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How EDM Became Mainstream

By Carolyn Kravets

Photo by Pexels

Have you ever been truly shaken to your core? Earth shifting, brain rattling waves of sound coming from speakers the size of cars? This is precisely the setting for the genre of music that blends futurism and modernism: EDM.

Electronic Dance Music [EDM] was originally created for the nightclub, rave, and festival scene. Tracks have a tempo ranging from 129 to 150 beats per minute (BPM), though some sub-genres have an even higher tempo that exceeds 180 BPM. For reference, The Star-spangled Banner has a tempo of 92 BPM. Rather than employing traditional musical instruments, EDM relies on sampler sequences, drum machines, and bass generators.

EDM encompasses many sub-genres of music, including House, Dubstep, Trance, Disco, and Synth-Pop. Whether you prefer the buoyancy of trance or the smooth sounds of vaporwave, there likely exists a corner of EDM that suits any music taste.

During the 80s and 90s, several sub-genres of EDM - such as House, industrial, freestyle and Techno - gained popularity. Acid house and the early rave scene took hold in Germany and the UK, originating underground parties and warehouse events dedicated to the growing EDM culture. In the 90s, EDM exposure was scarce in America when, at the time, the genre was marketed as "electronica". Acts from the UK, such as The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, and Fatboy Slim, spurred the electronica wave in the United States.

By 1989, the organized underground parties had gained popularity, attracting crowds of over 10,000 people and eventually becoming known as “raves.” Although, it wasn't until 1998 with the release of Madonna's Ray of Light that the genre gained exposure to a wider audience of pop music listeners.

Around the year 2000, EDM gained traction through the infrastructure of the internet. Websites and services like Youtube and Soundcloud contributed to the widening popularity of the electronic genre. Artists like Tïesto, Daft Punk, and Swedish House Mafia paved the way for newer artists to get their footing, such as Armin Van Buuren, David Guetta, and Diplo.

DJs and promoters realized EDM’s potential to attract crowds beyond the nightclub capacity. Electric Daisy Carnival [EDC] started as a warehouse rave in Los Angeles in 1997. Since then, EDC Las Vegas has an annual attendance approaching half a million, attracting EDM listeners from around the world.

Visually, EDM has seamlessly integrated with the post-Instagram generation. Blending space-age laser displays and psychedelic sequences, the genre has effectively elevated DJs to celebrity status. In 2005, The Grammy Award for Best Electronic/Dance Album was created and awarded to Basement Jaxx. In 2021, Kaytranada became the first black artist to win this award for his second studio album Bubba.

EDM has found a spot for itself in the music business on the back of its young, sleepless, and energetic fanbase. The community it fosters is truly distinct from the crowds that other live performance genres, such as rock and hip-hop, have developed. The energy EDM cultivates will secure its place in the future of our music landscape.


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