Identity Festival rocks out the dance party

Beats happening
By LUKE O'NEIL  |  August 17, 2011

ID festival
MASS APPEAL “Electronic dance music is such an important part of music culture in general,” says White Shadow. “It has been for the last 30 years.”

Genre predictions are dumb, but there is one thing absolutely certain in music: rock music is dead, and the era of electronic dominance is finally here. Look no further than last week's Hard Summer Music Festival at the Paradise or this week's Identity Festival, making a stop on a national tour at the Comcast Center with Steve Aoki, Avicii, Booka Shade, Rusko, DJ Shadow, the Crystal Method, Datsik, Data Romance, Holy Ghost!, White Shadow, Afrobeta, and others in tow.

Little bit overdue on this front, America. Especially considering, as White Shadow (a/k/a Paul Blair) points out, our land is the birthplace of techno and electronic dance music. "It is the first time something like this has really happened in the US," says Blair, who also co-wrote and/or co-produced a handful of tracks on Lady Gaga's Born This Way. "Electronic dance music is such an important part of music culture in general. It has been for the last 30 years. The fact that it can be controlled in a major venue and so many people want to see it is amazing."

Even recently, pulling off an Identity Festival wasn't easy. "The fact that you can regularly get thousands — even hundreds of thousands — of people together for them from all over the world shows how far things have come in the past few years," says Swedish trance/house producer Avicii. "The acts have grown with the festivals where people are putting on big live shows that make touring DJ festivals the same as any rock concert."

One reason a tour like this has become more viable, says Sebastian Szary of the glitchy German electro act Modeselektor, is that it's much more streamlined than guitar-rock shows in terms of production and expense. "Outdoor festivals normally have a program like: opener, unknown local band, known local band, domestic superstars, and international superheroes. Touring with a rock/pop-based lineup like this is too expensive and needs tons of different backline. The main difference for electronic acts is they can react immediately and need far less gear."

Added Amy Kirkpatrick of trippy Vancouver duo Data Romance, "The fact that all these amazing DJs and producers all said yes to one single tour is really something. Electronic bands were almost the black sheep back in the day, and now things are somewhat reversing. I think people would come out to this festival for different reasons than, say, a rock festival, but each feeds the need for something in fans."

Just don't express that difference in terms of laptop and synths versus guitars to Alex Frankel of New York City's outstanding disco-synth act Holy Ghost!, who notes that whereas keyboard-based bands have been big in the live-music world for decades, laptops are different. "Years ago you would be laughed off the stage for using backing tracks as heavily as people do today," he says. "But the thing is, they sound great. If an electronic band goes on and plays mostly pre-recorded audio, they're going to sound great. Boring as shit, but they'll sound good. Because there's no chance involved. And I think that's where electronic shows get very different than rock shows: there's no chance."

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