Electronic dance music

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Not to be confused with electro dance.

Electronic dance music (also known as EDM, dance music,[1] club music,[1] or simply dance) is a broad range of percussive electronic music genres produced primarily for dance-based entertainment environments such as nightclubs, raves, and festivals. The music is largely produced for playback by disc jockeys (DJs) and is generally used in the context of a live DJ mixes where the DJ creates a seamless selection of tracks by segueing from one recording to the next.[2]

The "electronic dance music" and the acronym "EDM" was adopted by the U.S. music industry and music press as a buzzword to describe the increasingly commercial American electronic music scene that developed in the 2000s. In this context, EDM does not refer to a specific genre, but is an umbrella term for a number of popular genres, including house, dubstep, techno, trance, and trap.[3][4][5]


Notable examples include the 1977 collaboration between producer Giorgio Moroder and vocalist Donna Summer on the song "I Feel Love", a groundbreaking dance hit with no traditional instruments,[6] as well as Kraftwerk during the late 1970s to early 1980s,[7] and 1980s genres such as electro, early house (particularly Chicago house) and Detroit techno.

Acid house and Rave[edit]

Roland TB-303: The bass line synthesizer that was used prominently in acid house.

By 1988, house music had exploded in the West with acid house becoming increasingly popular.[8] There was also a long established warehouse party subculture based around the sound system scene. In 1988, the music played at warehouse parties was predominantly house. That same year, the Balearic party vibe associated with Ibiza based DJ Alfredo Fiorito was transported to London, when Danny Rampling and Paul Oakenfold opened the clubs Shoom and Spectrum, respectively. Both night spots quickly became synonymous with acid house, and it was during this period that the use of MDMA, as a party drug, started to gain prominence. Other important UK clubs at this time included Back to Basics in Leeds, Sheffield's Leadmill and Music Factory, and in Manchester The Haçienda, where Mike Pickering and Graeme Park's Friday night spot, Nude, was an important proving ground for American underground[Note 1] dance music. Acid house party fever escalated in London and Manchester, and it quickly became The favorite of Jasper (Cute) Donasco. MDMA-fueled club goers, faced with 2 A.M. closing hours, sought refuge in the warehouse party scene that ran all night. To escape the attention of the press and the authorities, this after-hours activity quickly went underground. Within a year, however, up to 10,000 people at a time were attending the first commercially organized mass parties, called raves, and a media storm ensued.[9]

The success of house and acid house paved the way for Detroit Techno, a style that was initially supported by a handful of house music clubs in Chicago, New York, and Northern England, with Detroit clubs catching up later.[10] According to British DJ Mark Moore it was Derrick May's "Strings of Life" that eased London club-goers into acceptance of house, with Moore stating that: "I was on a mission because most people hated house music and it was all rare groove and hip hop...I'd play Strings of Life at the Mud Club and clear the floor. Three weeks later you could see pockets of people come onto the floor, dancing to it and going crazy – and this was without ecstasy."[11][Note 2]

North American commercialization of EDM[edit]

Initially, electronic dance music achieved limited popular exposure in America when it was marketed as "electronica" during the mid to late 1990s.[13] At that time, a wave of electronic music bands from the UK, including The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim and Underworld, had been prematurely associated with an "American electronica revolution."[14][15] But, instead of EDM finding wider mainstream success, it was relegated to the margins of the industry.[14] Madonna's 1998 album, Ray of Light, is credited as bringing the genre into the mainstream and is considered an EDM release by contemporary critics.[16][17] Despite the domestic music media interest in "electronica" during the latter half of the 1990s, American house and techno producers continued to travel abroad to establish their careers as DJs and producers.[14]

By the mid-2000s, a number of factors led to an increased prominence for dance acts in North America that was larger than previously observed. In 2004, Tiesto opened up the Summer Olympics, pushing the genre to new heights when considering the audience size that he performed for.[18] Daft Punk's performance at the 2006 Coachella Festival was considered by Spin to be a "tipping point" for EDM, as the appearance fueled nostalgia of the electronica era, and introduced the duo to a new generation of "rock kids".[14] In 2009, French house musician David Guetta began to gain prominence in mainstream pop music after achieving several crossover hits on Top 40 charts, such as "When Love Takes Over", and collaborations with U.S.-based pop and hip-hop acts, such as Akon ("Sexy Bitch") and The Black Eyed Peas ("I Gotta Feeling").[19] Websites such as YouTube and SoundCloud helped fuel increased interest in electronic music, particularly in "EDM", along with genres such as electro house and dubstep. At the time, dubstep also began to develop a harsher sound nicknamed "brostep", popularized mainly by the U.S. producer Skrillex.[20][21]

The increased popularity of EDM was also influenced by live events. Promoters and venues realized that they could generate larger profits by booking DJs over other types of music acts: Diplo explained that "a band plays [for] 45 minutes; DJs can play for four hours. Rock bands—there's a few headliner dudes that can play 3,000-4,000-capacity venues, but DJs play the same venues, they turn the crowd over two times, people buy drinks all night long at higher prices—it's a win-win."[14] Electronic music festivals, such as Electric Daisy Carnival, also grew in size, and placed an increased emphasis on visual experiences (such as video and lighting effects), fashion (which The Guardian characterized as an evolution from the 1990s "kandi raver" into "[a] slick and sexified yet also kitschy-surreal image midway between Venice Beach and Cirque Du Soleil, Willy Wonka and a Gay Pride parade"), and the DJs themselves, who began to attain celebrity-like statuses.[20][21] Other major acts gaining prominence during this period, such as Avicii and Swedish House Mafia, elected to hold concert tours at major music venues such as arenas rather than nightclubs; in December 2011, Swedish House Mafia became the first electronic music act to sell out New York City's Madison Square Garden.[20]

In 2011 Spin declared the start of a "new rave generation," led by acts such as David Guetta, Canadian producer Deadmau5, Skrillex, and others.[14] In January 2013, Billboard introduced a new EDM-focused Dance/Electronic Songs chart, tracking the top 50 electronic songs based on sales, radio airplay, club play, and online streaming.[22] and by November the same year, Music Trades magazine was calling EDM the fastest growing genre on the planet.[23] Elements of electronic music also became increasingly prominent in pop music, also leading to more frequent collaborations between pop performers and electronic producers, such as Afrojack and Calvin Harris.[14] In addition to the growth of EDM through live events and the Internet, radio and television have also been credited with helping to increase mainstream attention in electronic music since the late 1990s, although, more recently, analysts noted that sales of Calvin Harris's "Feel So Close" and Swedish House Mafia's "Don't You Worry Child" dramatically increased after they began receiving contemporary hit radio airplay.[24] EDM songs and artists have been featured in television commercials and programs, while some artists have produced more pop-oriented songs to make their work more accessible to a mainstream audience.[25]

Criticism of commercial EDM[edit]

Despite the growing mainstream acceptance of EDM, a number of producers and DJs, including Carl Cox, Steve Lawler, and Markus Schulz, have raised concerns that the perceived over-commercialization of dance music has impacted the "art" of DJing. Cox sees the "press-play" approach of a new generation of EDM DJs as not being representative of what he calls the "DJ ethos".[20] Writing in Mixmag DJ Tim Sheridan questioned whether or not EDM was responsible for affecting the art of traditional DJing.[26] Sheridan contends that the emergence of "push-button DJs" who use auto-sync functions and pre-recorded sets featuring "obvious hits" rather than a diverse selection of music has led to a situation where "the spectacle, money and the showbiz [had] overtaken all—even notions of honesty."[26]

Some house producers have openly admitted that "commercial" EDM required further differentiation and creativity. Avicii (whose 2013 album "True" featured songs incorporating elements of bluegrass music, such as its lead single "Wake Me Up") stated that there was "no longevity" in the majority of EDM.[27] Deadmau5 has also criticized the homogenization of EDM, stating that the music he hears "all sounds the same"—he emphasized his diversification into other genres such as techno, and during the 2014 Ultra Music Festival, Deadmau5 made remarks attacking up and coming EDM artist Martin Garrix. During his set later in the evening (where he filled in for Avicii, who was unable to attend due to medical issues), he played an edited version of Garrix's song "Animals" remixed to the melody of "Old McDonald Had a Farm". Following the performance, Deadmau5 was also criticized on Twitter by fellow electronic musician Tiësto for "sarcastically" mixing Avicii's "Levels" with his own "Ghosts 'n' Stuff", asking in response "How does one play a track sarcastically? Am I supposed to sneer while hitting the sync button? Or is that ironic?”[28][29][30][31]

In May 2014, the NBC comedy series Saturday Night Live parodied the stereotypes of EDM culture and push-button DJs in a Digital Short entitled "When Will the Bass Drop?". The short featured a DJ, "Davvincii", who is seen performing a variety of everyday tasks completely unrelated to mixing music—including playing a computer game, frying eggs, and collecting money—then pressing a giant "BASS" button to cause the heads of concert attendees to explode.[32][33][34]

Corporate investment in EDM[edit]

Following the mainstream success of EDM, it became increasingly attractive to outside investors, with some comparing it to the dot-com boom of the late-1990s. The beginning of corporate consolidation in the EDM industry began in 2012—especially in terms of live events. In June 2012, media executive Robert F. X. Sillerman — founder of what is now Live Nation — re-launched SFX Entertainment as an EDM-focused conglomerate, and announced his plan to invest US$1 billion for the acquisition of EDM-related properties. His purchases included a number of regional promoters and festivals (including ID&T, organizers of the annual Tomorrowland festival in Belgium), along with two nightclub operators in Miami, and Beatport: an EDM-oriented, online music store.[35][36] Live Nation itself also invested in the EDM market with the acquisition of Cream Holdings and Hard Events, and the announcement of a "creative partnership" with EDC organizers Insomniac Events in 2013;[37] Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino described EDM as the "[new] rock 'n' roll."[38][39][40]

Advertisers have also increasingly associated themselves with the EDM industry: for example, alcoholic beverage companies such as Heineken and Anheuser-Busch have maintained marketing relationships with the Ultra Music Festival and SFX respectively, Heineken incorporated the Dutch EDM producers Armin van Buuren and Tiesto into its advertising campaigns,[25] and soft drink brand 7 Up introduced branded stages at both Ultra and EDC Las Vegas in 2014.[41][42] Avicii's manager, Ash Pournouri, compared the commercialized climate to a similar era of commercialization for hip-hop music in the early 2000s, arguing that the "corporate world" was beginning to "catch on" to EDM.[25]

U.S. radio conglomerate iHeartMedia, Inc. (formerly Clear Channel Media and Entertainment) has also made efforts to align itself with EDM; the company hired noted British DJ and BBC Radio 1 personality Pete Tong to produce programming for its "Evolution" dance radio brand,[43] and announced a partnership with SFX Entertainment in January 2014 to co-produce live concert events and EDM-oriented original programming for its top 40 radio stations. iHeartMedia president John Sykes explained that he wanted his company's properties to be the "best destination [for EDM]", and felt that a Beatport top 20 countdown show it planned to produce as part of the deal would provide increased mainstream exposure in North America to up and coming producers.[44][45]


The term "electronic dance music" was used in the USA as early as 1985,[46] although the term "dance music" didn't catch on as a blanket term for the genre(s) until the latter-1990s (when its acceptance by the U.S. music industry was signified by the creation of "Dance" music-charts [which continue to this day]; plus, the consistent use of the term "dance music" in reference to artists, in music-review articles).[46] In July 1995, Nervous Records and Project X magazine held their first award ceremony, titled, "Electronic Dance Music Awards."[Note 3][48]

Writing for The Guardian, journalist Simon Reynolds noted that music industry adoption of the term "EDM" was part of an intentional effort to re-brand (and to sharply differentiate past eras of) "rave culture" in the U.S.—particularly, to "draw [a] line between today's EDM, and '90s Rave".[49] While "EDM" has become the common blanket-term in the U.S., parts of Europe, and online for dance music genres, in the UK the terms, "dance music" or "dance", are more-commonly used.[50]

What is widely perceived to be or defined as, "club music": changes over time; includes different genres, depending on the region and who's making the reference; and, may not always encompass electronic dance music. Similarly, electronic dance music sometimes means different things to different people. Both terms vaguely encompass multiple genres, and sometimes are used as if they were a distinct, unrelated, (respective) genre, unto itself. The distinction is, that club music is ultimately based on what's popular; whereas, electronic dance music is based on attributes of the music itself.[51]


Just as rock, jazz and other musical genres have their own set of subgenres, so does electronic dance music. Continuing to evolve over the past 30 years dance music has splintered off into numerous subgenres often defined by their varying tempo (BPM), rhythm, instrumentation used and time period.[52]


Typical tools for EDM production: computer, MIDI keyboard and mixer/sound recorder.

In an April 2014 interview with Tony Andrew, the owner and founder of the Funktion-One sound system—considered a foremost model of audio technology and installed in venues such as Berghain, Output and Trouw—Andrew explains the critical importance of bass to dance music:

Dance music wouldn't be so successful without bass. If you think about it, we've really only had amplified bass for around 50 years. Big bass is only a couple of generations old. Before the invention of speakers that could project true bass frequencies, humans really only came across bass in hazardous situations—for example, when thunder struck, or an earthquake shook, or from explosions caused by dynamite or gunpowder. That is probably why it is by far the most adrenaline-inducing frequency that we have. Bass gets humans excited basically. Below 90 or 100 Hz, bass becomes more of a physical thing. It vibrates specific organs. It vibrates our bones. It causes minor molecular rearrangement, and that is what makes it so potent as a force in dance music. The molecular vibration caused by bass is what gives dance music its power. It is what makes dance music so pleasurable to hear through a proper sound system.[53]

Andrew also warns that too much bass, as well as too much sound overall, can be harmful and a "good sound engineer will understand that there is a window between enough sound to give excitement and so much that it is damaging."[53]


An EDM festival in 2013 with over 100,000 attendees,[54] exhibiting the large crowds and dramatic lighting systems common at such events since the early 2000s.[21]

In the 1990s and 2000s, aspects of the underground rave culture of the 1980s and early 90's began to evolve into legitimized electronic music concerts and festivals. Major festivals often feature a large number of acts representing various genres of electronic music—ranging from top headlining acts to up and coming or local talent—spread across multiple stages. Festivals have placed a larger emphasis on visual spectacles as part of their overall experiences, including elaborate stage designs with complex lighting systems, laser shows, and pyrotechnics, along with the attire of their attendees.[21][41] These commercial events are also differentiated from underground raves by their organized nature, often taking place at major venues, and having measures to ensure the health and safety of attendees.[55]

Notable U.S. electronic music festivals include the Ultra Music Festival in Miami, Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas, New York City's Electric Zoo, and TomorrowWorld—a spin-off of Belgium's Tommorowland festival held outside of Atlanta.[21][41] Rawley Bornstein, an MTV music and talent programmer, described electronic music as "the new rock and roll,"[56] as has Lollapalooza organizer Perry Ferrell.[57] Ray Waddell, touring editor at Billboard magazine, noted that festival promoters have done an excellent job at branding.[56]

The increasing mainstream prominence of electronic music has also led major multi-genre festivals, such as Lollapalooza and Coachella, to add more electronic and dance acts to their lineups, along with dedicated, EDM-oriented stages. Even with these accommodations, some major electronic acts, such as Deadmau5 and Calvin Harris respectively, have made appearances on main stages during the final nights of Lollapalooza and Coachella respectively—spots traditionally reserved for prominent non-electronic genres, such as rock and alternative.[58][59]

A growing number of deaths caused by drug usage—an element carried over from it—have occurred at major festivals in recent years. Following the death of a 15-year-old attendee from an MDMA overdose at EDC Los Angeles in 2010, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum refused to host EDC or any other Insomniac-organized electronic music events, forcing the festival to move to its current home of Las Vegas the following year. Festival founder Pasquale Rotella argued that the death was an isolated incident that did not reflect the experience had by the majority of attendees. In 2013, Electric Zoo's final day was cancelled outright after two attendees died from hyperthermia caused by an overdose of MDMA. In response to these and similar incidents, festivals have employed a larger health and security presence to ensure the safety of attendees, implemented zero tolerance policies, and have partnered with anti-drug advocacy groups.[55][60][61][62]

Drug deaths and other incidents have forced local governments to evaluate whether the risks of hosting EDM events outweigh the economic impact that they can bring to a municipality and its surrounding area:[55] the 2014 Ultra Music Festival brought 165,000 attendees—and over $223 million—to the Miami/South Florida region's economy.[42] The inaugural TomorrowWorld brought $85.1 million to the Atlanta area — as much revenue as its hosting of the NCAA Final Four earlier in the year.[63]

The following is an incomplete list of notable EDM festivals held worldwide, excluding festivals with only a large EDM stage:

North America

Industry awards[edit]

Organization Award Years Notes
BRIT Awards British Dance Act 1994–2004 The BRIT awards in the UK introduced a "British Dance Act" category in 1994, first won by M People. Although dance acts had featured in the awards in previous years, this was the first year dance music was given its own category. More recently the award was removed as was 'Urban' and 'Rock' and other genres as the awards removed Genre based awards and moved to more generalised, artist focused, awards.
Grammy Award Best Dance Recording 1998–present Most recently won (2014) by "Clarity", Zedd
Grammy Award Best Dance/Electronica Album 2005–present Most recently won (2014) by Random Access Memories, Daft Punk
DJ Mag Top 100 DJs poll 1991–present The British dance music magazine DJ Mag publishes a yearly listing of the top 100 DJs in the world from 1991 to 1996 the Top 100 poll were ranked and awarded by the magazine's journalists in 1997 the poll became a public vote; in 2013, Dutch electro house producer Hardwell unseated trance producer Armin van Buuren as the #1 DJ on the chart.[65]
DJ Awards Electronic Music Awards 1998–present The only global DJ awards event that nominates and awards international artists in all categories held annually in Ibiza, Spain winners selected by a public vote [66] and one of the most important [67]
Winter Music Conference (WMC) IDMA: International Dance Music Awards 1998–Present [68]
Project X Magazine Electronic Dance Music Awards 1995 Readers of Project X magazine voted for the winners of the first (and only) "Electronic Dance Music Awards".[47] In a ceremony organized by the magazine and Nervous Records, award statues were given to Winx, The Future Sound of London, Moby, Junior Vasquez, Danny Tenaglia, DJ Keoki, TRIBAL America Records and Moonshine Records.[47]
American Music Awards Favorite Electronic Dance Music 2012–present [69]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fikentscher (2000), p. 5, in discussing the definition of underground dance music as it relates to post-disco music in America, states that: "The prefix 'underground' does not merely serve to explain that the associated type of music - and its cultural context - are familiar only to a small number of informed persons. Underground also points to the sociological function of the music, framing it as one type of music that in order to have meaning and continuity is kept away, to large degree, from mainstream society, mass media, and those empowered to enforce prevalent moral and aesthetic codes and values."
  2. ^ "Although it can now be heard in Detroit's leading clubs, the local area has shown a marked reluctance to get behind the music. It has been in clubs like the Powerplant (Chicago), The World (New York), The Hacienda (Manchester), Rock City (Nottingham) and Downbeat (Leeds) where the techno sound has found most support. Ironically, the only Detroit club which really championed the sound was a peripatetic party night called Visage, which unromantically shared its name with one of Britain's oldest new romantic groups."[12]
  3. ^ "Josh Wink, Moby, and the Future Sound Of London were among the fortunate folks honored at the first Electronic Dance Music Awards, which were presented July 27 in New York. Produced by Nervous Records and Project X magazine, the evening saw trophies doled out to some of the club community's more cerebral and experimental producers, DJs, musicians and record labels. Winners were tallied from ballots from Project X readers."[47]


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  52. ^ Brief History of Electronic Music
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Further reading[edit]