Photos by Nina Westervelt


The Future Of EDM Is Looking Up

Boom clap

The EDM bubble as we know it has burst. There's no real rhyme or reason as to why; perhaps blame it on there being too many fists pumping in the air. But what once dominated the radio waves has entered an era of afterglow that's priming itself for a renaissance of sorts. After all, electronic music isn't going anywhere anytime soon (just look at the recent festival lineups), but it is evolving.

"Usually I can predict what sound is going to be big in the next year, but I honestly have no idea right now," Phantoms' Vinnie Pergola tells me down at Hangout Fest. "Everything moves so fast now." He's not wrong. The electronic music scene, and all its subgenres, has gone from underground warehouse parties at the periphery of influence straight to the epicenter of the Zeitgeist in what feels like a blink of an eye. (Truthfully, it's taken almost two decades plus the decades preceding it on the underground.) Jimmy Valance of Canada's electronic duo Bob Moses remembers falling in love with going out to "these special events that only we knew about, parties that were illegal and could get shut down by the police." Pergola echoes this, citing the feeling of rebellion the scene courted as a community builder. It's its fusion with pop music that made the genre into the juggernaut that is is today, one that has singlehandedly transformed the festival industry and trickled down into nearly every facet of music. 

Bob Moses Photo by Nina Westervelt

Samuel Frisch of Cash Cash considers the electronic scene to be a great connector. "Its rise in popularity and ability to remain at the top reflects how a lot of people are listening to music today. Everyone listens to a bunch of different stuff." That's not to say that people weren't listening to a variety of music before the dawn of portable music, but there's no denying technology has made it umpteen times easier to carry around an entire catalog of music in a pocket, thus making all genres more accessible. 

Technology has given musicians more autonomy, too. Nearly every artist I spoke with down at Hangout Fest recalled their rock backgrounds before discovering the freedom producing electronic music afforded them. Daniela of Nora En Pure, Bob Moses, and Kungs' Valentin Brunel tell me how amazing it was to channel their energies into solo work. "I thought the best way for me to create my own music was to download a software like Ableton—you can do anything and make any sound with that," Brunel says. "You have a lot more opportunities when you have a synth and tools to manipulate them with other audio samples and sounds," NGHTMRE's Tyler Marenyi says. "The options are unlimited." 

Nora En Pure Photo by Nina Westervelt

That, of course, is a reason why many cast aside electronic music and its makers as non-musicians. "I probably dismissed a lot of great electronic music when I was younger because I thought there was no musicianship there," Rüfüs Du Sol's Tyrone Lindqvist says. While it's true that there are some electronic artists who press more buttons than string original note progresses together, the ones that make a name for themselves are musicians through and through. "People are genuinely surprised we perform with drums, guitars, and live vocals," Jon George of Rüfüs Du Sol says. Phantoms, too, infuses their live sets with new takes on their songs, saying how vital it is for them to experiment live; it's also what's keeping the electronic music scene pushing forward. 

"The artists that stay around and have a lasting impact are the ones that play to their own sound rather than what's making the playlist rounds," Cash Cash's Jean Paul Makhlouf says. "Knowing you have a through line of yourself in what you produce," Pergola echoes, "knowing people will be able to hear your music and think, Oh, that's a so-and-so song rather than, This sounds like this but also this... is the key to longevity." That's the reason nearly every musician I spoke with said artists like The Chemical Brothers, Justice, and Moby were instrumental in how they got into the making electronic music in the first place. Those acts made music that sounded like themselves; you know a Chemical Brothers song when it plays just as you know a Justice song when it plays. "The goal is to see a DJ/producer as an artist," Tom Howie of Bob Moses says. And you don't get there by merely pushing buttons.

NGHTMRE Photo by Nina Westervelt

You get there by embracing your own brand of weird. The tip of the iceberg was big EDM, like David Guetta and Avicii in the early 2010s. That sound has since disseminated into a myriad of sounds. "I really feel like EDM has grown up a lot these days," Brunel says. Phantoms' Kyle Kaplan touches on Calvin Harris' return to his early funk sounds, saying experimentation is the only way forward. "That moment is definitely over," Nora En Pure adds. "It's easier to push boundaries and blur genres today. People are ready for something more complicated and nuanced." Louis The Child looks to Japan for clues as to what's going to be big where nightlife thrives, a scene Makhlouf says will never go away regardless of region. "People like to go out and experience things firsthand," he says. Electronic music's ability to thread multiple genres together is why its influence is everywhere for it's the audience that keeps the music playing.

"In the end, though, we, electronic musicians, are songwriters and we're entertainers," Marenyi says. "If you want to be remembered, you'll do a lot better if you're mixing together many sounds and creating a great song." RIP, genre. The future of EDM is filled with so many genres, it's transcended the very idea of mere categorization, and entered the realm of the genre-less; and with freedom, comes really great music.