Dance/Electronica Music Marches To Its Own Beat

With sold-out festivals, creative artistry and a diverse GRAMMY nominee field, dance/electronica music is swimming in the mainstream
  • Photo: Chelsea Lauren/WireImage.com
    Skrillex
  • Photo: Theo Wargo/WireImage
    David Guetta
  • Photo: Barry Brecheisen/Getty Images
    Deadmau5
  • Photo: Samir Hussein/Getty Images
    La Roux's Elly Jackson
February 07, 2012 -- 5:10 pm PST
By Brent Burns / GRAMMY.com

While dance/electronica music is heard in the background in nightclubs, Internet communities such as Beatport and hyperactive car commercials, alongside pop, rap, country, and R&B, some would argue it is a genre swimming underneath the mainstream. On the other hand, in drawing 250,000 fans to festivals such as Las Vegas' Electric Daisy Carnival in June 2011, artists such as David Guetta cracking the Top 10 on the Billboard 200 and a diverse nominee slate for this year's GRAMMY Awards, perhaps the dance/electronica genre is nestled comfortably as a part of mainstream music.

Since nominations were announced in November 2011, some have been calling this the watershed moment for dance/electronica music at the GRAMMYs, with dubstep artist Skrillex garnering an impressive five nominations, including in the prestigious Best New Artist category. And for the first time ever in the history of the GRAMMY telecast, dance/electronica music will be highlighted with a special performance featuring Deadmau5 and David Guetta with Chris Brown, Foo Fighters and Lil Wayne on the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, Feb. 12. This special segment is only an extension of The Recording Academy's embrace of the dance/electronica genre, following the installation of the Best Dance Recording category in 1997.

The Dance/Electronica Field added a second category, Best Dance/Electronica Album, in 2004. Winners have included Basement Jaxx, the Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, and Lady Gaga. English electropop duo La Roux picked up the album award at the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards last February, while Rihanna's ubiquitous "Only Girl In The World," produced by Stargate, Kuk Harrell and Sandy Vee, won for Best Dance Recording.

While dance/electronica music has been widespread and influential for many years, its mainstream acceptance brings with it the risk of being subsumed by broader styles, not unlike punk rock’s gentrification by pop into the more consumer-friendly new wave. But the mixing of genres can also produce the creative DNA to keep a form healthy and thriving. That’s exemplified by the recent partnership between The Academy and Hyundai for Re:Generation, a documentary that makes a powerful statement about music's creative process. Premiering during GRAMMY Week on Feb. 9, Re:Generation chronicles the creative journey of leading DJs the Crystal Method, DJ Premier, Pretty Lights, three-time GRAMMY winner Mark Ronson, and Skrillex as they interpret and put a new spin on traditional styles of music, from classical and jazz to rock and funk. The film captures the DJs collaborating with some of music's top artists, including Erykah Badu, the Doors, LeAnn Rimes, and Nas, among others.

This collaborative spirit of the dance/electronica genre has been recently sampled in songs such as Rihanna's "We Found Love" in which the pop songstress teams with DJ Calvin Harris for a club-ready danceable tune, SBTRKT's "Wildfire" featuring electronica artist Little Dragon and hip-hop newcomer Drake and Guetta's "Without You" featuring Usher.

GRAMMY-nominated artist Moby, whose most recent nomination came in 2008 for Best Electronic/Dance Album for Last Night, recognizes the increasing popularity of the genre.

"If you go to a rock concert, there are four people standing onstage playing songs that sound nice," Moby recently told USA Today. "[If] you go see Skrillex or Deadmau5 live, there's a huge production value. The lights, the sound — it's hard not to be impressed."

Current GRAMMY nominee Deadmau5 has built a worldwide audience over several years putting on light-show performances wearing his signature "ugly a** mouse head that only cost me $500 to make," according to the artist. After earning his first GRAMMY nomination in 2008 for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical for "The Longest Road (Deadmau5 Remix)," the artist is up for three awards this year, including Best Dance/Electronica Album for 4X4=12.

Speaking to the recently announced plans by television personality/producer Simon Cowell ("American Idol," "The X Factor") for a talent competition focusing on finding the world's best DJs, Deadmau5 says dance/electronica music is finally getting the attention it has long deserved.

"It sure seems that [dance/electronica music] has been deemed fashionable these days to warrant its own long overdue primetime slot to the masses," Deadmau5 said in a post on his blog. "This concept, if anything, is going to catapult the awareness of [the genre] through the roof."

As all indicators point to a heightened mainstream profile for dance/electronica music, artistry and a sense of community remain the key ingredients for Skrillex.

"Now electronic music isn't [just] the side stage thing," said Skrillex in a video interview with The Recording Academy regarding his Best New Artist nomination. "These artists are really being recognized as artists. That's the coolest part. To be a part of that is awesome, and it means so much to my community." 

(Brent Burns is the founder and creator of KickKickSnare.com, a music blog based in Los Angeles. He has a particular love for dance/electronica music and is the GRAMMY.com Community Blogger for the Dance/Electronica Field.)

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