As the landscape for festivals burgeon at an exponential rate, we look to see how internationally-famed events like EDC Las Vegas (Electric Daisy Carnival) adapt with the ever-evolving dance music industry—an industry that now blurs the lines between genres and offers artists the opportunity to explore their sonic identity through an experience that no longer caters to just the PLUR raver—but all. Yet, why is it so important for many to stay within the bounds of their 'genre', especially within the confines of a festival set? EARMILK chats with Boombox Cartel, i_o and Ferry Corsten to learn more about their journey as artists, their values, and their subsequent path to EDC in identifying the root causes of a producer's inherent turmoil: adapting to new trends or staying true to one's sound.
For almost a decade, EDC Las Vegas has dominated the international summer festival scene, an intrepid pilgrimage for dance music lovers. In turn, the past decade has also seen the rise and fall of varying electronic dance music genres, in which new ones are born from the subsequent fusion of two. From the early days of the festival to the now sprawling haven for music lovers, EDC has experienced the ebbs and flows of change and have accommodated for the evolution of music with new stages, new experiences and further bookings of the up and coming.
Whilst producers have made their name within the confines of their attached genre, more and more we've come to see that these same producers are now taking a stab at exploring new sounds and fervently so, to stay relevant. However, despite the fact that growth and change are inevitable, many fans demand the same sounds from producers time and time again, confining them into a genre box that's hard to wrangle out of. EDC thus, with its flexibility and its reputation of exposition, has become a way in which producers can exhibit their new sounds and explore their sonic identity, introducing their otherwise weary fans with sets that could potentially be the new wave for music.
In light of this, we spoke to three producers in varying spectrums of music to learn more about their journey as artists, the values in their sound and how they've come to EDC, further chatting about trends and staying true to one's 'sound'.
Rising techno aficionado i_o conjured up thousands (with a 7 pm time slot no less!) on the first day of EDC—winning our hearts with a set that promised the return of techno to North America. Whilst techno reigns as one of the most popular genres in Europe, it's been a relatively low affair in North America—despite its origins in Chicago. With a festival that boasted many mainstream EDM acts, the turnout for i_o was a pleasant welcome for the producer.
"I was surprised there was even people there at all, I was going on and thinking there was going to be no one at all," i_o shares of his day one performance. "My cousin took two time-lapsed photos. One was at 7:01 pm and there was like six people there and one was at 7:04 and it was thousands so, it's pretty exciting to see that happen...kids running in like World War Z—zombie running."
"It's one thing to play in front of a big crowd, it's another thing to kind of see them come in, the whole space enveloped in a matter of minutes."
Photo: Taylor Conran
While EDC's circuitGROUNDS stage convened an overwhelming crowd for the producer, surprisingly, it was his first official appearance at the famed festival. "Last year, my friend JAUZ had me out on the Art Cars, I forgot which but it was super fun vibe," he shares. "Dr. Fresch came out and Ghastly came out and we've all been friends for years, it was really fun; it was kind of almost accidental but with some intent. He called me before, we were hanging out during the day and was like "Hey, it'd be fun to do it, I don't know though so we'll see, so I was just around at the time and then it just developed into a really really fun B2B and that was last year."
"But there's been nothing like this so far in this project ever." With 2019 being his first official debut at the acclaimed festival, it's one of i_o's biggest to date and one that will really propel his festival career from thereon. "I'm not sure how big circuitGROUNDS is but I've never played in front of a crowd that big especially a stage that huge—something about that stage is just really incredible."
i_o's infectious energy of swirling bass and high-energy percussive loops drove the crowd to a frenzy and with it, excitement for his second set at EDC. "I'm playing a B2B with No Mana at the Parliament Art Car and that's like a grudge match; we hang out and fight each other because he sucks and can't play techno," the producer jokes. "Yeah we're going to fight between 128 BPM and 133 BPM all the time, the whole time—just fight. So we'll see who wins but I'll definitely win because he sucks." (To clarify, having been friends for so long, the duo find that it's definitely more fun to make fun of each than just be nice.)
Photo: Taylor Conran
A few months ago, I coincidentally covered i_o's DEATH BY TECHNO release and with it being a vital introduction to techno for many, both outside and at the festival, it was evidently the perfect time to find out more about its inception.
"DEATH BY TECHNO was actually supposed to be a remix of a track by deadmau5 from a long time ago and it was supposed to be on his album, but the track didn't end up being on the album," the producer remarks. With the track being up in the air, i_o took it upon himself to mold it into a whole new track. "I took out all of the stems that were deadmau5's and so pretty much all it was drums, and I ended up writing a record just like that—blaring horns, sirens and it was a really, really quick write. When songs write themselves, it's a really good time and DEATH BY TECHNO was part of the vibe: dark and moody. The B-side of the EP "No Sleep", is more melodic, a more listenable record for people who may not necessarily be into techno but will get a taste for it—it's something for everybody."
And incredibly, it was what i_o sought to do: to start out in between. "I've always been really inspired by what you consider mainstage acts, people like deadmau5 and Above & Beyond, and I consider them more mainstream people because of places they've been booked; when you really delve into their music though, they have a lot of underground stuff."
"So what I want to do with this project was start off in between underground and less underground, something kind of for everybody and then work my way deeper and darker into techno and that's where my heart lies, the warehouse shit," he shares. "The first raves that I go to you know, 300 people sweating their ass off in an over-capacity place and I feel like we've all been there and at a certain level, we want to get there again; EDM has involved in a way that's much more palatial, everything is nice now and you get away from that underground stuff. So I'm trying to bring it back in a way for people to connect to. More or less records that come out from the beginning of this year, they just get darker and darker. At the end of the year—and we have a whole year planned out with Mau5trap—by the end of the year, it's pretty much a fucking kick drum."
With plans spanning the year ahead, i_o seemed content and ecstatic in his upcoming shows that reach the far corners of Asia to the infamous Creamfields of the UK. Bringing the American forefront of techno to the world, his forthcoming EPs will twist the genre more so and continue its pilgrimage. However, every movement only exists because of its people and its support and i_o had plenty of gratitude for his.
"Just keep fucking doing it. God—it's so insane to see people excited about this and starting the movement and keeping the movement happening and now you go out there and there's 30,000 or so at circuitGROUNDS at 7PM—this doesn't happen without all these fucking people. It was so nice meeting everybody out there and everyone gets the vibe. Once in a while, you do get techno elitists or snobs who have something to say but we don't see much of it and that's what is incredible about this so really, thanks. And if keeps going, it keeps going and if it stops, I'll kill myself." (The last part was one hundred percent a joke that was approved by his manager).
Los Angeles-based producer Americo, of Boombox Cartel, graced EDC's infamous cosmicMEADOW, filling the sprawling landscape with fizzing riffs and hard-hitting beats amidst the clamours of the crowd. Known for bouncing between a myriad of genres such as electro, dubstep, trap, and hip hop, Americo stands out as an artist who consistently stays true to his own way of playing music and the uniqueness in each set and song—allowing for flexibility where others cannot.
Photo: Olivia Van Rye
With a fanbase as expansive as the stage, expectations for the producer were set at an all-time high. "This is my second EDC," Americo had shared, ahead of his Sunday set. "I've been preparing the whole week and you know, I'm going to play 95% originals—all my own stuff. And really, that's it." Having recently released a multitude of new tracks, the producer seemed relaxed as could be. "Looking into the visuals, looking into the lights, making sure everything is really really eye-candy and make it look cool and really, I just want to have a good time."
Leaning back into his chair, Americo bared all as I asked him about what he was looking forward to in the set; in truth, the producer had none but instead, worked hard to coordinate and fully realize his expectations. "I mean, no one really tells the truth so I'm going to tell the truth," he laughs. "It's a lot going on. It can get super overwhelming you know, preparing the set, preparing the video and visuals. I have five people on crew working at my Airbnb right now and we have to coordinate the fireworks, we have to coordinate the lights and coordinate the visuals—it's a lot going on. It's not pretty."
"You know for a lot of people they say hey, I have a USB with a shit ton of music, I'll pull up, plug in and play and get drunk and that's the other way to do it. But you know, I really want to impress my fans, I want to give back, I want to show them what's up and thank them." And in doing so, Americo is looking forward to the festival as a whole. In doing so, he's forged ahead in his artistic vision, utilizing EDC as another way to show people what he is all about.
Photo: Vivian Lin
Patterns emerge as the artist reveals his collaboration list, emphasizing quality and ensuring his forthcoming music, will be righteous in their flavour. "Since Day One, I've been doing festival trap shit," he shares when asked about changing sounds. "I was doing house records, I was writing pop on the side—writing shit with Diplo, writing shit for Mustard, for everyone. Now, I'm just going to focus on myself 100%."
Additionally, in highlighting his sonic identity, Americo also acknowledges his culture, citing Deorro as a compadre—and one he'll be working with as a celebration of their shared Mexican heritage. "My culture is everything," he adds. "Everyone has a story, a life story and that story made me write that music. My story is putting on that show. My story is that and if I was born somewhere else, if I had different parents...it would be completely different. I have no regrets and I don't want to be anybody but myself."
Whilst fans waved STATE OF TRANCE flags enthusiastically at the quantumVALLEY stage, above, trance legend Ferry Corsten stood in a circle―a halo illuminated by electrifying LEDs and steel ribs of a cocooned arena fashioned specifically for said genre.
Photo: Jason Tuno
An EDC veteran, Ferry is no stranger to the festival, having been there since the very beginning. "I've seen [EDC] grown over the years and it's really cool," he shares of his experience. "They brought it from an 8,000 person one-day event to a three-day festival in Vegas—yeah, it's amazing."
While this would be yet another time in his EDC timeline, this would be the first time the Dutch DJ and producer would be bringing back System F, an exciting moment for Ferry. Backstage before his set, after kindly offering me a glass of champagne, the trance king offers his take on his ever-growing fanbase. "Every time and again, I'm excited. You know, it's a big crowd you're playing for and the crowd of EDC has been growing," Ferry shares. "It's the growth, the population, and not just the American crowd that has been supporting me—it's worldwide. So, it's really cool to play here."
"Lately, I've been getting more requests, especially from EDC, to do a different thing and me having had so many aliases over the years, Gouryella and System F—it made sense to present sets under them," Ferry notes. "Two years ago, they asked me to do a Gouryella show and this year, they've asked me to do a System F one. It's cool for me to go back and address all the projects I've done today and really, it's because of EDC and the beast that it is."
"I never really had any plans of bringing System F back," the Dutch DJ and producer laughs. "I brought back Gouryella because there was a certain thing, a sound of it that was really close to my heart. System F was the project that put me on the map, so there's definitely a first love for that but I never really had the intention to bring that back and come up with new music for it. There's no new music, I just reproduce all the old tracks to make it sound really tight and punchy—today's stuff. I put it all into a tight-fitting show and so that's what people are going to get tonight and maybe a little surprise, but that's it."
Photo: Jason Tuno
With fans clamoring to see the System F reboot, we were also curious to see what Ferry has been up to recently, and the bringing back of Gouryella via new track "Surga". "So Gouryella is the other project and I brought that back after a pause of 13 years," he shares. "I brought it back in 2015 because everyone always kept on asking me ever since I stopped with that project in 2004, people have been messaging me. I could post whatever thing on social media about dinner tonight and people would say "Oh, is there going to be a new Gouryella?" and so forth. There was also always this thing so I decided to bring it back."
"Surga" is the latest release and it was a big thing—people were waiting for it. It came out this year and it's one of those tracks that blew away the whole trance market again and I can only be really, really happy with the result of that and the impact it made on the scene."
With such an impressive history of releases and such a dedicated fanbase, Ferry had but a few words to his fans. "Some of you have probably been at Dreamstate SoCal, so you haven't seen me for the first time, but here it's a larger scale I feel. Some of you had no idea about what to expect but now you do. When you are exposed to something for the first time, you need some time to live with it and now you know it."
All in all, music is an ever-evolving formula, one that caters to the changing values and perceptions of the time. From rising techno aficionado i_o, to party-starter Boombox Cartel and to trance legend Ferry Corsten, these artists have evidently stuck with their convictions and continue to surge forward with new ideas—whilst revisiting their roots. Whilst change in all forms is hard to accept, as fans, we must or should be able to swallow whatever preconceptions we have in order to allow our favourites to grow in their art and perhaps, continue to be a part of their journey in relishing new forms of music.
For an in-depth exploration into EDC Las Vegas 2019, read the review here.
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Connect with Ferry Corsten: SoundCloud | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram