What happens when something that rises gets to a peak? It can either go down or stay at a plateau. That sums up 2013 for electronic dance music – some trends went forward, some backwards, some business deals that once looked auspicious went sour, and European crossover festivals that seemed to be a sure thing fell flat.
So, for a year in which EDM didn’t really go anywhere but is still clearly here, we sum up the best and worst of music and news.
The Best: It’s sort of controversial, especially as many are going to go, “But it’s not EDM!” but the Pet Shop Boys’ Electric turned out to be the strongest electronic release of the year. The Boys took several pages from dance music history – a bit of old-school house and synthpop, a hint of disco, and some modern EDM – and threw away pop music song structures. There’s kind of a timelessness to Electric — it’s equal parts modern and retro to the point that it seamlessly blends in with 20-year-old tracks and the latest progressive house music.
The Worst: 2013 was a year Paris Hilton attempted to get into house music as a DJ, that Swedish House Mafia reached the height of their popularity, and bland-as-bland Calvin Harris and Afrojack churned out the tracks, but the “worst” album might go to Avicii’s True. With strong, memorable tracks like “Wake Me Up,” “You Make Me,” and “Lay Me Down,” True isn’t bad on the surface but uneven, filled with unnecessary collaborations, and doesn’t feel like an electronic release. In fact, it doesn’t really feel like anything at all. True came and went after a few listens, neither interesting nor horrid. While you can commend Avicii for doing something different, True is like a bland dish in a small pot with too many ingredients and feels like a letdown from a producer who started 2012 with so much potential.
The Best: EDM singles come and go by the week – most good enough for a couple of listens but nothing beyond that. The true test of any modern electronic track is how long is still sounds fresh after a few plays. Fedde Le Grand’s “Raw” started 2013 off with a bang and still sounds good 12 months later.
The Worst: EDM shouldn’t be every genre’s dumping ground – and not a place for has-beens to attempt a second career. While Paris Hilton’s DJing career (seriously, a residency on Ibiza when plenty of better performers are out there?) inspires ire in practically anyone, the title of worst song goes to Corey Hart for “Night Visions (Sunglasses).” Hart, who worked with producers Papercha$er, takes himself entirely too seriously on a track that sounds like a bad ‘80s remix.
Pop Star Collaborations
The Best: Who knew Cedric Gervais of “Molly” fame and a highly-manufactured singer who flopped on SNL nearly two years could have actually produced a hit-making collaboration? While not producing originals, Gervais proved his mixing chops on “Young & Beautiful” and “Summertime Sadness,” while Del Rey, whose album songs often have the same trite slow string instrumentation, became tolerable. If any collaboration was a win-win, these two tracks were it.
The Worst: Did you know Sebastian Ingrosso and Otto Knows produced Britney Spears’ “Work B**tch”? No? You’re not the only one. Spears continues to phone it in to pay K-Fed’s alimony, while these two producers likely didn’t find their “We Found Love” hit.
The Best: Just when electronic dance music seemed to forget its history, 2013 brought a string of artists who looked toward the past in varying ways. Indie acts like Thibault and Blende went back to the electro sounds popular in the early and mid ‘00s, Little Boots got a bit Eurodance, the Pet Shop Boys returned to New York’s ‘80s dance clubs, and Daft Punk, Du Tonc, and Avicii made disco relevant again. At the same time, collectives like the Detroit Premiere Artists connected the genre’s early sounds with the latest techno tracks, and from house to trap, producers continued to show their affinity for older Roland drum machines, even if the sound came from a plug-in. Although there’s no single “retro” sound, electronic music overall successfully embraced past trends throughout 2013.
The Worst: “Wake Me Up” made the country-electronic (countronic?) trend start off promising, but the true barometer of an electronic dance music trend’s success is how well the pop world adopts it. Although trap was a close contender (no one can define it), Miley Cyrus’ whole persona, and Justin Bieber and Will.i.am’s putrid collaboration), the serviceable, if disjointed “Wake Me Up” gave way to “Timber.”
The ways “Wake Me Up” succeeds are where “Timber” fails. Avicii gives us a synth-as-fiddle melody; Pitbull and Ke$ha give us a melody-free ironic hoedown with vocals that sonically repel like oil and water. If you thought Rednex’s ‘90s Eurodance tragedy “Cotton Eye Joe” couldn’t repeat itself, go listen to “Timber” and ask yourself that question again.
The Best: 2013 saw a return for Eurodance act Basshunter, after a four-year break between albums, and the Pet Shop Boys, but the strongest comeback is Felix da Housecat. While DJing gigs kept him modestly in the spotlight, the Sinner/Winner EP reinvigorated his career through multiple singles, an Ibiza residency, two radio shows, and a new album for early 2014. As someone who could’ve coasted as a relic from the ‘00s, Felix da Housecat successfully started a second chapter.
The Worst: About three years ago, Major Lazer seemed sort of cool. Mixtapes and a strong debut set Diplo and Switch up as a group to watch. But then Diplo’s solo career took off, from producing Chris Brown, Usher, and Alex Clare, collaborating with Tiesto, and becoming a successful tastemaker with his Diplo & Friends radio show and Mad Decent label, and Major Lazer starts to look like a distant memory.
But Major Lazer returned with a new album – with Switch replaced by two other guys and a release saturated with collaborations. Their Rolling Stone interview, in which new member Jillionaire told the music magazine that kids need to learn to take drugs safely just a few weeks after the Electric Zoo incident, certainly didn’t help.
The Best: Even with the occasional endorsement from someone like Kevin Saunderson or Carl Cox, female DJs continue to get the short end of the stick regarding exposure and gigs. That’s why, after “hot or not?” lists, articles focusing only on Nervo or Krewella, and Paris Hilton, Gary Richards’ decision to put together an event exclusively for female DJs and producers feels like a step in the right direction.
The Worst: News-wise, 2013 turned out to be a disappointment, and we can’t narrow down a list to just one event.
On one hand, SFX Entertainment continues to buy up EDM without having knowledge of it. The company that saw its shares drop now controls Made Event (behind Electric Zoo) and Donnie Disco Presents and has been overseeing Beatport since early 2013. The latter resulted in significant layoffs less than a month ago and will involve major future changes.
Deaths at Electric Zoo over Labor Day weekend resulted in the festival closing a day early. While the events were tragic and festivalgoers and promoters both need to be more responsible, the question that crossed the minds of many across the EDM community was, “If this happened at a rock or pop event, would Major Bloomberg and the NYPD have shut it down?”