Photo by Erik Hess
By Ian Traas
With every year that passes, it feels like electronic dance music gains a bigger foothold in the summer festival circuit, and the climb in popularity was especially apparent at Lollapalooza 2012.
Music that used to be confined to clubs and illicit warehouse parties has been adopted wholeheartedly by a new generation -- a generation that now has as many ties to house and dubstep as it does to rock and rap. The saturation of dance beats in television, radio, and advertising of all sorts has worked its eventual magic, allowing DJs and producers to conquer the world without ever needing to pick up a guitar. From Avicii to Justice to Bassnectar, the headliners at the Midwest's biggest music festival are proving that rave is now a huge component of mainstream teen culture.
At some point, you've got to hand it to Perry Farrell: He saw this coming. The Jane's Addiction frontman/Lollapalooza mastermind knew a shift was occuring when Daft Punk headlined the Chicago festival in 2007, and every Lolla iteration since has seen the lineup pay increasing attention to EDM of all shapes and sizes. The dance area (dubbed "Perry's") has seen an increase in traffic every year, to the point where the area in which the festival is held had to be expanded to account for all the party people lining up to dance all day.
Photo by Erik Hess
If the current trend continues, we're going to see even more young rock bands picking up synthesizers and drum machines just to keep up with their DJ peers. From Black Eyed Peas to Korn to Owl City, there's surging BPM and wobbling everywhere. Suddenly French house DJ/producer David Guetta is a mainstream pop star himself. Meanwhile, those same DJs are finding new ways to lure kids with open ears away from traditional rock 'n' roll. Next year, expect to see even more electronic emphasis on all stages at the festival as the music market continues to be saturated with drums and bass.
Rolling Stone cover star Deadmau5 and his giant foam helmet played a big role last year, and he was succeeded in 2012 by Avicii and Justice taking top billing. To give an indication of how popular these acts are, consider that young Swedish upstart Avicii played directly against rock icons Red Hot Chili Peppers on Saturday, with French doom-house duo Justice closing out the festival on the north end of the park while Jack White (of White Stripes/Raconteurs/Dead Weather fame) held the southern end down.
With the popularity of dance music surging, the target market has changed considerably. Avicii probably stated it best with his clothing alone as the 22-year-old DJ/producer took the stage wearing an unassuming black T-shirt and backwards-turned baseball hat, looking less like a rock star than a random college student that had wandered off of the field after a solid day of partying. It's an interesting shift, with artists trying to look more like their fans and not the other way around. Avicii tracks like "Seek Bromance" (ugh) and chart-topping "Levels" are now staples at your local kegger (right alongside "Don't Stop Believing") and the biggest-acts-of-the-moment nature of the festival circuit means having to cater to the new kings of party music.
Where Avicii takes his cues from turn-of-the-century trance and house, bridging the gap with radio-friendly pop, Gallic duo Justice feel most at home bending heavy metal guitars to the whims of spasmodic drums and grinding synth tones. The crowd had no trouble finding a bristling energy amidst all the distortion, clutching glowsticks and cups of beer in each hand. But, after the tooth-rattling low end coming from the back-to-back dubstep acts (like Bassnectar, Zed's Dead, and Dr. P) appearing at Perry's, Justice sounded almost subdued in comparison. They took incredible sonic aggression and made it feel like a breezy, celebratory experience.
Photo by Erik Hess
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The kids haven't really changed -- they always want the next thing to be 10 times louder. What started as a way to cater to a niche genre has turned into one of the biggest draws of the fest, with thousands of attendees content to spend their entire day bombarded by bass rather than playing hunt-and-peck with a diverse lineup. With all the cool moms and dads clogging up the stages elsewhere, this is where the young can feel free to be themselves. The last two years have undoubtedly been the biggest for dance music as it spills out from its "designated area" to the massive headlining stages on either end of Grant Park.
Rock and roll may never die, but now it has some serious competition.