Think outside the electronic box. EDM is a culture

Words by Turner Olson

In the 1970s, the first wave of club dance music was born. Known as Euro dance, disco used a mix of funk, soul and jazz fused with electronic aspects. Its demand and popularity that came as clubs began employing disc jockeys.

Close up of the software TraktorPro

That demand has meant ample opportunity for up and coming DJs such as Minneapolis based Reese Gates, who goes by the stage name of Simba Katz.

“DJing is all about knowing how to build up a crowd. I start with something smooth to get the people into it, then go to dubstep, which is what the people want,” Gates said, “I use a mix of trap and dubstep for a while and then I like to move into something faster like electric bass or drumstep.”

To get started, all you need is a controller or DJ board and a program such as FL Studio or Traktor Pro,” said Gates, “The equipment can cost up to $2,000 altogether.”

Once the gear is acquired, there is still the matter of learning how to use it.

“Most people don’t truly understand how hard music production is. They can sit there and tell me all producers are no-lives sitting on their laptops,” said Illinois DJ Andy Kugach, whose producer name is STVX. “But if I ask them the about subtractive synthesis, they have no comment.”

For DJs, too, the process is more difficult than it might seem. On stage, the performer has to keep track of two running tracks while considering the overall flow of the set.

“Producers put certain cues in their songs that are specifically to make it easier on the DJ,” said Gates, “EDM is encoded for the DJ. It’s complex, and that’s why people don’t understand it.”

Graphic design of Andy Kugach’s producer name STVX. Photo courtesy of Andy Kugach.

While the creative process in music production varies from artist to artist, Kugach prefers to start simple and build off of it.

“All of my tracks started with just one element. Whether that is a vocal chop, synth, or kick, they all started with just one sound,” said Kugach, “From there, I dive into my head for what I want to come next.”

The variety is part of the reason EDM music has continued to grow in popularity. EDM consists of a collection of more than 50 subgenres such as house, drum and bass, dubstep, trap, and hardstyle.

“I am known around my area because I take speeches and past events and remake them into emotional EDM tracks,” said Kugach, “My goal is to become known as the guy who does those type of remixes.”

Gates and Kugach discovered EDM music at the beginning of a boom in the industry, which is continuing today.

“When the EDM bubble started in 2011/12, it really went from being underground to mainstream. Now, even pop stars like Rihanna, Chris Brown, Katy Perry, and Flo Rida use EDM beats.” Dan Green, director of 515 Alive Music Festival in Des Moines.

EDM music has been popular on the coasts but has been a little slow to take hold in the Midwest.

“I think sites like SoundCloud are really pushing electronic music to the masses,” said Green, “The community is very strong and very dedicated.”

In the past year, U.S. streams have increased 33 percent to about 15 million plays.

There are even EDM clubs at major universities. The University of Minnesota EDM Club hosts weekly meetings where members work on their DJing skills, make kandi (multicolored bead bracelets) and share music. They also sponsor EDM concerts on campus.

“We are a club that offers camaraderie between those who enjoy EDM and its intricacies,” said Lauren Nordvold, the club’s public relations officer. “We hope to continue to be a place where EDM lovers can unite and share in their passions for music.”

515 Alive Music Festival Director Dan Green. Photo courtesy of Dan Green.

EDM music is growing around the world. There were 12 new entries in the 2017 version of DJ Mag’s “Top 100 Clubs. Six entries were from Europe, four in Asia, one from South America and one in North America.

Nordvold sees music festivals as instrumental in exposing new people to the genre.

“Music festivals have become hugely popular, and EDM music has become a staple of festivals,” said Nordvold, “The more people attend music festivals, the more people are exposed to EDM and develop and appreciation for it.”

515 Alive Music Festival, for example, brings nationally known DJ’s and huge crowds to Iowa, which is not traditionally a huge EDM market.

The festival continues to grow with each passing year. 515 expanded to a two-day festival in 2015 and drew in more than 15,000 attendees from around the country last year.

The festival will celebrate its 15th anniversary on August 18-19 at Water Works Park. The event has featured such names as ASAP Ferg and Machine Gun Kelly in addition to top EDM producers.

“We look for a variety of genres and styles.  We try to get a little bit of every type of electronic music and also incorporate hip-hop in,” Green said, “Iowa does well with hip-hop, funk-bass, trap, dubstep and a little house/techno.”

Despite caution from people in the music business, Green thinks the industry will continue to grow.

“Festivals’ attendance and income are still increasing every year along with the prices of the acts.  People say the bubble is about to burst, but I think that’s just naysayers.” Green said.