How rave music conquered America

From The Guardian:

For anyone who lived through the 90s, the electronic dance music (EDM) explosion in America has an uncanny air of history-repeats about it. Massive gatherings of dancing youths dressed in garish freakadelic clothes? DJs treated like rock stars? Teenagers dropping dead from druggy excess? Didn’t this all happen once already? But the phenomenon isn’t so much deja vu as a rebranding coup. What were once called “raves” are now termed “festivals”; EDM is what we used to know by the name of techno. Even the drugs have been rebranded: “molly,” the big new chemical craze, is just ecstasy in powder form (and reputedly purer and stronger) as opposed to pills.

The main difference between then and now is the sheer scale of the phenomenon. Earlier this summer Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), the most famous of the new wave of whatever-you-do-don’t-call-them-raves, drew 320,000 people to Las Vegas Motor Speedway over the course of three days. The crowds are lured to EDC and to similar dance-fests like Ultra, Electric Zoo, and IDentity not just by the headliner-piled-upon-headliner bills of superstar DJs but by the no-expense-spared spectacle of LED graphics, projection mapping and other cutting-edge visual technology.

Why did it take so long – 20 years – for techno-rave to conquer the American mainstream? Commentators sometimes compare the delay to the 15-year gap between Never Mind the Bollocks and Nevermind: 1991 as the Year Punk Broke America. But in both cases that’s a simplistic view of history: the Clash were stars in America by 1980 along with other New Wave acts, and likewise electronic dance music made a series of incursions into the US pop charts over the last two decades, only to be returned each time to the underground.

In the early 90s, KLF and C&C Music Factory, Deelite and Crystal Waters took house into the Billboard Top 40, while raves both illegal and commercial sprouted on the east and west coasts – an escalation that climaxed with 1993’s Rave America, which drew 17,000 to the Californian amusement park Knots Berry Farm. Then came a lull until the electronica buzz of 1997, when MTV threw its weight behind the Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers, and Underworld. In the immediate years that followed, Fatboy Slim and Moby achieved ubiquity in TV commercials and movie soundtracks, while trance music of the fluffy Paul van Dyk/Paul Oakenfold type spurred a resurgence of raves in southern California, which by the turn of the millennium reached the 20-40,000 range.

Once again, the momentum dissipated. Radio remained hostile to electronic dance music unless it had a conventional pop song structure and vocals (as with the Prodigy’s punk-rave or Madonna’s coopting of trance on Ray of Light ). Major labels couldn’t work out how to develop electronic acts into albums-selling career artists. The next downturn for electronic music was drastic and for a while seemed terminal. Thanks to nu-metal and cool-hair bands like the Strokes and the White Stripes, rock was in the ascendant again; guitars once more sold more than turntables, a reversal of how things were trending in the 90s. In California, always America’s rave stronghold, large-scale parties all but disappeared, while all across the country, clubs moved to smaller premises and weekly events went monthly. The period from 2004-5 was the nadir: some American DJs even emigrated to Berlin, where the work prospects were better.

Continue reading the rest of the story on The Guardian