Electronic dance music, more commonly known as EDM, has recently become a powerful industry in mainstream-entertainment. EDM features DJs playing prerecorded mixes, and famous DJs like Tiesto and Skrillex are paid millions of dollars each year for performances. Despite this popularity, many musicians refuse to affiliate their careers with DJs, arguing DJing requires no musical talent. Ed Montano, a musical history professor at Macquarie University, believes DJs are unfairly exploiting the music industry for money and self-proclaimed fame via technologically produced music.
However, University of London professor Bill Crow claims EDM is an innovative and creative example of music evolution that should be embraced in the music industry. Despite Crow’s optimism, Deadmau5’s astonishing success as a DJ proves his argument most credible. He claims DJing is not meant to showcase musicality, and admits EDM performances merely consist of pressing ‘play. ’ He argues that sharp studio skills result in success. Each of these arguments fails to develop reasons why DJs are so popular – it has nothing to do with musicality or studio production.
The success of mainstream EDM DJs is mostly due to the recent rise in rave culture among teenagers and young adults, along with the captivating atmosphere of these dance events. Imagine a haven with no judgment, racism, violence, or sexism – just happiness and equality. This foundational aspect inspired the motto of the rave scene, “PLUR,” which stands for Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect (Lenda). The common theme among ravers avoids violence and “spread[s] the love” to help others find their inner peace (Lenda). Raves began in London as part of a late 1950s youth movement.
The culture developed hippie elements in the 60s with the popularity of the Beatles (Derbyshire). Raves continue evolving with the decades, and are currently viewed as mainstream entertainment in the United States. One of the most famous raves in the US today is the Electric Daisy Carnival, an annual summer tradition since 1997 (David and Marv). These surreal dance parties are considered a part of the “post-modernist mainstream cultural wave,” and rigorously focus on electronic dance, techno, and house music (Hutson).
The high-status association of EDM with mainstream society is a contributing element to the popularity rise in both the dance music and raves. The term ‘rave’ derives from the French word ‘resver,’ meaning to dream or wander, explaining the mystical and trancelike ambience of raves (Online Etymology Dictionary). Spiritual healing expert Scott Hutson describes raves as “spatial escapes” in which you connect with those around you and find your inner-spirit. Ravers find tranquility with “personal issues and deal with religious rapture” while in attendance (Reynolds).
An important trademark of raves is the feeling of harmonization (Gibson). Sensitive proportions of music, lights, and dancing are the key elements to the rave scene. Their synchronization consumes the crowd with a sense of togetherness to spark excitement. The signature-style electronic music, however, is the most enduring aspect, as DJs use uniquely powerful tones to drive the excitement and make the experience more enjoyable. Without the electronic music the hierarchy would be disturbed; the sacred structure is a crucial component in the rise of rave culture and popularity of DJs.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects to emphasize about the rave scene is the drug-centric culture. It’s no secret that club drugs including LSD, ketamine, marijuana, DMT, and MDMA fuel a majority of these events (Downing 336). MDMA, aka ecstasy, is the most prevalent drug at raves. A study done by Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards in 2001 found nearly 90% of ravers admitted to using MDMA at least once at a rave within the last year. Ecstasy releases high amounts of serotonin and dopamine into the brain, causing psychoactive effects that generate a dreamlike state of mind.
Serotonin is involved with controlling sleep, memory, appetite, anxiety, mood, emotions, and perceptions (Grinspoon and Bakalar). It suppresses negative emotions and amplifies happy emotions, supplying a “mental and physical euphoria” (Greer 323). Those who have rolled (the term used when under the influence of MDMA) agree it’s a very spiritual drug, and some studies have even proved it to increase introspect and insightfulness (Grinspoon and Bakalar). This drug particularly caters to the state of awe raves strive to create, making MDMA the most common rave drug.
It’s known to provide a sort of utopia for the user through an experience out of touch with regular life. Mainstream society increases exposure to EDM, stirring memories (or creating curiosity) of the blissful, “E-lectrifying” theme experienced during these unbelievable galas (Reynolds). This starts a cyclical desire to listen to EDM between raves to satisfy the longing for temporary elation, another component further explaining the popularity of DJs. Medical specialist George Greer calls MDMA a “psychedelic amphetamine” due to the balance of physical and mental effects (326).
Increased amounts of dopamine “stimulate locomotor activity” to provide the energy needed for hours of dancing, a primary factor for the parties (Greer 329). Dopamine amplifies concrete senses like hearing, vision, and touch to the point that colors and music become “neurologically intoxicating” (Greer 328). Typically, raves are packed with a plethora of people, dancing freely to loud electronic music while watching a laser light show. The touching and heat from dancing heighten sexual tension throughout the crowd, spawning intimacy and exhilaration.
These arouse sensations of “feeling the music” in both literal (the bass vibrations) and emotional (lyrical) senses (“The Art of Rolling”). EDM indulges the hunger these “addictive feelings” produce as the brain pursues the pleasurable stimulus provided by the rush of dopamine. Ultimately, EDM DJs have achieved more popularity through the raves’ association with drug culture and the desire to relive the passion brought on by MDMA. The atmosphere of raves, in part due to the ecstasy use, is another main feature promoting DJs.
Raves feature one DJ who reigns “master of the ravers” (Borrego). DJs rarely speak to the audience and keep a continuous flow of electronic dance songs, mixing in excerpts of pop songs to further engage the young audience. The lengthy build-ups and explosive beats control the emotions of the crowd. The music quickly becomes the rollers main concentration, making he or she build up to a “peak” with the music (Out of Sight Out of Mind). Songs are specifically composed to include a considerable amount of bass to send pounding vibrations throughout the venue.
The vibrations are heightened by the drugs and form a tangible bond between the audience and the music, which ravers view as “prophecy,” interpreting the beat and lyrics in a spiritual manner (“The Art of Rolling”). DJs strategically incorporate repetitive verses to connect more easily with the audience, who’s another state of mind. The cyclical lyrics usually have open-ended meanings meant to provoke thought and reflection within the audience. They infer concepts bigger than individualism, generating a strong sense of community and intimacy (Marsh 416).
An excellent example lies in the popular EDM track, “In My Mind (Axwell Mix). ” It has numerous crescendos and builds framing the only verse: “In my mind, in my head, this is where we all came from. The dreams we have, the love we share, this is what we’re waiting for” (In My Mind). These simple lyrics reflect the heart and unity of rave culture. Mixing meaningful lyrics with upbeat rhythms induce happy, inspirational vibes, which successfully engage the mainstream sector and spread the fame of DJs. Another alluring aspect of raves is the lighting, which is determined by the music.
The light shows supply fascinating visual effects to animate the trance-like state. They’re composed of numerous LED lights, laser lights, strobe lights, and occasionally glow sticks (Hutson). These lights create a psychedelically mystical atmosphere with bright neon colors and “trippy patterns” that change and intensify with the music (Gibson 22). The psychoactive effects of the drugs and the nature of the show itself give the illusion of a continuum of light. When under the influence of ecstasy or other club drugs, your pupils dilate and your vision is slowed or blurred.
These effects combine with the fast-changing lights, smearing the trails together and intensifying each light beam (“The Art of Rolling”). The visual aspect synchronizes with the aural and palpable facets to help push the popularity of EDM. The shows provide captivating visual images to complement the music, and many rave-goers cherish the reminder of the trippy sensation, another aspect supporting DJs in the music industry. Raves focus on reveling in intimacy and connection, an unworldly journey controlled by the DJ. Despite their role, DJs are often overlooked when the audience is caught up in the excitement of the atmosphere.
Critics condemning DJs for a lack of musicality fail to see the root of their success: connecting with the audience. Successful DJs understand the expectations of a rave; they’re experts in appealing to the rolling crowd and creating a temporary paradise. It’s important to recognize that while EDM may not require a significant amount of talent, the music itself is not the sole factor responsible for it’s mainstream success. The current popularity of the rave scene has made DJing one of the trendiest professions in the music industry.
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