Every March, we welcome daylight savings, the transition from winter to spring, and for those of us in the dance music profession, Miami's annual Winter Music Conference. An amalgam of millionaire superstar DJ's, talent buyers, agents, managers, record company execs, journalists socialites, and party people from across the globe all converge in South Beach at industry parties, mixers, dinners, and an exhausting number of special events. The week-long celebrations are then moved to Ultra Music Festival, a three-day music festival and unofficial closing ceremony of WMC. The week is now well documented by established media outlets like Rolling Stone, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, to name a few.
WMC's genesis is much in concert with the growth and more importantly, the commodification of dance music in the United States. Once a small music conference that brought together Djs and Brits seeking an excuse to get out of dreary UK weather, Winter Music Conference, or "WMC", is now an established event that rivals mainstream music festivals. No longer a creative "think-tank", WMC has transitioned into a full-fledged DJ arms race to see who can have the biggest and best event (and paycheck). Music purists bemoan the commercialization of dance music; while advocates for commercialization advocate popularizing the genre was the only way to make it sustainable. Some argue that the likes of Avicii, Calvin Harris, and Swedish House Mafia are pioneers and should be lauded for growing dance music globally, while the die-hards or "underground" call out the aforementioned for producing only radio-friendly hits or "confetti-house", devoid of any soul. And this battle to recapture the 'soul' of dance music is what's keeping our industry up at night. Call it The Hunger Games: Dance Music Edition.
Having been in the dance music industry for 14 years (note: I didn't use the much abhorred term "EDM"), I can empathize with arguments by each side. Commercialization has certainly helped to professionalize the business and bring in new opportunities and revenue. It's made the genre more creative with Djs now investing in visuals to complement their DJ sets. It's also helped make the "underground" move above-ground by showcasing the works of industry tastemakers the likes of Richie Hawtin, Dubfire, Jamie Jones, Seth Trolxer, and Loco Dice. But it's also created a fissures within an industry that first began with core values designed around camaraderie and support thy fellow DJ. In this battle over who should best be the Ambassador of dance music, that sense of camaraderie is what's missing and it best explains why the genre has lost its way.
And with that said, I'm going into Miami this year to remind my jaded and exhausted industry friends that commercial and underground can co-exist. If Justin Timberlake can "bring sexy back" to pop music, then just maybe I can "bring soul back" to dance music. Just stop calling it 'EDM'.
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