The Problem with Popular EDM

I don’t think I can actually claim to be a fan of EDM. I enjoy the genre and there are a few producers that I follow pretty closely, but I’ve never really put in the time to delve into the deeper cuts enough to qualify myself as a true fan. That being said, there’s no other genre I would rather get drunk to (with maybe the exception of late 90s/early 2000s rock). So two weeks ago I dropped the money and found myself at Moonrise Festival in Baltimore with a couple of friends, and had a…well…it was definitely something.

A couple of points of clarification before I get too much further. One, I’m not much a festival person — I’ve never been a big fan of crowds. And two, I was completely sober for the entire festival, partly because I wanted to be able to clearly be able to evaluate and appreciate the acts, and partly because I’m way too poor to justify paying $9 for a Miller Lite.

Overall I had a great time, but since almost all of acts I knew were the big names, I spent a lot of time hanging around the main stage. Something bothered me for most of my time at Moonrise, but it wasn’t until the last act of the festival that I realized what:

Popular EDM is really fucking boring.

The closing act was Zedd. He was coming on after Tiesto (who had a killer set), so I was assuming Zedd would try to top the energy and prove why he was headlining. Instead he delivered a nonstop string of radio ready songs that all followed the same formula. Catchy melody over synths, classic EDM drum build, into a 4 on the floor drop. Allow me to provide a few examples:

(For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about with the classic EDM build-drop, you can find it at 1:24, 1:00, 0:52, and 1:10 in the respective videos above.)

Now I’ve drunkenly sung along to each one of these songs more times than I would care to admit, but when faced with them back to back for over an hour while completely sober, it starts to drive you insane. I think there was only one song in Zedd’s entire set that didn’t follow this same formula.

Thinking I just might be exaggerating things in my memory I was determined to verify my findings by taking notes on one of Zedd’s sets I found on Youtube. (This one to be exact)

Unfortunately the effort proved futile and I gave up after 15 minutes as I couldn’t make myself sit through it. (In case you were wondering he does the same build-drop pattern 9 times in that time span and only changes the tempo once, briefly dropping down to 110 bpm before going back to the standard 130).

Now I don’t mean to discredit Zedd. The man has clearly got a formula that works and more power to him for capitalizing on it. And he is far from the only only DJ who uses this style. But as a musician and general appreciator of electronic music, I’m a bit disheartened to see festivals lift this style up as the pinnacle of the genre.

Luckily I ducked away from the main stage enough times to know there are more substantial offerings for the future of the electronic scene than what the popular DJs are peddling. I just hope that fellow electronic newbies stick around long enough to find the gems that are hiding beneath the shiny but empty filler that gets plastered in giant letters across the top of the flyers.