[EDITORIAL] Is Organic Dance Music the Face of Nu-EDM?

The date is February 25, 2016. The members of Autograf are playing U Street Music Hall. At the moment, they’re test driving their live setup. Autograf had utilized marimba in the past, something I’ve mockingly called “mallethaüs,” but this is their first real turn into adding a variety of live elements to their show.

For the crowd of twenty-somethings in attendance, this is a strange notion. Most of the people who came to see Autograf are stoked to see a live show, but were expecting a DJ set; partially spurred by their opener, Chet Porter, and the venue’s reputation for primarily featuring a bevy of talented DJs and producers.

Little did this crowd know that this wouldn’t be a phase, but the beginning of a special chapter of this Chicago based trio’s journey through an incredibly successful 2016. Autograf in the coming months would perfect it down to a science and wind up playing to sold out crowds across the globe – and they would be 100% live.

Electronic music in the past year and a half has seen a major mental shift both from artists and fans. Talking to multiple industry insiders, everyone seems to agree that a lot of the new dance music aficionados brought up during the #EDM boom are searching for something with more substance. Something, even, that feels individual and unique. After all, much of the dance music boom around 2010 benefitted from a blend of alternative parties and viral styles from the dance punk coming out of New York to the “blog house” remixes of popular alt-rock tracks of the era. And six years later, in the wake of it all, many dance music fans want that weird, intricate, organic feeling back.

“Talking to multiple industry insiders, everyone seems to agree that a lot of the new dance music aficionados brought up during the #EDM boom are searching for something with more substance.”

Just take a look at some of the biggest dance music stories of the last six months: LCD Soundsystem reuniting after calling it quits; Justice and MSTRKRFT coming out with new material; Daft Punk potentially touring in 2017. All of these stories have roots in a bygone era of dance music where the music was live, the music was real, and the artists really only seemed to care about sharing something new instead of being viral or having a clever Instagram feed.

Now, at a time when dance music continues to feel more vapid, these kinds of artists, I feel, are making a comeback because they continue to look forward while staying true to their vision. They’re making music that people feel they can almost touch. It’s real to them. And it calls back to a time, just when #EDM was taking hold, where there was a more diverse sea of subgenres to choose from.

Many artists are also recognizing this interest in musical experiences with more substance – especially those in our world of nu-EDM. Aside from Autograf, there’s Goldroom, Disclosure, Slow Magic, and CHVRCHES just to name a few. All of these artists are bringing context to their music by giving fans the opportunity to see them in the moment, on the fly, making electronic music a visual medium in ways that outshine just a simple light show.

“They’re making music that people feel they can almost touch.”

Talking to an attendee at last year’s Landmark Festival in D.C., I asked them what made CHVRCHES so special to them. “It’s not that they aren’t good, because they are,” she said. “But it’s that they took the time to give us something more real than a few people behind some turntables.” It was interesting to note that earlier in the day, we were also treated to both Dan Deacon and Chromeo: two artists who DJ in addition to creating visceral live shows with their respective sounds.

Asking a young man his opinion on Dan Deacon as he walked away from the stage that day, he professed that Deacon was his favorite artist at the festival. “He’s more than a DJ; he’s an experience.”

Another similar sentiment was felt at Disclosure’s most recent stop in Washington at Echostage. As one person so eloquently put it to me in the bathroom, “There’s just something dope about seeing them ‘slappa da bass.’” And even if things are 100% clean during a show, as seen during MSTRKRFT’s live show at U Street Music Hall earlier this year, it still stirs people up. “It didn’t matter that [MSTRKRFT] was fucking up for a second on stage,” an attendee told me outside while smoking a cigarette. “The fact that they’re up there making original music on the spot, music that is just for us, takes a lot of balls.”

The consensus is dance music fans in the nu-EDM era are hungry for something more. Whether it’s a call back to more organic sounding music or more traditional live experiences as producers bring their electronic compositions to life, there’s a yearning for something which traditional DJ sets doesn’t always give. And even though bringing dance music to life isn’t a new idea by any stretch of the imagination, it’s breathing new life into our new era of nu-EDM.