In recent years, the fast-growing electronic music movement has become something more than a genre. The EDM market is currently the most profitable genre in the music industry (closing out at a staggering $20.0 billion USD net worth in 2012), and perhaps the most controversial, due to outspoken DJs such as Deadmau5, as well as the negative stigma surrounding EDM due to several tragic deaths from overdoses on popular rave drugs. However, for many fans, EDM is much more than all of media hype seen to mainstream culture. It is an all-encompassing way of life. Electronic artists such as Bassnectar, Krewella, Big Gigantic, Zeds Dead, and Pretty Lights, all extremely successful in their own right, have taken the EDM movement and made it their own, bringing the focus back to the community of fans and the music itself. These artists’ outward concerns are not on the materialistic elements of electronic music that have come to light as of late. Instead, these DJs center their persona on the inspiration and love they draw from their fans. In this way, kind, welcoming communities of people are fostered, and they often go by a name that affiliates themselves with the artists they love – for example, Bassnectar fans call themselves “bassheads”, whereas Krewella fans identify as the “Krew”. These fan communities are all die-hard fans who attend shows for the music, and share the positive energy they receive from their love of bass with everyone around. In this way, these “EDM families” are counteracting the rave-drug movement that is so strongly affiliated with electronic music today. Instead, these fans and artists work together in a variety of ways to promote a peaceful fanbase where joy, love, happiness, and great music are shared, instead of destructive rave drugs and negative energy among the crowds at these shows.
One of the most notable proprietors of the EDM fanbase community movement is Lorin Ashton, known to most as Bassnectar. Ashton has been making music from the 1990s, amalgamating years of genres and sounds into his most successful project, Bassnectar. With his heavy, unique tracks, and his refusal to confine his music to one specific genre, Bassnectar has developed a scene that’s all his own, selling over “220k tickets to his solo shows alone in 2012”, as well as playing major festivals such as Lollapalooza 2012 and Spring Awakening 2013. As a lifelong music lover, Bassnectar wants to give back to his fans, and allow them to “get behind the scenes of our events, to give back to people around them, to volunteer their time and their passion to contribute creatively to the atmosphere of each event.” His Bassnectar Ambassador program was created to do just that – to let fans make each Bassnectar show a positive one, and to create a community of people who lift each other up through their shared love of music. Chloe Dubrovay, a Colorado-based Bassnectar Ambassador for his 2013 shows, first became involved in the Bassnectar community after seeing his performance at 2011’s Summer Camp. After seeing his set, she “realized what a powerful experience it was” and “wanted to be more than just a fan in the stands.” Dubrovay applied to be a Bassnectar Ambassador, and quickly found herself working for “the man I respect in the music industry more than anyone”. Her experience as both a Basshead and an Ambassador has been eye-opening, and changed her perspective on electronic dance music shows. Dubrovay “used to go to shows and look at a lot of these people, that weren’t really like me, and I didn’t understand or try to understand or even talk to them.” But Bassnectar opened her mind to meeting people and sharing in new, positive experiences. Bassnectar’s emphasis on a strong fanbase is felt in his presence, and Dubrovay agrees. “Lorin himself always says the community is first, and the music is second.” Additionally, the Ambassadors are encouraged to exercise their creativity to connect with fans. “Each person has certain ideas to make the show fun and interactive with the fans. For example, for one project, I did a “free hugs” poster and walked around spreading good vibes, giving people free hugs and wishing them a good time at the show. The other project I did involved making a group mural. I had paint and a canvas and invited each person I saw to add to the collective mural with a fingerprint or little doodle or whatever. At the end of the show I raffled it off to a lucky basshead and she was so happy! There’s just so much love at these shows, and especially for those of us who follow him around, it’s always like a little reunion and we all stay at the same hotels and rage in huge groups. I definitely feel at home in a stadium full of strangers at a Bassnectar show, everyone’s usually so kind and ready to get down!”
With the positive example given by such a well-respected DJ, many other EDM artists have followed suit. Pretty Lights, the stage name of Derek Vincent Smith (and a collaborator with Bassnectar on the sell-out “Basslights” shows), has fans who literally call themselves the “Pretty Lights Family” (PLF for short). Chicago student and DJ Jared Sinnes became an avid fan of Pretty Lights after seeing him at Counterpoint Festival in Georgia last year. His performance was so moving that now, “nothing really compares to a Pretty Lights show.” Sinnes says “The community aspect among his fans comes from the Pretty Lights Family. If a large portion of people at the show are creating an inviting, loving, and fun environment for people”, then the show “creates this intangible sense of community and love for everyone present.” There is even a program similar to Bassnectar’s Ambassadors that Pretty Lights facilitates, called the Pretty Lights Illuminators. Sinnes explains that “Pretty Lights has a whole team called the Pretty Lights illuminators, their main goal is spread good vibes and give water out to people. They also bring crafty little things to hand out to people just to spread the PL love. Then you have the PLF that does just about the same thing so you just have a crowd mainly consisting of the coolest and nicest people ever.” To Sinnes, “That is Pretty Lights.”
Giving back to others is a focus that many artists have, and they do so in different ways. Boulder duo Big Gigantic’s Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken, a fusion group of jazz and funk electronic music, held a free on-campus seminar last year at University of Colorado Boulder for students, which included talk about their unique music and how it is created. University of Colorado-Boulder student Allison Bucheleres found that their seminar really helped her to connect to the music, and after seeing a Big Gigantic performance at Colorado’s Red Rocks, she “I wanted to take my love to the next level, since they live in Boulder and I go to school here.” Her take on the Big Gigantic fanbase is enthusiastic. She states, “There is a strong connection within the Big G family because everyone has the same love for their type of music. It brings all different people together with one common interest.” Big Gigantic’s ties to their Boulder roots broaden their fan community by allowing them to give back to other people not directly involved in the Big G Family fanbase. Earlier this year, Big Gigantic showcased their positive efforts with a relief concert benefitting those affected by the severe flooding in Colorado. Other artists, such as Bassnectar, use ticket sales to donate to a charity of their choice. Bassnectar’s program, titled “Dollar per Basshead”, takes one dollar from each ticket sale into the “Bass Bank”, and, with fans’ help, donates $50,000 (USD) to three different nonprofit organizations by ranking. Another group that links fan community support with outward support is the rapidly rising electronic trio Krewella. The Chicago natives are wildly popular, and their fanbase is extremely loyal, thanks to absolute realness of the group, and the tweets, Facebook messages, fan letters, and more that Jahan Yousef, Yasmine Yousef, and Kris Trindl respond to. Krewella recently partnered with a charity called Dance for Paralysis, a nonprofit organization committed to helping those with traumatic brain and spinal injuries recover.
Krewella’s generous efforts also extend to their fans, the Krew. Before the release of their debut full-length album, Get Wet, Jahan took to the Krewella tumblr to write an extremely personal post about the development of the album, citing that the fanbase is “What affects the music we create is you guys, our krew. The tattoos, pictures, stories, tweets, letters, and shows we experience together formed the ‘Get Wet’ album. You guys are the inspiration behind the story we are telling about the past couple years of our lives touring the world. Seeing the way our krew communicates with us on social media and in the physical realm made us realize that our music stands for so much more than a party song. And these experiences we’ve shared together made the writing for ‘Get Wet’ more colorful and truthful than ever before.” One of the things that Krew member Preston Meador, a graduate student at University of Indiana, first connected with was Krewella’s strong sense of family, both within their fan community and within the group, as Yasmine and Jahan are sisters (and best friends). After first hearing their hit “Alive” in late 2012, Meador’s love for the group grew, culminating in attending their “heartfelt” performance at the 15th Ultra Music Festival earlier this year. Meador believes that “Through the use of social media Krewella is able to build a sense of community and interact with the fans. From them personally responding to messages, answering fan questions on their Vevo channel, and their KrewLife videos they are able to build a community among the ‘Krew.’” One of their tour mates from last year, Zeds Dead, also developed their fan community through their strong presence on social media. With personal daily updates on their Facebook and Instagram pages, not to mention the many song giveaways they do, Zeds Dead has created a rabid following of fans (myself included). Their innovative, genre-breaking sound and relentless touring have made them a household name, not to mention their overall camaraderie with other artists and fans. On their most recent “Altered States” tour, they have given away the open spots on their guestlist to fans in on every single stop of their tour, which has hit over 35 cities so far. They take the time to meet their fans, and genuinely care about their opinion – even facilitating discussions about their music via their Facebook page to gauge the reaction of the community.
With all the constructive influence these artists have on their fans, one would hope that the goodness of these artists could triumph the negativity associated with EDM and drug use, after highly publicized overdose-related deaths at a Zedd show in Boston this year and at New York’s Electric Zoo Festival 2013. Drug use is something that has been brought to light by these media stories, but fans want to show that electronic music is not about the drugs – it is about the incredible experience you receive just from being at a performance. As said by Meador, “It would be disrespectful to be incoherent during one of your favorite artists sets and ultimately the benefits are nowhere near the consequences that come from hard drugs.” Bucheleres agrees, saying that “the more you learn to love the artist for their actual talent, the more you learn that you don’t need to get involved in the EDM drug scene to enjoy the show.” Dubrovay provided an interesting point on the drug culture within EDM. She stated that “Although EDM culture unfortunately is highly associated with drugs and drug use, I can say personally that [Bassnectar] changed my perspective for me. A lot of my friends feel the same way too. Most of us rage out sober because who needs drugs when you have such an amazing, beautiful, and mind blowing show going on right in front of you? Drugs, in my opinion, are involved to enhance an experience – but there’s no need if you listen to the music sober at home already and enjoy it fully.”
Artists are also feeling the call to action against the trend of rave drugs such as MDMA, or other synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of MDMA (“molly”). One of the reasons why these programs such as the Bassnectar Ambassadors or Pretty Lights Illuminators were put into place was to discourage drug use and help promote safety and understanding. All members of the Bassnectar Ambassadors are required to stay completely sober during Bassnectar shows that they work, and Lorin Ashton upholds that example of sobriety as well. In a tweet posted September 21st, 2013, Ashton wrote “I don’t take molly. Nor do I think molly is cool.” Krewella’s Yasmine Yousef expressed similar concerns over drug usage at EDM shows on the Krewella tumblr, saying that “I’m not trying to preach abstinence, I’m trying to preach safety.” Yousef has “never touched a drug in her life”, and stated “I urge you to try and go to a show or festival sober and see how much f**king fun you can have in a clear state of mind. Trust me, night after night of playing shows sober has opened my eyes to how beautiful music is as a drug in itself.”
Words: Staley Sharples