Now that the winds of Las Vegas' Electric Daisy Carnival have died down, and the fluorescent furry boots have been packed away for another year, the conversation on electronic dance music can turn from the genre’s economics and festival culture back to the actual music. On June 9 at EDC, I talked separately with two major EDM artists, the English/Canadian/Detroit minimalist maven Richie Hawtin and the Dutch pop-inclined producer Afrojack. They each offered distinct, and sometimes competing, visions of the genre’s storied past and promising future.
In a lobby bar at the Mandarin Oriental hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, Hawtin is hanging out in his usual uniform of a cut-off black T-shirt and messy blond bangs. For a guy who made his reputation pioneering the brittle, chilly and handmade take on electronica that defined the Detroit dance music sound, it’s a bit surprising to see him instantly encircled for photos by a gaggle of short-skirted Vegas party girls. But such is the reach of Hawtin and EDM today, when even the Vegas pool-mob scene gets a bit doe-eyed in his presence.
At the closing artist panel at the EDMBiz conference in Las Vegas on June 7, Hawtin was the lone curmudgeon, saying that he didn’t necessarily want dance music firehosed into mainstream America and that his introduction to the genre felt individual and isolated, even in crowded clubs. In a way, he experienced techno the way Detroit experienced America.
“Detroit was isolated from the U.S. Unless you were in the automotive industry you had no reason to go there,” he said. “Detroit music had a lot of soul, but it was also futuristic and robotic and metallic. It’s music from an isolated city. So as we threw parties, it became about speaker worship. We’d transform spaces so people became detached from reality. As the scene has changed today, I often try to go back to that original place, finding the right room, the right warehouse.”