Generation rave: the revival of electronic dance music

A rave during New Years Eve (Photo by: Derek Gaines/ Arizona Sonora News)

From the underground to the mainstream. Electronic dance music has revived itself from the grave to become a multibillion dollar industry.

Electronic dance music, more commonly known as EDM, has been referred to some as the music of the millennial generation.

According to a business report by International Music Summit, the global electronic music industry is valued at an estimated $7.4 billion. EDM has become a staple in pop culture being played in clubs, sporting events, commercials, and radio and television stations. The genre has come a long way since its illicit start in the 80s.

The earliest forms of electronic music date back to the 1980s. Disco had died and was being played in abandoned warehouses of Chicago. DJs began mixing disco with funk and r&b and started experimenting with the sound of disco, giving it a rawer sound. People began coining this sound as “warehouse music” eventually shortening it to house.

By the 90s, warehouse parties eventually grew bigger and they became known as “raves” to the community. Raves were highlighted by their covert gatherings in unlicensed venues, repetitive electronic music and illicit drug use.

Although raves were popular among a niche market they hadn’t cracked the mainstream market. “That’s why raves were so popular in 90s,” said Thomas Turner, founder and owner of Relentless Beats, a music promoting organization specializing in EDM. Turner and Relentless Beats book electronic artists from all over the world to play in Phoenix and Tucson. “Teens flocked to raves because they were a place where you could escape reality and express yourself.” He said.

According to Turner, much of that expression at raves involved drug use of ecstasy, GHB, ketamine and more. Since there was little-to no information about these drugs at the time and many of these raves were unregulated, it led to issues. “A lot of these teenagers weren’t fully aware of what they were trying when they did club drugs,” Turner said, “Either they would take too much or what they took was cut with something. A lot of people got sick, more people overdosed and unfortunately, some died.”

Once the news of raves broke the surface with the media there was a crackdown to stop them. Law enforcement began raiding underground raves across the country and overseas in the U.K. According to a 2001 report by the National Drug Intelligence Center some cities reduced rave activity through enforcement of juvenile curfews, fire codes, health and safety ordinances, liquor laws and licensing requirements for large public gatherings.

Many communities also began requiring rave promoters to retain, at the promoters’ expense, onsite ambulance and emergency medical services and uniformed police security for large rave events. Because of the measures, many rave promoters and organizers moved their operations to other towns. Turner, who founded Relentless Beats in 1996, was not one of those promoters who had to move. “Fortunately the rave scene in Phoenix was still progressing. My team and I did everything we could to facilitate a pleasurable and safe time for everyone.” He said. In his earlier days as a promoter, Turner said he never experienced a serious problem of someone overdosing.

Following the backlash, for a brief time, EDM and the rave culture returned backed to the underground away from publicity. However, Turner worked harder than ever to give the music he loved an opportunity. Now EDM is back and bigger than ever. The grass-root culture has now evolved to a mainstream multi-billion dollar industry. How did the genre bounce back and what has to stop it from repeating history?

For one, the internet and social media has been the main contributor for the genres success. In the old days, raves were rarely promoted in open media. Instead, they were advertised on fliers found only at record stores and clothing shops, at other raves and on rave internet sites according to the NDIC. Turner credited social media in becoming a huge asset for finding and booking artists. Music streaming platforms like Youtube and Soundcloud have helped promote and spread EDM and EDM artists.

What typical stage production of an EDM rave looks like (photo by: Derek Gaines/ Arizona Sonora News)

Jacqueline Paat, a writer for ThatDROP, an EDM music blog said she discovered EDM through social media in 2010 when watching a video of Avicii, a famous DJ,on facebook.  Since then Paat has been involved in the EDM scene through writing about her favorite artists. “A lot of the artists I’ve interviewed have been because of social media,” Paat said, “Most of the artist I’ve discovered have been through social media, and through social media I’ve been able to reach out to those artists, interview them and then publish my stories about them.”

Turner also recognized the presence of social media making a big impact with the success of EDM. “Back in the 90s we didn’t have social media and we were still in the primitive days of internet. Now everyone has a smart phone and is interactive on social media. It just makes the marketing aspect a lot easier than it once was.” Turner said.

Along with social media, EDM has changed drastically compared to its earlier days. There are lot more sub-genres and styles of EDM that weren’t present in the 90s. The diversity of these sub-genres ultimately leads to a larger and more diverse audience. “In the 90s you basically just had techno and house. But now there is deep house, future bass, dubstep, trap and so on.

While EDM has experienced a drastic change from its olden days the drug usage among raves is still as prevalent as ever. So will history just repeat itself?  Jake Burwell, president of DanceSafe Arizona chapter doesn’t think so. DanceSafe is a nonprofit organization with 21 local chapters in the US and Canada. It promotes health and safety within the EDM community.

hundreds gathered at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado (photo by: Derek Gaines/ Arizona Sonora News)

DanceSafe was founded in 1998 by Emanuel Sferios following the common cases of overdoses and deaths at raves.

“drug use at raves is inevitable,” Burwell said, “But we offer safe alternatives and educate those who decide to take drugs at raves.” Some of these alternatives are drug identification kits and drug purity test kits. These two testing kits allow people to see what they’re really ingesting and if it’s cut with anything that could be harmful such as fentanyl. Other resources are informational pamphlets about drugs, water and electrolyte packets and even condoms.

While DanceSafe is not a 100 percent guarantee that raves will be completely safe they do facilitate raves through education and other alternatives. Something that the rave scene in the 90s was missing.

Burwell and Turner grew up on electronic music and the last thing they want to see is the genre suffer the same fate as it did in the 90s because of drugs. “Any form of facilitation helps. Above all, I think it boils down to the responsibility of the person if they choose to do drugs at raves. But it’s not the music itself that hurting you, it’s the drugs.” Burwell said.

Both Burwell and Turner believe that the future of EDM is bright, but encourage anyone who goes to a rave to be responsible with their choices.

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