Summer Set fest: EDM revolution

MICHAEL RIETMULDER | Updated 8/14/2014

With the thriving Summer Set festival returning this weekend, electronic dance music has firmly planted itself in the mainstream.

The crowd danced to Zedd at Summer Set 2013.
Anna Reed

Nearly 20 years ago, American music fans were warned of an impending coup. Electronica artists were winning hearts and minds, captivating us like Christopher Walken in that Fatboy Slim video.

Acts such as the Chemical Brothers, the Prodigy and the Crystal Method had ushered in a new era of pop culture, one block-rockin’ beat at a time. Dance music had arrived in the U.S., pundits declared.

They were wrong.

Sure, it was cool to be Moby for a while, but the electro revolution proved more a flash in the pan than a new epoch of computer tunes. “It was a combination of our culture not being ready and, no disrespect to the Chemical Brothers, I love them to death, but we needed David Guetta,” said Jack “Trash” Tasch, a Twin Cities DJ and dance music promoter. “We needed somebody who could infiltrate with a sound that was acceptable to the masses.”

Of course, French house producer Guetta isn’t the first mop-topped European to help radically alter American pop music. But the current EDM wave has thumped its way into the American mainstream like never before, and pop stars from Madonna to Katy Perry have latched on.

“You can turn on KDWB and hear Kaskade,” Trash said of the progressive house luminary who headlines Friday night of this weekend’s Summer Set Music and Camping Festival in Somerset, Wis.

The third annual EDM-heavy fest, co-organized by Trash’s company SIMshows, takes over Somerset Amphitheater for three days of DJs, rappers, jam bands and indie rockers. The eclectic neon-hued bash averaged 8,000 attendees per day in 2012 and jumped to 14,000 last year. Based on advance ticket sales, Trash said this year will be even bigger.

EDM has made its presence felt beyond at dance-centric fests. DJs and producers are littering lineups from Coachella and Lollapalooza to Alabama’s Hangout Music Festival. “It came in and has taken the music world by storm, especially in the last four or five years,” said Dominic Lalli, producer and saxophonist with Big Gigantic.

Big Gigantic, the funky EDM/jam fusionists, return to headline Summer Set for a third straight year, closing the main stage on Saturday. Hailing from Colorado, a bass-music and jam-rock hotbed, Lalli touts EDM’s rise as a grass-roots movement partly aided by the Internet.

“It happened at the same time when no one was buying music and everyone was just downloading it,” said Lalli. “Instead of fighting that, a lot of the electronic artists just dropped right on it and did a bunch of free downloads and got people excited about the music.”

“This music is one of the first real genres that’s come through social media,” notes dubstep heavy hitter Flux Pavilion, who performs Saturday. “As social media exploded, this big electronic dance music exploded as well.”

British producer Flux, né Joshua Steele, broke out with 2010’s melodic bass-blasting “I Can’t Stop,” which was later sampled by Jay Z and Kanye West on “Watch the Throne.” The beatsmith has since signed a deal with Atlantic’s dance label Big Beat Records.

It’s not just major labels taking notice of EDM’s popularity. Music once reserved for nightclubs is now scoring car commercials and taking NFL broadcasts in and out of commercial breaks. According to the Association for Electronic Music, the global EDM industry is worth a cool $6.2 billion, roughly two-thirds of which comes from festival Ø and club gig revenue.

Led by media mogul Robert F.X. Sillerman, SFX Entertainment has been a heavy investor in the beats business. Last year the organization purchased Beatport — the iTunes of the EDM world — reportedly for $50 million. This year SFX entered a marketing partnership with Clear Channel and acquired Chicago events company React Presents, which is a co-organizer of Summer Set.