The hottest musical trend in the country, EDM is an umbrella term encompassing such digital-music styles as dubstep, house, drum & bass, trance and techno. Seattle embraced EDM long before it became trendy and currently boasts more than a dozen electronic dance clubs.
After being up all night promoting his first rave party in South Seattle in the late ’90s, Chad Anderson discovered a door at the warehouse he had rented had been kicked in by partygoers.
Anderson, 21 at the time, quickly agreed to repair the damage.
Warehouse owner Mark Naficy was impressed.
“They did a great job,” he said. “Most promoters of those kinds of events were fly-by-nights and not very ‘pro.’ From that moment, I knew the guy was going places.”
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More than 15 years later, Anderson and his growing, Seattle-based company, United State of Consciousness, or USC Events, are at the epicenter of the hottest musical trend in the country — electronic dance music, or EDM, an umbrella term encompassing such digital-music styles as dubstep, house, drum & bass, trance and techno. EDM is an outgrowth of the underground rave culture of the ’90s, gone mainstream. Seattle embraced EDM long before it became trendy and currently boasts more than a dozen electronic dance clubs.
USC has been there from the beginning, growing up with — and catering to — a generation of old-school ravers. In the last 18 months, USC has drawn more than 40,000 fans to various events at WaMu Theater, including the annual Halloween-themed FreakNight festival, which last year drew a crowd of more than 15,000.
This weekend, Anderson will reach another career milestone when he and concert-promotion company Live Nation present the first Northwest-produced EDM festival — Paradiso, June 23, at The Gorge. Paradiso aims to build on the success of last year’s Identity Festival, which drew more than 20,000.
“I think (Anderson) has definitely tapped into something that’s pretty big and … the kids love it,” said Live Nation competitor AEG Live’s Alex Kochan.
What has brought electronic dance music to a boiling point, mobilizing millennials in a musical frenzy? It may have a lot to do with the intensity of the shows, as well as a refocusing of the concert experience itself.
When San Jose, Calif., electronic-music star Bassnectar (aka Lorin Ashton) performed May 12 at WaMu Theater, a sign near the box office read, “Warning: It’s Going to Get Loud.” Throbbing, bass-heavy shock waves caused scalps and hair follicles to vibrate. Bassnectar was barely visible amid a blitzkrieg of pulsating lights and video.
The crowd included bare-chested men wearing jeans and neckerchiefs and women in bikini tops, ballerina skirts and furry leggings. Stilt-walkers and unicyclists added to the fun. With their arms in the air, concertgoers danced as though their lives depended on it.
“Electronic dance music takes the spotlight off what used to be the traditional rock star and makes the audience the focus,” said Marco Collins, influential host and DJ for 107.7 The End in the ’90s and often regarded as the voice of Seattle alternative radio.
DJ Doug McIntyre, aka Dig-Dug, agrees.
“A concert to me is a dated formula,” said McIntyre, a colleague of Anderson’s since the late ’90s. “For the young up-and-coming generation, we want to bring something new to the table. So we call it an experience rather than a concert.”
That experience is both communal and idealistic, as reflected in the long-standing credo in the world of electronic dance music — PLUR, which stands for Peace, Love, Unity and Respect.
“That’s why you don’t see fights,” said Drew Bailey, a host at Nathan Hale High School radio station C-89.5 FM.
This neo-hippie sense of togetherness has translated into a musical gold rush for concert promoters. The three-day Electric Daisy Carnival earlier this month in Las Vegas drew 345,000. Top EDM DJs such as Avicii, Afrojack, and Skrillex are earning rock-star money, with fees sometimes running six figures or more.
Even alternative-rock festivals such as Sasquatch! Music Festival at The Gorge and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., have embraced EDM.
“Sasquatch! this year was an eye-opener,” said Collins. “The Banana Shack [the festival’s dance venue] was a whole different world. Honestly, it could have been its own festival. At any time during the day, you could wander into that tent and dance with 3,000 other people to a DJ that most people didn’t even know.”
Anderson, the driving force behind this energy locally, is a friendly and passionate man, with a bright, engaging smile. On a recent Tuesday morning, casually dressed in a wool cap, plaid shirt, jeans and Nordstrom sneakers, he settled into a chair at a conference table at his Sodo office, which occupies a suite his landlord has dubbed The Nirvana Room because the famous band once practiced there. With its thick wood floors, high ceilings and stained glass, the space looks like an industrial office of the 1920s.
Anderson is 37, grew up in Federal Way and still lives there in an upscale tract home.
In high school, Anderson loved to throw parties. On one occasion, he drove through the parking lot at SeaTac Mall to recruit partygoers, especially pretty girls.
“My mom kind of gave me free rein to do what I wanted and she wasn’t around a lot,” he said.
Anderson’s first love was rock, but trips to San Francisco after high school exposed him to the world of dance music and raves.
“It was a big community and everyone was accepted,” he said. “No one judged anybody. You could dress however you wanted, act however you wanted.”
Anderson never planned on becoming a music promoter. He figured he would become a mechanic, like his dad. But his first party at the South End warehouse in 1996 was such a success, he followed it with another. And another.
“In some respects, Chad reminded me of a young Bill Graham,” said Ken Deans, referring to the legendary San Francisco concert promoter.
Deans, the original drummer for Seattle band The Heats and now an events consultant (among them Coachella), began working with Anderson more than 10 years ago.
“He really knew the music and wasn’t going to do anything else. He understood that money was key, and you had to watch every penny. He was the fastest learner I ever met in my life.”
The old underground raves got a bad rap for drug abuse, particularly Ecstasy. Now that the scene has gone mainstream, promoters are working hard to discourage illicit drugs. To help ensure that Paradiso is safe, USC Events and Live Nation have announced a “zero tolerance” policy regarding illegal drugs (narcotics officers will be at the event).
The venue has also banned dolls, stuffed animals, pacifiers and those pointy little glow sticks — anything that could be thrown or cause injury. Ticketholders must also be at least 18.
With a staff of five, plus a crew of outside contractors, USC Events promotes four festival-style events each year — Lucky, Resolution, the long-running FreakNight and now Paradiso, as well as more than two dozen club events. In the coming year, Anderson plans to launch a digital-music label, Conscious Records, and open a new, 650-capacity electronic dance club, Foundations, in Belltown.
Though Foundations will up the ante, Seattle already has an abundance of clubs catering to electronic dance music of various styles.
Among the top venues are The Last Supper Club, Trinity, Contour, The Baltic Room, Lo-Fi and See Sound Lounge, not to mention the hugely successful Decibel Festival, held every September.
Emily Ostrem, a 28-year-old administrative assistant at Bellevue Community College, once worked at The Last Supper Club and still considers it her home. A friend of hers who recently visited from Arizona was amazed by the Seattle scene.
“I took her to bars,” Ostrem said. “She didn’t realize that all these people were so friendly. It’s like a family.”
Back in 2001, Anderson attended Moby’s Area One festival at The Gorge and imagined one day promoting an event there of his own.
“It was like the dream at the end of the rainbow,” he said. “I thought, ‘Someday we’re going to throw an event there.’ And now we’re there. I can’t wait to be at The Gorge, standing up on the hill and saying, ‘OK, it’s real.’ “
Gene Stout: firstname.lastname@example.org
Erin Flemming contributed
to this story.