The EDMist Has a New HQ – in Austin, TX!

Austin calling. © J.T. Fales

Austin calling. © J.T. Fales

When I started The EDMist blog almost a year ago, I set out to cover the national dance music scene with a specific focus on the San Francisco community. The Bay Area EDM scene is one of the most vibrant in the country, and has an outsize national influence (SF only ranks 13th in the nation by population at 800,000 people but is one of the top tastemakers and creative centers for dance music today). I felt privileged to be a part of it and I wanted to create something that invited others to share in the special, diverse, welcoming vibe of that community while discovering new music, artists, and subgenres that reflect exciting new developments across the country.

Last month, I moved to Austin, TX. As the sole contributor to The EDMist, that means that the site’s focus will move with me. From now on, I will no longer be covering shows and gatherings in San Francisco, and will instead focus on the community and scene here in Austin.

Austin has a lot to offer. It can be described in very similar terms to San Francisco: It is a youngish, smallish city (founded 1835; population 900,000). As a progressive stronghold, it fiercely embraces its diversity and uniqueness. It is a booming tech hub with a young, tech-oriented, and increasingly wealthy population (earning it the nickname “Silicon Hills”). And it has a rich musical history with a staggering number of music venues.

The Austin Boardwalk. © J.T. Fales

The Austin Boardwalk. © J.T. Fales

Yet it offers many contrasts with San Francisco too. After just a month here, it’s clear to me that the EDM scene is not as expansive or developed as it is in SF. There are only a couple of venues that consistently book EDM acts. And Austin’s disposition towards live music (it is known as the “Live Music Capital of the World”) means that electronic music is more of a niche here and less of a movement.

I see these realities less as a sign of a weak scene than as an indication of the potential for explosive growth. People are pouring into Austin for the jobs and prime real estate available here, and with that influx of people is likely to come a horde of electronic music fans from cities all around the country (and beyond!). I want The EDMist to be a resource for them and a tool for helping bring together and expand the EDM community here.

All of that being said, I won’t be abandoning SF completely. Because I think the scene in San Francisco is so special and worth paying attention to (and because so much of my network is there!) I will definitely be more aware of what’s happening in SF and it will likely still play a large role in this new chapter of The EDMist blog and podcast. I just won’t be able to cover it from a first-person perspective.

Going forward, you can expect reviews of shows, events, and festivals in and around Austin (notably, South by Southwest and Austin City Limits) – starting this week! And as I have for the last year, I will continue to post music reviews, recommendations, and other stories that are not specific to Austin or any other city. The EDMist is aimed at a broad audience and I hope you can enjoy what I post here no matter where you live.

Thanks for reading the blog and for sticking with me on my journey. Be sure to follow me on Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for the most recent updates and recommendations from the blog and podcast.

Goodbye, San Francisco. © J.T. Fales

Goodbye, San Francisco. © J.T. Fales

Episode 3 of the EDMist Podcast Now Available

In Episode 3 of the EDMist Podcast, I talk with music critic Matt Bessey about the big stories of 2015. We discuss how Jack Ü, aka Skrillex and Diplo, reshaped the musical scene this year, and tackle the controversy surrounding their mega successful collab with Justin BieberWhere are U Now?” I ask Matt about the breakout artists of 2015, which he says include Lane 8 and Madeon (but you already knew that) , and he names a drum and bass album of the year: City of Gold by the PrototypesTowards the end we tackle the question of what genres will blow up in 2016 and where we see the EDM scene headed (hint: more diversity, which is a good thing).

This episode includes seven featured songs. They are:

1. “Blue Sky Action (Logistics Remix)” – Above & Beyond
2. “Beats Knockin” (feat. Fly Boi Keno) – Jack Ü
3. “Get Free/Cinema VIP” – Skrillex & Diplo
4. “Ok” – Madeon
5. “Urban Monks” – Jayeson Andel
6. “Slip Away” – The Prototypes
7. “Do You?” – TroyBoi

We recorded over an hour and a half of audio for this episode, which I whittled down to 34 minutes in the final cut. That means that people who follow The EDMist on Soundcloud may find some exclusive bonus content from the episode over the coming days. 😉

Let me know what you think of the podcast! Give us a shoutout on Twitter at @theEDMist or Snapchat at “theEDMist.”

Happy 2016!

The 5 Best Artist Albums of 2015

Above & Beyond at Bill Graham Civic Center. Photo credit: Drew Ressler/rukes.com.

Above & Beyond at Bill Graham Civic Center, San Francisco, in 2015. Photo credit: Drew Ressler/rukes.com.

The best-albums-of-the-year list is as traditional to a music blog around the new year as the ball-drop is to New York City. But it’s a bit of a different exercise in the EDM world, since albums are not a native format for electronic music. EDM as we know it sprouted in the underground, where the album-driven format of the traditional music industry was shunned in favor of sample-heavy, one-off tracks from bedroom producers. It’s only in recent years as EDM has gone fully mainstream that electronic artists have adopted the album as a way of packaging their work. That has led to a new kind of dynamic in the music world: whereas once albums were seen as the baseline for musical legitimacy, now they have become a badge of honor among electronic artists. A producer with an album can say that they dedicated themselves to a long-term project instead of just a string of singles. They can also use the format to show off a deeper artistic vision than they would be able to exhibit through one-off songs.

Consider, for example, two of the artists on the list below. Although Skrillex almost single-handedly lit the EDM explosion in America, it wasn’t until last year that he completed an album. Similarly, Madeon has been a big name in the scene since 2011, and even produced hits for Lady Gaga before finally releasing a debut album this year. Nobody questioned the credibility of either of these artists before they released their first LPs, but now that they have, their brand and carries extra weight and legitimacy.

Interestingly, 2015 seems to mark the first year where you can find electronic artists introducing themselves to the scene through an LP instead of through one-off productions. A prime example of this is another artist on this list, Jayeson Andel, whose album Urban Monks is a stunner of a work, although he has yet to achieve any kind of serious name recognition. This speaks to the increasing dominance of the independent dance music labels, some of whom have now become powerful enough to finance artists in the more traditional way of bankrolling a first LP before profiting off of their later success either as producers or DJs.

Because the role of the album is different in dance music, I actually think the criteria for what makes a good album have been raised. It’s no longer enough just to throw a bunch of cool songs together in one bundle. Nero did that this year with Between II Worlds, and the result is an ultimately forgettable collection of decent standalone tunes, and a significant step down from their whopper of a debut album, Welcome Reality. If producers who take the time to craft full albums want to be seen as true artists, then we need to judge them according to the rules of the art form. And this blogger is more than happy to do the judging.

So, which albums killed it in 2015? I’ve put together a list of my five favorite albums from this year, in no particular order. To make it on this list, each album had to fulfill three basic criteria: Is the album a significant artistic achievement? Does the collection form a coherent whole? And, overall, is the album worth spending some time with (i.e., would I recommend it to non-fans)?

The following albums answer those questions with yes, yes, and hell yes. I hope you’ll give them a spin, support these great artists, both newcomers and well-known heavyweights, and appreciate what they brought to the table in 2015.

The Best EDM Artist Albums of 2015

Above & Beyond, We Are All We Need


Having now built up an empire around the Group Therapy name from their last record (#ABGT for short), the pressure was on Above & Beyond to deliver something as punchy, polished, and memorable for their next studio album – and that they did. 2015’s We Are All We Need is full of arena-sized tunes designed for maximum singalong potential. With knockout favorites like the (almost) title track, “We’re All We Need,” the dark and delicious “Sticky Fingers,” and the radio-friendly “Blue Sky Action,” We Are All We Need stocks the pantry with plenty of treats for fans to savor for years to come. This album was certainly the highlight of the year in the trance and progressive corner of the scene, but also grabbed some mainstream attention with a grammy nomination. I also want to point out that this album is a whopper, clocking in at over 1 hour and 11 minutes long. If you’re going to charge fans a hefty amount for an album, I like to be sure what I’m buying has some value to it, and the prolific British trio have definitely packed in the tunes on this one.

Listen to We Are All We Need on Spotify.

Jack Ü, Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü

This album shares the title of “Most anticipated album of 2015” with We Are All We Need. But unlike A&B, who took their record in a safe and conservative direction, Skrillex and Diplo dropped into the scene like a grenade, introducing wild new timbres and beats that set the EDM world – and mainstream radio – on fire. From the juicy, hollow snares of “Take Ü There” and “Mind” to the sampled and re-sampled horns of “Febreeze” and “To Ü” and especially to the modulated flute-like lead sound of “Where are Ü Now,” the sounds, beats, and textures here are fresh, firey, and a little frightening all at once.

This is of course what Skrillex is best at, and it’s in no small part thanks to his passion for weird, challenging, forward-thinking sounds that the music in our scene continues to diversify and push forward to new and exciting frontiers. When I heard that the OWSLA head and his good friend Diplo, a.k.a. captain of the Mad Decent juggernaut, were teaming up for a music project, I set my expectations high, and I was thrilled to see the breakthrough success these two achieved with this album.

Of course, this epic pairing also smashed taboos by inviting the much-reviled teen hearthrob Justin Bieber to collab with them on the unexpected song of the summer, “Where are Ü Now.” And that song? That song went platinum and also earned this trio a grammy nom. While the song had plenty of detractors, their criticisms seemed to boil down to “It’s Justin Bieber!” I applaud all of the artists involved for ignoring the haters and taking on real musical and social challenges. While it may not have been my favorite music of the year, it’s undeniable that Skrillex & Diplo Present Jack Ü was the defining album of 2015.

Listen to Skrillex & Diplo Present Jack Ü on Soundcloud.

Madeon, Adventure

Adventure is the long overdue debut album from French electro house wunderkind Madeon, a.k.a. Hugo Leclercq. When he burst onto the scene with his legendary live “Pop Culture” mashup video in 2011, it was clear that Madeon was special. Since then, he’s a distinct style that fuses elements of house, electro, disco, and funk to create something bouncy and irresistibly danceable. Adventure is the synthesis of that sound and a manifesto of his signature style. Which means, basically, that it’s great as you’d expect.

Before releasing Adventure, Madeon was able to attain stratospheric levels of fame despite having a very short discography. Singles from him have been as welcome as they have been infrequent. So it was with all the fervor of a Thanksgiving dinner guest that I dug into the cornucopia of music Hugo released this year. Happily, Adventure is not only an excellent compilation of some of the best music we already knew (“You’re On,” “The City,” “Finale”), but introduced plenty of other versatile songs to flesh out his repertoire and discography.

I can’t mention this album without talking about the next-level live show that Madeon gave us along with it. If you haven’t seen the Adventure Tour (now the Pixel Empire Tour), do yourself a favor and buy a ticket immediately. The Adventure Tour is hands down the best show I saw in 2015 and you won’t regret going to see it.

Listen to Adventure on Spotify.

Jaytech, Awakening

This one is so fresh out of the oven you can still hear it crackling. Jaytech’s second album, Awakening, is a solid step up from 2012’s Multiverse, with an altogether more progressive, energizing, and visionary sound. Awakening is a concept album built around the question of what music will sound like in the future. This is a difficult concept to tackle directly (in fact, I’d say Jack Ü’s album is the most wholly futuristic – that is, the weirdest – album released this year). So Jaytech attacks it in a practical way by using a futuristic musical vocabulary to articulate his vision of the world to come. This means that he actually digs back in time to find sounds that promised an exciting future – specifically, back to around 2012, when complextro and dubstep were new and cool and decidedly futuristic. It’s a strategy that works: the outcome is a project that sounds familiar and modern but hints at a world more technological and overwhelming than our own.

The sparky vibe of this album is energized by dubstep-inspired growling basses that add some oomph behind Jaytech’s hopeful melodies, peppered through with complextro accents that recall the glory days of Porter Robinson and Wolfgang Gartner. Many of the track titles imply movement or a journey, which hints at the unique strength that Jaytech brings to full effect on this album, which is that his songs build and climax: each one is a mini arc within a larger story (like, say, books of the Odyssey).

The dubstep undercurrent culminates in the slow and heartfelt “My Heart Goes Out.” As for the complextro flavors, “Future Story” makes heavy use of sidechaining for some solidly pumping synth lines like the best progressive house songs of the early 2010s. The vocalized guitar riffs of “Odyssey” recall Jaytech’s older track “Pyramid.” “Yugen” and “Darkscape” would not be out of place on a Final Fantasy soundtrack. “Awakening” is probably the closest thing to “classic” Jaytech, with some vocals in the background recalling sonic themes used throughout Multiverse.

Two things make this album an improvement on Multiverse. The first is the switch from bouncy reese basses to growly dubstep basses. They add a real grit and energy to the music that propels it forward into the future. Second, while Multiverse certainly had a coherent sound, it was an incestuous aesthetic that trapped itself within the walls of that record, like a too-exclusive niche genre room off to the side of the big room. Some tracks there could serve double duty as singles, but most of them are sort of blah and not really worth listening to outside of the album. Awakening successfully walks that fine line of building a collection that can be enjoyed piece by piece, song by song, but whose beauty is enhanced by enjoying the album as a whole.

If you are looking for a record to give you an optimistic start to the new year, this is the album you want to check out. (And by the way – if you love Jaytech as much as I do, consider signing up to become a patron of his monthly radio show on Patreon for early access to his mixes and other exclusives.)

Listen to Awakening on Spotify.

Jayeson AndelUrban Monks

Jayeson Andel is certainly one of the breakout artists of 2015. When he started getting airplay in support of this album, I couldn’t believe someone with such a lush, soulful, and polished sound wasn’t already standing out among the legions of copycat progressive house songs saturating the progressive podcast circuit today. His debut work Urban Monks is a richly textured record full of deep grooves and delicious trip hop beats. This is straight up groove porn, with bass lines as luscious as a Kardashian booty.

Despite being an instrumental album, the crunching, squelching melodies riding on top of every song nevertheless seem to communicate with all the emotion of a seasoned vocalist. The twitchy, otherworldly electric soundscape of “Follow the Firefly Lanterns” got a well deserved round of heavy airplay on a bunch of podcasts this year, and is a great song to start with if you’ve never heard of this guy before.

With notes of Pretty Lights and Jaytech, Andel’s sound is familiar enough and yet altogether unique and supremely confident. From the childlike optimism suffusing the the opening track, “We’ll Build it Here,” to the reflective arpeggios of the closer, “Awe (Part II),” Urban Monks is brimming with emotion and verdant with sonic scenery, and is worth a deep exploration.

Listen to Urban Monks on Soundcloud.

Notable mentions

Matt Lange, Ephemera

This is a dark, beautiful, and expertly crafted album. I love the consistent feel of the whole thing, and to be sure it’s great to just press play, sit back, and listen to it. That being said, there are a few standout tracks here – most notably “My Love Aside” and the haunting “Inside My Head.”

Listen to Ephemera on Soundcloud.

ArtyGlorious

Consistent hitmaker Arty released his first album this year, and considering the relative diversity of sounds in his extensive back catalog, I was surprised at how well it came together. Full of his melodic, piano-driven tunes, and reinforced by the work of many talented vocalists, this Avicii-flavored album is definitely a delight for the melodic-minded.

Listen to Glorious on Spotify.

The EDMist Podcast 02: EDC Las Vegas 2015 in Review feat. Joe Deza

Special guest Joe Deza

Special guest Joe Deza

In the second episode of The EDMist Podcast, I talk with Joe Deza, a raver, music critic, and friend, about our experiences of EDC 2015. Joe shares an incredible story of his last few moments at the festival, getting up close with Galantis as the sun rose over the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. We review our favorite sets and stages, and discuss our costume choices (and an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction!).

This episode is also a music special, featuring tracks from Seven Lions, Avicii, Galantis, Pretty Lights, GAIA, Adventure Club, and progressive house newcomer Alex Klingle.

Joe Deza

Joe Deza

Let me know your thoughts on the episode or your experience of EDC by hitting me up on Twitter or Snapchat @theEDMist.

J.T. and Joe recording episode 2

J.T. and Joe recording episode 2

See You at EDC Las Vegas 2015!

I’m headed down to Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas 2015 this weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I will be snapping all weekend from my snapchat account (theEDMist), if you want to follow along with my EDC journey. Here’s a preview of what I’ll be wearing on each day. If you spot me, say hi, and I’ll give you a sticker! 😀

Alright… It’s rave time. 😉

On Friday, I'll be representing the San Francisco EDM Meetup Group with our awesome logo

On Friday, I’ll be representing the San Francisco EDM Meetup Group with our awesome logo

On Saturday I'll be wearing all rainbows.

On Saturday I’ll be wearing all rainbows.

I'll be wearing a T-shirt with the blog logo and snapcode on Sunday.

I’ll be wearing a T-shirt with the blog logo and snapcode on Sunday.

I made some stickers, and I'll have one on the back of my Camelback all weekend.

I made some stickers, and I’ll have one on the back of my Camelback all weekend.

The EDMist Podcast 01: EDC Prep and Meetups ft. Jon Guerrera

For the first episode of the EDMist Podcast, I invited my good friend Jon Guerrera onto the show. I met Jon through SF EDM, a meetup group of San Francisco-based dance music lovers that he founded. Jon has grown SF EDM from naught to 2,500 members. The group has been directly responsible for creating hundreds of friendships and countless priceless moments – which strikes me as a pretty good legacy no matter what organization you’re running. I ask Jon about how and why he started the group and where he thinks it’s going.

The EDMist Podcast LogoEDC is only a few weeks away, so we also talk about what to expect this year, how to prep for it, and who are the must-see acts. (Short answer: everyone.) Jon and I discuss the merits of daytime and nighttime festivals, whether trance is best enjoyed at a festival or at home, and the tradeoff of proper ear protection.

And the sounds of the M Machine show us the way out with the song “Pluck pluck.”

If you like the episode, follow the EDMist on SoundCloud. The podcast will also be available through iTunes soon.

Introducing the EDMist Podcast: An EDM Discussion Group

The EDMist Podcast LogoI like talking about EDM. Since you’re reading this blog, you probably do too.

The only thing is: there’s not a lot of places on the internet where you can actually talk about it.

There are a plethora of EDM-focused websites, blogs, and social media profiles you can visit/read/follow, but not so many forums for real, live conversation. Even where there are active forums, like on Reddit, you still don’t get the opportunity to hear people talk in real time.

That’s why I’m starting the EDMist Podcast: a monthly discussion group and conversation among fans about everything and anything related to the world of dance music.

I will be inviting guests on for every episode to discuss the most recent developments in dance culture. Many of the guests will be my own friends and acquaintances within the San Francisco music community, but diversity is important to me and I will be looking to highlight interesting and unique perspectives through the podcast.

Feel free to suggest topics (or guests) – email podcast@theEDMist.com or reach out on Twitter.

The first episode is live on Soundcloud and will soon be live on iTunes. Listen below.

Are Myon & Shane 54 Planning a Classics Tour?

Myon & Shane 54 have recently been teasing the idea of doing a “classics tour,” on which they would play only their own tracks, remixes, and mashups over a full set. On last week’s edition of their podcast, International Departures episode 280, host Shane 54 talked about the realization that they have enough back material to play their songs 6–10 hours straight through.

“We will talk about Gabriel & Dresden‘s new Classics Tour, when they play as [if] it was 2004. We are also preparing for our ten-gig tour, since in Dallas we also decided to have a classic set – after all, we’ve been working together for more than seven years, and we just realized we could play only our stuff more than six hours straight without repeating anything. Well, if we think close enough and count the mashups as well, we could entertain a large crowd for ten hours even. That would be something! But we highly doubt it will happen like that. However, we are excited to be back on the road, and if you will come to see us, you’ll see how much!” (Emphasis added.)

Despite Shane 54’s caveat, yesterday, the duo asked on Twitter what songs people would like to hear on such a tour.

The tweet mentions “our classic live shows” – so even if we don’t get a tour, it sounds like we can expect at least a few one-off shows like Dallas in the future. And that’s good news.

Embarking on a tour in which an artist plays only their own productions is a huge accomplishment; in the EDM world, it’s an achievement that solidifies your legacy as an artist. Among the few DJ-producers who do it are Deadmau5, Porter Robinson, and Madeon.

What do you think? Is this going to be the Summer of Love for Myon & Shane 54? Leave a comment below, or shout out on Twitter.

The EDM Dictionary: Big Room (n. or adj.)

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Big room music is made to fill large venues like clubs, arenas, and festivals while bringing in a lot of revenue.

Definition

Big room is a commercial style of EDM made for big clubs, festivals, and arenas. Like pop music, it is designed for mass appeal in order to generate large profits for the artist. Because of this, big room music is frequently criticized for being uninspired and less creatively challenging.

Related terms include mainstream and mainstageEDM is often used as a synonym for the highly commercialized big room sound, although EDM also refers to the broad spectrum of dance music including underground and less-commercial genres.

Explanation

The typical big room EDM song has a strong four-to-the-floor beat using a heavy kick and snare, a simplistic structure, vocals (with lyrics about dancing, partying, drinking, drugs, or love), several large buildups and big drops. Big room songs often rely on a very simple melody (such as Martin Garrix‘s “Animals” or Avicii’sLevels“).

The term “big room” comes from dance clubs, where the most accessible or popular music is usually played in the biggest room of the club in order to fit in the most people. Some clubs offer multiple rooms with other DJs playing at the same time to accomodate customers with different musical tastes. The music in these smaller side rooms is likely to be less commercial and more underground, experimental, or genre-specific.

Big room artists include Tiesto, Martin Garrix, Avicii, David Guetta, Calvin Harris, Swedish House Mafia, and many of the most famous DJs and producers in the EDM scene.

The EDM Dictionary: Bootleg (n. or adj.)

Definition

bootleg is an unofficial or unauthorized production – usually a remix or a mashup of another artist’s work.

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Some artists, like Myon and Shane 54, specialize in creating bootleg mashups.

Explanation

Technically, any remix or mashup made without official legal permission from the artist whose work is sampled is a bootleg. Not all bootlegs will be labeled as such, though, because it’s pretty easy to figure out if a song is a legitimate release: If a song is available on music services like iTunes or Spotify, or otherwise available to buy, it’s almost certainly authorized. If a remix is only available as a free download, for example through an artist’s Soundcloud page or website, it’s probably not authorized. (This is because the original artist or their label could sue the remixer for damages if the remixer were trying to make money off of their work.) DJs big or small can still play bootlegs live – after all, mixing together other people’s work is the core of the DJ’s job description – so bootlegs will often make appearances in live settings as a special treat for the audience.

Some bootleg remixes are actually rejected remixes that had been commissioned by the original artist. Artists will frequently ask other producers to remix a song of theirs, to be released alongside the original mix on a single. When the commissioning artist is not happy with the remix, though, he or she can choose not to officially release it. Often, these rejected remixes will never see any release at all, but sometimes the remixer will release the song for free, just to get it out into the world. In other cases, the remixer may end up turning the remix into an original production of their own – as was the case with Above & Beyond‘s “Sticky Fingers.”