It fills the clubs with dancers, but it fills some rock fans with queasiness. It’s made to get you dancing, or at least bobbing your head.
The sound goes by techno, dubstep, house or other names, but it all fits under the umbrella of electronic dance music, which is generally any music with electronic or synthesized sounds used in a club to get people to dance.
That’s a broad definition, but like rock ‘n’ roll, it needs to fit hundreds of styles and elements. Electronic music is always made by a DJ or a record producer, whether he or she uses drum machines and synthesizers, turntables and vinyl records or a laptop full of digitized beats and songs.
Not for you? Well, EDM, as it’s commonly called, has invaded almost everything. You may not realize it, but a lot of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry songs are full of electroclash and other styles of EDM. Electronic music is everywhere, from your favorite pop songs to the music in clubs to the covers of Rolling Stone and Spin magazines, where you recently could find EDM artists Deadmau5 and Skrillex, both DJs.
Kyle Richardson, known as DJ Kobrakyle, has heard it around Omaha for a long time — perhaps longer than in other cities because of our independent music scene. But now, he says, the genre is growing here and elsewhere — it played a big part in this year’s Grammy Awards broadcast, for instance.
Richardson, 33, has been a DJ for about 10 years and for four years was a co-host of the Gunk dance party, a recurring dance event hosted at various Omaha clubs.
“People just like to dance anywhere and Omaha is lucky, I think, to have avenues like The Faint shows or Icky Blossoms nowadays or any of the numerous dance parties,” he said. “Omaha has been pretty lucky to be blessed with always having that option when spending a night out on the town.”
Though it hasn’t been mainstream, EDM has been present in Omaha for a long time — existing alongside the indie rockers of the Saddle Creek Records stable without getting as much attention.
Now, Omaha EDM groups are getting attention, too. DJ duo Enso relocated to San Francisco and released remixes of Temper Trap and others, and Depressed Buttons, which includes members of The Faint, has done remixes of artists such as O+S and Boys Noize.
Bill Grennan, 26, of Omaha, is a fan. He likes some French EDM artists and the house subgenre of EDM if he wants to hit a dance party. For something more down-tempo, he reaches for hip-hop and trip-hop, typically downtempo EDM, by artists such as Wax Tailor.
When he was 11, Grennan put on a pair of headphones and listened to The Prodigy’s “Fat of the Land.”
“After that, electronic music always had a place in my library,” Grennan said.
Omaha has been home to many dance parties, events hosted by a rotation of DJs who play various styles of EDM at clubs that typically draw colorfully dressed young people who dance into the wee hours. Grennan has gone to many, including Goo (hosted by members of The Faint), Gunk (hosted by Kobrakyle and DJ Spencelove, aka Spencer Munson), Loom (hosted by Brent Crampton and Jay Kline) and 1/fourth (hosted by DJ duo Enso).
“Dancing is one of humanity’s purest forms of expression. The great thing about going to these events is the amazingly positive energy you get. When a DJ is on his game with a fantastic track dropping and a room full of people dancing like no one’s watching, you get lost in a moment of camaraderie with your fellow man,” Grennan said. “They create a gathering place to share great friendships and great experiences that soon turn into great memories.”
Local DJs say supportive people who are willing to collaborate have buoyed Omaha’s EDM scene.
“You have pockets of people around the city that really embrace creativity or collaboration,” said Brent Crampton, a longtime Omaha DJ. “Everybody wants to see it grow. It’s really a fertile city for creativity and potential and growth.”
Crampton, 28, thought about moving away from Omaha to a bigger hub for EDM such as New York or Chicago, but decided against it. Artists there, he said, can be less collaborative and more selfish, but here, he found mentors to help guide him and people who enjoyed the style of music already existed.
Crampton got into EDM the same way as many others: raves. The parties that seemed to pop up out of nowhere in out-of-the-way places were full of dance music, lights and dancing teens. They were very popular in the Midwest in the 1990s and have continued in one form or another. Today’s dance parties, such as Goo and Loom, are basically the modern child of the rave.
“In high school, I’d tell my parents, ‘I’m at this friend’s house,’ and he’d say he was going to my house and then we’d drive to Kansas City,” he said. “We went to a party called ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’ For the first time, I was conscious of the techniques and the rhythms that the DJ was playing and how it would affect the crowd. There’s something about the fusion and the power in that that really enticed me.”
That was 11 years ago and Crampton, who called EDM “the music of a new generation,” has been a DJ ever since.
In recent years, EDM has found a place on the music festival circuit, including Coachella and Lollapalooza.
EDM was originally an extension of disco. When everyone thought disco was dead, it actually went back underground. The gay, Latino and African-American clubs that spawned it continued on. In the 1980s, DJs in New York, Chicago and Detroit spawned house and techno, EDM subgenres that move with steady 4/4 beats, with house typically having a slower tempo and techno being much faster.
Though at the time it was mostly still underground in the States, electronica caught on in Europe. DJs in the United Kingdom created new styles such as jungle and trip-hop. From those, almost 100 genres of electronic, danceable styles of music have come about.
These days, it’s everywhere. DJ and producer David Guetta put his touch on pop music by producing the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling,” Kanye West and Jay-Z sampled house music on their popular “Watch the Throne” album, Lady Gaga used hosts of electronic music on “Born This Way” and rapper Pitbull tapped DJ Afrojack for “Give Me Everything.” Even rock bands such as Muse and Korn have included dubstep-style tracks in recent releases.
Forbes magazine has even joined the party, publishing its first list of the world’s highest-paid DJs this month. DJs Tiesto and Skrillex top the list with $22 million and $15 million in earnings, respectively.
Richardson became a DJ when it meant having two turntables and crates of vinyl records. Over the years, technology such as drum machines as well as bass and other types of synthesizers have allowed DJs and producers to make all kinds of music without using samples of other songs, but many artists still do.
New technology, especially digital audio workstation software such as Ableton Live, has made it easier than ever to become a DJ.
“DJing has gotten considerably easier to get into. Back in the day, you had to have the money to buy the turntables and the mixer and the funds to buy the actual records,” Richardson said. “I’m still a purist. If you’re a DJ, there should be some kind of disc that’s spinning whether it’s a CD or vinyl.”
Though electronic music is easier than ever to create, that doesn’t make it better, Crampton said. DJing is all about the live performance — DJs, even more than rock artists, earn the vast amount of their money touring, not recording — so the DJ’s most important skill is knowing how to read a crowd.
“That’s one thing you can’t teach,” Richardson said. “The DJ has to be thrown into a gig and you have to have the ability to move from genre to genre. If the crowd isn’t feeling dustup or house, you have to switch.”
That’s what EDM is all about: creating an experience and getting people moving.
“It’s all about what you play, when you play it and how you play it,” Crampton said. “It’s all about getting people to dance.”
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