A DJ with lots of Twitter followers, a giant stage and some impressive lasers: The American dance music festival circuit has exploded in scale over the past few years, but it's matured in style. Any number of U.S.-based mega-dance events seem bent on adding side stages, VIP packages, dinners and other accouterments, all without challenging or questioning the notion of audiences standing, watching and, at worst, filming a DJ's performance with an iPhone.
One company with decades of experience in dance music culture is looking not to change the existing festival culture, but to offer an additional experience for dance music (or, in the States, "EDM") fans who may be fatigued with existant events. ID&T, the premiere purveyor of European dance music festivals like Tomorrowland, Mystery Dance and Q Dance, is taking Sensation -- a theatrical dance experience at which attendees must dress in all white -- on a U.S. tour.
Beginning on Sept. 14 at Oakland's Oracle Arena and ending in late October with two nights at New York's Barclays Center, where the festival had its first-ever U.S. dates a year earlier, Sensation: Ocean of White will traverse the nation not only as its own event, but as the foundation of ID&T's much grander plan. In an interview with The Huffington Post, ID&T's CEO Ritty van Straalen and Creative Director Jeroen Jansen delineated how they hope to eventually bring all of their brands to the United States.
Sensation came first, a move Jansen explains by describing the all-white party as "'step-in' event. -- easily accessible, and we can show the people what we're capable of." TomorrowWorld, the U.S. incarnation of Tomorrowland, a famously elaborate and massive festival that takes place in a lush setting, also lands stateside in September. That festival will take place in the Chattahoochee Hills just outside of Atlanta. "What we try to do is Boy Meet Girl," van Straalen added. "it's that theme the whole night."
If it seems like things are moving quickly, that's because they are. One big player in ID&T's master plan is Robert Sillerman's SFX Entertainment. Sillerman, a concert and music industry veteran known for a die-hard approach to business matters, purchased a 75 percent share of ID&T in a $102 million deal. Jansen says the infusion of cash hasn't changed the Dutch company's mission.
"Creative control is why we didn't do the deal at first," he said. "But when they came back to us, we said the most important aspect was for us to retain creative control, from music to colors to everything. That's what's in the deal, and that's why we made it. It's a very positive corporation, they leave us to do what we do, and when it comes to new projects, they can fund it -- if there is business, of course."
"We only have healthy frictions at the moment," van Straalen added. "We're new in this market and they can grow us. There are people in SFX who have done this for 20, 30, 40 years. They know the way. I think it's good that we have a partner who challenges us."
Where ID&T is not new, of course, is the broader dance music scene. ID&T's events are broken into quadrants, defined by music style and corresponding audience demographics. Sensation, for example, is a more mainstream sound with a slightly more mature audience, as opposed to Q Dance's hardstyle and younger, underground crowd. "Mainstream," however, means something different in ID&T's universe than in the Tiesto-Avicii-Afrojack orbit of the American market. At last year's Sensation shows in Brooklyn, New York legend Danny Tenaglia played in a room many times larger than most of his domestic dates, a twist given the fact that Dutch party planners put on the event.
"What surprised me [about coming to America] is that in Europe, there's a whole culture," van Straalen said. "It's 20 or 25 years of developing the whole electronic music scene to what it is now. This was also going on in the States, but I don't know -- from a creative aspect, I miss the spark."
As for whether or not the American festival market is already overcrowded, Jansen isn't worried. "It's interesting to see the perspective of a market like the Netherlands, where we only have 50 million people and about 3 million young adults," he said. "But during the festival summer, which is only five months, there are 500 festivals going on. If you put that layer on the world map, you can see the perspective of electronic music worldwide. It's very huge, and maybe it's a bit saturated in the Netherlands, but still, last year, 80 percent of those festivals sold out. That give you an idea of the future of dance music, not only in America but in Latin America and Asia."
The Dutch duo was quick to acknowledge U.S. companies that are putting on more textured festivals and events, including Detroit's Movement festival, which van Straalen sees as "choosing to stand for something," and Sleep No More and Fuerza Bruta, both of whom Jansen said ID&T would like to work with on creating a dance music version of their events. ID&T is also in touch with three hotels in Las Vegas, where it hopes to launch a new project that's "in between in Sleep No More and Sensation," Jansen said.
Last year, Sensation scandalized and impressed the New York metro area with a 21-plus party in the house that Jay-Z built, in a market where many festivals are all ages or 18-plus. This year, they hope to make some money by reminding attendees why house music was even born in the United States. "Fun is also missing now, because people are really obsessed with the DJ, and that's not how we think and it's also not how house started here," Jansen said. "It was a movement against hedonistic pop culture, where people were standing on a big stage and looking down on an audience and doing 12 songs. Dance music was a movement against that -- the DJ was low and it was about interacting and meeting people. That's where it came from, and that's what we want to bring. Twenty years ago when we started the company we were a group of friends, and we're still there, all of us."
Tickets for Sensation's U.S. Tour, go on sale today.