There was a short time in my life, between 1994 – 1996, where going to ‘parties’ meant going to a warehouse, a desert or someone’s home — any place that was filled with ecstasy and loud electronic music. The ‘parties’ would be promoted via flyers, and the locations would be kept secret until the last moment. Most of these ‘parties’ wouldn’t start until almost midnight and would relocate to a park or some other ‘chill’ spot once the sun came up. To question whether the main draw was the music or the drugs is to question the chicken before the egg. My guess is that neither the music nor the drugs would have been very good without the other. These glow-in-the-dark gatherings were not a lifestyle for me. I would have much rather been at an all-age punk rock show, but somehow I found myself in this scene; a scene that rose up from the underground via promotion companies like Playskool and Insomniac Events. By the time I stopped attending, people would purchase tickets to parties like Narnia and Nocturnal Wonderland months ahead of time. They relocated from secret locations to corporate event centers. There were ‘safe’ booths to test your drugs. There were paramedics on standby. The whole thing became a sterile parody of the parties that came before.
Then, in 2001, we rented a house in Ibiza, Spain. Some would say the scene on that Baleric island had been long dead by the turn of the century, but the thousands of revelers at Amnesia, Pacha and Space provided a strong argument against that statement. Now those clubs are showing up again, in publications such as Spin and Rolling Stone, alongside articles about Burning Man and DJs who are worth millions of dollars based on nothing more than making people shake their asses. To say electronic music is making a huge comeback would be to say there was a time in the past when it was ever this big. I would argue that’s not true. Ibiza was a scene way back when, but most of those outside of Europe had never heard of it. Raves and parties became corporate events, but these would measure in the hundreds to thousands of attendees, nowhere near the 345,000 who showed up in Vegas for 2012’s Electric Daisy Carnival.
EDM (electronic dance music) just might be the most popular music in the United States right now. If not, it’s at least the fastest growing genre. So, even though I was never a huge fan of the music even when I was living in that world in the mid-90’s, I had to check it out for myself. For that reason, I found myself at Avicii’s Levels Tour at Red Rocks last night.
For those of you who don’t follow electronic music, Avicii is 22-year-old Tim Bergling from Stockholm, Sweden. His Levels Tour has been advertised as the ‘first all-arena tour for an EDM artist’. Red Rocks does not qualify as an arena, but I do believe it was the proper setting for his ‘giant-head’ stage setup — making this more like a desert rave than a warehouse party. It was a perfect night to dance among the Rocks, but the first thing that became evident was that Avicii does not have a huge fanbase in Colorado. Upper lots were sparse as late as 7pm, and when we entered the venue during Cazzette’s opening set, the place was only half full. If I had to guess, I’d say 5,000 tickets were sold. Compare that to Bassnectar and Pretty Lights both selling out 2 nights each (19,000 tickets), and you have to wonder what kept the kids at bay on this particular night. Although I’m not complaining. Being my first EDM experience since I was just out of high school, it was nice to be able to hang back and dance in peace…without being flanked by candy coated kids half my age.
The Avicii head came to life just after 9:30pm. Bits and pieces of the Etta James-sampled, EDM-anthem “Levels” teased the crowd into a frenzy. Bergling, playing the part of the brain, manipulated the sounds with a series of buttons just as he was manipulating the highs and the lows of the crowd in front of him. The part of me that wanted to rebel against a kid on a stage doing nothing more than waving his hands around while playing a prerecorded mix was suppressed by the part of me that couldn’t help but be moved by what was happening. The warm Colorado night, the breeze between the monolithic rocks, the thousands of hands in the air…even the swirling glowsticks — they all came together with the ebb and flow of the music, and when those tracks came to their peak, it was hard not to join in on the ecstatic bliss, no matter how artificial everything was.
There are so many genres that fall under the EDM label, but the reason I am attracted to Avicii’s brand is because it reminds me of the old school — call it house, call it progressive, call it what you will — what I hear evokes glamorized memories of the past. Does he mean to be ironic when the vocal kicks in on “Silhouettes”? “We’ve come a long way since that day and we will never look back, at the faded silhouette” I will admit it, he is damn good at selling you something you’ve heard a thousand times before and making you believe it’s something new — claiming “we will never get back to the old school” from within the heart of the old school is all in good fun, but claiming “we are the future and we’re here to stay” reveals the naive kid hiding inside the giant head. But damn if I don’t remember feeling that way as well! There’s nothing better than being young and feeling like it will all last forever!
Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever, so after a great remix of Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” (that was better than the original), we made our way out and left the rest of the night to ‘the future’. Several versions of “Levels”, “Fade Into Darkness”, “Sweet Dreams”, “Silhouettes”, a spectacular light show, and an always transforming head (at one point elevating Bergling way up in the air) made for another great night on the Rocks. I am proud to say I lost a few pounds and gained an understanding (and a level of respect) for this new age of electronic dance music.