EDM Legend Pete Tong on Keeping EDM Alive on American Soil
DJ and Producer of various EDM sub-genres, Pete Tong has been at the forefront of electronic dance music since its early development for more than twenty years. Having been relentlessly promoting the finest EDM tunes, producers and DJs long before their recent rise in mainstream popularity, consider Tong one of EDM’s few founding fathers. Interviewed exclusively by the music industry’s premiere news source, Billboard, he discusses the ramifications surrounding the recent explosion of EDM festivals in North America, and the attention they require in order to keep EDM alive on American soil.
In wider terms, how has the growth of EDM on a global scale impacted on the scene and those working in it?
Now the values created around electronic music are starting to be viewed on a par with the top end of pop music or rock. The scene has got everybody’s attention now: the biggest promoters; the biggest management companies; the biggest records companies. And now you’ve got investment funds running around buying up assets. Suddenly we find ourselves as a community, having conversations that we’ve always been desperate to have, but have maybe never had the chance before.
But with that comes a certain amount of naivety and I think people have got to be very smart about how they go about dealing with all the opportunities that are before them. We all want to protect the scene. It’s not just about grabbing the dollar, selling out as quickly as possible and everyone getting rich. That’s an option, but by the same token we have got to utilize all these opportunities to make sure that the scene continues to develop in a healthy way. The underground needs to be taken care of as much as the overground. We need the underground scene, because without that there would not be the opportunities to develop the next David Guetta or Swedish House Mafia or Luciano.
How solid do you consider the North American EDM scene to be?
I don’t think it’s a passing fad. The live base is so strong now. There is a circuit there of very established, very strong events that provide real stickiness. Ultra [Music Festival] in Miami, Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, HARD Summer Festival in Los Angeles, the Movement Electronic Music Festival in Detroit – they have all really put roots down in the communities where they are based. So it’s really solid stuff over there on the live front, and then that’s obviously combined with [David] Guetta ruling Top 40 radio; Calvin Harris just stepping up to that now; Skrillex exploding on every level. Although disco was big there it’s a lot more to the underground here. It’s a lot more real. Hopefully it will just evolve. I think we’re already beyond a passing fad.
The explosion of EDM in North America has seen the re-emergence of a lot of the controversies that surrounded dance music when it first exploded in the U.K. and Europe in the late 1980s/early 1990s, such as anti-rave legislation and the drugs issue. Are you surprised, at all?
I think it’s inevitable that when you become a main attraction and headline news that there will always be an element of that. It’s crazy that as big as dance music is in America, in 95% of the fifty-two states, you still can’t dance after 2 am, which is another reason why the festival/one-off event business is so big over there – it provides a breakaway from that rule. So, it is inevitable that you are going to get some flak, but I do think that if these brands want to interact with the top level – if they want to attract the big money from sponsors and all these other opportunities that traditionally have only gone to the world of rock and pop stars – then they have got to have their house in order. They can’t be doing illegal s–t. They have to pay their taxes.
The sudden exposure that the EDM world has experienced has given power to a once, largely ignored genre. In the interview, Tong alludes to EDM’s recent upsurge in popularity on North American soil by championing a few EDM artists who’ve taken over America’s Billboard charts not long ago. But like everything else, with great power comes great responsibility and Tong implores that EDM patrons “can’t be doing illegal s–t” if they want to lace the EDM genre with big money sponsors and investment. Security checks must be strict and thorough for festivals such as the Electric Daisy Carnival, which was recently forced to leave their Los Angeles festival grounds for housing the death of a fifteen year old girl who collapsed due to an ecstasy overdose. In layman’s terms, they must pay their taxes.