OPINION: Why rock music is losing the battle to EDM at Coachella

In a place where Paul McCartney, Chemical Brothers and Jay-Z all intermingled the same stage, Coachella Festival is known to touch various fans across the musical spectrum. Bro’s, flower girls, elitists and stoners are a few of the countless subcultures represented at the Empire Polo Club. It’s a sociologist’s dream-scenario.

Some key aspects that distinct 2014’s Coachella from the rest- and it’s not the exclusive pool parties or overpriced beer– were the ubiquitous divides between the “rave” and “rock” scene. Ostensibly long-anticipated reunions by Outkast and the Replacements were under attended by underwhelmed audiences. Renowned rock acts (Queens of the Stone Age, Muse) experienced lukewarm reception in contrast to beyond-capacity crowds (Skrillex, Martin Garrix), and Calvin Harris allegedly drew the second-largest crowd in Coachella history.

The ongoing rivalry between rock and electronic dance music (EDM) exacerbated when Arcade Fire’s Win Butler gave a “shout-out to all the bands still playing actual instruments” at the festival. Deadmau5 fired back at Butler’s jab with a series of tweets, according to Rolling Stone. It certainly wasn’t the first of outspoken rants from the DJ, who’s defended EDM in the past.

As a west coast festival veteran (Coachella, Outside Lands, Electric Daisy Carnival), I think the negative bias recently associated with EDM stems from what’s essentially the “big room” craze, or the current sound of “big” dance music. And what does that sound like? A combination of every sub genre possible to try and appeal to as many people possible. It’s the same tired kick drums, cheesy vocals and the inevitable “big drop,” i.e., the overused song structure that cultivates the monotonic nature of the beast, or beat, I guess.

So, how did this happen?

The availability and access of dance music is unlimited. Festivals like Coachella are live-streamed to any region of the world. A hashtag will give you a first hand experience into a live set. Artists use platforms like SoundCloud and MixCloud to share their music, making it basically free.

Google Trends indicates a steady climb of interest in Electronic Dance Music, particularly beginning in 2011.

Google Trends indicates a steady climb of interest in Electronic Dance Music, particularly in late 2011.


EDM’s influence in pop music became obvious in 2011. Britney Spears released “Hold It Against Me,” debuting her first single that featured a dubstep breakdown. Beyonce sampled Major Lazer’s “Pon De Floor” in her hit single, “Run the World (Girls)” the same year and Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling” sampled Avicii’s “Levels”.

DJ’s like David Guetta and Afrojack set the production trend with dance music and mainstream artists (e.g., Akon, Nicki Minaj, Ne-Yo), making it more acceptable in America (whereas before the “rave” scene was stigmatized with drugs by the media). This is when EDM stopped influencing pop music because EDM had become pop music. Which is why it’s predictable, generic and repetitive.

In all fairness, dance music (in broad definition) is highly repetitive. People hate it because they think its boring, or they find it irritating. But writing off an entire genre is silly, because it differs in quality, just like everything else. Most of it is banal and monotonous, but then again, so is most classical, opera, jazz and so on. You have to search a little to find the good stuff. But the good stuff is out there, and when it’s good, it’s transcendently great.