Oh, what a time to be alive and a fan of dance music! 2015 has been quite a year, with some big scandals, even bigger hits, and more than a few things we never saw coming when we were all a year younger. Dance music journalists and bloggers aren’t often covering what happens beyond the nightclubs, warehouses, and festival fields we and our ilk are known to haunt, but when some DJs popped off with hate speech, or celebs namechecked our favorite places on daytime TV, it was ripe for an editorial pillage. Add to this, mainstream EDM’s continued slide away from relevance and the infusion of electronic music into popular culture and it was a headline-heavy 12 months.
In all seriousness, there were some heavy moments in 2015—a few we’d like to see not repeated in the new year. That, of course, is beyond our control. All we can do now is look back before we move ahead. Prepare to smile, cringe, or dance as we recall the year that was 2015.
The Battle For the Internet
The situation was this: service providers wanted to divide the Internet into fast and slow “lanes.” Those who paid more would get the standard high speed Internet we all know and love, and those who didn’t would get the special hell of a slow connection. This game-changing move would have been great for money-hungry corporations (we see you, Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, and AT&T), okay for those who could afford the digital autobahn, and crippling for most everyone else.
Millions around the world, including a coalition of producers, rose to the defense of net neutrality, with artist Ill Gates summing up the magnitude of the issue by writing that, “without Net Neutrality the 99% cannot educate and organize resistance.” With the proposed paid prioritization, we would also not be able to produce, share, and listen to music with the same ease and freedom as we do now.
Four million public comments were made in support of Internet equality before Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed what were deemed the strongest net neutrality measures ever. On February 26, the FCC banned paid prioritization, marking a huge win for Internet rights. While members of congress recently tucked anti-net neutrality provisions into a government spending bill that would block the FCC from enforcing its open Internet rules, just last week congress voted to block these provisions. Huzzah. [Words: Katie Bain]
Tiësto, Aphex Twin, and Clean Bandit Rep Dance Music at the Grammys
Realistically, a lot of people who tuned into the Grammys on February 8 had no idea who Tiësto, Aphex Twin, and Clean Bandit were. With their wins, however, this unlikely trio became the forward face of electronic music for the Grammys’ 25.3 million viewers. The awards arguably rewarded the most widely palatable nominees in the Best Remix and Best Dance/Electronic recording categories, bestowing a statue to good old Tijs for his wedding reception-friendly remix of John Legend’s “All of Me,” and Clean Bandit to their perpetually catchy top forty breakout hit “Rather Be.”
Meanwhile, over in the Dance/Electronic category, the awards made up for never before acknowledging the presence of longstanding genius Aphex Twin by giving him the win over more obvious nominees including deadmau5 and Little Dragon. Meanwhile dance music got shut out of all of the major categories, as per usual. [Words: KB]
Scooter Braun’s Ultra Takeover
A year ago, it was more or less inconceivable that Diplo, Skrillex, Diddy, and Bieber might ever squad up. And yet, on March 20, that very crew assembled during Jack Ü’s festival-closing set at Ultra Miami for a performance that demonstrated the ever-blurrier lines between electronic, pop, and hip hop music. After appearances by vocalists Kiesza, Kai, and CL, Diddy —who had hosted Skrillex and Bieber at a raging party at his waterfront mansion the night before—made a surprise appearance to perform verses of his ever-fresh “All About the Benjamins” and “Bad Boy For Life.”
Then, Young Bieber took the stage to perform “Where Are Ü Now” and at once established his new relevancy in the world of dance music (despite the fact that he was lip-synching). It was an altogether triumphant moment for the crowd, everyone streaming the set online, and the motley crew of artists onstage, all of whom appeared to be having as much fun as the thousands of kids watching them dance on the decks and wave flags around. The moment was a tipping point of Bieber’s expertly orchestrated reinvention (courtesy of his manager Scooter Braun), and foreshadowed future appearance alongside Jack Ü at HARD Summer and (maybe?) the Grammy Awards. “I’ve never been to a Skrillex and Diplo show,” a thrilled sounding Diddy announced at the end of the set as fireworks lit up the sky. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.” [Words: KB]
Krewella vs Deadmau5 (Again!)
It wasn’t the first time deadmau5 got into a public argument with Krewella’s Yousaf sisters (that was last year when he called Jahan a “fuckin idiot” after she wrote about the sexist backlash that occurred after Kris “Rain Man” Trindl left the group). But, the DJ world’s most prolific troll took his public ridicule of the duo to a new level when he called them out on Twitter for, apparently, using a wireless mixer during their Ultra set.
Jahan and Yasmine responded with a tweet pointing out their USBs and thanking him for watching. The artist born Joel Zimmerman then blew up feeds with photos of cords “plugged into” various inanimate objects including shoes, fruit, and underwear. It was an altogether ugly, but not totally surprising, move for deadmau5, who also lashed out at Skrillex this past August when Skrill called deadmau5 an “asshole” and noted that he’s distanced himself from the Canadian producer because of his negativity. Case in point. [Words: KB]
The Curious Case of Celebrity Couples
Did any celebrity couple provide us with more innocuous pleasure this year than Calvin and Taylor? Living out their romance via Instagram, we watched them lounge on a flotation device shaped like a swan, cavort on the beach, and assemble for a photo shoot on Santa’s lap. Really, CalTay (or Harriswift, if it pleases you) are both famous, talented, rich, and the king and queen of their respective genres. Who else could they date but each other?
Meanwhile in 2015-related dance world romance, Diplo and Katy’s on-again, off-again thing became permanently off-again, while a collaboration Selena and Zedd produced sparks and the track “Want You to Know,” although the former Disney star songstress was also rumored to be seeing her old boo Justin Bieber, who is now rumored to be dating Kourtney Kardashian. [Words: KB]
Kaskade Dominates Coachella
Dance music has been a core component of Coachella since its beginnings in 1999, but Kaskade’s performance during the first weekend of the Southern California festival (April 10-12) emphasized just how popular the genre has become in the wake of its Stateside explosion half a decade ago.
Still months away from the release of his first major label album, Automatic, the “Never Sleep Alone” producer was tasked with a prime Sunday night slot at the main stage—the only electronic artist to play that stage this year—where he drew the one of the festival’s largest crowds in its history, independent of genre. Even more prolific was that he managed to make Kanye West smile. The photo above puts into perspective the enormity of the situation—there’s no telling where the crowd ends and the Empire Polo Field begins. [Words: Krystal Rodriguez]
The Battle of the Festival Kingpins Gets Lawyer-y
While Coachella was staking its claim as Southern California’s indie-hipster haven, two of dance music’s biggest promoters, Insomniac and HARD, were butting heads. The two brands are often direct competitors (most notably during Halloween weekend when each hosts a show in SoCal), but both have been fairly civil, as they exist under the Live Nation umbrella. Their respective founders, Pasquale Rotella and Gary Richards, even partook in Los Angeles’ early rave scene in the 90s.
This “friendly” rivalry came to a head in April when Richards filed a trademark suit to keep Rotella from using the Electric Daisy Carnival name, which he’d established more than 20 years ago. According to Billboard, attorneys close to the situation believed the move wasn’t to squash the competition as much as it was about Richards getting his monetary due, as EDC has expanded into a successful global brand. Rotella, however, alleges that Richards gave him verbal permission to use the name when he temporarily left the scene to work at Rick Rubin’s record label.
Competition between promoters in dance music is nothing new, but to have a battle on this big of a stage shows just how serious the business side of the industry is. Forget the kandi—these days, it’s about the cash. [Words: KR]
Boutique Festivals Take on Corporate Massives
As HARD, Insomniac, and other dance music event titans continue growing larger each year, fans looking for more intimate events packed up their flowy scarves and took to the boutique festival circuit. This kind of loose and often earthy festival has been around for a while (see: the uber-conscious Lightning in a Bottle, Lucidity, and Symbiosis), but a new generation of festivals—CRSSD, Desert Hearts, and Splash House among them—expanded this year, to rave reviews. The trend illustrates that the tastes of dance fans are shifting away from big-room bombast and more towards deeper, more underground sounds.
Another niche gathering, Further Future, took the concept to another level, debuting in May way out in the sand dunes of Nevada. An offshoot of the famous Burning Man camp Robot Heart, the invite-only festival brought out the likes of Bob Moses, Damian Lazarus & the Ancient Moons, Hundred Waters, Kiasmos, John Tejada, and dozens more artists. It was the antithesis of corporate, which is largely the point. [Words: KR]
Ten Walls Throws His Career Off a Cliff
There aren’t many producers or DJs from Lithuania who make it big on the global stage. One exception was Ten Walls, who just a year ago was being hailed as a breakout act of 2014. His “Walking With Elephants” was a pachydermic-sized hit and spawned a series of knock offs and imitation tracks to boot. Of course, that’s all over now.
After the producer (given name Marijus Adomaitis) posted a rant on his Facebook page in the first week of June comparing gay people to pedophiles (amongst other hateful comments), his bookings swiftly dried up. His name become synonymous not just with bigotry but also idiocy, and despite several half-baked attempts to apologize through offers of by-email-only exchanges with several journalists, Adomaitis remains persona non grata in the dance music world.
While unreservedly ugly, the whole incident revealed some truth about the electronic music community—one that began in the gay clubs of America’s cities. It rallied around the cause of human dignity the way no other genre’s industry ever does (yeah, Chris Brown still has a career). Blocking Ten Walls from festival lineups won’t eradicate homophobia, but it sends a strong message that dance music is about inclusion not division; love not hate. [Words: Zel McCarthy]
Bitch Better Have My Crossover Hit
A sentiment among many DJs and producers this year was the fading necessity of genre labels. While useful in terms of keeping music organized on charts and in stores (ahem), many artists concurred (and in many instances kind of complained) that categories are sometimes limiting and often divisive. It doesn’t actually matter how the music is classified, they argued, as long as it sounds dope and gets bodies moving. As genre lines blurred, we saw more electronic music crossing over to the top forty, and vice versa.
Case in point? Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” the finance-minded, hood-AF anthem from @badgirlriri’s forthcoming album Anti. Written by 20-year-year old Bibi Bourelly and executive produced by Kanye, the track hit #1 on the US Dance Club songs chart, #5 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart, and #15 on the Billboard Hot 100, bringing ratchet to the radio and proving that even niche electronic genres have mass appeal. Was it pop? Was it trap? Was it the future? Yes, yes, and yes. [Words: KB]
Brands Get Onboard
Speaking of money, brands made a lot of it this year by using dance music in their commercials in an effort to reach the all-sacred and big-spending #millennial demographic. Of course, the undeniable song of the year, “Lean On” by Major Lazer, DJ Snake, and MØ, had an extra moment of shine in an ad for Google’s Nexus 5X phone—but did anyone expect Gaslamp Killer to show up in an Apple iPad commercial? He sure didn’t. “’Uhhh, excuse me? Is this a fuckin’ prank?’” he told Rolling Stone, recalling his reaction when Apple called with the proposal.
This past summer got particularly weird (in a good way!) for the brand-dance fusion. Taco Bell used the ebullient poppiness of “Brighten Up,” by electronic quartet Anamanaguchi, to advertise its Happier Hour drink specials. McDonald’s went full-on trendy, enlisting PC Music’s SOPHIE and his frothy, Amy Schumer-approved single “Lemonade” to sell—you guessed it—lemonade. These left-of-center, yet spot-on marketing decisions just might keep dance fans from fast-forwarding past the commercials on their DVR, at least that’s what brands are hoping. [Words: KR]
Native Instruments Launches Stems
In summer, Native Instruments launched Stems, its new multi-track audio format that had DJs speculating with an even mix of skepticism and excitement. The Stems format—which was immediately aligned with NI’s Traktor controllers—gave DJs the option of working with the individual musical elements of a track, such as the drums, keys, synths, or vocals. Native Instruments billed Stems as “a completely new way to DJ,” opening up a new arsenal of on-the-fly edits, a capellas, and instrumentals.
Many artists (including, just this month, electronic trailblazers New Order) and labels such as Minus, SCI+TEC, and Mobilee readily embraced the format, releasing a stack of Stems on online retailers, including Beatport. As DJ TechTools founder Ean Golden put it in his early review, “Frankly, a lot of people are playing the same music these days. Everyone’s got the same tracks; hits get big really fast. If producers now take the time to produce files in this format, you can take a big hit track and just use the bassline in a set.” In other words, the options are limitless— if you’re open to exploring them. [Words: Jack Tregoning]
SFX Holds Payments From Labels
Well, this is awkward. It’s been a year of ups and downs for SFX, the company that owns Beatport. While most of the news has centered on the process of SFX CEO Bob Sillerman taking the company private and ultimately deciding not to, some of this back and forth put Beatport in the spotlight. In late July, for the first time in the company’s decade-plus history, Beatport was forced to delay payments to labels. Sillerman acknowledged this error in a matter of days and corrected. While the machinations of the company are above our pay grade, we know that in dance music, every low point is eventually followed by a comeback. [Words: ZM]
HARD Summer Hits Tough Times
For all the strides dance music has made in popular culture, the community took a hit at HARD Summer, which went down on August 1-2 at the Pomona Fairplex in Southern California. Over the sweltering weekend, two young women died of suspected drug overdoses.
Regrettably, such tragic incidents are not uncommon at electronic music festivals, but this is the first time since EDC moved to Las Vegas (also after a young woman overdosed) that the local legion of dance fans felt the weight of the incident’s aftermath. The County Board of Supervisors initially called for a ban on large-scale electronic music events taking place on public property. With HARD’s cooperation, they agreed the company’s next event, Day of the Dead, would be allowed to go on, but only with the implementation of stringent safety measures, including (but not limited to): increasing security, raising of the minimum age for patrons, drastically reducing overall attendance, and distributing materials warning of the dangers of drug use.
As it stands now, LA County festivals are here to stay, as has been recommended by the newly created Electronic Music Task Force, who came up with a number of security measures to ensure that dance fans and festivals alike won’t run into any trouble. Party’s not over (yet), Los Angeles County. [Words: KR]
Claire Danes Reps for Berghain
Before September of this year, you thought you knew Claire Danes. She was the teen ingénue from My So-Called Life and Romeo + Juliet, the Emmy Award winning star of Homeland, the inspiration for so many cry face memes. Then everything changed—we met Claire Danes, undercover techno enthusiast.
While filming Homeland in Germany, Danes apparently discovered the pleasures of Berlin techno temple Berghain, aka “the best place on earth.” (She was shepherded in a back entrance, avoiding the scrutiny of infamous door man Sven Marquardt.) Danes shared her excitement on an episode of Ellen of all places, regaling host Ellen DeGeneres with memories of the club’s “ice cream parlor” and naked fetish parties. Her conclusion: “It’s a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.”
The segment was surreal on several levels, and it’s unlikely Team Berghain celebrated the extra publicity. It could’ve been worse, though. In response to Ellen playing some “bad techno” for her audience, Danes immediately declared, “That’s not the Berghainian way!” Preach, our techno Juliet. [Words: JT]
We Are Your Friends Fails to Make Friends
The first We Are Your Friends trailer back in May was greeted by a whole lot of excitement. Unfortunately for everyone involved in the making of WAYF, it wasn’t so much Star Wars excitement as the excitement you feel ahead of a glorious hate-watch. The trailer offered many promising signs of the movie’s lack of promise—the “all you need is a laptop, some talent, and one track,” line; Zac Efron as DJ Cole Carter schooling us on how to build a set from 125-BPM; all that valley bro angst; and pretty much every major plot point delivered in just over three minutes.
It was a pity, then, that the actual 99-minute version wasn’t so much a riot of schadenfreude-tinged LOLs as a painfully bland, empty-headed misfire. We Are Your Friends was nominally a movie about dance music, but it failed to offer anything illuminating or ecstatic about the culture. As we all know, Efron’s dream died at the box office, prompting a full week’s worth of gleeful headlines. As much as the crash and burn was deserved, it’s actually a pity. We Are Your Friends spectacularly shitting the bed is going to make Hollywood a lot warier about bankrolling future dance music movies. Now we may never get a Cole Carter story that doesn’t suck. [Words: JT]
Mother Nature vs. Festivals
You can book all the Tiëstos you want, but one thing will always keep festival promoters up at night: the unpredictability of Mother Nature. In 2014, organizers of New York’s Electric Zoo cancelled the festival’s final day after a severe weather warning, a precautionary move that had many fans furiously raving—and not in the good way. (This summer’s edition, by contrast, was greeted by three days of perfect clear skies.)
In 2015, it was TomorrowWorld’s turn to take a hit. The three-day campout in Chattahoochee Hills outside Atlanta started strong, with good vibes and a varied lineup distracting from all the mud and volleys of rain. After the festival closed on its second day, though, things started to devolve, with a logistical mess leaving thousands of attendees stranded to wander the dirt-turned-mud roads. A media pile-on ensued, the festival’s final day was cancelled, and TomorrowWorld began the drawn-out process of issuing refunds. Since then, inclement weather has called short other festivals, including Voodoo Fest in New Orleans and Houston’s Something Wicked. Given the precarious state of our planet, you can count on this being a recurring story in 2016. [Words: JT]
Disclosure Makes Their Comeback
After the colossal success of their debut album, Settle, Disclosure took a two-year production hiatus that allowed them to explore multiple ventures, from curating the lineups of their Wild Life parties (and later, festival) and starting a new label imprint, Method White.
When they burst back onto the radar with “Bang That,” it was like they’d never left. Fans welcomed their return, but even bigger news arrived shortly thereafter: the duo’s anticipated follow-up LP, Caracal, was on the way. The peak-time club weapon they’d just shared was a bit of a red herring, though, as Disclosure said the new album would bypass clubland and head straight into radio-friendly, pop territory. It was a risky move in the face of the well-known “sophomore slump” syndrome, but it paid off when the album hit number one on the UK Albums chart.
Following Caracal’s September release, the Lawrence brothers took on a North American tour, which saw them play their first-ever arena shows, including a landmark show at New York’s Madison Square Garden, which in past years has hosted marquee names such as Swedish House Mafia, Above & Beyond, Jack Ü, and Eric Prydz. To have Disclosure headline proves their house-influenced sound has a space on the world’s biggest stages, as well as on the dance floor. [Words: KR]
A Death Onboard The Mad Decent Boat Party
The first tweet hits feeds on the evening of Thursday, November 12: A passenger had gone overboard on the Mad Decent Boat Party during the first night of the party at sea. While those tweeting from the boat at first seemed confident that the ship would simply cruise around and pick up the fellow party person, the gravity of the situation quickly set in as those onboard—and all of us watching the news—realized the rescue team was having trouble locating the passenger in the dark seas of the Caribbean.
While Cuban officials and the US National Coast Guard soon joined the search, rescue teams would ultimately never find the body of 24-year-old Kaylyn Rose Summer. After the news broke, the MDPB, which featured headliners including Major Lazer, A-Trak, Flosstradamus, and Jack Ü, cancelled its scheduled trip to Cozumel, Mexico and cruised back to Florida. While the onboard party returned to its regularly scheduled programming, the international media seized upon the story, publishing rumors that the woman who died fell overboard during a twerk contest, among other misinformation. FBI officials met the boat upon its return to Miami. Ultimately, the death of Kaylyn Rose Summer, who had been married on the cruise the year before, was deemed a suicide. [Words: KB]
Levelz vs. Elastic Artists
Unfortunately, it seems the party is over for Elastic Artists. The UK booking agency apparently went under just recently, and they reportedly informed their artist clients of the news via a letter stating that due to “financial difficulties,” they wouldn’t be able to pay them for shows that they had already performed. Said artists took their plight to social media when agents allegedly stopped replying to their emails.
The industry is fickle that way, but some artists took their displeasure with the situation to a creepy extreme. Manchester collective LEVELZ hacked all of Elastic’s social media pages and posted a video of their “kidnapping” the agency’s creative director on their Facebook. There was a blowtorch and men in masks. In a subsequent post, they said they did all of this to gather publicity for new music, as they no longer have money to promote themselves due to the business’ downfall.
The only good to come of all this is that a new agency, Orchid Artist Management, has come up in its place. One of its founders includes former Elastic agent Alberto Mombelli, who seems to have brought a few of his clients along with him on the new venture. [Words: KR]
All Bieber Everything
Last year at this time Bieber was making headlines for egging his neighbor’s house, hanging with strippers, abandoning his pet monkey at German customs, and taking part in other assorted lost boy-style rabble-rousing. Who could have blamed him? We are, after all, talking about a 21-year-old who fell into massive fame, money, and success at a young age. A lot of child stars turn into nightmares, and it was not wholly surprising when Bieber did too.
But, he would not be doomed to slowly fade into the realm of Celebrity Rehab. With major strategic planning by his management team and assists by electronic kingmakers Skrillex and Diplo, Bieber was resurrected by the power of Jack Ü’s massive “Where Are Ü Now?”, which appeared on Skrillex and Diplo present Jack Ü, as well as Bieber’s hey-guys-I’m-a-man-now LP Purpose, which came out last month. With the track also getting nominated for a Grammy in the Best Dance Recording category, Bieber’s new relevance has transcended his established kingdom of Beliebers to the world of Serious Music Fans, many of whom might never have thought they’d one day be bobbing their heads to a Bieber track, seeing him explain his process to the New York Times, or writing about him for lists such as these.
“I’m not saying he wasn’t honest before, but when you listen to his lyrics, you can tell he is becoming an adult,” Skrillex said of his new cohort in an interview with NME, which also put Bieber on the cover in a t-shirt saying “Actually Kinda Cool.” While the career resurgence has all been expertly designed to open our minds (and wallets), the electronic-influence on “What Do You Mean“ and the Skrillex-produced “Sorry” add undeniable weight to the argument that electronic music is the new pop, as the walls between genres continue to crumble. If we’ve got Bieber to thank for that, well, so be it. [Words: KB]
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