Electronic Music Continues to Make a Big Splash (And It's Not Going Anywhere)

Let’s recount 2013: EDM (electronic dance music) in the United States was believed by the masses to be nothing more than a viral video about a kooky dance called "The Harlem Shake." It was loud and hyper, devoid of true meaning. “It’ll never last,” parents said in an effort to comfort themselves. Even EDM maven Deadmau5 (aka Joel Zimmerman) slammed the genre—proclaiming during a South by Southwest panel that all “the songs sound the same.” And in a scathing profile on the late (and great) artist Avicii, journalist Jessica Pressler described his passion’s sole purpose as “ keep the Ecstasy-dosed, champagne-soaked masses moving.

That very same year, Tyler Mclean was preparing to graduate from UCLA a semester early. On top of pondering life after college, his daydreams were filled with thoughts of the plethora of palm trees and three digit temperatures that defined life in his hometown of Palm Springs. The dusty enclave better known for its retirement community had suddenly transformed into a destination thanks to Coachella Music Festival.

The town’s tourism leaders saw the boom and wanted to revert to a time when Palm Springs was the ultimate tourism oasis for the 20-something crowd, but they didn’t necessarily know how to pull people in beyond flimsy newspaper ads. “In my opinion, if you want people to come you have to give them a reason, give them an experience.” For Mclean, the tourism bureau’s obliviousness signaled an opportunity for him—to throw the experience he knew his peers would love. “Obviously there was some sort of naivety to thinking I could just throw a festival without any experience doing ticketed events.” Instead of ruminating on why it wouldn’t work, he thought “Why not?”
“From there, I was inspired by Las Vegas’ EDM scene, but I wanted to make Palm Springs something else. I wanted to make something that was more underground, more carefree and unpretentious.” The desert native believed that the synth-laden, bass-heavy genre could extend far beyond university’s neon-splashed school parties and Sin City. Two months after his June graduation, and with the help of promoters and his sister Kelly, Mclean introduced Palm Springs to the power of EDM, and EDM to a scene without a VIP section and table service. About a thousand 20-somethings swarmed to hop between pools at the Saguaro, The Curve and Caliente Tropics Hotels, to dance to beats by electronic heavyweights like Classixx and Bixel Boys.

Each year since, the festival has only grown. Far from it’s inaugural affair, leading ticketing agency Goldenvoice now co-promotes Splash House and 2018 saw two sold out helpings of festival—one in June and one in August—with nearly 80 artists hitting the stage to entertain 7,500 attendees each day across three venues. Beyond its own success, it’s evolution is emblematic of the entire Ableton-loving genre. Six years later, the electronic music DeadMau5 self-loathed is more lucrative and influential than ever before.
One of Splash House’s August performers, Louis the Child, is made up of ‎Frederic Kennett and Robert Hauldren. At the tender age of 20 and 21, respectively, the pair were just kids when EDM first exploded stateside. While many of us (who are older) stood back in awe and amazement as Splash House and similar electronic-focused festivals flourished, Kennett and Hauldren are young enough to be among the first artists to be raised with the understanding—backed by chart-topping evidence—that the genre, in fact, is not a fluke. 

“We’ve always been very passionate about music. I grew up playing in jazz bands and we played in rock bands, but EDM allows you to wrap up so many sounds into one,” Kennett muses. And Hauldren continues, “We can create things that are humanly impossible to create and it’s all created on a laptop, but when I first heard electronic music, I hated it. I had the same sort of naive perspective of it in 2011 and 2012 that other people did, like, ‘They’re not doing anything except pressing a button.’"

That perception that electronic artists are just hitting buttons follows them on stage too. EDM has been flanked by live reviews that describe a bored individual behind a computer and I can’t say I disagree with them all the time. Electronic artists, who don’t have a mic stand and live instruments as props, have to work harder to put on a memorable performance. Be it their age, their pure talent, or a combination of the two, Louis the Child hit the stage on Saturday at dusk to demonstrate an infectious energy that forced anyone out of the pool, away from the bar and onto the dance floor. Almost immediately—while Hauldren turned the knobs—Kennett hopped on the deck, ignited by the flashing spotlight above and technicolor electronic backdrop. He was gangly, skipping to his own creation in adidas gym shorts before a shoeless Hauldren joined him to communicate that neither were their to just perform for a crowd, but to also party with thousands of their friends.
“Frat dudes are people too, but whoever says electronic music is just for frat guys is only seeing one side of it,” Kennett defends before his mind-altering production. At this point, when his counterpart jumps in, it becomes clear that the duo are so close that they consistently finish each other’s sentences: “One thing I don’t think people realize is the depth of electronic music. There is electronic music that is crazy and hype, then there’s really lush and beautiful ambient-type electronic music.” 

For example, while Louis the Child and fellow Splash House performer Hannah Wants (aka Hannah Alicia Smith) share a genre, that is where their similarities end. Smith is a 32-year-old Birmingham, UK native and former soccer player who is self taught, currently gearing up to debut her very own record label called Our Etiquette. “My team and I saw her live in Croatia at Hide Out and I knew we needed to bring her out here,” Mclean remembers. During Hannah’s Saturday afternoon set at the Saguaro Hotel, she opts for all-black in a sea of technicolor, only cracking a smile in between concentrated transitions and loops.
When I ask her how she deals with those who doubt electronic music as a true art form, the gap between her eyebrows creases. “In England that’s not a thing. Even if people aren’t into EDM in the UK, they would probably pretend to...because it’s cool.” She goes on, “[In the US] I think that you’re ahead in hip hop, but I think we’re a bit ahead in terms of electronic music.” Still, she does have hope that the US will catch up—especially after her first-ever experience at Splash House—because while much of the US recognizes what she refers to as “big house DJs” (like Diplo and Skrillex), there are so many more brilliant musicians within the EDM community that the country has yet to fully recognize.

And Mclean is confident that the country's music lovers are ready to really get to know the richness that EDM can provide: “I think, from here, we can start drilling further into the different parts of electronic music. We can go wider as well as deeper,” Tyler imagines. “If you look at the success of this show, it feels like we’re just getting started.”

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