Electronic dance music

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Electronic dance music (also known as EDM, dance music,[1] club music, or simply dance) is a broad range of percussive electronic music genres produced largely for nightclubs, raves, and festivals. Produced for playback by disc jockeys (DJs), EDM is generally used in the context of a live mix, where a DJ creates a seamless selection of tracks by segueing from one recording to the next.[2]

By the early 2010s the term "electronic dance music" and the initialism "EDM" was being pushed by the U.S. music industry and music press in what was largely an effort to re-brand U.S. rave culture.[3] In the UK, "dance music" or "dance" are more common terms for EDM.[4] In this context, EDM does not refer to a specific genre, but serves as an umbrella term for several commercially-popular genres, including techno, house, trance, hardstyle, drum and bass, dubstep, trap, Jersey club and their respective subgenres.[5][6][7][8]


Notable early examples include the 1977 songs "I Feel Love" (by Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder)[9] and, the work of Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestra during the late 1970s to early 1980s, and 1980s genres such as electro, early house (particularly Chicago House), and Detroit techno, influenced by the sounds of the Roland TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines and the Roland TB-303 bass synthesizer.

By late 2011, Music Trades was describing electronic dance music as the fastest-growing genre in the world.[10] Elements of electronic music also became increasingly prominent in pop music.[11] Radio and television also contributed to dance music's mainstream acceptance.[12]

Acid house and rave

Roland TB-303: The bass line synthesizer that was used prominently in acid house.

By 1988, house music had become the most popular form of club music in Europe, with acid house developing as a notable trend in the UK and Germany in the same year.[13] In the UK an established warehouse party subculture, centered on the British African-Caribbean sound system scene fueled underground after-parties that featured dance music exclusively. Also in 1988, the Balearic party vibe associated with Ibiza-based DJ Alfredo Fiorito was transported to London, when Danny Rampling and Paul Oakenfold opened the clubs Shoom and Spectrum, respectively. Both places became synonymous with acid house, and it was during this period that MDMA gained prominence as a party drug. Other important UK clubs included Back to Basics in Leeds, Sheffield's Leadmill and Music Factory, and The Haçienda in Manchester, where Mike Pickering and Graeme Park's spot, Nude, was an important proving ground for American underground dance music.[Note 1] Acid house fever escalated in the club scene and MDMA-fueled clubgoers, who were faced with a 2 a.m. closing time in the UK, started to seek after-hours refuge at all-night warehouse parties. Within a year, in summer 1989, up to 10,000 people at a time were attending commercially organized underground parties called raves.[1]

[14] The success of house and acid house paved the way for Detroit Techno, a style that was initially supported by a handful of house music clubs in Chicago, New York, and Northern England, with Detroit clubs catching up later.[15] According to British DJ Mark Moore, Derrick May's "Strings of Life" led London clubgoers to accept house: "because most people hated house music and it was all rare groove and hip hop...I'd play 'Strings of Life' at the Mudd Club and clear the floor".[16][Note 2]

EDM in the United States

Initially, electronic dance music achieved limited popular exposure in America when it was marketed as "electronica" during the mid-to-late 1990s.[18] At the time, a wave of electronic music bands from the UK, including The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim and Underworld, had been prematurely associated with an "American electronica revolution".[11][19] But rather than finding mainstream success, many established EDM acts were relegated to the margins of the US industry.[11] In 1998 Madonna's Ray of Light brought the genre to the attention of popular music listeners.[20][21] Despite US media interest in electronica in the late 1990s, American house and techno producers continued to travel abroad to establish their careers as DJs and producers.[11] Other new names began to gain prominence at the turn of the century, such as Dutch producer Tiësto, who received worldwide attention after providing a soundtrack to the entry of athletes during the opening ceremony of the 2004 Summer Olympics—which The Guardian newspaper deemed one of the 50 most important events in dance music.[22]

By the mid-2000s, the prominence of dance music in North American popular culture had markedly increased. According to Spin, Daft Punk's performance at Coachella in 2006 was the "tipping point" for EDM—it introduced the duo to a new generation of "rock kids".[11] In 2009, French house musician David Guetta began to gain prominence in mainstream pop music thanks to several crossover hits on Top 40 charts such as "When Love Takes Over", as well as his collaborations with U.S. pop and hip-hop acts such as Akon ("Sexy Bitch") and The Black Eyed Peas ("I Gotta Feeling").[23] YouTube and SoundCloud helped fuel interest in EDM, as well as electro house and dubstep. Skrillex popularized a harsher sound nicknamed "brostep".[3][24]

The increased popularity of EDM was also influenced by live events. Promoters and venues realized that DJs could generate larger profits than traditional musicians; Diplo explained that "a band plays [for] 45 minutes; DJs can play for four hours. Rock bands—there's a few headliner dudes that can play 3,000-4,000-capacity venues, but DJs play the same venues, they turn the crowd over two times, people buy drinks all night long at higher prices—it's a win-win."[11] Electronic music festivals like the Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) also grew in size, placing an increased emphasis on visual experiences (such as video and lighting), fashion (characterized by The Guardian as an evolution from the 1990s "kandi raver" into "[a] slick and sexified yet also kitschy-surreal image midway between Venice Beach and Cirque Du Soleil, Willy Wonka and a Gay Pride parade"), and the DJs themselves, who began to attain a celebrity status.[3][24] Other major acts that gained prominence like Avicii and Swedish House Mafia held concert tours at major music venues like arenas rather than nightclubs; in December 2011, Swedish House Mafia became the first electronic music act to sell out New York City's Madison Square Garden.[24]

In 2011 Spin declared a "new rave generation" led by acts like David Guetta, Etai Tarazi, Deadmau5, and Skrillex.[11] In January 2013, Billboard introduced a new EDM-focused Dance/Electronic Songs chart, tracking the top 50 electronic songs based on sales, radio airplay, club play, and online streaming.[25] According to Eventbrite, EDM fans are more likely to use social media to discover and share events or gigs. They also discovered that 78% of fans say they are more likely to attend an event if their peers do, compared to 43% of fans in general. EDM has many young and social fans.[26][26]

Corporate investment

The mainstream success of EDM made it increasingly attractive to investors to the point where there were comparisons to the dot-com boom of the late-1990s. Corporate consolidation in the EDM industry began in 2012—especially in terms of live events. In June 2012, media executive Robert F. X. Sillerman—founder of what is now Live Nation—re-launched SFX Entertainment as an EDM conglomerate, and announced his plan to invest $1 billion to acquire EDM businesses. His acquisitions included regional promoters and festivals (including ID&T, which organizes Tomorrowland), two nightclub operators in Miami, and Beatport, an online music store for EDM.[27][28] Live Nation also acquired Cream Holdings and Hard Events, and announced a "creative partnership" with EDC organizers Insomniac Events in 2013 that would allow it to access its resources whilst remaining an independent company;[29] Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino described EDM as the "[new] rock 'n' roll".[18][30][31]

U.S. radio conglomerate iHeartMedia, Inc. (formerly Clear Channel Media and Entertainment) has also made efforts to align itself with EDM. It hired noted British DJ and BBC Radio 1 personality Pete Tong to produce programming for its "Evolution" dance radio brand,[32] and announced a partnership with SFX in January 2014 to co-produce live concerts and EDM-oriented original programming for its top 40 radio stations. iHeartMedia president John Sykes explained that he wanted his company's properties to be the "best destination [for EDM]".[33][34]

Major brands have also used the EDM phenomena as a means of targeting millennials [35][36] and EDM songs and artists have increasingly been featured in television commercials and programs.[37] Avicii's manager Ash Pournouri compared these practices to the commercialization of hip-hop in the early 2000s.[37] Heineken has a marketing relationship with the Ultra Music Festival, and has incorporated Dutch producers Armin van Buuren and Tiësto into its ad campaigns. Anheuser-Busch has a similar relationship as beer sponsor of SFX Entertainment events.[37] In 2014, 7 Up launched "7x7Up"—a multi-platform campaign centered around EDM that includes digital content, advertising featuring producers, and branded stages at both Ultra and Electric Daisy Carnival.[35][38][39] Wireless carrier T-Mobile US entered into an agreement with SFX to become the official wireless sponsor of its events, and partnered with Above & Beyond to sponsor its 2015 tour.[36]


Despite the growing mainstream acceptance of EDM, a number of producers and DJs, including Carl Cox, Steve Lawler, and Markus Schulz, have raised concerns that the perceived over-commercialization of dance music has impacted the "art" of DJing. Cox saw the "press-play" approach of EDM DJs as unrepresentative of what he called "DJ ethos".[24] Writing in Mixmag, DJ Tim Sheridan argued that "push-button DJs" who use auto-sync and play pre-recorded sets of "obvious hits" has resulted in a situation overtaken by "the spectacle, money and the showbiz".[40]

Some house producers openly admitted that "commercial" EDM needed further differentiation and creativity. Avicii, whose 2013 album True featured songs incorporating elements of bluegrass, such as lead single "Wake Me Up", stated that most EDM lacked "longevity".[41] Deadmau5 has criticized the homogenization of EDM, stating that the music he hears "all sounds the same", underlining his diversification into other genres like techno. During the 2014 Ultra Music Festival, Deadmau5 made critical comments about up-and-coming EDM artist Martin Garrix and later played an edited version of Garrix's "Animals" remixed to the melody of "Old McDonald Had a Farm". Afterwards, Tiësto criticized Deadmau5 on Twitter for "sarcastically" mixing Avicii's "Levels" with his own "Ghosts 'n' Stuff".[42][43][44][45]

In May 2014, the NBC comedy series Saturday Night Live parodied the stereotypes of EDM culture and push-button DJs in a Digital Short entitled "When Will the Bass Drop?". It featured a DJ named "Davvincii" who goes about performing everyday activities—playing a computer game, frying eggs, collecting money—who then presses a giant "BASS" button, which explodes the heads of concertgoers.[46][47][48]

International expansion

China is a market where EDM has made relatively few inroads, and because it is hard for DJs to sell tickets, they hardly ever perform there. The country's first EDM festival, Storm, took place in Shanghai in November 2013; among the 25,000 fans that were attending, most were expatriates. The second Storm Festival, held in October 2014 at a large Shanghai park called Xu Hui Binjiang Green Space, was considered more of a success than the first one.[49] For example, there were more than 80 pre-parties and six larger warehouse parties in 20 Chinese cities in the leadup to the festival; in 2013 there were only five pre-parties.[50] Another example of the international expansion of EDM is when Deadmau5 became the first Canadian ever to headline Toronto's Rogers Centre in November, 2011, he turned the dome from an unwelcoming concrete hangar into the perfect rave venue.[51]


The term "electronic dance music" was used in the United States as early as 1985, although the term "dance music" did not catch on as a blanket term until the late 1990s, when the U.S. music industry created music charts for "dance".[52] In July 1995, Nervous Records and Project X Magazine hosted the first awards ceremony, calling it the "Electronic Dance Music Awards".[Note 3][54] Writing in The Guardian, journalist Simon Reynolds noted that the American music industry's adoption of the term EDM in the late 2000s was an attempt re-brand U.S. "rave culture" and differentiate it from the 1990s rave scene.[3] In the UK, "dance music" or "dance" are more common terms for EDM.[4] What is widely perceived to be "club music" has changed over time; it now includes different genres and may not always encompass EDM. Similarly, electronic dance music can mean different things to different people. Both "club music" and EDM seem vague, but the terms are sometimes used to refer to distinct and unrelated genres (club music is defined by what is popular, whereas EDM is distinguished by musical attributes).[55]


Like other music genres, EDM has various subgenres that evolved over the past 30 years that are often defined by their varying tempo (BPM), rhythm, instrumentation, and time period. For example; hardstyle, dubstep, trance, electro, hardcore, trap, chillstep, chillout, drum and bass, house, and some other genres which came from combinations from the genre above.


Typical tools for EDM production: computer, MIDI keyboard and mixer/sound recorder.

In a 2014 interview with Tony Andrew, the owner and founder of the Funktion-One sound system—considered a foremost model of audio technology and installed in famous venues including Berghain, Output, and Trouw—Andrew explained the critical importance of bass to dance music:

Dance music would not be so successful without bass. If you think about it, we've really only had amplified bass for around 50 years. Big bass is only a couple of generations old. Before the invention of speakers that could project true bass frequencies, humans really only came across bass in hazardous situations—for example, when thunder struck, or an earthquake shook, or from explosions caused by dynamite or gunpowder. That is probably why it is by far the most adrenaline-inducing frequency that we have. Bass gets humans excited basically. Below 90 or 100 Hz, bass becomes more of a physical thing. It vibrates specific organs. It vibrates our bones. It causes minor molecular rearrangement, and that is what makes it so potent as a force in dance music. The molecular vibration caused by bass is what gives dance music its power. It is what makes dance music so pleasurable to hear through a proper sound system.[56]

Andrew warned that too much bass—and too much sound in general—can be harmful, stating that a "good sound engineer will understand that there is a window between enough sound to give excitement and so much that it is damaging".[56]


An EDM festival in 2013 with over 100,000 attendees,[57] exhibiting the large crowds and dramatic lighting common at such events since the early 2000s.[3]

Electronic dance music was often played at illegal underground rave parties. These were held in secret locations, for example, warehouses, abandoned bridges, fields and any other large, open areas. In the 1990s and 2000s, aspects of the underground rave culture of the 1980s and early 1990s began to evolve into legitimate EDM concerts and festivals. Major festivals often feature a large number of acts representing various EDM genres spread across multiple stages. Festivals have placed a larger emphasis on visual spectacles as part of their overall experiences, including elaborate stage designs with complex lighting systems, laser shows, and pyrotechnics, along with the attire of their attendees.[38] These events differed from underground raves by their organized nature, often taking place at major venues, and measures to ensure the health and safety of attendees.[58] MTV's Rawley Bornstein described electronic music as "the new rock and roll",[59] as has Lollapalooza organizer Perry Ferrell.[60]

Ray Waddell of Billboard noted that festival promoters have done an excellent job at branding.[59] Larger festivals have been shown to have positive economic impacts on their host citiesl[58] the 2014 Ultra Music Festival brought 165,000 attendees—and over $223 million—to the Miami/South Florida region's economy.[39] The inaugural TomorrowWorld brought $85.1 million to the Atlanta area—as much revenue as its hosting of the NCAA Final Four earlier in the year.[61] The increasing mainstream prominence of electronic music has also led major U.S. multi-genre festivals, such as Lollapalooza and Coachella, to add more electronic and dance acts to their lineups, along with dedicated, EDM-oriented stages. Even with these accommodations, some major electronic acts, such as Deadmau5 and Calvin Harris respectively, have made appearances on main stages during the final nights of Lollapalooza and Coachella, respectively—spots traditionally reserved for prominent non-electronic genres, such as rock and alternative.[62][63]

Russell Smith of The Globe and Mail felt that the commercial festival industry was an antithesis to the original concepts of the rave subculture, citing "the expensive tickets, the giant corporate sponsors, the crass bro culture—shirtless muscle boys who cruise the stadiums, tiny popular girls in bikinis who ride on their shoulders – not to mention the sappy music itself."[64] Drug-related incidents, as well as other complaints surrounding the behaviour of their attendees, have contributed to negative perceptions and opposition to electronic music events by local authorities;[64][65] After Ultra Music Festival 2014, where a crowd of gatecrashers trampled a security guard on its first day, Miami's city commissioners considered banning the festival from being held in the city, citing the trampling incident, lewd behavior, and complaints by downtown residents of being harassed by attendees. The commissioners voted in favor of allowing UMF to be held in Miami due to its positive economic effects, under the condition that organizers address security, drug usage and lewd behavior by attendees[66][67][68]

Association with recreational drug use

Dance music has a long association with recreational drug use.[69] Russell Smith noted that the association of drugs and music was by no means exclusive to electronic music, citing previous examples such as Psychedelic rock and LSD, disco music and cocaine, and punk music and heroin.[64]

Ecstasy is commonly consumed at raves. Above, a rave in Austria in 2005.

MDMA is often considered the drug of choice within the rave culture and is also used at clubs, festivals and house parties.[70] In the rave environment, the sensory effects from the music and lighting are often highly synergistic with the drug. The psychedelic amphetamine quality of MDMA offers multiple reasons for its appeals to users in the "rave" setting. Some users enjoy the feeling of mass communion from the inhibition-reducing effects of the drug, while others use it as party fuel because of the drug's stimulatory effects.[71]

MDMA is occasionally known for being taken in conjunction with psychedelic drugs. The more common combinations include MDMA combined with LSD, MDMA with psilocybin mushrooms, and MDMA with ketamine. Many users use mentholated products while taking MDMA for its cooling sensation while experiencing the drug's effects. Examples include menthol cigarettes, Vicks VapoRub, NyQuil,[72] and lozenges.

The incidence of nonmedical ketamine has increased in the context of raves and other parties.[73] However, its emergence as a club drug differs from other club drugs (e.g. MDMA) due to its anesthetic properties (e.g., slurred speech, immobilization) at higher doses;[74] in addition, there are reports of ketamine being sold as "ecstasy".[75] The use of ketamine as part of a "postclubbing experience" has also been documented.[76] Ketamine's rise in the dance culture was rapid in Hong Kong by the end of the 1990s.[74] Before becoming a federally controlled substance in the United States in 1999, ketamine was available as diverted pharmaceutical preparations and as a pure powder sold in bulk quantities from domestic chemical supply companies.[77] Much of the current ketamine diverted for nonmedical use originates in China and India.[77]

Reports of alleged drug related deaths

A number of deaths related to alleged drug use have occurred at major festivals in recent years, involving such drugs as MDMA and meth. Electric Daisy Carnival was forced to move to Las Vegas in 2011, when the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum refused to host any it or any other Insomniac-organized electronic music events after an underaged attendee died from an MDMA overdose at the 2010 edition.[58][78][79][80] Drug-related deaths during Electric Zoo 2013 in New York City, United States, and Future Music Festival Asia 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, prompted the final day of both events to be outright cancelled,[79][81] while Life in Color cancelled a planned event in Malaysia out of concern for the incident at Future Music Festival Asia, and ther drug-related deaths that occurred at the A State of Trance 650 concerts in Jakarta, Indonesia.[82][83][84]

Industry awards

Organization Award Years Notes
BRIT Awards British Dance Act 1994–2004 The BRIT awards in the UK introduced a "British Dance Act" category in 1994, first won by M People. Although dance acts had featured in the awards in previous years, this was the first year dance music was given its own category. More recently the award was removed as was "Urban" and "Rock" and other genres as the awards removed Genre-based awards and moved to more generalised artist-focused awards.
Grammy Award Best Dance Recording 1998–present Most recently won (2015) by "Rather Be", Clean Bandit featuring Jess Glynne
Grammy Award Best Dance/Electronica Album 2005–present Most recently won (2015) by Syro, Aphex Twin
DJ Mag Top 100 DJs poll 1991–present The British dance music magazine DJ Mag publishes a yearly listing of the top 100 DJs in the world; from 1991 to 1996 the Top 100 poll were ranked by the magazine's journalists; in 1997 the poll became a public vote; in 2013, Dutch electro house producer Hardwell unseated trance producer Armin van Buuren as the #1 DJ.[85]
DJ Awards Best DJ Award 1998–present The only global DJ awards event that nominates and awards international DJ's in 11 categories held annually in Ibiza, Spain, winners selected by a public vote[86] and one of the most important[87]
Winter Music Conference (WMC) IDMA: International Dance Music Awards 1998–Present [88]
Project X Magazine Electronic Dance Music Awards 1995 Readers of Project X magazine voted for the winners of the first (and only) "Electronic Dance Music Awards".[53] In a ceremony organized by the magazine and Nervous Records, award statues were given to Winx, The Future Sound of London, Moby, Junior Vasquez, Danny Tenaglia, DJ Keoki, TRIBAL America Records and Moonshine Records.[53]
American Music Awards Favorite Electronic Dance Music 2012–present [89]
World Music Awards Best DJ and Best Dance Music Artist 2006–present ,[90][91]

See also


  1. Fikentscher (2000), p. 5, in discussing the definition of underground dance music as it relates to post-disco music in America, states that: "The prefix 'underground' does not merely serve to explain that the associated type of music - and its cultural context - are familiar only to a small number of informed persons. Underground also points to the sociological function of the music, framing it as one type of music that in order to have meaning and continuity is kept away, to large degree, from mainstream society, mass media, and those empowered to enforce prevalent moral and aesthetic codes and values."
  2. "Although it can now be heard in Detroit's leading clubs, the local area has shown a marked reluctance to get behind the music. It has been in clubs like the Powerplant (Chicago), The World (New York), The Hacienda (Manchester), Rock City (Nottingham) and Downbeat (Leeds) where the techno sound has found most support. Ironically, the only Detroit club which really championed the sound was a peripatetic party night called Visage, which unromantically shared its name with one of Britain's oldest new romantic groups".[17]
  3. "Josh Wink, Moby, and the Future Sound Of London were among the fortunate folks honored at the first Electronic Dance Music Awards presented on July 27 in New York produced by Nervous Records and Project X magazine. Winners were tallied from ballots from Project X readers".[53]


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Further reading