Breaking down the question: ‘Are festivals destroying dance music culture?’
Electronic music has easily seduced thousands of people to stages at its many live and festival events. But despite the crowds that flow beyond what the eye can see, this very influx of popularity in the live segment of dance music is what author Thomas Cox has suggested could very well be the downfall of the music.
Acknowledging the same undeniable fact that festivals – specifically the many that pop up during summer season – have rocketed in attendance and production, Cox questions whether this massive exposure and commercial success are good for the long term of dance music. Though on the surface, the popularity of DJs and dance music versus the once underground, taboo subculture it once was seems like a win-win, the culture that it has blossomed into today doesn’t necessarily support the token characteristics of dance music that made it special in the first place. Rather, according to Cox, we’ve traded out success for quality.
“How many of the people running festivals understand how to present dance music properly?” Cox questions; though to be fair, there are likely many more hours spent by production teams to ensure the best possible sound quality within budget and reality than Cox acknowledges. However, it is pointed out that no festival sound system can ever match up to the fine-tuned, thoughtfully planned infrastructure of most clubs or music venues that prioritize sound over the “general” experience.
DJ Set Structure:
The beauty of a festival is that with one price, attendees have the opportunity to see dozens of acts rather than just one or two in a night. However, this change in structure has vastly altered what was once the standard for DJ sets – now limited to an hour at most, DJs are forced to abridge their content, leading to some acts falling on “hype” music in order to garner more energy from the crowd in a shorter amount of time. DJs who aren’t limited traditionally play extended, almost unlimited sets so that they can fully develop the feel of their set and take the audience through a journey.
A quick look into Tiësto’s shift in catalogue since his earlier trance-driven years have shown how this transition has really affected what electronic dance music has become. Formerly known for his trance mastery, his sets would easily notch over an hour and a half. Now, his typical festival headlining set grazes 45 to 50 minutes at most and are littered with “big room” tracks that follow a drop after drop formula.
The Artist Monopoly:
A problem seen year after year is the unchanging pool of headliners that maintain the top slots for festivals around the country. Despite a slight variance here and there, it’s easy to think of which DJs you’re likely to catch at Coachella, EDC, Ultra, and others. Cox refers to these acts as “unimaginative, dull, and undeserving,” and essentially a reflection of DJs who have turned to the “hype” DJ set structure as mentioned before in effort to pull a crowd at a festival.
The Festival and Its Attendees:
In what seems to be a never ending cycle, Cox finally settles on the last issue that festival settings bring to dance music culture. Because these weekend music vacations attract young partygoers looking for a good time, the scene becomes less about the actual music and more towards fueling that dangerous drug-fueled stereotype we’ve tried to skirt for years.
Though Cox does a good job of highlighting several overlooked issues on the festival track, what he fails to distinguish is the obvious difference between “festival culture” and dance music culture. Though the two definitively intertwine, the goal of a festival and of a show or a club night are vastly different from one another. Festivals have embraced dance music – a step huge enough on its own to launch the genre out of the “underground” scene and into wide popularity – but in doing so bastardized the scene by succumbing to commercialization rather than provide an artistic experience.