Race, Drugs, Bottle Service Among EDM Issues Discussed at IMS Engage Conference

IMS Engage

The Hollywood confab featured conversations with Lyor Cohen, Chuck D and Kaskade, among others.

Is Nashville the next Las Vegas? Who’s to blame for driving up astronomical DJ fees? And what does "future house" even mean? 

Those were some of the topics tackled Wednesday at the third annual IMS Engage conference, an intimate gathering that drew some of EDM's most powerful executives and artists to the W Hollywood to debate the state of American dance music.

The 2015 edition included Lyor Cohen, Kaskade, Chuck D, Quincy Jones and Seth Troxler, among others, who took on controversial topics such as what constitutes underground dance music, bottle service at music festivals, and which markets are due for a danceclub explosion.

Pete Tong launched the L.A. conference in 2013 with music manager Ben Turner (IMS stands for International Music Summit), and it already claims a colorful history that includes fist fights between rival management companies (Diplo’s team was involved). Indeed, attendees come looking for insights from such heavyweights as Moby, Diddy and David Lynch, but the summit essentially serves as a who’s who of EDM and a place to plot its future. 

This year's liveliest conversation took place between Public Enemy's Chuck D and Detroit producer Seth Troxler, who is known for rallying against EDM's reputation as a party genre made for and by rich white kids. Troxler vented about mindless, commercial dance music and hip-hop (he called out O.T. Genasis' hit "CoCo" for "literally instructing" the public on how to make crack and being bad for black culture), and Chuck D tried to offer some perspective. "You're not going to be able to put the breaks on the world, Seth," he said. "You've just got to live your art."

The day kicked off with a discussion between 300 Entertainment's Lyor Cohen and Th3rdbrain's Jake Udell, who discussed radio sensation Fetty Wap, smart branding deals, and the increasingly competitive streaming marketplace. Cohen expressed delicate skepticism about Tidal, the Jay Z-supported platform that has been making headlines in recent weeks. 

"I would never bet against Jay Z," he began, "but we all know that execution is 95 percent of everything we do. Great ideas are fabulous, but execution is key. I think lot of people don’t truly understand how difficult it is to acquire a paying subscriber. It’s very, very difficult." 

Nightclub veterans Jason Strauss and Dave Grutman discussed the relationship between VIP hospitality and dance music, which waned in popularity for a few years but is seeing a resurgence. The two said recent experiments with VIP areas at Ultra Music Festival and Electric Daisy Carnival were immensely successful, so fans should expect bottle service to become a staple of festivals going forward. But it isn't just Miami, New York, L.A. and Las Vegas that will experience more of EDM's glitzy side. Grutman said small and mid-sized cities like Baltimore and Charlotte will see an influx of large nightclubs in the near future (in fact, he's building a dance venue in Nashville due to open in two years).

"Second-tier markets are going to become A-tier markets for us," he said. 

Other pairings included Grammy award-winner Stuart Price and veteran DJ Kaskade, who discussed broader subjects such as the evolution of electronic production and EDM's reputation as a community for drug-addicted kids and burnout artists. To shine a more positive light on the genre, Kaskade hosted a group fitness run during Miami Music Week. 

"There was so much negative press around dance music, and some of it I took very personally," he told Price. "I thought running could be a cool way to shine some light on something different."

The day wrapped with a chat between Pete Tong and music legend Quincy Jones, who holds the record for the most Grammy nominations with 79. Jones offered his take on the difference between a good artist and a great artist -- "humility, hard work" -- and why fearlessness is crucial to finding success. "You can't get an A if you're afraid of getting an F," Jones added. 

But the most poetic moment came when Tong pressed Jones for his opinion about the controversial "Blurred Lines" verdict. Jones -- aware that he was in a room of electronic musicians who make a living off of samplers and reinterpreted content -- was almost humorously clear. 

"Man..." he said. "Yeah they stole it, that's why they gotta pay for it."