Atlantic's Craig Kallman talks on Big Beat, electronic dance music
This post has been updated, as indicated below.
Giving the keynote address at the inaugural EDMBiz conference in Las Vegas, a confab about electronic dance music, Craig Kallman of Big Beat Records said it was a thrill to see the music business come back around to the artistry of the DJ.
One of the biggest imprints in today's dance music, indie record label Big Beat was founded by Kallman in 1987 when he was an avowed house scene gadfly. It turned heads in the New York electronica scene before eventually folding into Doug Morris' Atlantic Records in the early '90s, bringing with it a roster of dance and hip-hop artists. Kallman eventually rose to become chairman and chief executive of Atlantic Records, and his ascent at the company dovetailed neatly with the popular rise of the electronic dance music that was his first passion.
So when Atlantic wanted an imprint focused on EDM in 2010, reviving Big Beat seemed an obvious answer. It clearly worked -- it's home to Skrillex, possibly the most vital artist in electronica right now, alongside a stable of cred-building dance bands (Metronomy, Chromeo) and singles-smashing producers (Martin Solveig).
"If you slice me open, I'm just a house DJ inside," he said. The return of Big Beat was "born out of the incredible innovation coming out of the electronic music space. The technology is so advanced and producers are crafting such exciting sounds. It's been such an interesting migration of creativity, and this was a moment to activate it again. The first person we identified for it was Sonny Moore, who became such a transformational artist as Skrillex."
Kallman said that he always believed in the populist potential of dance music and that there was no reason its producers shouldn't become stars in their own right. But for decades, the genre was a difficult one to market to mainstream American audiences -- until the last five years or so, performances really were just artists hovering over turntables and the live infrastructure was marginal.
However, Kallman felt sure that "it was an incorrect notion that dance music can't produce long-term stars. So many of the important early artists are still around today. We didn't want to treat dance artists any differently than we would a T.I. or Kid Rock or Death Cab for Cutie. The genre just needed someone to take it seriously." He found inspiration in the major-label imprint model, where imprints such as Sire or Tommy Boy could take advantage of the label muscle while still pursuing an independent vision.
"We wanted to populate the company with an entreprenurial impluse, to build an imprint with resonance," he said. That goal, he said, also extends to the label's artists: Skrillex's OWSLA sub-imprint already has a major rising star in 19-year-old Porter Robinson.
Now that EDM is both a self-sustaining economy and the lingua franca of radio pop, Kallman's interest in this music seems even more prescient decades later. "Commercial radio is dominated by producers," he said. "David Guetta, Skrillex, these artists sell out Madison Square Garden and draw 350,000 people to festivals like Electric Daisy. In respects, it mirrors disco as a global phenomenon."
[For the record, 11:25 a.m. June 8: the title on this post has been changed.]
-- August Brown, from Las Vegas
Photo: Skrillex destroys musical genres during his performance at Dim Mak's club night in Hollywood. Credit: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times