It was the Swedish elephant in the room: Amid conversations about the explosive success of dance music and the industry's bright future, Avicii's floundering Le7els Tour was on the minds of many at Insomniac's EDMbiz conference. And, over the course of the two-day conference, the ambitious arena tour -- which cancelled and rescheduled numerous dates, and pushed back its start date by nearly a month, reportedly due in part to poor ticket sales -- was harshly critiqued by numerous panelists.
At the conference's first panel, a discussion about the business of EDM in Las Vegas, conversation turned to DJs "treating themselves like bands," as Rocketpop Management founder Polo Molina put it. Molina in particular slammed the Avicii tour as a huge overreach, and noted that what works in a nightclub won't necessarily work in an arena. "These kids are way too smart," he said. "We came out of the warehouse experience. Kids know [DJs] are not rock acts."
Marc Geiger, head of music for WME Entertainment, and EDMbiz host Jason Bentley echoed Molina's sentiments during their keynote conversation. Geiger dubbed 2012 the "year of the lights" and Bentley bemoaned that the EDM concert experience has been reduced to an "arms race" of sorts. "How big is your LED screen?" he quipped. Geiger contrasted the Le7els tour and the Identity Festival, now in its second year: He called Le7els "an irrational decision fueled by an irrational market," adding that "Avicii trying to be a rock star is a big mistake." Identity, on the other hand, is an attempt to reach out to what Geiger dubbed the "new suburban audiences" of dance music. When pressed about the success of Identity as a burgeoning brand, Geiger replied, "Ask me again in five years."
In his keynote conversation with Billboard's Kerri Mason, Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino made brief mention of the Avicii tour as well, calling it "one of the scars of the business."
The Le7els tour was slated to begin May 17, and was billed as the first "all-arena tour" by a dance music act. Among the original venues were huge spaces like Miami's American Airlines Arena and Boston's TD Garden Stadium. After debuting part of the tour's elaborate stage production at the Coachella Festival in April, Avicii's management announced in a press release that the tour would start almost a month later than scheduled, June 7 at Tampa's Tampa Bay Times Forum, owing to "vital production changes." Dates in Houston, Fort Worth, New Orleans and Atlanta were cancelled, while shows in Detroit, Kansas City, St. Louis and Minneapolis had their dates and venues changed.
The overriding sentiment among panelists who mentioned it -- as well as conference-goers who couldn't help but add their two cents -- was that the tour was overconfident at best, and arrogant and exploitative of fans at worst. Its failings seemed to serve as a warning, a compelling reason to keep head level amidst the surging interest in the genre.