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Electronic Dance Music and Jam Bands Tap the Same Fan Vibe

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The music pumps and pulses while tens of thousands of fans all tune into the vibe, dancing, becoming one organism where the line between artist and audience blurs. Each set is different, created for the time and place, taking advantage of the collective mindset of moment. Electronic Dance Music has quickly become the most exciting new music genre, and it's happened mostly outside of mainstream media.

EDM festivals that frequently draw more than 100,000 fans include Electric Daisy Carnival, Electric Zoo, and Ultra Music Festival and the artists that play them like Avicii, deadmau5, David Guetta, Skrillex, and Tiesto, hugely popular with EDM fans, are largely unknown outside of their fan base. Emerging from underground raves in the 1990s, EDM's tremendous growth has largely been fueled by social networks.

What's interesting is that this isn't the first time that improvisational music has emerged from the underground, fueled by live shows and word of mouth rather than record labels and radio airplay. The same phenomenon drove the music of the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers Band, and others in the emerging jam band scene of the 1960s. Unlike acts that play the same songs in the same order night after night, jam bands create a unique experience each show. It is all about the live performance and like-minded people coming together to dance and have fun. Recorded music doesn't capture the essence of what the music is about. You have to experience it live.

And now there's crossover. At music festivals like Gathering of the Vibes, held this past weekend at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Connecticut, all surviving members of the Grateful Dead played sets with their bands, while EDM was included in the late night offering. "Both EDM and jam bands are explorative," says Ken Hays, Gathering of the Vibes founder. "The Grateful Dead took the music to extremes in so many ways and the same goes for the EDM scene. The musical exploration is real and engaging and has rope to pull in the fans."

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Sound Tribe Sector 9 had Deadheads and EDM fans alike dancing in a smoky, glow stick infested, late night set at Gathering of the Vibes on Saturday night. "STS9 emerged out of the jam band scene and are now firmly into EDM but they've taken it to another level," Hays says. "Every show is incredibly different and tweaked from the last. They have a fan base that absolutely thrives on them."

Hunter Brown, Guitarist for STS9, agrees that EDM and jam bands share a focus on the live experience with the energy growing and sustaining both scenes coming from bottom-up fan generated word of mouth rather than top-down radio and other mainstream support. "Ultimately, the similarities between the two lies somewhere in the fans' willingness and desire to be taken on a live musical adventure, to be transported by the music to a place you can't quite reach in your home or in your headphones," Brown says. "I think that has everything to do with being in a crowd of people, sharing a collective moment, rising and falling together with the music. Live concerts are one of the few places to experience something like that."

Mickey Hart, percussionist for the Grateful Dead from 1967 until the band stopped touring upon Jerry Garcia's death in 1995, brought his Mickey Hart Band to Gathering of the Vibes. Hart's newest album, Mysterium Tremendum, fuses elements of the jam band scene he lived in for decades with today's electronic music. "I live in two worlds," he says. "One, the archaic world of drums and drumming -- I'm strongly embedded in it, I love striking a membrane and hearing its report and playing real rhythm. And I have one foot firmly planted in the digital domain. This is such a wonderful time where science and art are now handshaking and becoming one. I am embedding the electronic worlds in which I feel comfortable into my music. I'm into pulsing and throbbing. What you're seeing now is a wonderful groundswell of binary and acoustic information coming together into new music."

Like Hart, Brown says STS9 benefits from fans' eclectic tastes. "As a band, we want to be able to express different sides of our creative interests," he says. "We've never been comfortable being associated with one particular scene or genre. We play drums, synths, and guitars and we also use drum machines, samplers and sequencers. No matter where we are or who we're playing for, our main objective is to get the crowd moving and engaged with the music."

Hart says everybody out there, whoever they are, is looking for a feeling when experiencing music. "That's the goal and the gold of music, to find that magical combination of sound that elevates the consciousness," he says. Festivals like Gathering of the Vibes provide the environment for jam band fans and EDM fans alike to come together for some collective conscious elevation.

Photo: STS9 at Gathering of the Vibes, July 21. 2012.
Photo Credit: Richard Gastwirt