Dance Dance Reemergence: Insiders Discuss EDM’s State Post-Pandemic

Mark Horton / Getty Images
– Deadmau5 Lives
EDM star Deadmau5 has returned to the stage, including with two shows at New York’s Brooklyn Mirage July 10-11.

As the live industry restarts, some of the most noteworthy concerts yet have been by electronic artists, from stadiums, where Illenium and Kaskade have played to tens of thousands to amphitheaters and large clubs, where artists including Deadmau5 and Kygo have hosted sizable events. 

Years removed from its early ‘10s festival peak, the EDM sector was already shifting before the pandemic arrived. Pollstar convened three veterans of the sector – UTA co-head of electronic music Kevin Gimble, whose roster includes Deadmau5, Flux Pavilion and Kaskade; Wasserman Music vice president Alan Gary, who represents Porter Robinson, Madeon, DJ Snake and more; and YMU Music managing director Matt Colon, whose roster includes Steve Aoki – to discuss where the genre is headed. 

Electronic artists sometimes have fewer moving parts for their tours than full bands. How has that impacted how these artists are getting back on the road following the pandemic?
Gimble: It has enabled the electronic space to come back first and return with a vengeance. With an ability to perform at soft-ticket venues and nightclubs with built-in production, a DJ with a one- or two-person touring party can be ready to perform a show with very little advance notice. We have seen DJs receive and confirm offers for a show, announce the event, perform and settle within only a one-week time frame from start to finish.
Gary: Overall this has been a big positive for being able to jumpstart touring for a lot of my clients. Depending on the electronic artist and the type of show, it can be as seamless as booking a club date the day of a city reopening to get things started, versus a band that might require rehearsals and a big touring crew to make a show possible. If you look at Ubbi Dubbi in Dallas and Sunset Music Festival in Tampa [which took place in late April and late May, respectively], both had all DJ lineups and were able to follow through as intended in the spring, which probably wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

Ethan Miller / Getty Images
Powerhouse DJ Steve Aoki is one of the many electronic artists getting back on the road as touring resumes.

The general admission experience – dancing in close quarters – is typically a big component of electronic shows. How did that impact decisions to do (or not do) podded or socially distanced shows?
Colon: It really depends on the performer. In Steve Aoki’s case, we tried a few different options including podded dancefloors and drive-in shows. Ultimately, we felt neither experience was satisfying for fans or fit Steve’s performance, which largely involves audience participation. That said, we had a few acts that did enjoy some of the drive-in shows, but for the most part only if there was a live PA. The in-car radio concept felt a bit hollow for largely bass-driven dance music. 

What differences have you seen in booking at various levels – clubs, theaters, arenas, festivals – as the industry emerges from the pandemic?
Colon: The main difference is the cost of health and safety in several of the more hard ticket oriented venues. That said, it’s no surprise that the pent-up demand is certainly there. It’s hard not to sell out a show these days.
Gimble: As the calendars across more markets and venues have opened up, shows have been getting confirmed at lightning speed. One key difference is that historically, agents may have had six-plus months from the start of a booking conversation until execution. Over the past couple months, that timeframe has been significantly shortened. Teams on both sides (promoter and artists) have had to adjust their start of production to accommodate this pace.
Gary: There’s a new set of challenges booking all shows as we emerge from the pandemic. … From a festival perspective, and what I see from producing Porter Robinson’s festival, costs involved in producing an event, from insurance to labor, have skyrocketed and are, in turn, forcing ticket prices higher. 

As the truncated 2021 season ramps up, how would you describe electronic’s current place in the festival market?
Gary: Electronic music’s presence is growing on festival bills for the most part. Competition for festival slots is always high, however U.S.-based artists had a leg up in 2021 given the challenges around international artists entering the country. Most electronic festivals still pursue a wide range of artists and genres, but there’s a growing level of importance for house and techno artists to satisfy the increasing demand for that sound. Festival buyers are also making a more concerted effort to create lineups that showcase diversity.
Colon: In many ways, I think that electronic festivals are leading the way, largely due to the way in which DJs and electronic performers tour. Most (not all) don’t rely on large bands and crews, so they can be a lot more flexible in terms of booking and routing. In other genres, the acts are largely dependent on the ability to string festivals and hard-ticket shows together to route a proper tour, so any level of uncertainty can discourage booking or even a single festival going down can create a domino effect of cancellations.

Taylor Hill / Getty Images
– Porter Power
Porter Robinson’s festival Second Sky, booked for Berkeley, Calif., Sept. 18-19, features Madeon, Jon Hopkins and more, and sold out its 45,000 tickets immediately.

What direction do you see hard-ticket electronic touring moving in over the next couple years?
Dance acts have been using the hard ticket touring model for years, and my partner, UTA’s co-head of electronic music Steve Gordon, helped pave the way for that practice 15-plus years ago. When dubstep was considered to be an underground niche genre and wasn’t trendy enough for the nightclubs or soft-ticketed EDM rooms, he started booking young acts like Excision, Flux Pavilion and Zomboy in hard-ticket rooms and theaters. Now every major and developing dance act is essentially doing some form of hard-ticket touring. I do not see this going away anytime soon, and that will continue to be the norm post-pandemic.
Gary: Most electronic artists spread their touring out amongst night clubs, festivals and hard tickets. The financial prospects of hard-ticket touring in the beginning is never as appealing as the alternatives, but when it’s time for an artist to showcase their new album show, it’s really the only way to do it right. The artist has control over the production, the support acts and has the opportunity to sell merch, and it’s the best way to create and cultivate a fanbase on the road.

Prior to the pandemic, bass, underground, and trance were all booming. What sub-genres are currently on the rise, and which ones do you think might have a moment in the next couple years?
It’s house music right now. I think a great indication of this movement is the programming in Las Vegas. All of the properties are now devoting events to house and techno, like Ayu Dayclub’s “Moon Beam” or Marquee’s “Full Bloom,” when in the past they were solely booking lineups with big commercial appeal.
Gimble: Anything deep house and techno will continue to climb out of the “underground” and become more and more relevant. Emotional/melodic bass will continue to cross over into the pop space as more artists are creating beautiful vocal emo/bass/pop music. I believe that drum and bass (which has never gone away) will continue to rise and catch everyone by surprise with a major resurgence in North America in the coming years.