Sounds from the underground: The future of electronic dance music in Las Vegas
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The bass drops. It’s the first dubstep song of the night, emerging from a sludge of mashups and reappropriated soul breaks. The crowd cheers, boozy perspiration rising to varnish The Griffin back room’s high ceiling. From here it’s going to be a long, sweaty path through a Skrillexian landscape. And everyone’s going to love the shit out of it.
That description could’ve been written about almost any Griffin Friday night of 2011, at least, one during which the back room was jammed wall to wall, which happened often. But there’s change afoot. While you might not say dubstep has completely moved on to the Strip, it’s at least keeping an overnight bag and DVD collection there, invited into clubs looking to cash in on a startlingly high demand for not necessarily the garage, two-step-rooted dubstep of South London, but the hyper-aggressive, Americanized, tyrannosaurus-holocaust wub wub wub of popular brostep. Skrillex, Bassnectar and Rusko have all seen their names supersized on casino marquees. And former sounds of the underground are rocketing to the surface at alarming rates — for alarming rates.
“Reasonable is completely out the window now,” says Frequency promoter Joe Boruseiwicz, regarding reasonable asking guarantees for relatively — but not emphatically — popular DJs, followed by the assertion that Deadmau5 may land a new Strip residency worth eight figures. “It all trickles down and now everyone thinks they are worth five figures. … the big clubs can afford to pay somebody 20 grand on a weekday who might be worth five. Then [the DJs] hold out [for casino offers].”
While promoters like Boruseiwicz struggle to pay artists who, a year ago, were just grateful someone wanted to book something that sounded not unlike a computer logging onto AOL in the ’90s, it means downtown and other non-casino venues are due for a programming change. Venues and promoters are broadening their searches, going non-traditional as far as genre. And DJs and others with their ears to the rail have plenty of ideas about what’s coming down the line.
“The trap [music] thing is exploding right now,” Boruseiwicz says, referring to the subgenre that is, essentially, Atlanta strip-club instrumentals, but with more electronic elements. “It’s kind of where dubstep was the middle of last year when everyone started incorporating it.” Griffin resident DJ Eric “Wizdumb” Camacho threw a weekly trap music night called Trap Door, but recently rebranded it Gravity, an open-format dance music night (turns out, an entire night of trap music is a hard sell), that isn’t above or below playing electro house, indie dance, nu disco and reggae in one sitting.
“The next genre to be hitting the floor downtown will be future garage,” he says. “I think Skrillex has a new EP out with some on it, but it’s like chill breakbeat mixed with new synths and basslines.”
The more rambunctious genres and trends aside, the optimists are looking to the more cosmopolitan and even downtempo DJs, those you’d find spinning house at Downtown Cocktail Room or Vanguard, to cull deeper, darker sounds from their collections — and bring back formerly popular genres lost in the rush for the bigger, badder bass drop. “I am seeing a lot of people jumping on this trap bandwagon,” says Chad Craig of AWOL Productions and the Candy Factory. “I don’t think this will last. I think dubstep ruined a lot of 2012 by being overplayed, and I don’t think the crowds are going to come flocking … I am hoping that good house music, electro and tech house will make a comeback.”
“If I had to guess right now, I’d say good old fashioned techno is going to catch on soon,” Boruseiwicz says. “It’s always been huge everywhere but the U.S., [but I’m] seeing a few venues in town starting to dabble in techno and tech house.” As it turns out, the recently re-opened Body English in Hard Rock Hotel has surprising, extremely un-commercial programming, with deep and progressive house, techno, bass music and backpacker-styled hip-hop. On Jan. 12, it pulled off a successful party with revered techno DJ Adam Beyer.
“[Electronic music] styles big in L.A. I think are a great potential fit for Vegas downtown,” says Lady Silvia resident DJ Steve Christmas. “There’s a lot of variety in the sounds going on at events like Get Lost Weekend and Exchange L.A., and they all blend together so well into a well-progressed evening from 104-BPM funk, all the way up to everyone sweating on the dance floor at 128 BPM. … Most of us [downtown] are playing some version of this stuff and feel 2013 is the year crowds on the baby-food of pop-EDM for years will grow hungry for a fillet of underground house music.”
No three DJs can agree on what’s coming next, much less all have a strong, betting-man’s opinion of what that might be — and naming it. “To me something is underground when artists experiment with sounds not influenced by mainstream media, commercialism, money or fame,” says Kevin Grimes, founder and reopener of underground EDM scene forum Eternal Beats. “The underground never conforms to trends, and the crowds associated with underground stick to what they love.”
If nothing else, they can at least agree something’s coming. American Dubstep and commercial, David Guetta-style house, for the most part, belong to the Strip clubs. The real fans of electronic dance music — not just drunk kids with dry-humping in their hearts and Swedish House Mafia on their iPhones — need something new. Something to call their own. We just hope it’s something good.