A new book about electronic dance music by Michaelangelo Matos offers an exhaustive explanation about how and why EDM has become so popular.
‘The Underground Is Massive’
Dey Street Books, $25.99
A producer puts out a song. DJs play it in clubs, at parties or on the radio. Other artists hear it and create similar work, and labels release it. Concert promoters and kids take notice. A scene forms around the sound and the drugs that enhance it. Eventually, the sound spreads to other cities or even countries, and the mainstream takes notice. The scene changes, then fragments, then dies, only to continue or start over in another form somewhere else.
That’s the general pattern of Michaelangelo Matos’ new book, “The Underground Is Massive,” a history of electronic music’s rise that avoids sweeping proclamations. Instead, Matos, a Brooklyn-based music critic who writes for Rolling Stone and NPR (and has occasionally freelanced for The Seattle Times), chronicles the intersection and gradual evolution of regional music scenes as electronic music grew from an underground interest into the moneymaking, culture-shaping force known as EDM.
Matos did his research. There are interviews with hundreds of primary sources, from superstar DJs like Moby to concert promoters and record-label staffers to ’90s rave attendees. With such a wealth of firsthand information, he rarely editorializes; much of the book is an effort to piece together a story from a mountain of attribution. It’s a true-to-life style that ends up reading like an oral history and evades a conveniently packaged narrative.
The author of a new history of electronic dance music, “The Underground Is Massive,” chats with Seattle Times staffer Tricia Romano at 7 p.m. Friday, May 1, at Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, Seattle; free (206-624-6600 or elliottbaybook.com).
As a result, “The Underground Is Massive” can be circuitous. For instance, each of the 18 chapters centers on an important event or location in electronic-music history — the birth of house music at the Warehouse in Chicago, the disastrous 1999 Woodstock, Daft Punk’s groundbreaking 2006 Coachella performance. It takes page after page of context, however, to get to these watershed moments. A story as far-ranging as electronic music’s history has to be broad, but one can easily get lost in the dense thicket of people, events, songs and cities.
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Of particular interest to Matos are two unavoidable topics when discussing electronic music: technology and drugs.
He chronicles how the rise of the Internet coincided with the growth of ’90s rave culture (a series of regional mailing lists and chat rooms were instrumental) and how innovators like Richie Hawtin used the latest advances in technology to push the music forward. There are many examples of how drugs infiltrated and fueled the scene, including two chapters centered on large-scale parties broken up by law enforcement in Milwaukee and New Orleans.
Seattle also gets a brief mention. Decibel Festival founder Sean Horton is quoted in several chapters, and there’s an explanation of how electronic music informed Ben Gibbard’s work as The Postal Service.
Matos stresses in the book’s introduction that “The Underground Is Massive” makes omissions, a necessary consequence of writing a history. Comprehensive or not, it effectively distills 30 years of history into a manageable 400-page read. That alone makes it essential for electronic-music fans — especially those too young to remember the ’90s, when the genre really came into being.
It’s not hard to see that electronic music is more popular than ever.
“The Underground Is Massive” is an exhaustively researched attempt to explain how it got that way.