The flyer for UP NEXT.
If there is one thing that the current EDM industry does not lack, it’s excess. In a 2012 cover story, Billboard called this trend, “the EDM arms race”.
On June 20, I saw the ante upped on Manhattan’s Pier 84 with an impressive display of fireworks and lights, headlined by Zedd of the monster hit, “Clarity”.
To my right was the warship “Intrepid”; at my back, New York CIty’s skyline glowed in the sunset.
Every five minutes, a timer on a docked Samsung Galaxy S4 let any member of the crowd choose a firework. That person could customize the firework by color and type and send it off at “just the right moment” during Duke Dumont’s set. Cocktail waitresses pushed through packs of people, offering a choice of Budweiser or Smirnoff mixers. Drinks were included with the gratis entry, only costing a tip for those who were decent and/or who thought the waitress was cute.
The 3000 who arrived three or more hours early were rewarded. If the other 3000 (my estimate) didn’t leave kicking themselves, they should have. The bars were well-staffed, well-stocked and truly open, such a mythical occurrence in NYC that while waiting in line, we had an in-depth discussion on the meaning of the words “open bar” in the flyer.
The MAD-Orb (left) and the Intrepid (right). (Credit: Murray Lynch)
This was UP NEXT, an “interactive fireworks show” featuring Zedd, Duke Dumont and Tokimosta. To go along with a glorious display of fireworks over the Hudson (separate from the crowd’s personalized spurts of sparks), there was a lit-cage stage with flashes worthy of a non-liability form for the epilepsy risk.
But the sound setup was just okay and the DJ-sets were only okay. (Still, the crowd reached EDM’s standard ecstasy at Zedd’s encore where he showed off his latest hit, a remix of Empire of the Sun’s “Alive”.)
Firework finale. (Credit: Murray Lynch)
Putting it lightly, the event did not make me rethink electronic music.
It did, however, prompt some reflection on the nature and direction of the EDM industry.
Where does all this money come from? High-profile DJs like Zedd expect six figures per performance. And feeding alcohol to an army of 3000 for three hours is not cheap, even leaving out the opportunity cost. The beautiful backdrop was not free. And only god knows how much the custom-designed, glistening light-cage (MAD-Orb) set someone back.
The entrance to Pier 84. (Credit: Murray Lynch)
So who funded it?
My first suspect was Samsung.
In competing with Apple, Samsung’s marketing efforts have been massive. They spent $400 million in marketing in 2012, compared to Apple’s $333 million.
Earlier this year, for example, Samsung had Kanye West perform at the launch of the Galaxy Note II, an event organized by the EDM marketing giant, Recreation Worldwide.
But UP NEXT was not a Samsung Galaxy launch party, and branding was minimal, with the Samsung logo only appearing on the event’s flyer, on the side of the VIP stand and of course, on the firework-launching phones. Worldwide Recreation indeed played a main role in UP NEXT, but more in partnership with VICE Magazine than Samsung, which seemed to have a hardware role more than anything else.
Enter: THUMP, a sub-brand of VICE, “presenters” of the event, whose branding presence was definitely pronounced.
THUMP: “the new electronic music & culture channel from VICE.”
In an age when magazine companies are scrambling stay relevant in an evolving world, VICE magazine has been on the forefront of new media.
For one thing, it has embraced video content. Its multi-channel network (MCN), a youtube-based content distribution platform, has been paramount to the brand’s survival.
The network includes the VICE channel, with almost 3 million subscribers, the music-focused channel, Noisey, the Creator’s Project, which featured “The Collaborators,” a series of interviews with various artists who made appearances on Daft Punk’s latest studio release, Random Access Memories.
THUMP is a new addition to this network which, according to a press release, aims ”to focus on the full range of electronic music and culture… through original videos from the most electrifying events around the globe, to weekly music video premiers, mixes from the most forward thinking DJs, and an engaging slate of editorial features.” Cool.
But is it a wise investment to hold a massive, awesome party like UP NEXT primarily to launch an EDM-oriented youtube channel?
It certainly is bold, especially given some high-profile skepticism of EDM’s longevity as a mainstream phenomenon. In a conversation between Above & Beyond and the Pet Shop Boys, the discussion turns to the future of the stateside electronic music scene. “What’s gonna happen [to EDM] in America is what happened to disco. Suddenly everyone is gonna says ‘oh God, I fucking hate this’,” says Neil of the Pet Shop Boys. Jono from Above & Beyond reiterates: “The bubble in America is gonna burst.”
To be sure, VICE is not the only one who believes in EDM’s prospects. VICE is probably taking a hint from Las Vegas, where big risks are only matched by big money, and the big money is on EDM.
Check out part two to see just how seriously Vegas is taking its EDM. We discuss the effect that buckets of cash has on the industry.
Is the EDM bubble going to burst?
Lights, sounds and the crowd. (Credit: Murray Lynch)