These past 12 months saw electronic music finally exit the underground, and while this was cause for excitement, it wasn’t without its rude awakenings. Before anyone had a chance to revel in the potential of dance music’s universal acceptance here in the U.S., people were riled up, disparaging its commercialization and debating its credibility as a music and performance medium. It turns out longtime fans are deeply protective of their dance beats—rightfully so—and while millennial ravers are flocking to the music in droves, many out there still just don’t get it. Popularity isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Taking the good with the bad, here are our high and low points of nightlife in 2012.
Bass and beats Once a style of dance music gets too big, the scene’s cleverest minds set out to switch things up. This year, that meant moving away from dubstep into new and uncharted worlds of bass music that incorporate techno, 2-step, footwork and hip-hop. Artists like Scuba and Flying Lotus refused to be pigeonholed.
Chicago While EDM mania swept the nation, many in Chicago hunkered down and fiercely protected their homegrown scene. Parties like Hugo Ball, Queen! and Rhythmatic at Smart Bar kept true to the city’s house-music history, Porn and Chicken and Stardust reminded us that the nightlife is still about getting freaky, Push Beats kept underground heads nodding, and Fridays at Spy Bar steadily pushed the boundaries of techno and house.
Festivals Fun in the sun? Always a must in Chicago, but did we really need five festivals, three dedicated almost entirely to dance music? Uh, no. With Wavefront and Spring Awakening added to the seasonal festival landscape and a steroidal injection of EDM into the Lolla lineup, there were lots of amazing acts to hear and dance to, but it was ultimately a case of quantity over quality.
DubstepWhen did dubstep become the new metal? Or is it that nu-metal is the new dubstep? Either way, it’s begun sinking to tasteless depths that are miles away from the sound and culture the genre came from. It feels as if every big-name act boasting low-end and buzz-saw beats adopted personal branding that channels Terminator 2 or Friday the 13th (or both)—see Excision or Datsik for examples—and, musically, testosterone was the only thing climbing the charts.
EDM A catchall like EDM can’t serve to do anything but set back every artist in what is really a vibrant and diverse electronic-music scene. It’s like calling all soft drinks Coke, and to many it’s come to mean only two sounds: electro and dubstep, hardly all electronic music has to offer. The sooner this narrow-minded signifier goes the way of electronica, the better.