Glo in the Park

From Mi­ami to Ibiza to the Phoenix Park. Jim Car­roll on global dom­i­na­tion

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

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.


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