Inside the Electronic Revolution

42 BIZ Dance Music Afrojack
Erik Kabik/Retna Digital

Agencies are opening divisions just for dance music as one-man DJs become all the rave.

If 1991 was the year punk broke, 2011 was the year club music crept into the heart of America.

In a trend that was born in the EU and Scandinavia and has been building in the U.S. for the better part of a decade, the floodgates burst open this year with everyone from Rihanna to Lady Gaga to Britney Spears riding the coattails of Euro-styled synth hooks to the top of the charts and in-demand DJs pocketing as much as $200,000 a show and selling out multiple nights.

Perhaps the best example of the electronic revolution? Insomniac Events' Electric Daisy Carnival, a dance festival that attracted tens of thousands of all-ages revelers to stadium-style venues. It made national headlines in 2010 when a 15-year-old girl died of an ecstasy overdose after the concert in Los Angeles. Since then, strangely, attendance has exploded, reaching 230,000 when the event moved to Las Vegas this year -- and injected some $136 million into the Clark County economy.

Scouring YouTube, Twitter and the club scene for future headliners are companies such as WME, early adopters of the dance trend who opened up an electronic music department in 2008 that now boasts more than 150 acts. Others followed suit: APA recently formed an electronic music division, signing electro pioneer Paul Oakenfold, as has Live Nation in the U.S. and Canada. "It's exciting to see it crossing over," says Insomniac president and CEO Pasquale Rotella. "It's something I dreamt of 20 years ago."

What Rotella might have not imagined, however, is just how large the dance movement would become. While the genre doesn't outsell hip-hop in recorded music, it performs well on iTunes worldwide and has surpassed rap in the live arena. DJ-producer deadmau5 recently sold out six consecutive nights at New York's Roseland Ballroom, eclipsing the venue's previous record holder Rage Against the Machine in a symbolic passing of the torch from rock to house music for teens and twentysomethings.

In his hometown of Toronto, deadmau5 played to more than 20,000 at Rogers Centre, a venue usually reserved for names such as U2. Tiesto, who is ranked among the top-grossing live acts in the world along with deadmau5, David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia and Afrojack, recently headlined the Home Depot Center (capacity: 27,000) in Carson, Calif., last year, the Dutch trance titan took in nearly $900,000 in one three-night stand at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium. To compare, Taylor Swift can pull in similar-sized crowds, but few other current acts come close.

Live Nation, still smarting from a weak 2010, wants in on the action. Rotella says Insomniac has been "in talks" with the live events giant regarding a possible partnership, but the original West Coast player might not need them. In the coming weeks, Insomniac, which already announced a return to Las Vegas for its crown jewel summer blowout (presales have been strong) is expected to announce a massive expansion of the Electric Daisy Carnival concept, with 2012 stops planned for the New York City area and Brazil, although not all will be EDC-branded.

When it comes to dance music, large-scale events, be it 20,000-seat arenas or 70,000-capacity stadiums, are increasingly where the live experience is heading, in part because the overhead is so much lower -- a DJ needs little more than a laptop, as opposed to a pop star like Lady Gaga who requires a few dozen trucks' worth of production and gear. Dance acts, which are mostly vocals-free, also don't rely on radio play and aren't restricted by a promotional calendar. And fans seem equally open to who is heading their way and when. Take, for example, Miami's three-day Ultra Music Festival, which last year featured more than 130 acts. It's already at 70 percent capacity in presales, say promoters.

"Last year, we sold out six weeks prior [to the event]," says Russell Faibisch, co-founder of the fest, which launched in 1999. "This year, we sold 100,000 tickets within the first week, and we haven't even announced one artist yet." Ultra's website crashed briefly after more than 1 million page views put the squeeze on its servers as fans snapped up early-bird tickets.

As 2012 approaches, it's not just big names like Tiesto who are ready to do these kind of numbers, either. "There's a whole wave coming," says Huston Powell, an Austin-based promoter at C3 Presents, which produces the increasingly dance-heavy Lollapalooza annually. Adds WME agent Joel Zimmerman, who helped put together this year's Identity Festival, a summer tour featuring some of dance music's ascendant names, and whose agency represents such acts as Axwell, Calvin Harris and Kaskade: "The number of big DJs on the rise that can do that kind of business now is substantial. It's hitting a lot of different people."

DANCE, DANCE, DANCE: October's top electro draws are a promoter's dream


  • Venue: Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.
  • Date: Oct. 8
  • Tickets sold: 26,000


  • Venue: Roseland Ballroom, New York
  • Dates: Oct. 4-9
  • Tickets Sold: 23,500

Bassnectar/Pretty Lights

  • Venue: Verizon WirelessAmphitheatre, Atlanta
  • Dates: Oct. 14-15
  • Tickets Sold: 21,000