alternative edm

Electronic dance music (EDM) has changed a lot over the years. Gone are the days where the genre was defined by the “banger.” Today, EDM embodies the artistic freedom of electronic production; the freedom to create sounds no one’s ever heard before. At the forefront of this transformation are acts like ODESZA, Bonobo, and Mura Masa, who are reinventing EDM for the alternative space.

Back in the early 2010s, EDM’s explosion into the mainstream was fueled by high-energy tracks that sought to sound as “electronic” as possible. Deadmau5, David Guetta, and Swedish House Mafia dominated the scene with throbbing, 128 beat per minutes (BPM) house songs. Then Skrillex stunned everyone with the abrasive growls and screeches of a then-not-so-familiar dubstep. As the types of music diversified, the genres underneath the umbrella weren’t so apparent – it all coalesced as “EDM,” the aggressive, ill-mannered child of the ’90s rave scene.

bonobo alternative edm future of edm
Bonobo (courtesy of Skiddle)

Things are different now. Some of the industry’s biggest names offer a warm, organic sound that could not be more different from traditional EDM. Those formerly averse to EDM’s intensity are beginning to come around.

“Seeping into almost everything”

Look to Spotify’s “Alternative Beats” playlist, which features electronic juggernauts ODESZA, Flume, Disclosure, and more. Or look to ODESZA’s recent success on Billboard‘s alternative and indie charts. Their groundbreaking 2017 album A Moment Apart peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200 and #2 on Independent Albums. Their single “Line of Sight” hit #23 on Alternative Songs.

“We’ve always been big fans of indie-alternative. We’re from the Northwest, where it’s kind of king,” said Harrison Mills of ODESZA in a recent interview with Billboard. Clayton Knight, the other half of the duo, added: “Electronic music has been around for a while, but now finally in the U.S. it’s seeping into almost everything.”

Just as EDM is changing the alternative space, alternative is changing the EDM space. More often than not, the most-anticipated acts at electronic festivals are the softer, more indie-sounding acts. Insomniac’s Electric Forest festival is just about as ‘EDM’ as it gets. This year, however, their biggest-font headliners include indie-house acts Rüfüs du Sol and Bonobo, whose layered soundscapes diverge from a generic banger sound.

odesza alternative future of edm
ODESZA (courtesy of Amplify)

Look also to this year’s Grammy Awards. In the past, the Best Dance/Electronic Album award has been dominated by EDM icons such as Skrillex, Daft Punk, and Deadmau5. This year the nominations were largely given to artists with a less intense, more alternative sound. Bonobo, ODESZA, Mura Masa, and Sylvan Esso received nominations, and all are celebrated for their chill, sample-driven production.

“EDM for people who think they don’t like EDM”

Artists such as these are redefining the current EDM landscape. What’s more, they’re making it more accessible to the general public. The Boston Globe described ODESZA as “EDM for people who think they don’t like EDM.” ODESZA offers something melodic and pleasant. Their sound achieves a listenability that simply isn’t found in the build-up-and-drop style of traditional EDM. It’s the type of music that would fit any environment.

Mura Masa (courtesy of Time Out)

What does this all mean for the future of EDM? Fans of its traditional genres have no need to worry. EDM isn’t phasing out house, trance, dubstep, and so on. Such genres are flourishing, and the smashing attendance figures of Ultra Music Festival will vouch for that.

But the growing overlap with alternative music suggests that EDM is becoming infinitely more expansive and encompassing. As it becomes less of a ‘genre,’ it will become more of an ‘approach.’ EDM’s artists will employ the vast tool set of electronic production to create music of all types, appealing to all kinds of listeners. It will no longer be just for ‘rave kids,’ it will be for everyone.