The Ultra Music Festival, the 2018 edition of which closed in Miami last night, is one of the highlights of the electronic dance music, or EDM, calendar, welcoming more than 165,000 revellers to the city’s Bayfront Park.
This year’s event was a landmark for the organisers, marking 20 years since the first Ultra festival took place, at Collins Park in Miami Beach (the name, Ultra, incidentally, was in homage to Depeche Mode’s similarly-titled 1997 album).
As the live footage on YouTube indicated, the three-day event was packed with pyrotechnics, Hollywood-esque stage constructions and a myriad of megastars largely unknown to those of us born pre-2000 (although seeing Sasha and Digweed on the lineup was a welcome bit of nostalgia).
If this sort of ‘last night on earth’ revelry looks familiar, it’s because the EDM scene appears to be becoming a parody of itself, where DJs spend more time bouncing up and down on tables than working the EQs, where high-pass filters count as mixing, and where the contents of an entire set can be carried around on a USB stick.
The footage above could easily be taken from Tomorrowland, Electric Daisy Carnival, Electric Zoo, Mysteryland… such is EDMs propensity for taking the same product, churning it up and spitting it out for a crowd of dayglo teens waiting interminably for the fabled ‘drop’.
[EDIT: Before I continue, I should point out that while I dislike EDM, I don’t fully understand it, therefore I will refrain from commenting on the musical element of the genre. Everything else, as far as I can tell, is fair game.]
What galls me most is the wanton ostentatiousness. Watching Ultra’s live broadcast, it seems that everyone is under pressure to have the BEST TIME EVER and make sure the world knows it.
Isn’t there a case to be made for some subtlety? Give me a pulsing TB-303 and TR-909, a dark room (and maybe a strobe light or two) and I’ll be happy.
But I digress. My reason for bringing up Ultra Music Festival and EDM is that on Saturday, the Miami Herald questioned whether this scene might be coming to ‘an end’.
‘The growth of EDM was so rapid, many began to refer to it as an economic bubble, similar to the housing bubble responsible for the financial crisis of 2008,’ the article reads.
‘Many of the major players in the music scene began a downward trajectory: Google searches of the artist Skrillex peaked in 2012. Similar artists Avicii peaked in 2013 and Zedd in 2015. Swedish House Mafia, one of the household names of EDM, broke up in 2013, performing their final concert at Ultra.’
[Another EDIT: Yes I am aware that Swedish House Mafia are now ‘back’, but it’s an interesting point nonetheless]
Later in the same article, music critic Michaelangelo Matos suggests that writing the obituary for EDM might be premature, but that the scene is no longer peaking: rather it has become established.
“It doesn’t have the excitement of being the thing a whole generation of kids are into at once –– that moment passed,” he says.
As someone who’s into all branches of music, I draw parallels with the current state of EDM, and that of rock music in the mid-70s.
The early acid house era and movements that followed (house, techno, trance, drum and bass and even dubstep) could be likened to the path rock took through the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s – all raw energy and experimentation.
By the mid 70s, rock had become super-commercialised, and lost much of its ferocity (and, I would argue, passion).
This, to me, is the situation that EDM now finds itself in.
Rock’s answer to this dilemma was to rip up the rulebook and start again – leading to the birth of punk.
Could the same thing happen to EDM?