever become contemporary in India?
This seems flimsy, especially if it is viewed as a competitor to established Indian musical genres. However, that doesn’ t ineluctably mean that the industry is destined for failure. Its deliverance lies either in artists “Indianizing” their music to suit local tastes (as Nuleya has done efficiently) or by educating Indian music consumers through proper degrees of exposure so that they can enjoy the broad spectrum of dance music to the fullest.


And also enjoy your weekend!





Read More: Life without music

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Vishal Koul
My father once told me that people listen to you if you tell them that your father told you that. A Caffeine-dependent life-form, professional procrastinator, and a total introvert. People call me ”Vishal”. But, you can call me tonight. A nomad in search for the perfect burger. Bacon enthusiast. Just a cupcake looking for a stud muffin.

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