Dancing Astronaut’s 2015 Year in Review
2015 was a disruptive year for electronic music.
From the downfall of dance giant SFX, to the rise of transformational festivals, it was a year of great change. Some extraordinary things happened: The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy made their formal return, an independently released dance record conquered Top 40 radio, and legendary techno brand Awakenings set foot in America.
Beyond that, it was a year of great visibility for electronic music. Catalyzed by the success of Major Lazer and DJ Snake’s “Lean On,” as well as the prevalence of Jack Ü’s Bieber-assisted hit, “Where Are Ü Now,” dance music found unprecedented exposure around the world. Lastly, it was a year of considerable controversy, from the EDM film flop, We Are Your Friends, to the litany of SoundCloud legal issues.
To contextualize the highs and lows of dance music in 2015, we’ve created our official Dancing Astronaut Year in Review.
The ‘EDM Bubble’ begins to burst
In 2015, we began to see the first cracks in EDM’s seemingly infallible exterior. The most telling sign came in the form of SFX’s financial troubles, which came to light in June when the live events conglomerate suddenly sold off $15 million of their stock. Having purchased significant business assets over the years, from ID&T to Beatport, Made Event, and many more, SFX may have invested a bit too much faith in the monumental rise of EDM. The problem became all too apparent when the company was forced to cancel their new California festival, One Tribe, after poor ticket sales in the run-up to the event. After a poor third quarter, financial reports in November suggested the company was close to bankruptcy. As of present time, their future still remains uncertain. If the struggles of SFX are to be taken as a barometer for the industry, then EDM may have finally hit its plateau.
Not everything was so dreary in the larger dance climate of 2015. Electric Daisy Carnival still sold out; as did Tomorrowland, in mere hours. Meanwhile, new festivals like CRSSD in San Diego and Dirtybird Campout made impressive headway in their inaugural editions, proving there’s a large market still hungering for electronic music, provided it’s delivered by the right hands.
The rise of transformational festivals
The EDM Bubble may be bursting, but there’s something entirely unique forming in its place. Nowhere is this more evident than in the bustling landscape of transformational festivals. This microcosm of spiritually-inclined, environmentally conscious events is not a new phenomenon by any means (think Burning Man), but it is one of the most quickly expanding. With well-curated lineups of eclectic electronic talent supplemented by meditation seminars, speaker series, yoga classes, and forward-thinking cuisine, these new age festivals are a refreshing break from traditional mainstream programming.
While veteran events in the space like Lightning in a Bottle and Symbiosis continue to increase in popularity, newer additions like Desert Hearts and Further Future prove that there’s a burgeoning market for these type of experiences. In 2016, we anticipate this niche to only grow larger and more impactful.
Techno continues to blossom stateside
As mainstage EDM begins to lose steam, many fans have been left hungering for something deeper and more interesting. Cue techno and the arrival of international brands in the US like Time Warp and Awakenings.
With Switzerland’s Cityfox hosting monthly parties on the East Coast, Richie Hawtin bringing CNTRL and ENTER to LA, and Dutch power-house Awakenings curating entire stages at festivals, the demand for house and techno in the US is at an all-time high. It’s no surprise to see these European parties staking claim in the US — there’s a movement taking place, and it’s just getting started. Ultimately, this is just the tip of the iceberg as well. Beyond these large-scale events and festivals, there’s a thriving warehouse culture taking place. If 2015 proved anything, it’s that people’s taste are rapidly changing, and techno is on the way up.
Major Lazer and DJ Snake craft the dance hit of the year; Justin Bieber adopts EDM
Something truly extraordinary happened this year. An independent dance track hit the number 1 spot on Top 40 charts for the first time ever. The song, “Lean On” by Major Lazer and DJ Snake, featuring Danish singer MO, became a veritable phenomenon. Void of any major label backing, the crossover collaboration achieved 129 million SoundCloud streams and nearly a billion YouTube plays, while also championing Spotify as the most streamed song of the year (and of all-time for that matter).
Dance music found similar crossover success thanks to the backing of one of pop music’s more contentious figures, Justin Bieber. The Canadian star’s vocal feature on Skrilex and Diplo’s Jack Ü smash, “Where Are Ü Now,” proved the catalyst for his PR revival, while also bringing the quirky collaboration to the farthest corners of the radio realm and giving electronic music unprecedented exposure in the process.
Dance music hits the big screen
EDM made a concerted leap into the movie industry this year with its first would-be blockbuster, We Are Your Friends. Unfortunately, the Warner Bros-produced film tanked upon release, receiving one of the worst openings in cinema history. Call it poor marketing or lack of credibility with real dance music fans, but the Zac Efron-led film ultimately proved one of the biggest flops of the year.
It wasn’t all bad news for dance music in the movies, however. French indie film EDEN, which chronicles the rise of a DJ in the ‘90s French touch era, found critical acclaim upon its US theatrical release in June. In a similar vein, BBC Worldwide France’s official Daft Punk documentary, Daft Punk Unchained, also proved a smash hit among fans and critics.
The streaming market heats up
Streaming is a tricky issue. From an idealistic standpoint, it offers a clear path forward for music consumption and artistic compensation. From a practical standpoint, however, the reality is far more complicated. From large discrepancies in artist payouts, to the ongoing battle of licensing and copyright infringement, the streaming world is a convoluted mess to say the least.
The struggle was epitomized in 2015 by SoundCloud and its seemingly endless string of legal issues. From being sued by British Publishing organization PRS for Music, to hawkish takedown vigilance from Universal Music and Sony Music, the platform continues to face serious setbacks on the road to profitability. In late December, SoundCloud received one of its first rays of hope, however, inking a settlement with PRS for Music after five years of negotiation.
SoundCloud’s ongoing issues have been enough to lead many musicians off to the platform, choosing premium-based streaming platforms to premiere their music instead.
In 2015, those options expanded considerably, with Apple Music, Tidal, and Beatport streaming all entering the market. While Spotify remains the most popular platform, with close to 100 million users, Apple Music has already amassed over 15 million users since launching in June.
Photo Credit: Erik Voake
Dance veterans return
2015 was particularly notable for the return of two legendary dance acts: The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers. Titans of the ‘90s and early 2000s, the seminal UK groups released new albums and embarked on their first headlining tours in years.
The Prodigy’s The Day is My Enemy arrived in March, earning the group their sixth consecutive number 1 record in the UK. The Chemical Brothers found similar success with Born in the Echoes, the group’s eighth studio album, which has been nominated for a Grammy for Best Dance/Electronic Album. All of this followed the success of another legendary electronic artist, Aphex Twin, who won the Grammy for Best Dance/Electronic Album at the award ceremony in February.
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