Glo in the Park
From Miami to Ibiza to the Phoenix Park. Jim Carroll on global domination
THINGS CHANGE when the moneymen arrive on the scene with their chequebooks. In years to come, the move by live music giant Live Nation to buy into the US electronic dance music scene may well be seen as a quintessential jump-the-shark moment. It’s not the only WTF harbinger. When you find club culture making a splash on the front of the New York Times and getting deconstructed in the pages of Forbes magazine, you know we’re no longer in Kansas.
After setting up its Electronic Nation division in 2011 to grab a slice of the US dance market, Live Nation last week announced the purchase of Los Angeles promoter Hard Events. Its expansionist tendencies have already seen the company take a stake in longin-the-tooth British dance promoter Cream Holdings.
Live Nation isn’t the only corporate with a growing taste for the dance music business. Robert FX Sillerman is the man behind SFX Entertainment group, the company whose purchase of various independent live music promoters led to the formation of Live Nation in the first place, after he sold the company to Clear Channel in 2000. Now, Sillerman is looking to get back into the music game and he has set about snapping up club promoters left, right and centre. The businessman says he’s in negotiations with 50 companies and intends to spend $1 billion on takeovers in the next 12 months. Yes, one billion bucks. That’s a lot of glosticks.
It really is a brand-new day in the United States of Rave. In Europe, by contrast, the market is a lot more mature (in business terms, at least). We’ve seen summers of love come and go over the past 25 years and watched the rise and fall – and rise again in some cases – of Ibiza, superstar DJs and superclubs.
There is certainly still an audience for huge dance events here – for example, you have Swedish House Mafia in the Phoenix Park in Dublin tomorrow, playing one of their lastever shows, and David Guetta will be rocking Marlay Park in August – but the US is now very much the land of opportunity in that regard. While there were stirrings of an American rave scene in the past (Doug Liman’s 1999 film Go, starring the most recent ex-Mrs Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, caught some of the mood of those times), it was not on the scale we’re experiencing today. Back then, you didn’t have massive, highly commercial and usually sold-out events such as Electric Daisy Carnival or Ultra, because you just didn’t have the audiences to support them. The US dance scene was a vibrant underground phenomenon with little or no mainstream engagement.
That’s all changed now. You don’t get 345,000 people – the number who attended this year’s Electric Daisy Carnival three-day festival in Las Vegas – turning out for an underground event. Another change has been how acts such as Guetta, Swedish House Mafia, Deadmau5, Skrillex, Tiesto, Avicii and many others have arrived on the scene to pull those huge crowds.
The biggest change, though, is that mainstream audiences are now hearing these acts and new sounds on their radios and TVs. US pop has changed as influences from house, trance and techno have taken root. Suddenly, you’re hearing rappers and r’n’b singers with a trance whoosh under their vocals. When fans want to see and experience
“I saw that house was going to be massive in the US and I wanted to be one of the first guys there when it blows up” – Steve Angello of Swedish House Mafia
more, they’re heading to the club nights and dance music festivals. And a lot of people are hearing the “ker-ching!” sound along with that inevitable trance breakdown.
It’s not for nothing that Guetta, for example, has been working with everyone from the Black Eyed Peas to Usher as he makes the most of this hot streak. He’s not alone – you’ll find two Swedish House Mafia productions on the new Usher album as the
r’n’b kingpin looks to cover all bases in an effort to flog some records.
For the Swedes, the concentration on the States was a no-brainer business move. “I saw that in two years’ time house is going to be massive in America,” said Steve Angello in an interview last year, “and I wanted to be one of the first guys there when it blows up. There’s huge potential. If you succeed even a little bit in America, with 300 million people, if you get into the charts with a couple of singles, you’re going to sell millions of singles. It’s going to be back to where it was a couple of years ago.
“If I’m right, and if the sales kick off there, it’s going to be absolutely massive. I’ve seen the difference already, from selling 1,000 tickets to selling 5,000 tickets for a party in just a few months.”
What producers and DJs such as Angello have noted from their forays into this brave new world – aside from some excellent pay days – is how American audiences have reacted to their music.
“The reaction is fresh; it feels like it’s a brand new thing and that you’re educating people. In Europe, people know the history because they’ve been doing it for ages. It’s a new start in America.”
Yet there could well be trouble to come at the mill. Some, such as US house pioneer DJ Sneak, have pointed out the irony of European acts headlining giant Stateside dance festivals playing house music, a genre which was born in the US. While there may well be an element of envy at the giant fees which acts like Guetta and co now command, the fact that they’ve succeeded with commercial takes on underground sounds has become a sore point for many.
Those snarky barbs will probably have little bearing on the thousands who flock to hear the new rock stars at play. A bigger problem may be the long-term sustainability of the scene as it becomes a business. Large corporations such as Live Nation and wealthy businessmen such as Sillerman are not investing in dance music because they’re house and trance fantatics. They’re getting involved because they see an opportunity to make a handsome profit by consolidating various small promoters, cutting costs and increasing ticket prices, just as has been the case in the livemusic sector.
And just as there are question marks over how profitable this model has been for live music, with lots of big shows and festivals struggling to sell tickets, there are also doubts about its effect on dance events. While there will be many who will take the corporate dollars, those who’ve come through the underground will continue to question the sustainability of this approach.
Will the money men hang around when trends change and something else becomes more fashionable? Is a business plan based on efficiences and cost-cutting really going to work in this often maverick environment? It’s certainly good news for the big acts such as Swedish House Mafia, Guetta, Skrillex, Tiesto and Deadmau5, but what about everyone else?
And is Katie Holmes up for doing a sequel to Go now that she has some free time on her hands? Only time will tell.
SWEDISH HOUSE MAFIA