Lights, Lasers, and Lineups- The World of Electronic Dance Music

By: Kaia Femenίas

 

11 o’clock at night is WAY past my bedtime. I like to brush my teeth and hit the pillow by 10:30 most nights, leaving enough room for sleep to get me through the next day of productivity. You know the drill- studying, drive to work, drive back from work, remedial tasks, high cortisol levels, caffeine addiction, existential dread—the usual. Yet here I am, eyes wide open, my body a marionette to the bass.

With a massive following sweeping not only the nation but the entire world, there must be something special drawing in the millions of ravers across the globe. It isn’t that electronic music is anything new. The rave scene began in the late 80’s and early 90’s with hidden parties, and has since grown and transformed into something well-known and loved by many.

As within any subculture, rave culture has it’s own intricacies and dialect, including the common attitudes held by attendees to the attire worn. However, one of the beautiful things about this culture is its promotion of P.L.U.R- Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect. This is a motto and lifestyle shared by many who grace the dance floor. So, while ravers can typically be found wearing neon, tie-dye, and other psychedelic looking attire, the attitude emulated by this culture is one that advocates for accepting any who appreciate the music.

Though electronic music may have originated within raves and clubs, it has broadened to a wider audience, now appearing on radio pop stations and music festivals with a less “ravey” feel.

So what is it that brings such a large amount of attraction to the world of electronic dance music (EDM)? It could be attributed to the multitude of subgenres within the all-encompassing genre of dance music.

To name just a few:

  • House
  • Techno
  • Trance
  • Dubstep
  • Drum and Bass
  • Trap

Each genre embodies its own unique timbre and quality of sound, creating a different atmosphere and journey in each piece. Although music plays a significant role in contributing to the EDM concert experience, rave culture embodies several traditions that create such a pleasurable experience.

Among these is something known as “Gloving.”  At many raves and EDM concerts, “Glovers” can be found moving their fingers to the music in artistic, flowy patterns, assisted by a pair of gloves with colored LED lights on the fingertips, tracing trancelike visuals into the sight of their onlookers in what is referred to as a “light show.”

I got to speak to Dylan Schlager, a “glover” himself. 

 

What is gloving?

“So gloving in my opinion is a type of interpretive dance, there’s no routine to it, there’s no choreography. The way that I do it is that I learned the moves outside of when I actually do gloving, and I just practice them over and over again, and it just adds together like a toolbox, and when the music comes on I just try to visualize it. I’m a very visual learner in school, and it just made sense to take something auditory and put it into a visual display.”

 

How do the movements express the music?

“I try to do very small, very contained light shows during the beginning of a song when it’s soft, but as soon as it crescendos I put more energy into it and get more extravagant and with EDM, as soon as it drops, then I really go nuts and I try to make huge shapes and stuff like that, and that’s honestly the best part is being able to do that. If the song is somehow unique then I try to bring out the small parts that you wouldn’t necessarily notice.”

 

What do you do at a concert when you aren’t prepared for the music that’s going to be played? Is it easy enough to glove spontaneously?

“Well I can glove to pretty much any kind of music, but EDM is definitely my favorite. But as long as there’s a beat it’s pretty easy to go for it. There are songs that are easier to do it with. The more intricate a song gets, the better it is to do it with because if you listen to festival trap music (steadier, less intricate drops), where it’s still really fun to dance to, it’s not as good for gloving, because when you have ten fingers you have to do things with that. At concerts I’ll usually wear my gloves through the duration of the concert, and every now and then I’ll start doing stuff and that’s when people tap you on the back and ask you for a light show, which is probably the best part of all.”

 

How does gloving add to someone’s experience at a concert?

“At a concert usually you’re standing and looking at the main stage and jumping up and down, but for gloving you typically want the person to be sitting down, so it’s a good way for them to get a break, and you can tell that a lot of people want that. It’s cool when people can sit down and experience something else and still be completely involved in the concert.”

 

What is it like to “melt someone’s face” (to WOW someone with gloving)?

“It’s really humbling to be able to do something that someone would be like “woah” to. From my perspective, since I practice so much it kind of loses it’s magic and I think the way that I get that back is sharing it with someone else and seeing their face light up. It’s probably the coolest feeling in the world.”

 

If this weren’t enough, ravers also exchange something called “kandi,” bracelets made up of colorful plastic beads.  These bracelets sometimes say phrases emulating the rave culture such as “dance,” “love,” and “PLUR,” the motto of “Peace, Love, Unity and Respect.” The phrases often vary in topic and vulgarity, sometimes referring to the event in which the bracelets are being exchanged.

All of these “traditions” do a lot to contribute to the emotional and experiential appeal of EDM. Nonetheless, there is no denying that rave culture is heavily associated with drug use. MDMA, or “Molly,” LSD, and a cornucopia of other drugs do make their way into concert venues. From this there are unavoidable negative repercussions. Although drug use may always remain a part of the culture, that isn’t to say EDM relies on drugs to create the magical atmosphere known to so many. When asked what electronic music means to them, the replies received had little or nothing to do with drugs.

“EDM is like water. It continuously changes while all flowing in the same direction. It’s my refreshment during a workout, my reward after a long day’s work. EDM is my personal hype man, and my morning coffee.”

                                                               -Trevor Quinn

Music, electronic music in particular, carries my soul to higher levels of awareness- awareness of myself and my surroundings. Whether it’s the beat, the rhythm, the vocals or the crowd around me, music provides an all round enlightening experience for which I’m very grateful. I love all forms of music, but electronic music by far has had the greatest impact on me.”

                                                        -Emmett Reistroffer

 

In merely a summary, there is only so much one can do to articulate the power and intricacies within a genre of music. Within concerts and music festivals, there are thousand of moving cogs and components which all work in unison to create an experience beloved by many attendees. The only way to truly understand the power of electronic music, among any other genre, is to get lost in it yourself.

 

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