By Jesse Van Mouwerik
Each July in the town of Boom, Belgium, just a few miles south of Antwerp, one of the world’s largest and most prominent electronic music festivals takes place, with over 180,000 people attending in 2013 alone. This festival, as many already know, is Tomorrowland, a mecca for mainstream electronic music fans from all across the globe.
Between the usual dubstep whomps, trance tones, and house beats, one of the most interesting and overlooked moments of the 2013 Tomorrowland festival was surprisingly a short speech made by none other than David Guetta.
For those who do not know, David Guetta is among the most recognizable and highly paid DJs in EDM (Electronic Dance Music) to date. Regarded by many electronic purists as a pop sellout, but simultaneously loved by millions around the world for his party anthems, David Guetta is one of Tomorrowland’s headline acts, and has been attending the festival since it started in 2005.
At the beginning of his show, Guetta briefly took the microphone and had these brief words for the crowd.
“Each year there’s more people coming [here] from all over the world. I see flags from Christian countries, Jewish countries, Muslim countries…and we’re all together. This is the most beautiful thing in the world. It makes me really shiver.”
Tomorrowland’s audience, like at many EDM festivals, holds true to that claim, for they are as flag covered, flamboyantly costumed, and energetic as fans at a world cup soccer match but as diverse as a United Nations summit. Granted, no sports were being played, and no treaties were being signed. For the most part, electronic music festivals involve very intoxicated crowds of teens and twenty-somethings jumping up and down to some very loud music, and in the case of this most recent tragedy at New York’s Electric Zoo festival, some people overdose and even die.
And although death from overdose is very serious, other aspects of such events are overlooked, such as their political neutrality, a rare thing in today’s world. Unlike rock music’s rebellion against Vietnam and social conformity in the counter-culture era, or the cries against racial inequality in the early days of rap, electronic music has never truly had a cohesive political voice. Actually, it outright avoids it.
Big DJs often apologize if their stage sets or online activity seem to instigate any political strife. At the very least they don’t state what their private political opinions are in any detail. This is arguably a good marketing move, but then again it’s still amazing that virtually none put their political ideas out there to be heard. Plenty of musicians have made a killing being controversial and divisive, not inclusive, so why then would a whole genre have no serious interest in any type of political position?
Objectively, electronic music has never been about sticking it to the man, but rather joining others in a state of surreal existentialism, with a much larger emphasis on audience participation than a typical band performance has. Bright and elaborate light shows, outrageous costumes, heavy percussion, euphoric drugs…these things are designed to disorient but at the same time unite people’s senses in a shared experience. With sounds taking precedence over lyrics, electronic rhythms face almost no language barriers and that’s a major part of the music’s popularity around the world.
Although technological advances in electronic music production and massive record deals have left people divided on how to rate musical skill, the need to create a surreal party environment persists. Such an environment is capable, at least for a while, of bringing people all over the world together to share in a moment of extreme excess, but a moment nonetheless.
Granted, the need to create a fun party environment is a low bar for diplomacy, but it does at times work wonders, such as World War One’s famous Christmas Day truce, when soldiers on the front lines put down their weapons, sang carols, played music, and celebrated the day together in no man’s land, all in the middle of one of Europe’s deadliest wars.
To make a rather stark comparison, not far from the grounds of Tomorrowland is the city of Brussels, the political capital of Belgium and the official meeting place for representatives of the European Union. Although the work of leaders in Brussels is of much greater consequence than that of any DJ, I’m sure that leaders there would love nothing more than for 180,000 overjoyed people of different nationalities to show up at their doorstep in support of what they did. If policy could have as much of an incentive to include people as a lot of music does, maybe such a turnout wouldn’t seem so absurd.
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