Look no further than Baauer. The 24-year-old had a surprise hit when his “Harlem Shake” became the focus of an unlikely Internet meme in February and, thanks to the tracking of YouTube streams, a No. 1 hit on the Hot 100. Released through an imprint of Diplo’s Mad Decent label, the song brought a new sound to radio while forging new ground for how to break a new artist.
Zedd ends 2013 with his second Top 20 hit, “Stay the Night” featuring Hayley Williams, but he began 2013 on the “Late Show with David Letterman” for an appearance hailed as the first for an EDM artist on American late night television. Others have gone on to repeat the feat. Krewella even stopped by “Good Morning America” on Halloween. But when Zedd and Foxes delivered a stunning acoustic rendition of “Clarity,” replete with strings and Zedd himself on piano, he challenged any naysayers who might have doubted the genre’s musical chops.
Perhaps it was also the appeal of analog instruments that buoyed Avicii to his biggest hit ever. The folk-inspired “Wake Me Up” jolted through the Hot 100 where it spent the second half of 2013, peaking at No. 4 and crossing over to the Triple A chart to boot.
Still, nobody heralded the return of real instruments quite like Daft Punk. From the 30-second teaser of the Nile Rogers guitar riff on “Get Lucky” aired during “Saturday Night Live” to the wordless billboards that became a social media sensation, the rollout campaign for “Random Access Memories” was almost as much an event as the album itself. Somehow, a robot juggernaut of electronic music had made an analog album and people loved it. When it finally landed in May, it debuted at No. 1 in the U.S. and around the world, proving again that innovation and musical dexterity were compatible with marketing savvy.
Even as Daft Punk was one of the biggest acts in dance music of 2013, they didn’t tour. Meanwhile, another top EDM artist, Swedish House Mafia, called it quits after a grand finale in March, leaving room in the festival season for the rise of new stars, though they weren’t DJs.
From the all-seeing owl at Electric Daisy Carnival’s flagship Las Vegas event to the storybook stage of TomorrowWorld, 2013 festivals were all about scaling up the production and turning up the volume. These events had a soundtrack, of course – “Get Lucky,” Martin Garrix’s “Animals,” and Cedric Gervais’ version of Lana del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” were all signatures of the mainstage festival set.
But the real stars were the events themselves. The tragic death of two fans at Electric Zoo over Labor Day weekend forced the cancellation of the festival’s third day, but it didn’t dim the momentum of the EDM movement, even as voices from within the industry for better harm reduction efforts grew louder.
While the presence of corporate buyouts by LiveNation and SFX made fans nervous in 2012, nobody cared who was selling in 2013. Nothing could stop the appetite of Wall Street to profit from legions of ravenous ravers, ready to throw down serious cash for a live music experience—be that on a field under the sky or in a multi-million dollar nightclub in Las Vegas.
Inversely, 2013 was a stellar year for a resurgence of underground dance music too. Disclosure broke new ground as a duo of British kids introducing classic American house to the EDM generation with their debut, “Settle.” It heralded a huge bump in house music’s popularity in the UK, with Jessie Ware, Duke Dumont and MK storming the British charts.
They all hit the US festival circuit and while their records didn’t sell as well stateside, they offered dance fans an exciting alternative to the slam and bang of big room EDM. It also encouraged a major label signing spree. They were eager to stake a claim to the next dance alternative artist as much as they are to arena acts.
Ultimately, this year shows us that the greatest protector of dance music as a genre and EDM as a lifestyle from being corrupted by an influx of cash is also its greatest asset: its fans. EDM fans are the soap motor of artists’ ingenuity. They are the drivers of the promoters’ innovations. They are the first to detect the whiff of insincerity and punish an event or a song by disregarding it just as they are the first to applaud greatness as they send it to the top of the charts.