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Dustin Durbin Research Project 4/30/2013

Electronic Dance Music: From the Underground to the Pop-Sound and All the Drugs In Between.

Introduction My affinity for electronic dance music is one that stretches all the way back to 1998. It feels weird to even type that, mostly because it means Ive been on the scene for going on 15 years, and by club-kid or raver standards Im as old, if not older than, dirt. I remember when I first fell in love with the music while being one of the regular attendees of The Realm in Valparaiso, IN and after that Zero Gravity in Merrillville, IN. Both of these were underage nightclubs that first introduced me what I would later learn is called House music, I didnt always love it, at the beginning I fancied hip-hop far more, but it didnt take long for house to sink its hooks deep into me and Ive been a fan ever since. Being a fan of the genre I was excited to attend my first rave in 1998, partly because I loved the music and partly because even then I knew the scene was taboo and I was excited to be part of something that was counterculture. Unfortunately, this excitement was short lived, as it turns out this party was held in Gary, IN at the old dilapidated paintball building on Rt. 20 and it was a mess, the sound system was awful, it was too hot and there were hardly any attendees, not only that but the cops came and shut it down (this would be a recurring theme of raves). My first

experience with raves was a bad one and I was turned off by the whole ordeal until 2000 when a couple of good friends talked me into joining them on a party bus to Chicago for what was billed as the Whoville Boogie at the Congress Theater (yes it was a The Grinch themed party) and this party was one of the best experiences of my life, the whole vibe was different, and the people and music were way better, though it is still unknown how much of this was due to my newly possessed fake ID. I loved the rave scene and between 2000 and 2004 I attended somewhere around 40 parties and they were some of the best times Ive ever had in my life. I now know that when I first started attending raves I was catching the tail end of the golden age of raving. I was also a part of the morphing of the rave, due to commercialization and stigmatization of the word rave, into club events held in legal venues that used all the same DJs as raves, yet didnt use the word rave. My attendance to these events trailed off for one reason or another in the years that followed but now I find myself attending EDM events that dont call themselves raves but rather they call themselves EDM events or festivals. Though, just like the raves of the past the lineup consists of nothing but DJs and electronic dance music, except now instead of being underground they are accepted by the mainstream. For example just look to the Spring Awakening Music Festival held in Chicago, IL at Soldier Field (yes, that one!) this coming June, last year it boasted an attendance of 50,000 people. This all amazes me, for how did all night dance parties that were so underground when I first started attending, that flyers didnt even have direction on them, morph into the scourge of youth everywhere, essentially the equivalent to a crack house, only then to further morph into a mass commercialized version of its former self that has cleaned itself of the stigma put on its just a decade ago? It is this question that I want to answer in this paper: How did something that was

so underground and so counterculture morph into something that I hear every time I turn on my radio or TV.

In the Beginning There Was Disco! We cant study the beginnings of EDM without studying house music and we cant study house music without first gaining an understanding of disco, for disco was the father of house music as we know it. Disco is a genre of music that was very popular in the mid-to-late 70s and was can be viewed as a pushback against the dominance of rock music during that period. It originated in the earlier part of the 70s when some super-producers such as Nile Rodgers and Quincy Jones began to move away from self-composed albums and began to hire session musicians to produce music for artists whose only jobs were to provide vocals for their backing tracks and be easily marketable to a wide population (Snoman, 2008). Disco, is characterized by its steady four on the floor beat, electric bass lines and heavy use of synthesizers. Before Saturday Night Fever was released in 1977, causing the disco scene to explode in America, the genres early adopters tended to be gay African-American and Latino men from New York City, it was here that the movement was birthed in such transcendent and genre defining nightclubs such as Sanctuary (Fikentscher, 2000). Sanctuary became the model for later gay discos throughout New York City and it was here that the club DJ was birthed, when dancers and gays came from all across the city to watch and listen to DJ Francis as he used two turntables and a mixer to produce one continual beat so that the music didnt (literally) skip a beat (Fikentscher, 2000). DJ Francis is also believed to have been the first person to ever mix one record over the top of another, which is literally the basis for dance music culture as we know it today (Snoman, 2008).

One of the contemporaries of DJ Francis, Frankie Knuckles, became a famous DJ in his own right in New York City in the mid-70s and after many successful residencies at various clubs, Knuckles accepted an offer to DJ in Chicago at The Warehouse (Snoman, 2008). It is in Chicago at The Warehouse that the term house was born. Technically, there were no house records in existence yet, house just referred to Frankie Knuckles style of continuous mixing at The Warehouse that he brought with him from New York (Snoman, 2008). The term began to expand and grow as competitors of The Warehouse began to use the term house to describe the music they were playing as well. The nations love of disco was short lived, as with most genres of music that become extremely popular in a short amount of time, disco soon over-saturated the market with countless disco versions of songs and a plethora of poorly produced albums (Snoman, 2008). This all culminated in the late 70s and early 80s with a massive backlash and the disco sucks campaign that sent the disco industry into a tailspin where the labels werent producing anymore records (Snoman, 2008). It is from this lack of material that house was born, because the labels were no longer making disco Frankie Knuckles and other DJs began to learn how to use reel-to-reel recording, to cut up songs and extend intros, outros, and break beats (Snoman, 2008). Once these pioneers mastered this, the process began to become more complex with various technological tools such as synthesizers, sequencers and drum machines being used to diversify the tracks they were playing in the various nightclubs but also to produce new music and commercial remixes of older music, it is these technological innovations by the genres earliest pioneers that give birth to modern house music (Fikentscher, 2000).

Unfortunately, even though house was birthed in Chicago via New York, it was not in America that house would achieve its earliest and biggest successes. The major record companies in the US were overly cautious about releasing music that was so heavily identified with the LGBT lifestyle and artists werent able to make any money of their recordings and remixes. The European record companies didnt have any of these reservations, so many of the early house DJs and producers were able to find success in the overseas market (Fikentscher, 2000).

House Goes Overseas aka Birth of the Rave House music was never embraced by the major record companies in America due to its association with the gay lifestyle and because of this house remained part of the subculture and outside of a small number of tracks it never achieved widespread, mainstream success here. The same cant be said for the genre once it hit Europe. The first place to embrace this new genre of music was the Spanish island of Ibiza. Ibiza is a small island off the coast of Spain that has become known worldwide for its associations with nightlife, clubbing and electronic music. In 1986 the island was awash in a new genre of house music from the United States called acid house (Pentney, 2001). Acid house got its name from the use of the Roland TB-303 synthesizer/ sequencer that was used to make its signature bass lines (Fikentscher, 2000). It is this type of music and its distinctive type of dancing that the youth of Europe, vacationing in Ibiza, went back home with. These musical experiences shared by the vacationing youth of Europe are what planted the seeds of the European rave culture. As the acid house scene exploded across Great Britain, venues catering to the music began to become overcrowded and the scene needed to find bigger spaces. This need for bigger

spaces coupled with the fact that the larger cities in Britain had 3am curfews and many participants in the scene wanted to party longer led to the underground warehouse party (Finnegan, 2011). The warehouse party was made possible by the recession in manufacturing jobs in Britain in the 80s which left many warehouses abandoned on the outskirts of the cities, these abandoned warehouses made for great venues to throw events that could contain the ever growing crowds but, unfortunately, these venues were illegal so the promoters had to remain one step ahead of the police or fear getting raided and shut down (Finnegan, 2011). As the parties grew the British, and other youth of Europe, began to export the culture back to America, the place from which it originated As the house music and dance scene made its way back to America the British term of rave stayed with it. In America, raves began to take on certain aspects that would distinguish them uniquely as raves to the participants in the counterculture. There would seem to be three main defining characteristics of a rave. The first thing one notices about the rave culture is that they rely heavily on set of beliefs that can be defined as PLUR, which stands for peace, love, unity, and respect (Anderson, 2009). The second characteristic of the rave as it became popularized in America was that for it to be authentic it had to be grass-roots organized, typically this meant that raves were held in secret with locations and directions being withheld until the last possible minute to avoid police interference. The reason rave organizers had to always stay one step ahead of the authorities is due to the fact that they were rarely licensed events and most typically were held at unlicensed venues such as abandoned structures (Anderson, 2009). Another defining aspect of the rave was the cultural identifiers that ravers used to distinguish themselves from other cultural sub-groups, some of these markers included the fashion such as the prevalence of extremely baggy pants (parachute pants), hoodies, and props such as an

inordinate amount of bracelets in various neon colors, as well pacifiers and lollipops. Other markers that separated rave culture from mainstream culture were dancing all night long and into the early hours of the morning while listening to various DJs spinning records from the various rooms and stages that were typical to a rave (Anderson, 2009). Raves enjoyed a span of success in America from the mid-90s to the early 2000s but the actions that ravers used to self-identify, namely the dancing all night long while listening to EDM began to become closely identified with the use of drugs, namely MDMA (more commonly known as ecstasy), that facilitated such non-stop dancing into the early hours of the morning. Once the public at large began to view these events as nothing but large, illegal drug parties, the rave began to decline. (Anderson, 2009)

The Decline of the Rave There isnt just one reason that the rave scene began to decline and ultimately changes into a more commercially viable and legal version of its modern self but the biggest reason this happened would have to be how the rave scene started to become synonymous with drug use during the late 90s. As the rave scene peaked in the United States so did the use of the drug ecstasy, its use saw substantial increases in the years between 1998 and 2001 and research has shown that the use of the drug was far more prevalent in the rave and EDM subcultures than it was the public at large (Yacoubian, 2004). When you combine the fact that use of drugs in this sub-group was more prevalent than it was in other population groups with the fact that rave culture was always one the was rooted in norms that were viewed as deviant you start to see a public panic against the rave and EDM scene, namely this panic was held by parents of adolescent teenagers who were in fear that their children would end up at a rave and be ingesting

illegal drugs that would lead to death (Hill, 2002). As this panic grew amongst the public at large the authorities began to take notice and raves came to be viewed not as a party subculture with its own ethos and themes but as something that solely existed for the purposes of facilitating drug use. Prior to 2003, the main conduits for authorities to crack down on raves and other EDM events was to infiltrate their location and raid them, shutting them down based on lack of licensing and the events being held in illegal venues (Hill, 2002). Before any real anti-rave laws came to be passed cities had already taken the initiative to pass ordinances with the design being to purposely regulate rave activity, these took the forms of curfews, fire codes and licensing for large public gatherings (Hill, 2002). As the panic over drug use began to grow in the public eye authorities attempted to use federal laws from 1986, known colloquially as crack house laws (21 USC Code Sec. 856). These statutes basically said it was a felony for any person to knowingly lease, rent or open a place where drugs would be manufactured, distributed or used. Authorities attempted to use these laws to arrest and prosecute promoters of raves and EDM events, claiming they were allowing and in fact encouraging the use of illegal drugs on their properties (site website). In 2003 Congress passed the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003, formerly known as the RAVE act, this act expands the scope of Section 416(a) of the Controlled Substances Act by making it clear that anyone who knowingly opens, leases, rents, or maintains, whether permanently or temporarily, any place for the purpose of using, distributing or manufacturing any controlled substance, can be held accountable. The new law also makes it unlawful for a manager, employee or owner, to profit from, or make available for use, any place for the purpose of storing, distributing, manufacturing, or using a controlled substance (21 USC Code

Sec. 856). The passing of this act caused a decline of events in the rave scene due to the fact that now promoters could be held accountable for the illegal activities his patrons were participating in and that liability was unwanted. The demonization of the rave and EDM by the public at large in the late-90s further caused a decline in the rave community because now the sub-culture was viewed as a drug subculture, an image that the media had no problem reinforcing (for an example of this look sensationalist media coverage look to Peter Jennings report Ecstasy Rising, ABC News, 2004.) Being viewed as a drug sub-culture made it harder for the movement to gain new members for now the younger members saw the scene as stigmatized and this kept them away (Anderson, 2008). Rave and EDM were not only having issues attracting younger members but the movement was losing its older members as well, simply put as members of the scene got older they had less and less incentive to resist the consumer culture they were rebelling against in the first place (Anderson, 2009). This fact coupled with the fact that as one ages, one tends to have more responsibilities that hinder the rave lifestyle which is a nocturnal culture, which leads to less and less involvement with the scene as a whole. The rave and EDM scene were troubled by the authorities and the club-drug scare of the late-90s which caused declines in attendance. Couple this with the fact that the rave scene was losing its older members while not being able to replace those older members with younger members and it begins to look like the movement is doomed, but not quite yet. The scene managed to survive, albeit in a different form, due to commercialization.

Commercialization of the Rave

To survive it seemed as if the rave had to undergo a shift toward a more mainstream legal approach. The first step in this was to move their parties indoors to licensed venues and nightclubs so that the events would be less likely to be targeted by cops looking to crackdown on unlicensed events. This move was made even simpler by licensed club owners who realized the profit potential of these types of parties (Anderson 2008). While this move made for good business between nightclub owners and rave promoters, the scene began to edge toward a more corporate ethos, as one of the main components of the rave, it being a grassroots, underground movement was gutted (Anderson, 2009). As the rave scene merged with the club scene you begin to see the commercialization of rave culture go mainstream because it is now more accessible to many more people than it was when it was an underground movement. You hear EDM on your TVs and in your movies, the clothing is now marketed to mainstream society and because of this more social groups affiliate themselves with the scene as a whole. As a sub-culture begins to add more and more members to its ranks the foundations upon which it was built start to become stressed, with the new members rejecting the original tenets of the scene that caused it to coalesce to begin with. Also, due to nightclubs being almost exclusively 21 and older venues, the original members of the rave scene were not able to target the younger generation and instead were forced to mix with other attendees who came into the scene with already predetermined mindsets and ethos (Anderson, 2009). The emergence of branded parties also caused a shift in the schism between the scene as it once was and what it was becoming. In this modern age, EDM events are accommodations to be sold just like any other event, and the marketing and selling of these events are the business of investors and groups as much as it is the business of Clear Channel (Anderson, 2009). This


branding is a clear case of the alteration of the rave scene because the scene can no longer call itself grassroots when the promoters so clearly have professional interests. In my research, the most surprising element I found in the movement of the scene from underground, to inside, to commercialized had to be the emergence of the superstar DJ. There is no doubt that the DJ has always played an important role in the expansion of EDM, from its humble beginnings in disco all the way to now. The difference is that in the beginning the DJ wasnt a superstar in the scene. The early groundbreaking DJs were clearly loved and were immensely important but they were not stars; they didnt require that they be on a stage as the focal point of the audiences attention. Simply put, in the early days the DJ was there to lead the party, not be the party (Herman, 2006). This all began to change over time as audiences began to put their faith in the DJ and his musical tastes, for it was clearly proof that the music was good if their favorite DJ was spinning it. This trust led to the DJ developing a reputation and that reputation was something the DJ could market as any other brand can be marketed. Somewhere along the lines promoters and record companies realized that if they branded their parties or records with these newly budding stars then they could charge more for the product or have more attendants to the event, which in turn made the DJ an even bigger star (Herman, 2006). As with a being a superstar in any other form of media, superstar DJs were able to command more money, better accommodations and traveling arrangements, as well as better and more professional sound systems (Herman, 2006). It was these requirements that helped lead to the decline in the underground rave scene because simply put, most promoters couldnt afford to meet the soaring demands of the new breed of DJ, it was a self-defeating prophecy, the parties werent attended by enough people to pay the superstar DJs high fees, but the party wouldnt attract a profitable level of attendance without a superstar DJ to headline. Not to mention, those


that could pay the fees certainly didnt want to risk their potential return on profit by having their event at an unlicensed venue, risking the whole thing being shut down (Anderson, 2009). Nightclubs, on the other hand could afford these DJs because they had the capital to invest in equipment, they were licensed so they were not going to be shut down and they could sell liquor to increase profit margins.

Conclusion In concluding my research I see that the path of EDM has been a long and complicated one. The music was born out of the ashes of disco and was kept alive and vibrant by minority gay groups in large Metropolitan areas. As these minority groups sustained the movement it grew and eventually made its way overseas to Europe where it exploded and you start to see the promotions of the first large scale warehouse parties that eventually morphed into what we would consider the modern day rave. From here the rave was exported back to America where it enjoyed a somewhat short but vibrant popularity amongst a counter- cultural youth movement. Unfortunately, the scene began to be associated with drugs and this caused a public panic that resulted in a backlash and the government cracking down on the whole movement. This government crackdown along with the aging of current members and the inability to connect with younger members cause the rave to begin to morph into its current more commercialized form. This current form found its way back into the nightclub when the scene wanted to become legal. The emergence of the superstar DJ also helped make EDM more mainstream as this person was a recognizable and marketable face, one which only legal and licensed promoters could afford. As a business model it became important for the scene to be marketable to the


masses as a way to drive profits and reach more people, it is this current form that we are dealing with today.