Dance Music’s Evolution: From Acid House to EDM

Electronic dance music has come a long way from its humble beginnings. I always find it hard to understand people who claim that dance music “isn’t music”. That might have been a valid opinion during the 1970s and 1980s when dance music was solely background music at nightclubs and not the incredibly broad and highly popular genre that it is today. However, the success of dance music is indisputable and has not only endured but grown tremendously over the last thirty years.

Dance music is arguably at its most popular and significant incarnation to date. It has gone from being an offshoot of disco that originated in Chicago that was primarily restricted to the Midwestern United States, in the form of early house music, to being an international musical sensation embraced by DJs, nightclubs, festivals and millions of listeners around the globe.

By the late eighties, dance music had already spread from the United States to Europe and took on new forms such as the iconic acid house scene as well as techno and rave variants. During this time dance music began to develop an individual character, becoming a form of music in its own right rather than backing music for pop singers. The acid house scene became a powerful new movement in UK youth and club cultures becoming visible through mass-organised illegal raves and parties across the country, a phenomenon that had not been seen since the sixties.

The acid house scene began to display psychedelic tendencies as these mass raves become drug-fuelled and soon the use of drugs such as MDMA (a relatively new drug at the time) and LSD (which was experiencing a comeback in terms of popularity) became integral to these raves. It is no surprise that the 1988-1989 period of the acid house scene would later become known as ‘The Second Summer of Love’.

As iconic as this scene was, dance music was about to go through its most innovative era during the 1990s. As new styles such as big beat, jungle and drum and bass were emerging during this time, a number of British electronic bands and DJs paved the way for dance music’s most popular period to date, achieving not just success in their native UK but also explosive success in the United States also.

Pioneers of electronic dance music (EDM) during this golden age, such as The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim, helped bring dance to the mainstream in both the UK and the US. In America, they were all marketed under the moniker of ‘electronica’, which at the time became the primary name for the genre. These electronic artists all signalled a shift from dance music’s association with pop music to a harder, heavier and more rock-like style. All of these legendary EDM artists have continued to release new material and tour right through the 2000s up until the present. Notably, The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers released new albums just last year.

When a genre becomes ‘mainstream’, it may change drastically in order to accommodate the masses and boost sales: for dance music, this began with its commercialism in the 2000s. Whilst popular DJs such as Tiesto, Armin Van Buuren and Skrillex emerged, dance music began to merge with pop. This was characterised by a number of more-mainstream DJs such as Calvin Harris, Daft Punk and Swedish House Mafia who often produced collaborations with pop singers. This arguably gave dance music more airplay and attention but overshadowed the dance music found in these songs with pop vocals, thus turning this kind of dance music into mere background music.

As dance music became more mainstream, more underground styles such as dubstep emerged and major rock bands started to take influence from electronic music such as Radiohead, Gorillaz and LCD Soundsystem, among others. Although the 2000s raised a question of whether dance music was on its way out after its golden age of the 1990s, the first half of the 2010s gave the answer quite quickly.

The 2010s could be considered the second golden age of dance music due to its current high popularity and influence. Drum and bass experienced an explosive comeback through the emergence of Chase and Status and their ground-breaking release of ‘No More Idols’. Trap music also emerged, being effectively introduced to mainstream Europe by DJ Snake and with trap music also having a notable influence on the production found in contemporary American hip hop. UK hip hop or grime would also become heavily influenced by electronic music, evident by the futuristic sound, heavy break beats and ominous basslines featured in grime production. Grime possesses a noticeably more rave-provoking sound than any other form of hip hop that has existed, most likely as a result of EDM’s influence.

Legendary DJs of the 2010s such as Avicii, Disclosure and Calvin Harris would go on to release chart-topping material during the first half of the decade. Diplo would also firmly join the ranks of these DJs, finding huge chart success through projects of his such as Major Lazer and Jack U. Whilst both dance music that leaned towards pop and darker, heavier styles of dance music are still quite prominent in today’s EDM, the dance music of the 2010s can be mostly characterised by the return in popularity of house music, something that has not been in seen since the 1980s. However, today’s house music is arguably much more popular and widespread than its eighties counterpart.

The already high but growing popularity of electronic dance music in the UK is evident by the constant expansion of the country’s premier dance music festival, Creamfields, which also attracts more and more festival goers each year. The past thirty years have seen electronic dance music not only survive the changing tastes of the mainstream but grow as a vastly broad collection of musical genres whilst also influencing a number of major pre-existing genres such as pop, rock and hip hop.

Although trends tend to come and go, it seems there is no end in sight for EDM.

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