University of Southern California EDM Soft Shell Theory Research Paper


topic chosen: How EDM culture has changed through soft shell theory to mainstream industry based festivals.
Attached bellow are the guidelines to the research paper. ON there i choose option one- Critical review. read that but we are just making an outline for the essay what my teacher wants for the outline is below Also attached below is the reading i’m using from class reading on soft shell theory please use that to reference and use as one of your sources others you can find online.

Outline guidelines — you can choose either bullet points or prose reflection.
Please write a page to 1 1/2 pages, describing the topic you have chosen. You should both state your topic as well as describe the approach you are planning to take either (1) as an outline of the essay with bullet points or (2) as a prose reflection on the topic, consisting of a couple paragraphs. Describe both your thesis and the approach, and remember that the thesis will help to provide you with a specific lens, so that you do not feel obligated, for example, to review every track on an album. If you are still struggling between a couple of topics, you can also write about which topics you are strongly considering for this initial outline. Finally, include at least two of the four sources you plan to cite in a bibliography. Keep in mind that this outline does not commit you to this approach. You can change sources and approaches, etc. – or in some cases, your topic – if you find that the essay takes a different direction during the writing process.

Identify a single key word, phrase, or thesis from one of the course readings or documentaries. Analyze the ways in which the concept as it is utilized or defined in the text is useful (or not) in understanding electronic music and dance culture. Use at least one additional course reading and one outside source substantively and accurately to support your claim – and be sure to account for opposing views

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Chapter for Weekend Societies: Electronic Dance Music Festivals and EventCultures, ed. by Graham St. John. Bloomsbury (March 2017).
A Soft Shell Formation in a New Festival Economy
Upon a hill across a blue lake
That’s where I had my first heartbreak
I still remember how it all changed
“Don’t You Worry Child,” Swedish House Mafia (2012)
Since the late 2000s, a form of electronic dance music consisting mainly of
commercial house music and contemporary top 40 pop music has enjoyed mass
popularity around the globe. The music is often identified as “EDM” in popular media
without being distinguished from other forms of electronic dance music below the
mass media surface. This chapter identifies the new formation as EDM pop and
situates it within broader evolutions in the popular music festival landscape. EDM
pop has been covered by EDM magazines but also by rock and pop music
magazines such as Pitchfork and Spin, and by the trade magazine Billboard. The
trajectory of EDM into pop culture and into the corporate music industry reflected in
this journalism has been subject to little research. While scholars have studied the
growing industrialization of EDM in local contexts (Montano 2009 and 2011; Stahl
2014), a broader conceptual framing of EDM pop and its festivalscape has not yet
appeared in print.
The aim of this chapter is to offer a broad analytical framing of EDM pop in terms of
genre and industry. I argue that EDM pop is involved in mass culture and corporate
industry formations beyond the conventional genre networks of EDM, but that similar
situations have occurred several times before in the history of popular music. EDM
pop can be interpreted as an example of a soft shell genre formation, a term I adopt
from culture industry sociology to map the dynamics of popularization and
A crucial point in the chapter argument is that, following the soft shell theory, the
evolution of EDM pop festivals can not only be interpreted as a formation within the
genre but also within the broader popular music and popular culture landscape. By
contrast to earlier soft shell developments in popular music history such as the
Nashville Sound in country music, fusion in jazz, “tropical” in salsa, or the “global
pop” trajectories of diverse local traditions, EDM pop is based in a live event
economy. Professionally produced cultural events play a key role in the
contemporary cultural economy of regions and cities, in the music business, in
corporate sponsorship, and in place marketing.
The chapter analysis therefore situates EDM pop more specifically within the new
economy of popular music festivals. I argue that this economy involves three core
evolutions: 1) The evolution of the popular music festival as format for the music
business in the 1990s; 2) the evolution of popular music festivals as generic events
to mainstream society and business1 in the 2000s; and 3) the evolution of popular
music festivals as social media events in the 2010s. These evolutions help explain
fundamental aspects of EDM pop festivals and can inform more detailed
musicological and ethnographic studies in the future.
The chapter is based on qualitative research on EDM pop festivals, with
Tomorrowland in Belgium as the main example. I conducted field research at
Tomorrowland in 2012 and 2013, interviewed the promoter ID&T, and researched the
evolution in production, style, and business of Tomorrowland marketing videos and
livecasts. Complementary research on Creamfields, Electric Daisy Carnival,
Sunburn, and Ultra Music was conducted to explore general trends in the design and
business of this festivalscape.
Conceptual Approach: Industry Sociology of Mass Culture
The scholarly literature on EDM can roughly be interpreted as a discourse for
studying the underground formations that for decades formed the core base of the
genre. The same can be said of the literature on popular music festivals, which has
concentrated on countercultural festivals and which has not yet framed an agenda for
their evolution into consumer culture festivals. These literatures have explored core
aspects of culture and community and their capacity to constitute alternative realities
in the individual festival sphere and in social movement contexts (Cantwell 1993;
Giorgi et al. 2011). Electronic music scholarship has paid special attention to
intimacy, trance, ritual, and utopia (D’Andrea 2007; St. John 2009). The cultural
landscape has changed considerably since the 1990s when festivals increasingly
turned to mass popular music and evolved into industry-based events, awaiting
analytical framing in the respective fields of scholarship.
This chapter marks a departure from the existing literatures by researching the mass
culture side of festival culture and of EDM, framing it explicitly as mass culture
entertainment. EDM pop festivals can fundamentally be conceived as consumer
culture environments of live entertainment and have much in common with
conventional mass culture forms. A general aspect is the prevalence of generic
models (Holt 2007: 2) appearing in the form of hit songs, theme park designs, and
brand culture. Another typical aspect is the psychological simplicity and emphasis on
light emotions in the crowds and in the many songs about juvenile love and
happiness such as “Don’t You Worry Child” quoted above. Like 1970s’ arena rock,
for instance, EDM pop festivals are characterized by a fascination with magnitude
and pyrotechnics. Like TV soaps, they do not shy from the superficial and mundane,
as illustrated by the melodies and lyrics to which main stage crowds sing along.
Many of the synthesizer riffs and ostinatos resemble elements of top 40 pop songs.
Finally, the EDM pop festivalscape is industry-based. By 2015, it had become
dominated by two corporate entities, SFX-IDT and Live Nation-Insomniac, which by
then owned all of the festivals mentioned in the opening paragraph (except Sunburn).
How is industry-based entertainment commonly studied? There are traditions
dedicated to this in the humanities within film studies, television studies, and cultural
studies from which popular music studies and other areas have drawn much
inspiration. These traditions have developed conceptual approaches to studying texts
and audience experiences, as in semiotics and reception studies (Hall 1980, Fiske
1991). Semiotics could be relevant for analyzing how EDM pop festivals are
differentiated from transformational festivals and boutique festivals, for instance,
through their appeal to different lifestyle values, each gaining meaning in relation to
one another through the principle of difference. Semiotics could also deliver analyses
of the “language” of EDM pop, its visual festival design, and its discursive realities as
a new global fashion (Bogart 2012; Dargis 2013) and a re-branding of 1990s’ rave
culture (Reynolds 2012). Reception studies, moreover, is relevant for studying how
meanings are produced in live and socially mediated consumption. So semiotics and
reception studies are relevant for understanding the culture, but to understand its
industry dimensions we need to consider two other traditions, namely culture industry
studies and political economy (Hall 1981; Ryan 1992). The theory of soft shell is
particularly useful in this study because it offers an explanation of the dynamics in
the processes of popularization and corporatization that EDM is undergoing.
Soft Shell Theory
The concept of soft shell originates in Richard Peterson’s magisterial Creating
Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity (Peterson 1997). The book is the product of
twenty-five years of field research on the evolution of country music into an industrybased genre, from the first commercial recordings in the early 1920s to the genre’s
institutionalization in the early 1950s. A sociologist of culture industry, Peterson
identifies a dynamic tension between a perceived core of the genre and its softer
shell. The book is written as an empirical history, and the soft shell concept is
presented in the form of an empirical typology and narrative, but the ideas can be
adopted into a more general discourse for understanding similar processes in other
genres. Consider the following framing applicable to electronic dance music
(replacing the distinction ‘hard vs. soft country’ with ‘underground vs. pop EDM’):
The basic justification for hard country is that it represents the authentic
tradition of the music called country and that it is by and for those
steeped in the tradition. The corresponding justification for soft country is
that it melds country with pop music to make it enjoyable to the much
larger numbers of those not born in to or knowledgeable about country
music. The leading hard-core artists have received the most attention
from contemporary commentators and later scholars as well. At the same
time, the leading soft shell artists of an era have tended to be more
popular with audiences and to make more money than their hard-core
counterparts (Peterson 1997: 150).
Peterson offers typologies and rich descriptions, but he does not offer a theory in the
strict sense of explanations in a general and abstract language, although elements
thereof can be deduced from his writing. At the core of his thinking about the term
soft shell is a core-boundary metaphor, which appears in descriptions of contrasting
of musical styles, artist personae, audiences, production systems (independent vs.
corporate), and media spaces (local genre radio vs. national top 40). Peterson,
moreover, adopts the term soft shell into a historical narrative of the genre’s
industrialization. While Peterson argues that hard and soft have co-existed
throughout the history of the genre, it is clear that the relation between the two
changes with corporate co-optation (in general, only the soft shell is co-opted).
Peterson describes how soft country co-evolved with radio-based country music in
the 1930s. In this process, the industry worked to smooth over the raw edges of the
genre to establish it as family entertainment and increase its popularity with
audiences beyond those who identified as fans of the music. This industry-driven
popularization is a key aspect of soft shell dynamics (Ibid. 229), and it is this point I
interpret in the contemporary context in outlining the new festival economy provided
on the following pages. The focus of the outline is the economic functions of festivals
in a variety of commercial contexts outside the conventional boundaries of the
festival sector and culture. Corporate culture industry develops, promotes, and
exploits soft shell culture. Intrinsic to this process is the influence of interests and
logics outside genre spheres, of genre-specialized artists, producers, and fans.
A distinction can be made between micro and macro formations of soft shell. At the
micro-level are individual artists and productions, while the macro-level formation is a
collective style that is named and systematically produced. EDM pop is an example
of the latter and has parallels in country music with the Nashville Sound of the 1960s
and in jazz with Creed Taylors jazz-pop productions of the same decade and later
with the smooth jazz industry. The Nashville Sound and EDM pop are examples of
soft shell formations that created a new image for the genre and the idea of a new
beginning, in part because the mass penetration was so strong that foundational
images of the genre were transformed decades after its formative stages.2 Soft shell
processes in these genres have not subsumed the genre in its entirety but the
processes have affected the overall dynamics of the genre.
Three Evolutions in the Economy of Popular Music Festivals
Industry-based cultural events such as consumer culture music festivals involve
economic activity across a number of local and international businesses, including
musical entertainment, beverages, food, hospitality, media, and transportation.
Interest in the economic value chain in the host community has been central to the
nominal field of events research within tourism studies for decades. There, scholars
have typically analyzed not the business of the festival organization itself but the
impacts of the festival on other businesses in the community. This has led to a
framing of the festival industry as a mixed industry (Getz 2012). The present chapter
recognizes the value of this insight but does not use the term mixed industry because
industry-based music festivals 1) are primarily framed within music markets, and 2)
does not mix with but conducts business with para-industries of more general
commodity markets such as advertising, hospitality, and media. Few firms in the
supply chain work only with festivals. In the present account, industry-based popular
music festivals are identified as music industry, even as they are embedded in a
network of para-industries.
The growing market value of live music in the late 1990s (Krueger 2005) transformed
the role of festivals in the music business. Festivals went from being viewed as
idiosyncratic cultural projects outside the daily business of the live music industry to
becoming a generic format and avenue of commerce for the music industry as a
whole. The transformation happened gradually during the 1980s and 1990s and
peaked with the boom in the 2000s (e.g., Waddell 2013) when the number of popular
music festivals doubled in many countries and several of the biggest festivals had
doubled in size since the 1980s.3 By the 2000s there were more festivals, bigger
festivals, and corporately owned festivals, some of which had started as a
countercultural festival. Festivals have become one of the main areas of economic
activity for artist agencies, managers, and concert agencies. The large-scale festival
became such a lucrative format during the festival boom that many event and concert
promoters began promoting festivals.
The secondary role of festivals in the music industry of the 1970s and 1980s was
reflected in pricing of performing artists. Rock festival promoters, for instance, were
able to book artists at a discounted “festival rate” compared with arena concerts.4
This arrangement eroded when festival headliners became a major source of
revenue for corporate concert promoters in the 2000s. Festival promoters sought to
compensate for the growing expenses by selling one-day tickets. The latter
contributed to the rise of an arena concert culture within the festival, with thousands
going mainly for one headliner, while remaining spectators to the festival culture.
A distinct aspect of this evolution of the festival as an industry format is the role of
headliners in drawing mass audiences. This is mostly the case in rock and jazz
festivals, which are concert-based, but EDM pop festivals, too, need super star DJs
to reach mass live and media audiences.5 Tomorrowland and EDC Las Vegas
market themselves as event brands, emphasizing the overall party experience rather
than the lineup (Sherburne 2013; Mason 2012), but the lineups continue to feature
countless chart-topping DJs that are featured prominently in livecastings on YouTube
and Yahoo! The lineups also reveal that the EDM pop festival model has stabilized:
Tomorrowland, for instance, consistently drew from the same pool of EDM pop stars
every year 2010–2015, including Avicii, Calvin Harris, Carl Cox, David Guetta,
Deadmau5, Skrillex, Steve Aoki, Swedish House Mafia (with separate performances
by the members after the trio split up in 2013), and Tiësto. The broad popularity of
these DJs to contemporary youths explains why some among them have been
adopted as part of the broader soft shell of rock and pop festivals such as Bonnaroo,
Coachella, Rock Werchter, and T in the Park.
The intensified market logic has changed festival culture. The culture has become
more centered around stars and main stage shows, and it has become more
standardized as the same stars appear at more festivals owned by the same
corporations with the same facility and service providers. Many festivals have similar
lineups, architectural designs, hospitality services, and online ticketing services. The
market competition for headliners results in higher prices on tickets, food, drinks, and
more brand sponsorship and thus drives a general commodification of the festival
environment. The market development, moreover, shapes the design and location of
new festivals. New festivals are created based on market research and growing
emphasis on commercial rather than cultural motivations; festivals proliferate in
urban parks and former industrial facilities, designing the space primarily for the
consumption of music and leaving out conventional festival spaces such as camping
and grassroots participant spaces; and one-day tickets are offered to maximize
profits, even though it involves more people coming for a show and not the multi-day
festival experience.
A formative moment in this market and industry evolution happened when corporate
concert promoters began buying shares in rock music festivals in the 1990s and
developed them as brands to grow their appeal to mainstream consumers and
sponsors (Anderton 2011). This business development culminated during the festival
boom in the 2000s when Live Nation acquired a majority stake in Festival Republic,
illustrating the shift of emphasis from club venues and concerts to festivals within the
corporate live music industry.6 By the early 2010s, Live Nation owned more than forty
festivals in Europe alone, and the acquisitions accelerated in 2013–2015 when it
gained ownership of major EDM pop and rock music festivals such as Insomniac
Events and the Swedish EDM pop festival promoter Stureplansgruppen (Sackllah
2015; “Live Nation’s New Groove”; Hanley 2015). Meanwhile, industry mogul Robert
Sillerman who led the corporatization of the rock concert industry with the company
that became Live Nation in 2005 moved on to do the same in EDM pop in the 2010s.
Beginning in 2011, his corporation SFX Entertainment purchased hundreds of EDM
pop events and festivals and grew media and advertising infrastructures around
them. Within a year after the acquisition of Beatport, for instance, a partnership was
established to market Beatport’s top 20 radio show through Clear Channel’s majormarket hit radio stations (Mason 2014). These corporate evolutions have led to
similar organizational structures and models of integration with media and advertising
in rock and EDM pop. This is what culture industry sociologists call institutional
isomorphism. Yet, the situation in each genre is unique. In indie rock, for instance, a
soft shell development in the 1990s and 2000s also involved co-optation by major
record labels, corporate sponsors, and big festivals, but the music is still defined as
an urban niche culture distinct from mass culture (Holt 2014).
THE  2000S  
In the 1990s, cities were generally uninterested in hosting popular music festivals or
raves. Festival managers were not part of the city’s elite networks. Dominant mass
media stories focused on themes of hedonism, drugs, deviancy, and noise (McKay
2000; St John 2009). The relationship between popular music festivals and cities was
dominated by a perceived need for minimizing negative impacts such as noise and
The relationship between festivals and cities changed fundamentally in the 2000s
when dominant narratives started focusing on the successful impact of festivals on
city marketing and the local economy within a new and broader discourse of “the
eventful city” and “the festival city” (Richards and Palmer 2010: 2-3). This shift
resulted from several developments within post-industrial economies. During the
1970s and 1980s, city governments, informed by private consultancies, started to
think of culture as an economic driver (Zukin 1995). During those decades, cultureled growth strategies typically involved museums, sports facilities, amusement parks,
and the development of public spaces for middle-class consumption (Ibid.). In the
1990s, the cultural event became widely recognized by the advertising industry as an
immersive medium and by city governments influenced by economic geographer
Richard Florida’s ideas about creative cities (Florida 2002). The fascination with the
publicity value of super star concerts in particular fueled in a craze of arena
construction projects in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with a handful of O2 arenas
being constructed in major European cities, for instance. The arena trend was soon
followed by a growing interest in outdoor popular music festivals and events because
of their ability to transform the cityscape into a festive landscape. City center festivals
and raves are given permission to use public spaces because they stimulate
consumption and have the capacity to produce positive images of the city as an
attractive destination for mass numbers of young people. This mindset has
stimulated support of such diverse events as the Love Parade in Germany (and its
international counterparts) and EDC in Las Vegas (Hitzler and Nye 2011; Jasper and
Magaudda 2013).
As city governments and corporate sponsors approached various kinds of events
from an economic logic, a regime of generic values arose, which applied to music
festivals as well as film festivals, fashion weeks, sport events, and other kinds of pop
culture events (“Big Brand Sponsors Target Music Festivals”). Generic values include
quantitative measures such as the number of visitors and spending in hotels and
restaurants. The generic logic also extended to the style of communication. Events
across the diverse cultural landscape adopted the same mass communication and
marketing techniques such as theming and visual identity. They also adopted the
discourse of economic and marketing impacts from the tourism and advertising
industry to rationalize public spending and gain access to corporate sponsors and
political elites (Getz 2012).7 Industry festivals now routinely manage their event as a
brand and commission impact studies to communicate their economic value to
stakeholders. Insomniac Events, for instance, has commissioned economic impact
studies almost every year since 2010 from the Los Angeles consultancy Beacon
Economics, which has many clients in the sport events industry and in the public
sector (Shah 2015). SFX-IDTcommissioned a similar study from the same company
on the first TomorrowWorld festival in 2013 (Ruggieri 2014). These studies play a
role in countering skepticism of drug use, but above all situate the festivals in the top
industry tier of culture and sports events. In the case of Tomorrowland, the
enthusiasm of the host community has evolved into a challenge to brand
management because a growing number of people and organizations are
associating themselves with the festival to capitalize on its popularity even if they are
not representing the style and values of the festival.8
Before the international mass penetration of Facebook and YouTube in the late
2000s, music festivals depended on broadcast radio and television for mass
exposure. In Euro-America, television coverage was limited to concert broadcasts
from a small number of big rock music festivals, which continue to dominate. The
evolution of the BBC’s coverage of Glastonbury is a case in point: When the BBC
started television broadcasting from Glastonbury in the mid-1990s, about twenty staff
produced eight hours of daily broadcasting for an estimated audience of one million
people. Within a few years, the broadcasts moved to a more popular channel, and by
2015 the BBC had about 200 people producing live streams across multiple radio,
television, and online channels (“Glastonbury TV”). The BBC covers no other festival
with the same intensity.9 Few, if any, national media corporations provide television
coverage of EDM festivals. The music director of NPR in the United States, for
instance, explains that they focus on music discovery and find it increasingly
challenging to do that, showing awareness of but not explicitly naming the processes
of commodification and massification.10 NPR’s music discovery, however, focuses
mainly on genres such as rock, folk, and classical music and not so much on
electronic dance music.
In the early 2010s, festival mediations expanded dramatically beyond broadcast
media and into socially mediated televisuality. Televisual online mediations had
happened since the early 1990s, but did not proliferate until popular social media had
created an infrastructure for audiences and for a new media industry looking for live
content to attract audiences and advertisers. In this advertising-based digital
economy dominated by Google, festivals generate traffic and brand value for
sponsors and media corporations such as Google, Facebook, and Yahoo!, and their
televisual mediations of festivals have in turn created a new source of revenue for
festivals. The digital realm is a new source of revenue for the live music industry.
This evolution can be illustrated from the perspective of Tomorrowland. The festival
started in 2005 by the Belgian branch of ID&T and was inspired by the company’s
Mysteryland festival (1993-) near Amsterdam. Mysteryland has a more hardstyle
profile and fewer EDM pop stars (some DJs have graduated to Tomorrowland as
they reached a mass market). Tomorrowland adopted Mysteryland’s Disney-style
design and New Age pop spiritualism, as apparent in the fairy-tale decorations, in the
naming of the festival and its individual areas, and in the location in a park area with
trees and lakes. Tomorrowland also adopted the motto “Yesterday is history. Today
is a gift. Tomorrow is mystery.” The festival’s soft shell orientation created a more
gender-balanced audience with about 40% women, contrasting the more maledominated audiences at ID&T’s raves in the 1990s.11 Tomorrowland is universally
known by the male festival audience, also online, to attract women with appeal to
advertising and fashion industry images of beauty. What is less known is that many
males at the festival aspire to similar body aesthetics, typically shaved, shorthaired,
wearing H&M-style summer pants and sporting a shaved, muscular torso. These
elements—the fairy-tale design, the park, the stars, the pretty women and men, and
the spectacular main stage architecture—have all been exploited for their visual
appeal in the digital mediations of the festival.
It was the marketers of Tomorrowland who gradually built a digital sphere for the
festival. Their first videos for YouTube in the late 2000s can be described as
reportage, just like the other festival videos at the time produced by other festivals
and by amateurs. The marketers then decided to produce a more ambitious video of
a Moby show at the main stage in 2009. For that video, they developed a more
elaborate stage design with fireworks and upgraded the equipment for producing a
higher image quality. Enthusiastic audience responses encouraged marketers to go
further in this direction and develop a style of cinematic festival video with image
quality and editing at Hollywood industry standards. These immersive movies were
framed as “trailers” and “after movies” and became folkloric texts in EDM pop culture,
framing the festival experience for international audiences. The co-evolution of the
physical festival world and the social media movies culminated in the defining 2011
after movie, which received more than 100 million views on YouTube within a year.
Why has ID&T continued to expand the Tomorrowland video productions when
tickets have sold out repeatedly since 2010? The festival’s YouTube channel
features hundreds of TV quality videos, mostly recordings of single DJ sets. The
evolution in production style also suggests growing ambitions, articulated through a
Lord of the Rings style cinematography. The explanation for this cinematic
intensification is that the festival marketers are affected by the massive audience
enthusiasm and that the mediations generate sponsorship revenues. The more the
livecasts and videos are watched online, the more negotiation power the festival has
with its business partners, and the more it earns.12 The development is stimulated by
the broader advertising economy of social media. Since Google acquired YouTube in
2009, it has worked strategically to grow its competitive advantage with the film and
television business. YouTube launched a “premium content strategy” in 2011 in
which live events such as mass-market music festivals play a key role. YouTube
partnered with festivals for exclusive live streaming, including Tomorrowland whose
marketing team embraced the opportunity, viewing YouTube as “a global TV
Media evolutions have played a major role in the commercial development of events
throughout history. An illustrative example is the television history of the Olympic
Games, which has produced its own research literature. Following a broader
convergence between sports and television in the 1960s, television replaced ticket
sales as the main source of revenue for the Olympics by 1972 and since the late
1970s more than half of the TV rights fees have come from commercial networks in
the United States (Real 2014). Mass media broadcasting created the basis for an
evolution in corporate sponsorship, which became a major source of revenue with
the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. These developments generated debates about the
consequences of mediatization and commodication. Scholars continue to debate
whether the media had a symbiotic or parasitic relationship with sports. Some argued
that the growing influence of stars and sponsors challenged the fundamental Olympic
values of equality and democracy (Ibid.; Roche 2000, 166). Moreover, television
broadcasts altered the balance between the ritual elements of the event, with more
emphasis on spectacle. It also boosted the transformation of sports into consumer
culture. At the level of audience experience, the capacity of moving images to
communicate emotional information intensified the audience experience of crowd
emotions and star personae, thus contributing to the rise of celebrity culture, with
Michael Jordan as a pioneering example. Global mediations of Jordan’s playing and
his achievements were exploited commercially in celebrity-style ads for Nike’s Air
Jordan shoe model from the mid-1980s. In those ads, Jordan was presented not as a
conventional athlete but styled as a celebrity and with a line of life-style products
(clothing and fragrance) named after him (Kellner 2002: 64). The media further
created and exploited his celebrity status by reporting on his income and his life with
a 56,000 square foot mansion, sports cars, and celebrity friends. EDM pop DJ stars
operate in a different sphere of nightlife and party culture and are not praised by
news media, for instance, the way Jordan was, but they are completely embedded in
a celebrity culture. The handful of highest-earning DJs are on Forbes’ Top 100 list,
featured in tabloid media stories about their private jets, parties with Paris Hilton,
videos with female pop stars, luxury apartments in celebrity destinations such as
Miami and Hollywood, residencies in Las Vegas, and paparazzi photos. David Guetta
had his name and picture on a series of Coca Cola bottles in 2012 and met with the
United Nations general secretary in 2013 to support World Humanitarian Day. In
2015, Calvin Harris started dating Taylor Swift and modeled for Armani in a global
campaign for their men’s underwear.
In my analysis of Tomorrowland as a social media event (Holt 2016), I argue that the
marketers used social media to expand consumption and marketing into an openended continuum, equivalent to the transformation of news media into a 24/7 cycle in
the digital age. In this continuum, mediations circulate across the pages of corporate
festivals and private persons, bringing traces of festival culture into the everyday
through a more direct and complex relation between industry and audience.
Mediatization processes are contingent to the specificity of changing media systems,
but the changing balance between the ritual elements of the event and the multi-level
commodification are obvious parallels with the mediatization of the Olympics and
offer a perspective on the conversation about EDM pop festivals as a culture of
sensations and spectacle as indicated by the editor’s introduction to this volume.
Most of my Tomorrowland informants, online and at the festival, were not yet thirty
years old and did not have the experience to see the present moment as the result of
a series of transformations in the history of EDM.
The chapter was motivated by the realization that the popularization of EDM in
commercial media and festivals is one of the major developments in early 21st
century pop culture, but that research is lacking on the core dimensions. The aim of
this chapter has therefore been to offer an analytical mapping of the genre and
industry dimensions of EDM pop, paying special attention to its place within the
broader economy of popular music festivals. The sociology of genre and industry
served as a useful tool for a raw framing in the beginning of the chapter. Genre
theory opens up for structural and comparative thinking about a music, its media,
discourses, and its networks of production and consumption. Comparative thinking
about similar situations in other genres in the past is absent in writing about EDM
The structural similarities with earlier developments in country music and jazz
motivated the adoption of the soft shell concept from culture industry sociology. What
initially might seem as a contrasting of aesthetics within a given genre is actually part
of more complex dynamics involving interests outside the genre’s own distinct
networks. EDM pop can be added to a long list of examples of how the corporate
music industry popularizes genres for a mainstream market. Such soft shell
formations therefore cannot be adequately analyzed within the boundaries of the
individual genre. This chapter situated EDM pop in a broader popular music
economy in which rock festivals in particular have had an instrumental role in the
evolution of the corporate festival industry and the image of popular music festivals
as desirable destination events for local host communities. EDM pop festivals have
pushed this evolution further by adopting visual branding practices from the film and
events industry and by their aesthetics of mass culture euphoria. The exploration of
EDM pop within broader contexts beyond EDM indicates that its mass-market
success can be attributed to a number of factors in what might be described as a
perfect storm: Pop stars such as Madonna and Rihanna were looking for inspiration
for a modern sound; a new generation of social media created a platform for
mediating visually appealing festival worlds; neoliberal city governments with populist
cultural views embraced pop culture events for millennials; a corporate festival
industry had evolved and was ready to co-opt EDM; and, finally, there was a crisis in
the recording industry and a sense that rock music was not evolving much anymore,
with rock festival promoters complaining about the declining supply of headliners,
and EDM pop having a generational appeal to millennial youth.
The chapter thus makes the case for looking beyond the internal hard vs. soft
dualism than in Peterson’s analysis. When soft shell formations evolve into global
mass cultures, they exist rather distantly from the hard core and can therefore
meaningfully be analyzed as relatively separate areas. The framing of EDM pop as a
mass culture formation motivated my emphasis on the genre’s life in the wider pop
culture mainstream. Peterson focused on the life of soft shell within the genre
because he was studying the genre’s history and developed the distinction in this
context. Soft shell should not be confined to the dualism of its boundary metaphor
because it is also a matter of how a genre is popularized outside its own territory.
Judging from past examples, we can assume that a soft shell formation has a shelf
life in the mainstream, but also deeply transforms the genre’s boundaries and
identity, instigating ongoing negotiations with changing notions of mainstream pop
The general methodological point of this chapter is that genre theory has broad
relevance for mapping new cultural formations, even when they seem to grow away
from genre and do not position themselves discursively in a genre. The basic
vocabulary of genre theory does not have to be re-invented for every genre. Existing
concepts developed decades ago can prove useful and help recognize the general
and unique aspects of a situation. Once macro-structural mappings have been
offered, they can be critiqued and nuanced by more specialized studies.
This chapter refers to mainstream society and business according to terminology in
the sociology of modernity (Slater 1998 and 2011).
For a study of country music and jazz, see Holt (2007, chapters 3-4).
In addition to such Billboard reports on the situation in the United States, the festival
boom played out similarly in countries such as Denmark, Belgium, Germany, and the
United Kingdom, except that the growth of EDM pop festivals were not as evenly
distributed, with relatively few in the United Kingdom and the Nordic countries
(Webster 2014; NIRAS Denmark with Holt 2010).
Leif Skov, conversation with author, 10 August 2010.
Adding superstars to the lineup drove the expansion of rock festivals when the
biggest festivals grew from attracting 15,000 or 20,000 people per day, to 40,000 or
more during the 1980s and 1990s.
Festival Republic emerged from a reorganization of the company Mean Fiddler,
which promoted concerts and managed club venues in London. In 2007, two years
after Live Nation gained ownership, the venue portfolio was sold and the company
was rebranded under the name Festival Republic to concentrate on festivals
(“Festival Republic: About Us”).
I have witnessed how events use the impacts discourse in multiple situations in
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Koen Lemmens and Christophe Van den Branden, ID&T, interview with author, 24
January 2013.
Andrew Rogers, senior producer at the BBC, interview with author, 1 April 2015.
Anya Grundman, director of NPR, interview with author, 4 February 2015.
This information is based on interviews with managers at ID&T’s offices in
Antwerpen in January 2013. The managers also shared consumer data with me.
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correct in making this assumption, but they did not disclose any details of the
economic arrangement.
Koen Lemmens, ID&T, interview with author, 24 January 2013.
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MUSC 210: Electronic Music and Dance Culture
Prof. Sean Nye
Research Essay
Due: April 5, 2020
Assignment Length & Formatting: You will write one essay, a minimum of 1600 and a maximum of 1800 words,
based on one of the following topics.
In your essay, I do not want you to just recount factual information such as who produced, performed on, acted in,
directed, or inspired the recordings (in other words, it should not read like a Wikipedia entry). Please make sure to
avoid the language of a fan (excessive praise, hyperbole, exaggerated claims, etc.). Instead, you should focus on
historical and critical analysis. In other words, your analysis should not be a general review of the entire work; it
should be focused around a main idea, thesis, point of view, etc.
Option One—Critical Review: Identify a single key word, phrase, or thesis from one of the course readings or
documentaries. Analyze the ways in which the concept as it is utilized or defined in the text is useful (or not) in
understanding electronic music and dance culture. Use at least one additional course reading and one outside source
substantively and accurately to support your claim – and be sure to account for opposing views.
Option Two—Album/DJ Analysis: In this option, you are tasked with giving a critical analysis of one album or DJ
performance: address its musical and cultural features in detail. Attributes to consider include lyrics, beats, samples,
and instrumental sounds. Do not feel obligated to analyze all tracks in the albums or the DJ performance;
highlighting three or four tracks will help to focus your argument. You should substantively engage course texts and
your example. Define and clearly state your argument based on the texts and your own insights.
Your album options are as follows:
Yellow Magic Orchestra, Solid State Survivor (1979)
Cybotron, Clear (1983/1990)
Odesza, In Return (2014)
Flume, Hi My Name is Flume (2019)
Rezz, live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre (2018)
Armin van Buuren, live at Tomorrowland (2019)
Course readings include:
Simon Reynolds: Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture (selections)
Kembrew McLeod, “Genres, Subgenres, Sub-Subgenres, and More: Musical and Social Differentiation Within
Electronic/Dance Music Communities,” in Journal of Popular Music Studies 13 (2001), 59-75.
Fabian Holt. “EDM Pop: A Soft Shell Formation in a New Festival Economy,” in Weekend Societies, 2017.
Peter Shapiro, “Introduction,” in Modulations: A History of Electronic Music (New York: Caipirinha, 2000), 1-7.
Peter Shapiro, “Disco: Playing with a Different Sex,” in Modulations: A History of Electronic Music (New York:
Caipirinha, 2000), 38-49.
Simon Reynolds, “Maximal Nation,” in, December 11, 2011 (online):
Michaelangelo Matos, “Coachella,” “Electric Daisy Carnival” and “Random Access Memories,” in The
Underground is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America, 312-82.
Use of Sources: Each essay, regardless of topic, must make substantive use of (1) at least two course readings (see
reading list), and (2) two outside sources of professional journalism or academic writing. Only long-form features or
substantive reviews will be considered.
Audience & Formatting: You should write your essay for a college-educated reader, one who is relatively familiar
with the texts or terms you discuss. The assignment should be doubled-spaced, written in twelve-point Times or
Times New Roman font. You must follow Modern Language Association (MLA) style in formatting the essay, paying
special attention to issues of citation style and layout.
Resources & Assessment: Consult the syllabus for resources to help you as you draft and develop your essay.
Essays will be graded based on the following criteria:
Points (due March 29, 2020)
out of 20
out of 20
out of 30
out of 30
MLA Formatting & Bibliography
Grammar, spelling, & paragraph structure
Substantive use of sources
Creative, convincing presentation of materials
out of 100
A essays will include the following:

contain 1600-1800 words
demonstrate that you have thoroughly analyzed the assigned material
make interesting, accurate, well-structured, and subtle observations about what you hear/see
use at least two course readings as well as one outside scholarly source
show that you have a good sense of stylistic/cultural progression and continuity
B essays will generally include the following:

contain 1600-1800 words
demonstrate good familiarity with the assigned material
use course readings very briefly or use less than three sources
make appropriate observations about what you hear/see
show that you have a basic sense of the style and culture from the period
C essays will generally include one or more of the following:

be outside the requested range of 1600-1800 words
fail to show that you have listened attentively to the assigned DJ/album or carefully read course readings
minimal or inaccurate engagement with course readings
contain substantial historical, artistic, or cultural inaccuracies
are poorly written
D and F grades will be assigned to essays that are incomplete, contain serious mistakes, or fail to address the
assigned material.

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EDM culture

soft shell theory

mainstream industry

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