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John Lamb, Published October 29 2012

DJs and dance music replacing full bands as arena seat-fillers

FARGO – Rumors of rock ’n roll’s death may be exaggerated, but lately its heart has been missing a beat.

While it’s getting harder to find rock bands to pack stadiums, a different type of performers are stepping up to bigger stages.

DJs have moved beyond the clubs into bigger arenas, treading on ground that was once reserved for guitar acts.

One of the bigger touring DJs, Bassnectar, plays The Venue at The Hub Friday night, the day before he plays the Target Center in Minneapolis.

DJs like Bassnectar, Skrillex, David Guetta, deadmau5 and other artists under the Electronic Dance Music, or E.D.M., umbrella are considered “the new stadium rock,” according to critic Jim DeRogatis.

This summer the Chicago-based music writer and his co-host Greg Kot dedicated one of their hour-long episodes of the nationally syndicated radio show, “Sound Opinions,” to the rise of the style, which they called, “a genre and music exploding around the world.”

Some in the music industry in Fargo were ready for that blast.

“A lot of people are calling it today’s rock ’n roll,” says Fargo promoter Jade Nielsen. His company, Jade Presents, is putting on Friday’s Bassnectar show and expects it to sell out at 2,400 tickets.

“It is absolutely the new rock n roll,” says Ross Speral, who spins at The Hub under the name DJ Rossco. “I can name way more DJs than rock bands right now that are really hitting with a younger audience. It’s definitely evolved from an underground, warehouse rave-type party to something certainly mainstream. You see that reflected in all modern pop music and hip-hop too.”

Picking up the beat

“Certainly I think a lot of people outside the whole electronic dance music world are probably a little surprised at how popular it’s gotten,” Nielsen says.

Speral reports what is played in clubs to Billboard magazine for the Dance/Club Play Music Charts. He says chart-toppers like Nikki Minaj, Rhianna, Flo-Rida, LMFAO and the South Korean rap sensation, PSY (of the hit “Gangnam Style”) all tap into E.D.M. beats and feed the exposure.

He says Skrillex, David Guetta, Deadmau5, Nero, Calvin Harris and Afrojack are popular requests when he plays.

Part of the appeal has been how the DJs have crossed over into popular music. Guetta worked with Lady Gaga among others. Deadmau5, the most theatrical DJ by performing wearing a giant mouse head, closed out Lollapalooza in 2011 then played with the Foo Fighters at this year’s Grammys.

“I don’t see a lot of obstacles for some of these artists to fill stadiums,” says Seth Holden, drummer in Sovereign Sect. The Fargo-based E.D.M. act, featuring Holden and three DJs, expected a sell-out of about 600 Saturday for their annual Halloween show at Johnson’s Barn, north of Arthur, N.D.

Holden and Speral agree that part of the appeal of computer-based music is that it strikes a chord with younger music fans accustomed to instant gratification.

“They can accomplish so much more with so much less time,” Holden says.

Their observations are echoed by Phillip Sherburne of Spin Magazine.

“We’re seeing now a generation of kids growing up with computers who don’t give a second thought to computerized rhythms,” he said during the June 8 “Sound Opinions” show.

Rock ’n roll slides

If E.D.M. is the new stadium rock, what acts are getting pushed to the side?

Nielsen says the guitar rock, or “active rock” in radio parlance, isn’t selling as many tickets as it recently did.

“That genre is having a little tougher time selling tickets now,” he says, adding that it could just be cyclical as those types of hard rock bands also drew less in 2009.

Not all local rock shows have taken a hit. The night after Bassnectar plays The Venue, Dropkick Murphy’s are expected to sell it out.

And not all E.D.M. shows are hits. The Dayglow show scheduled for earlier this month at The Venue was scrapped two days before the show by the organizers who were unhappy with advance ticket sales.

“E.D.M. is similar to hip-hop in some ways, at least as far as waiting until the end to buy tickets,” says Nielsen, who acted as a middle man for that show. “For whatever reason, the Dayglow folks weren’t prepared to wait it out.”

He says the show would’ve eventually sold well. Likewise he expects his show tonight with rapper Wiz Khalifa at the Scheels Arena will sell about 4,000 tickets.

So, which E.D.M. acts could sell 4,000 tickets in Fargo?

“Skrillex is one of the most well-known and one of the strongest (draws),” Nielsen says. “He could probably do 4,000 to 5,000 tickets in Fargo-Moorhead right now.”

The new disco?

It’s not the first time E.D.M. picked up when rock dropped off. After the grunge explosion in the early 1990s, DJ-based acts like Moby, Fat Boy Slim and Prodigy picked up the beat.

This latest movement however is the biggest yet. The Wall Street Journal reported that the best DJs can make up to $250,000 a day in a Las Vegas club or at a festival. In another story the paper reported DJ Tïesto’s annual income at $20 million.

“It’s at an unrivaled level of popularity 40 years after it began,” Kot said on “Sound Opinion,” referring to the style’s roots in disco.

His co-host DeRogatis wasn’t sure that popularity will last and said he’s having “severe déjà vu” having covered two other E.D.M. movements.

“With the exception of Bassnectar, I’m not seeing anyone who is equaling the insane invention and innovation of a lot of those 90s artists,” he said.

“I think we’re riding a wave right now,” Speral says. “Dance music has always been underground, for the most part, it’s never going to go away. But reaching over to the Top 40 charts with as much hold as it has right now, it’s definitely a good wave.”

If you go

What: Bassnectar with guests Gramatic and Gladkill

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: The Venue at the Hub, 2525 9th Ave. S., Fargo

Info: Tickets for this all-ages show are $32.50 in advance and $35 the day of the show. (866) 300-8300

Scratchin’ and spinnin’

A small glossary of electronic dance music (E.D.M.) terms

BPM: Beats per minute. Trance music has a quicker BPM, house has a slower rate.

Dubstep: A fast from of E.D.M. that started in the early 1990s.

House and techno: Offshoots of 1980s disco. House has a slower bpm, techno is faster. Both house and techno adhere to a 4/4 drum pattern.

Breakbeat: The rhythm breaks up 4/4 patterns with syncopation and is often used in dubstep. Uses a lot of samples (portions of songs), not as fast as house music.

Techno: A broad subgenre of EDM characterized by a 4/4 drum kick beat (varies), mechanicalistic effects and drum patterns from drum machines and synths, occasional bassline, melody of various kinds, and a repetitive feel


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533