The 2010’s were a tumultuous time for the world. War, democratic upheaval, rising inequality, migration crises and more have made the world a very different place then what it was 10 years ago. However, we are not going to get into all of that (head to a major news site for that), but instead focus on electronic music and how it evolved rapidly over that time, largely in the United States and North America. The 2010’s can be seen as the period dance music grew up in the US.
At the beginning of the decade, a revolution was already underway. Artists like David Guetta were bringing synthesized electronic beats to the radio, uprooting the 2000s monopoly on music by hip-hop, R&B and the last vestiges of indie rock in that era. As the 2000’s came to a close, pop stars like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Pitbull and pop-R&B / hip-hop artists like Ne-Yo, Usher or Flo Rida all wanted a piece of the action. There was a gold rush to make thumping, heavily distorted, electronic beats for a party. Mashups of electronic songs and hip-hop or pop records in the late 2000s by the likes of Super Mash Bros, DJ Ear Worm and Girl Talk had provided a gateway for young people across the country to just the instrumentals.
That isn’t to say there wasn’t plenty of great electronic music being made in the 2000’s, but the audience was not anywhere near what it was going to become.
In the beginning of the decade, emerged a wave of bombastic, over the top, festival-sized electronic music. The likes of Swedish House Mafia, Avicii and Skrillex went from names familiar to those in the know, to having their music played in college bars and on the radio. Songs like Skrillex “Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites” ushered in a new wave of heavy, relentless dubstep, often referred to as “brostep.” It would lose some steam in the middle of the decade, but has since remerged as a dominant force in the past two or three years.
The stadium sized melodies of the likes of Avicii, Swedish House Mafia, Alesso, Afrojack, Hardwell, Nicky Romero and others became ubiquitous in the mainstream landscape. The genre was also exploding with repetitive, drum-heavy tracks like Sandro Silva & Quintino “Epic,” before this movement got supercharged with Martin Garrix’s breakout hit “Animals.” It could feel like someone was bashing in your skull with a kickdrum, but these tracks were the perfect main stage fodder.
With this explosion of dance music as a new youth musical culture, events started to proliferate as a way to capitalize on it. Festivals in New York, El Paso, LA, Atlanta, Philadelphia and elsewhere started to emerge as the place to be for teens and 20-somethings throughout the year. Acts like Swedish House Mafia, Eric Prydz and even Bassnectar were attempting arena shows in venues like Madison Square Garden – a goal just five years before that would have been laughed out of the door.
Bubble Pop or Flattened?
But then something happened in 2013. Avicii shocked the world by bringing out a banjo and kazoo at Ultra Music Festival, signaling his switch to country-light commercial dance music. Swedish House Mafia went on their One Last Tour and broke up. SFX, a mismatched and mismanaged conglomerate that had been hovering up companies like Disco Donnie Presents, Beatport and Life In Color, IPOed and flopped spectacularly. They would eventually slowly crawl to bankruptcy in 2016, after splitting up the company for spare parts. Think pieces were written about how the bubble had popped and electronic music was dying. The sugary rush of dopamine dance music was running its course and dying off. Skrillex (Diplo & DJ Snake as well) would go on to help create vocal-chopped dance pop and shift away from the excesses of his previous production. Porter Robinson dropped his electro for 2014 LP Worlds -- his stunning pivot into a beautiful new sound.
It seemed as though fans were looking for something different. In stepped Disclosure with release of their 2013 album Settle that sparked a deep house revolution. Fans started to explore the world of house and techno and liked what they saw.
Festivals started to pop up amidst increasing interest in sounds outside of the mainstream. People’s tastes were starting to mature. Those crazed high schoolers and college kids had reached their mid-20s and didn’t want over-processed kick drums and sylenth synths to blast away their eardrums. Mainstream event nights at clubs and concert venues were largely canceled in favor of house and techno. The commercial DJs, who once played for sold out crowds in concert halls, were being sent to bottle service clubs for soft ticket events. DJs were playing house music on the main stage and dubstep was combined with house music to create bass house. Everyone wanted in. The mainstream guys “went back to their roots” and started making house music. Tropical house – a pan flute version of house music, became popular, as fans wanted something more relaxed and beachy.
Bubble Flattening Towards House & Techno:
In this evolution emerged a new love for house and techno, a sound created in the United States, but then tossed back into the underground for nearly 20 years as Europe embraced it in full force. Now house and techno were back. There was still Jack Ü’s 2015 record, but that was taking a left turn into dancehall and dubstep. Instead fans were latching onto Jamie xx, Gesaffelstein, Four Tet, Floating Points, Jlin and even Grimes’ own electro-pop. Fans wanted more from their DJs, elevating the likes of Nina Kraviz, Peggy Gou, Ben UFO, Bicep, Jamie Jones and The Black Madonna to the global stage. Remember when Guy Gerber did an album with Diddy? That would have never happened without a shift towards house and techno. House and techno labels became larger and larger with the likes of Crosstown Rebels, Drumcode and Anjunadeep becoming some of the most influential names in the business.
Live Electronic Music Becomes a Force:
In the 1990’s there were groups like Underworld, The Prodigy and Faithless that all sang over their own mix of house, techno, grunge and breakbeats. Now there was a new crop of live performers in electronic music. Things evolved into the latter part of the 2010’s with more DJs turning to some sort of a live show to push through the noise. Going beyond the DJs who just hit a drum pad, there were groups like RÜFÜS DU SOL, Odesza and Bob Moses that showed that electronic music doesn’t have to be a DJ standing behind a DJ booth. This helped move electronic music out of the club and into the concert venue in a more authentic way. RÜFÜS played for 21,000 in LA this past fall – an impossible feat a couple of years ago.
Las Vegas is always a driving force for music around the world, but this time Vegas supercharged dance music’s explosion in powerful and sometimes damaging ways. DJs were routinely offered six figures to play for a bunch of moneyed Vegas weekenders. DJs like deadmau5, Calvin Harris and Steve Aoki were pulling in huge sums each weekend for yearlong residencies and slewing the market for other clubs. But just as tastes shifted, so did Vegas – slightly. Now DJs like Jamie Jones, Guy Gerber, Black Coffee and Nicole Moudaber all have their own residencies.
A Greener Industry:
As the world (or at least the smart ones) finally wakes up to the dangers of climate change, dance music has started to feel the pressure to go green. Single use plastics are being fazed out of a lot of venues, artists are working to clean up plastics from the ocean and using their platform to encourage greener behavior. A lot is still to be done, from renewable energy at festivals, to fazing out plastics entirely and carbon offsetting flights. Fans should demand more, but this is a start.
In a decade where powerful men have started to be held accountable for their actions, dance music has started to see some of that change. Datsik and Jackmaster are two notable examples of men being held accountable for sexually assaulting and harassing women. Venues started campaigns to end harassment on their dancefloors and fans seem to be more cognizant of what is going on around them, calling out bad behavior. There is still A LOT more to be done, but the movement has started in earnest.
DJs Become Superstars:
The superstar DJ is not a new concept. Mixmag in 1994 called Sasha the “son of god” and that era saw the likes of Carl Cox, Paul Oakenfold and Tiësto become global superstars. This exploded in the 2010’s as DJs could stand in front of a crowd of 60,000 on the back of a single hit record. They became the new rock stars. That reverence for DJs has changed little by the end of the decade, with big names flying on private jets and becoming friends with celebrities and fashion stars. They became celebrities in their own right.
With this star power, came more collaborations between genres. Hip-hop and dance music saw an important marriage, not just in trap music – an instrumental version of hip-hop that comes from the South, but also with pop stars using DJs to help propel their careers (Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande or Selena Gomez).
Electronic music is bound to its technology. With the explosion of the genre and DAWs (digital audio workstation) becoming cheaper and easier to get, anyone could be a producer. Just download an illegal version of Ableton, look at YouTube tutorials and you can be on your way. Music making didn’t need a studio anymore or fancy equipment. This led to some very exciting new ideas from the fringes of music, but also a cycle of copying new trends to the level of distressing over-saturation.
Decade Comes To A Close:
As the decade comes to a close, there has been a notable evolution in how electronic music sounds, is perceived and what fans come to expect from it. There are still the commercial mainstream sounds on the main stage, but just as importantly are the house and techno DJs on side stages sometimes as big as the main stage. Electronic music underwent massive change and quite quickly over the course of a decade – fitting for a genre built around technology. At the offset, the general public was confused by DJs, what they do and how electronic music is made. Now the craft is more understood and is quite popular, with some a babies being "taught" now to do it.
Dance music didn’t go anywhere in the middle of the decade, but the excesses have largely been reeled in. The industry's value exploded in the early part of the decade and has petered off and remained largely stagnant. It became a force beyond just commercial pop as more authentic sounds emerged and rose up to prominence beyond the far reaches of the underground. Dance music in the US had its crazy teen moment of arena-sized beats, but now it has matured up into a wiser and more knowledgeable fan base. This was the decade dance music grew up.