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Photos: After EDM's Peak & Ebb, Diplo & More Show Ways Forward At Spring Awakening

By Stephen Gossett in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 12, 2017 2:29PM

Everybody knows that EDM is dead, right? Miami, a longtime focal point, is increasingly looking toward hip-hop. Last year, promotional juggernaut SFX Entertainment went bankrupt, with its white-flag wave widely interpreted also as a red one. And of course EDM hath now wrought one of the most overtly pilloried musical acts of the last five years, pop-EDM punching bags The Chainsmokers.

But scanning the rave-bandana-clad throngs who descended on Addams-Medill Park for the annual Spring Awakening festival over the weekend, it’s clear that anyone who extended their eulogies beyond the untenable corporate expansion that once gripped the genre had definitely over-calculated. There’s been a market correction, to be sure, but EDM the music is plainly sticking around. And the best moments from the three-day blowout evidenced why that can be a good thing.

As far as headliners, Diplo was the standout. (The other bill toppers were EDM-lite fave Martin Garrix and trance lifer Armin Van Buuren.) Criticized at times as a rapacious cultural tourist, the veteran Mad Decent tastemaker (even an elder statesman at this point) can still put his global ear to thrilling use. Where others would simply lean on a wubby, aggro drop, Diplo tossed in a reggaeton curveball here and a comparatively restrained dancehall rhythm there. He also knows exactly where to sprinkle those weaponized earworms he helped concoct on mega-hits like “Lean On” and “Where Are U Now.” And the presence of Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like” in the rapid-fire mix suggested that this was at least one set with some crowd tailoring.

Now, as genre terms go, EDM (a.k.a. electronic dance music) is of course ridiculously reductive; and Spring Awakening also shouldn’t be so quickly simplified. Organizers toasted to Chicago’s history as the birthplace of house music with Friday sets by local disciples like Felix da Housecat and Gene Farris. A Saturday stage programmed by deep-house imprint Anjunadeep offered respite from all-hail-the-drop SOP: Jody Wisternoff’s set touched on minimal; and Finnish DJ Yotto girded his house with an insistent techno pulse.

Scene staple Steve Bug had a jackin’ house set that split between classicist and contemporary. And Chicagoland’s Krewella stood apart from the pack with their unabashed love for amped-up electo-rock, and also, well, their identity: In a scene that attracts a pretty wide-ranging crowd yet floods its stages with white men, the Pakistani-American sister duo inject laudable diversity.

But lets be clear, the under-30s who make up the bulk of the Spring Awakening crowd are mostly there for EDM as we’ve come to define it in 2017: some vaguely “tropical” melodic trappings; wordless, synth-bleat hooks that boom for miles; and crowd-quaking, split-the-skies dubstep drops—choreographed alongside huge blasts of streamers, Instagrammable eye-candy video, towering-inferno shots of fire, and just maybe a pharmaceutical or two.

Dutch duo Yellow Claw drew a massive Saturday-evening crowd with a set chockablock with Jock-Jams bro-step drops. Marshmello, with his deadmau5-style ubiquitous mask (a trend that stubbornly can’t be killed) and “stylized” spelling, rode Top 40 hip-hop builds into his sugar-high, cartoon version of prog house. Duke Dumont, a Sunday standout, also trades in familiar terrain (he’s currently helping keep post-Disclosure pop-house in the charts with a new Katy Perry production) but the hooky sensualism felt like a happy left turn in the context of the ragers that tend to dominate mainstages. It was definitely, um, alive.

Related: Spring Awakening's Bright, Bonkers Style Wins Fest Fashion