Electronic dance music, or EDM, is taking over more than just major radio airwaves. Dozens of EDM festivals are popping up around the world. Often referred to as the "Woodstock” of the millennial generation, EDM festivals unite tens of thousands of avid fans.
And this weekend is no exception. The sold-out Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, Nevada is anticipating around 350,000 young festival-goers. Celebrating its 17th year, the three-day event will host more than “500 diverse creators including artists, musical acts, and theatrical performs under the electric sky.”
The EDM festival craze is at an all-time high. But electronic dance music is not a new music genre. Kent Otto, creator and editor-in-chief of the online EDM magazine, Electronic Midwest, says EDM became popular in the U.S. in the mid- to late-’90s. “It used to be a warehouse thing,” he says. “They were underground… you kind of had to be on that cell phone or pager list to even know the location of the events.”
Since then, electronic music has spread globally. Several EDM subgenres emerged and remain popular in Europe. Now the once-alternative genre is making its U.S. comeback, Otto says, resurfacing in a big way after almost 20 years. Today, popular EDM songs are featured almost subliminally in pop culture. Car commercials, video games and movie trailers all feature EDM music. But the skyrocketing popularity and strategic marketing of EDM festivals are really putting the genre back on the map.
Otto says although the music is electronically generated, it attracts followers because it still has intense underlying emotion and feeling.
“The first thing that I noticed when I went to this kind of event is that it’s just different,” he explains. “There’s just an authenticity there, and it’s possible that it’s attracting a generation who is less authentic at times.
He says with the increase in technology and less person-to-person contact, “these festivals provide the chance for the millennial generation to connect.”
One festival junkie at the recent Magnetic Music Festival in Atlanta named Alex spoke eagerly about the rise of these multi-day experiences. He says he sees EDM festivals as a community full of peace, love, unity and respect. (Or better known as the trending EDM acronym, PLUR.)
“All the festivals that are popping up lately… they attract a lot of people because everyone is accepting of everybody,” Alex continues. “There’s no discrimination. You don’t care about who’s who or what’s what , it’s just about the people man.”
When asked how many EDM festivals he had been to, Alex smiled before replying, “I can’t even count them all.” Like Alex, many festival-goers travel long distances to as many events as possible. And travel isn't the only expense. Festivals cost anywhere from $70 a day to $400 for three-day wristbands. But many festival-fanatics say they’ll continue to spend big bucks to experience the music that unites them all.
The experience is priceless to more than just the fans. Leighton from the popular EDM duo Adventure Club says making electronic dance music is all about technology. He produces much of his music before shows. On stage,sound mixers, laptops and a MIDI controller act as musical instruments. Without this technology, these festivals would not exist, Leighton says. And without festivals, Adventure Club may not exist as they do today. Leighton credits EDM festivals and fans for helping the duo push their name out.
“… The max amount of people we used to play in front of um… was a hundred to two hundred people, so to play in front of a crowd like this, I guess it’s really an honor to be honest,” he said. “When fans come see an Adventure Club show, I just want them to feel the most primal sense of emotion… as raw energy as you can get.”
Leighton admits if he weren’t a DJ he would go to every single festival he could.
Aside from elaborate stage props, programmed light shows and occasional on-stage dancers, fans are also performers. Some festival-goers show off their impressive hula- hooping skills, while others display their creativity in their outlandish outfits. It’s an environment where neon tutus, painted faces and glow sticks are the norm. But to those who have never experienced such an event, it might look like a generation gone rouge.
From the excitement of body rattling bass drops to the freedom of self-expression,these festivals mean something different to everyone. But many agree it is a life-changing experience.
Kelsey, a recent Florida State University grad, said her first EDM festival experience at the infamous Ultra Music Festival in Miami two years ago made her “go from enjoying the music, to being completely obsessed.”
“It changed everything,” she reminisces “Going to festivals is an escape. It’s like going to a young adult playground. Incomparable to anything else.”
EDM festivals attract crowds from all over the world. And festival promoters say they don’t see them dying down anytime soon. The largest European electronic music festival, Tomorrowland, is making its U.S. debut this year. The internationally renowned festival from Boom, Belgium will launch Tomorrowworld in Atlanta – news that’s music to the ears of a generation quickly uniting on a global scale.