Promoter Insomniac Events and rock fans have one thing in common: Both keep telling me EDC isn’t a music festival. Since I think that’s a self-serving assertion from both constituencies—however different the motivation or mindset—and since some 70-odd DJs showcase electronic dance tracks each day at the Speedway’s big weekender, I’ll continue to offer my thoughts on the musical component. Here are some following the final day of Electric Daisy Carnival 2014:
1. Commercial EDM has been shifting toward a more genre-less (or genre-inclusive, one might argue) projection for awhile, and evidence of that evolution abounded at the Kinetic Field, Cosmic Meadow and Circuit Grounds stages.
To wit: During Mat Zo’s slot at the same stage last night, I heard a snippet from pop singer Ellie Goulding; a tease of Darude’s trance classic “Sandstorm”; an instrumental breakbeat dirge; a tribal-drum sample; a segment of Hindu-flavored trap; the keyboard melody from MGMT’s “Kids”; and some electro house—an impressive, if sometimes scatterbrained curation of dance aesthetics. It was nearly as exhausting as the booty-blend of electro-house, hip-hop, reggae, dubstep and more by producer/DJs like Dillon Francis and Diplo. And let’s not forget opportunists like former trance icon Tiësto (who occasionally plays trap) and onetime trap pioneer Carnage (who occasionally pays trance) kowtowing with the latest electronic subgenres de jour. This phenomenon might have loosened the stranglehold that electro-house has had on the club scene, but it’s also completely changed the dynamics of the traditional DJ set.
2. By the way: Dillon Francis is your next superstar DJ—and I’m talking Skrillex-super. Last year he drew a large crowd to the Basspod stage, but it paled next to the mass of humanity on hand for Sunday’s 90-minute Cosmic Grounds set. It appeared to equal the tens of thousands who caught Diplo at the same stage two nights previous.
3. Back to shifting dynamics: It used to be that only mainstream DJs indulged in these patchwork sets comprised of 90-second song snippets, foregoing the flowing journeys of old. Nowadays, nearly everyone trying to avoid the underground ghetto uses this set structure. As you might have gathered, Mat Zo employed it in his performance, and I repeatedly encountered this presentation at the Basspod stage. Even Netsky restlessly swapped out songs despite the emotional and/or atmospheric build of his tracks.
Contrast that to the DJs performing at the Neon Garden, who mostly adhered to house-music traditions like subtly mixing whole songs together for a more easygoing vibe. On Sunday, John Digweed—whose previous EDC sets suffered in the dynamics department—played an outstanding set that began very cinematically and transitioned toward subtler and sparer tracks that were nonetheless sublime. Surging house producer/DJ Maya Jane Coles followed with her Vegas debut, and she did not disappoint as she switched from sleeker vocal tracks to deep rumblers and back again throughout her 75-minute set.
4. Digweed hails from the 1990s progressive house scene, which was largely a response to trance but also represented a European interpretation of house. An updated version of that sound occasionally popped up in Mat Zo’s set, and all but defined the showing from Alex Metric, who patiently unfurled his evocative tracks to create something with feeling and dimension. There was more quality prog on offer last night, though I missed them due to schedule conflicts (Drai’s resident Eric Prydz) or traffic (two producers from Prydz’s Pryda Friends label, Jeremy Olander and Fehrplay, who went on before the sun went down).
5. One more thought on Netsky: I might have finished his DJ set if not for the incessant hyping and needless rhyme-spitting of his MC/host, Script. What works for hip-hop doesn’t always make sense for drum 'n’ bass, as I learned at the first EDC Vegas during producer/DJ LTJ Bukem’s nearly ruined sunrise set. Microphones were abused all weekend, especially with regards to insufficient crowd noise and the promotion of new singles. Maybe that’s to be expected when DJs program their sets like a Top 40 radio station.
6. Sexy music of the non-ratchet variety was in short supply, though I heard some during Coles’ set (I particularly dug the nu-Italo disco opener “Words” by Paride Saraceni), occasionally from various art cars playing more traditional forms of house music, and all throughout the R&B-flavored, Ibiza-kissed set of house and garage tracks by LA’s Le Youth.
7. For someone attending the 18th EDC, but who was also at the fourth and sixth ones, it’s a little disheartening to see house and even drum 'n’ bass treated as this quaint thing cast off into the far corners of the festival layout. There’s a little nostalgia and whine in that lament, but those genres represent the foundations of nearly everything being played on the larger, more central EDC stages. And yet, their presence at EDC felt obligatory, as if the festival would lose its soul if they were programmed out. Also disheartening: The Neon Garden “deep” house tent was hardly packed, though Coles, Carl Cox and Dubfire saw fairly robust crowds made up of young and old.
Much as this year’s Coachella provided a reality check for diehard rock fans who bristled at the dominance of electronic dance music and bemoaned the small gatherings for the old-guard acts, EDC 2014 solidified the festival’s shift from the underground to the mainstream, and unless you’re squarely on Team EDM, the loss in that transition is palpable.