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Electronic dance music, also known as EDM, appears to be among the music industry’s newest genres, but it’s origins actually date back to influences from Europe in the early 1980’s. Characterized by seamless selections of tracks, mixed live by a DJ, and/or remixes of already established pop or rock hits, EDM emerged along with the rave and club culture that grew out of Ibiza, Spain.
The Balearic Island became known as a haven for excess—socially, culturally, and musically. Launched in part by Alfredo Fiorito, resident DJ at the island’s club Amnesia, EDM was poorly received in America initially, until in the 1990’s it was rebranded as “electronica.” Bands from across the pond, such as Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, and Underworld were among the earliest to enjoy moderate success in the United States, but it was the rise of dub music with its Jamaican reggae origins that helped EDM find its foothold in the United States.
Ultimately, what first emerged in the United States was a blend of funk and electro-pop, often with ambient dub influences, in the early 1980’s. One of the earliest electronic dance hits, “On and On” by Chicago DJ Jesse Saunders is today often referenced as the “first house record,” although other releases similar in style (“Doctorin’ the House” by Coldcut and “Pump up the Volume” by MARRS) enjoyed success quickly thereafter. But EDM’s biggest American breakthrough came nearly a decade later with Madonna’s 1988 hit album, Ray of Light, which incorporated the characteristics of EDM on nearly all its tracks. By the new millennium, producers and DJs such as Tiesto were enjoying hits in both Europe and America; when Tiesto’s original music composed specifically for the 2004 Summer Olympics was played during the event’s opening ceremony, the EDM genre was solidified as a legitimate and rising music category.
Two years later, one of the world’s largest music festivals—Coachella—featured the EDM artist Daft Punk as one of its featured performers, exposing fans of all different types of music to the legitimacy of EDM. That same year, Justin Timberlake’s megahit “SexyBack” demonstrated the fusion of R&B and EDM influences and how versatile the genre could be.
Today, EDM is among the most successful genres in music, with artists such as David Guetta (“Titanium”), Avicii (“Wake Me Up”), and Deadmau5 (“I Remember.”) Promoters and venues have embraced EDM as a high-end moneymaker as well; media executive Robert F. X. Sillerman of Live Nation fame invested over a billion dollars to establish SFX Entertainment in 2012. The new endeavor will focus almost exclusively on EDM performances and investments. Despite its occasional criticism for its drug-influences and heavy commercialism, EDM remains as a growing genre, perhaps the fastest growing in the industry, with subgenres (house, techno, trance, etc.) cropping up every single year.
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