Kaskade, Richie Hawtin and Swedish House Mafia debate EDM's future
The electronic dance music conference called EDMBiz in Las Vegas saved its star wattage for the end, when KCRW's Jason Bentley led an artist panel featuring several of the biggest names in dance music, some of whom are headlining the Electric Daisy Carnival this weekend. Kaskade, Steve Angello of Swedish House Mafia, Richie Hawtin, Above & Beyond and Rebecca & Fiona all dished on their introductions to dance music, the burdens of so much money and expectations sloshing around the scene and how new attention is affecting the genre's artistry.
"As an American kid, growing up I always thought this music was a European thing," said Ryan Raddon, who performs as Kaskade. "Every EDC now, I still think: 'I can't believe how many people are here.' "
Hawtin, a decades-long electronic music veteran under several aliases (including the avant-garde minimalist Plastikman), was enthusiastic about the career potential all the interest in EDM affords. But as an artist, he maintains profound reservations about the music going massive, and that skepticism added a welcome bit of edge to a weekend that so far had been almost uniformly positive about the genre's future.
"It shouldn't go to the masses," he said."I remember going into [Detroit's] Music Institute growing up and just standing with my eyes closed. It wasn't a shared experience -- it was more that, sonically, this was what I was looking for, and there were people around me who identified with that as well."
The Swedish production duo Rebecca & Fiona talked about the particular challenges of being taken seriously as female artists in a boys-club scene where girls were more often leered at on a floor than looked up to in a DJ booth. They routinely deal with people who, unbelievably, are skeptical that women can put in the legwork to produce and properly DJ. "I mean, what do they think, that's there's a small person hiding in our DJ booth?" Rebecca said to rousing laughs.
There was an extended riff on the usefulness of the term "EDM," which most of the artists felt surprisingly OK with."It''s good for when I have to talk to my mom about what I do," Kaskade said. Hawtin suggested dropping the "d" from the shorthand -- "It tightens the spectrum to 4/4 beats, and that's really opened up," he said. "Electronic music needs that freedom."
Though the genre is relentlessly future-thinking, the sheer scale of EDC and the new touring potential left several panelist with a streak of nostalgia -- not for a time when the music was marginal, but when motives were more clear and their expectations were just to have a good time. Tony McGuiness and Jono Grant of the trance group Above & Beyond (which recently sold out a string of nights at the Shrine Auditorium) recalled a favorite club night called Malibu Stacey in London, where bouncers would yell at the line to pack it in if they weren't looking fabulous. "And people would leave!" they said, laughing.
"Those moments happened to me going to see Richie, or playing to 150 people at King King," Kaskade said. "But I think they can happen at Staples Center, too."
Steve Angello, one-third of Swedish House Mafia, seemed aware that his act -- one of the biggest groups in dance music, known for effervescent crowd pleasers -- is also one of the genre's most polarizing acts. He admitted that, even after sets like his headlining a Coachella night this year and a sold-out Madison Square Garden date, the criticism got to him.
"If I followed you around at work and told you everything you did was [terrible], you'd get offended," he said. He seemed genuinely peeved by a recent dustup in which a clandestine video of him DJing without headphones was posted on YouTube with the claim that Angello was faking his sets. "It's because I lost my hearing in one ear for a while. But with today's technology you don't need headphones to beatmatch," he said.
"So later I did a show where I put cameras above and behind me while I did a five-hour set. I've been doing this since I was 12, I know how to beatmatch." The audience, clearly on his side, nearly came to ovations.
Though the panel drew from wildly different swaths of electronica -- from the pioneering cynic Hawtin to the arena titan Angello and the wiseacres Rebecca & Fiona, every panelist showed an earnest commitment to their different crafts. Perhaps the most reassuring thing about EDM's rise is that there's room for all of them under the LED mantle.
-- August Brown
Photo: Fans dance and toss around a beach ball during Swedish House Mafia's set during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times