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January 3, 2013 12:10 am


It's not so much the music that's the draw at a Deadmau5 show, it's the crowd. Also, the helmet is pretty sweet.

WE'LL LIKELY remember 2012 as the year of electronic dance music. The repetitive, bass-heavy DJ-produced sounds that most people know as "techno" (never call it "techno," btw) has been around since at least the mid-'80s, so why is it suddenly the sound du jour, sneaking into and nearly overpowering rock, R&B and hip-hop?

People need people.

As technology has flourished, we have become a population connected by electrons running through wires. Those advances have been near-miraculous in some cases, and have made finding music a breeze. But they haven't been so great for listening to music, which is most engaging as a communal affair.

That's where electronic dance music has thrived. Plenty of people appreciate it as a solo pursuit--wearing headphones or driving in their cars--but if you've never experienced it in a crowd of sweaty dancers, you're missing more than half the fun.

Electronic dance music is a force in popular music because it is a force in live music. DJs like Deadmau5, Skrillex and Bassnectar draw tens of thousands of fans to their shows, and there just aren't many bands who can do that these days. The ones that can are either at the very top of pop (Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga) or baby-boomer rockers whose fans would rather sit and listen.

The popularity of EDM concerts has less to do with music and more to do with the way the concerts are organized. Fans at an EDM show are participants in the production, as vital to the experience as the music itself.

Music is a living, changing organism--an art form that is unique to a particular moment, subject to the same uncertainty principles as subatomic particles. The sounds that emanate from a cello or a throat or a speaker will never be replicated. Not only that, but the very act of listening is active, a process that adds to the unique way each of us enjoys a song. Other variables can contribute or detract from the experience, subtly altering the way your brain translates the sounds. One of the most important variables: other people.

If you love a song, you will only love it more when you hear it with hundreds--or thousands--of other people around you.

In that regard, EDM is filling a gap that opened when the Grateful Dead walked off the stage for the last time in 1995. There might be more musical similarities than fans of either style would like to admit, but that's a conversation for another time. What they have in common are fans who act as more of a community than a customer base.

If the rise of EDM says anything about the state of pop culture in 2012, it says that people--particularly young people--are looking for connections that don't involve a plug.

"Call Me Maybe" was a lot of fun, but its ubiquity made it easy to ignore. You know what's hard to ignore? The freak in a furry neon-green bikini throwing her hands in the air and hopping in frantic religious ecstasy when Skrillex finally drops the bass.

That could be you. Sounds like fun, right?

Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036

JONAS' IN-TOWN PICK: GTI and The Crypts at 909 Saloon. Music that's funny, funky and from Fredericksburg. Saturday at 9:09 p.m. OUT-OF-TOWN PICK: The Ryan Montbleau Band at Ashland Coffee & Tea in Ashland. An impressive songwriter with a great band that comfortably crosses genres. Saturday at 8 p.m. LISTENING TO: "Climax" by Usher. A refreshingly edgy track from an R&B superstar with a history of taking the safest pop route possible.

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