These days, there’s a lot of bellyaching over EDM. It’s been scolded, hyperventilated and dogmatized. Saturday Night Live has people’s heads exploding from it à la Indiana Jones’ Nazi comeuppance. Some Europeans are turning their noses up and wagging their fingers: You Americans may have invented techno and house music, but you don’t get to indulge in your own EDM marketing hooey! The condescension is rich with amnesia. Even TV chef and motor-mouth Anthony Bourdain has dubbed EDM the kingdom of “douchebaggery”—cue Rolling Stone making hay. (Has anyone stopped to think about what that last curse actually means? It ain’t pretty.)
Which is to say, there’s a divide the size of the Grand Canyon opening up on the wild, wild web between the old cats and the young cats. The question is: Who are the cool cats? Sure, Bourdain actually scrubs his bathtub to trip-hop group Morcheeba or daydreams to the dark synthpop of Depeche Mode’s “World in my Eyes.” His travel food shows are up to their proverbial necks in electronic rhythms, sexy house music and Ibizan chill-wavery. It’s a smokescreen to get ratings, but taken out of context.
At the same time, too few on the chipper side of 30 know the true history of electronic dance music, including the blood, sweat and tears spent to serve EDM up on a silver platter. Those who came before are legends worthy of serious respect: people like Juan Atkins, Frankie Bones, DJ Pierre, DJ Dan, Doc Martin, Hardkiss, Ashley Beedle, KLF, Orbital, and on and on. No, what we’re talking about here is a generational disconnect, rooted in style wars and the glorious confusion of words.
So, in the interest of world peace and raver love, we give you an exercise in 21st-century diplomacy. Whatever camp you’re in, remember these 10 things about your counterpart the next time you feel the urge to hurl insults instead of busting a move on the dancefloor.
10 things new ravers should know about old-schoolers:
1. “Electronic dance music,” “house,” “techno,” “electronica,” “EDM”—whatever the hell you call it, it isn’t new. It’s not even from the ’90s, when rave exploded underground in America. Or even the ’80s, when “house” music got a name in Chicago, and Detroit gave “techno” its midnight gravitas. It started roughly in the ’70s with the so-called “death of disco” and the birth of synthpop.
2. Despite European influences, this music was invented in the US. As Avicii and Swedish House Mafia figured out with their country-pop EDM ballads, it’s as American as apple pie. But like the British Invasion of rock—think the Beatles—marquee names from overseas have convinced many that Europe is the creative epicenter. Not so. We’re just on a pendulum swing that always begins in the New World.
3. That said, what about Kraftwerk? No, that’s not the German word for macaroni and cheese; it means “power station,” and it’s the name of the Düsseldorf band that first put electronic pop music on the map. Most importantly, Kraftwerk inspired countless techno, electro and house originators. They’re still ticking and kicking, playing acclaimed shows around the world—because you know, these post-World War II robots are on a mission of righteous peace and brotherly love. Daft Punk? The French cyborgs owe beaucoup thanks to these ironic Teutonic androids.
4. The word “tribe” was once used everywhere to describe rave PLUR-ality and dance collectives (Tribal Gathering, Spiral Tribe, Moontribe, Dubtribe), until ravers got sorta tribal in a bad way. No matter how much we believed we were one tribe, people always resolved to cliques. Still, everyone’s heart was in the right place, and the idea that future primitives could help dream up the future was real.
5. Speaking of primitive, mixing used to be fucking hard. It took full concentration just to match beats, much less take people on a seamless journey. It took hard-earned cash to buy turntables and a mixer and to build a record collection. DJs had to hunt for vinyl at specialty record stores tucked away in big cities. There was no Beatport, no SoundCloud, and no Discogs. DJing was a labor of love by default. Because it was, you could hear the revolution in the music.
6. At first, going to a club or party was the only way most people could hear this music. But eventually, DJ mixtapes became prized currency and the primary method by which DJs hooked fans and impressed promoters. You put the cassette into your car, and you bumped it while you ran errands, drove to work, and especially when you were headed to a party. When you heard a new tape for the first time, it was a secret cinema, your very own private psychedelic reel.
7. Pagers, answering machines, tape decks, landlines, paper fliers, zines—there was no internet at rave’s genesis. You had to know someone to get the number that got you to the party that got you a flier that got you to the next party. Pagers, hotlines, and answering machines helped grease the wheels. Back then, word of mouth was actually word of mouth.
8. Things like map points—a second or sometimes third location you had to find to get final directions to an underground party—along with three- to four-hour drives to a rave, were part of the adventure. No festivals hosted this music; you had to go the distance. These twists and turns were a ritual that added to the anticipation and excitement. They told you the future was in front of you.
9. Dancing to electronic dance music was a liberation that broke the mold. Old-school ravers danced with a primal freedom that often scared those looking in. With the “death of disco,” America had forgotten how to groove; and as Daft Punk reminds us, TV ruled the nation. Rave came along in the computer age, during the dawn of the internet, and before the trauma of 9/11. It freed minds and got asses moving.
10. If you don’t know Joey Beltram’s “Energy Flash,” then God help you. It’s a hulking, lightsaber-wielding, fingertip-zapping romp through techno’s most wicked bass region of the sublime.
10 things old ravers should know about new-schoolers:
1. You old-school ravers are actually old. Some of you could be our parents. Some of you are our parents! That’s how old you are. It’s like that movie you all love, Back to the Future. That’s why we make some of you cringe. Because you’re officially old. But hey, just so you know, that’s not a bad thing.
2. Dubstep and trap music—all this growling bass and aggressive electricity—it’s our heavy metal. It’s Korn, Megadeath and Shoreditch mixed into one. Now Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails fans have somewhere to go. The headbangers and the mosh pits have arrived. Get used to it, or keep walking to the yoga tent. Bonus: Maybe now more Americans will learn what “dub” reggae is. That’s right, Jamaica pretty much invented the first “technological” music.
3. Brohammers—those buff bros of “brostep” ill repute—get dressed up in crazy outfits just like the rest of us, from spacesuits to robot chickens. Frat boys rave with their pledges too, dressing up as the Super Mario Brothers or stormtroopers. Everyone’s electronic now; everyone embraces the fantasy. Wasn’t that the point of this rave revolution in the first place—to spread the love?
4. Candy is no longer synonymous with rave kids sucking on pacifiers and waving glow-sticks. It may be an old-school term, but it’s got a revamped meaning, and replacing the “c” and the “y” with a “k” and an “i” adds our own little flair. But we don’t hate. All those “candy” ravers—the old-school heads—are our role models now. They’ve kept PLUR alive more than anyone.
5. About that kandi: Well, we were only half-serious. It’s not that old school. We put our own twist to it and created this thing called “friendship bracelets,” where we thread messages or witty words with letter beads. When we befriend a new raver on the dancefloor, we exchange one of our bracelets, or we make special ones for friends. You might think it’s dumb, but it’s 100 times more meaningful than a tweet.
6. We freak to dubstep and the wild highs and lows of “bass music” pretty much for the same reasons old-school ravers went nuts to the liquid squiggles and snarls of acid house. We’re coming full circle now. Even if we don’t know what a TB-303 is or what it looks like—that silver box that launched a thousand producers, who in turn helped start a revolution—we’re still headed for the same place.
7. We know you old-schoolers think we know absolutely nothing about the history of EDM, but we actually know more than you think. Many of us dig older artists like Moby, Prodigy or Underworld. Skrillex was influenced by ’90s pioneers like Orbital. Steve Aoki is championing DJ Pierre. Some of us have even studied up on Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles. Like Daft Punk, some of us do our Homework.
8. Contrary to popular belief, like deadmau5 told Madonna, we’re not all here to get our Molly on. Plenty of us are just fine with blinding visuals and “Harlem Shake” hysterics. We don’t feel the same angst or carry the same baggage you rebel old-schoolers once did. We’re here to party and celebrate rather than preach. You don’t like our crazy costumes or our scantily-clad bodies? You don’t like how we dance “slow” to trap music? This is your revolution, but it’s ours now, too.
9. We’re going to live forever because we know we could die tomorrow. We grew up in the shadows of 9/11 and two wars while our privacy was plucked away. Oh, and we had the Great Recession to cheer us up. You old-school dreamers built the dream, but we’re here to live it.
10. If you don’t know deadmau5’s “Strobe,” then God help you. It‘s a perfect boomerang through EDM’s buzzy electro starlit hills, roaming to a thumping kick drum under a melancholy melodic sky, that would make Tron cry and doves defy.