The Big 3 Festival Brands Make Moves
You might not realize it, but there’s a major proxy war going on right now. I’m not talking about the USA vs Russia in Ukraine, but about the cold war between Ultra Music Festival, Insomniac, and Tomorrowland taking place around the world. Before and during the COVID period, Insomniac began a campaign to snap up clubs and festival brands around the US in order to gain a foothold in every major dance market. Insomniac, via LiveNation, has built itself into a near monopoly in the US. Whether it’s NYC, LA, San Diego, Miami, DC, Las Vegas, Orlando, or even Chicago, Insomniac probably controls one or more major clubs and one or more major festivals in the market. In Miami, practically everything that isn’t Ultra is related to Insomniac. Insomniac has even gained a foothold in Europe with Secret Project and its alliance with ALDA Events.
Now, Ultra Music Festival is striking back with an Ultra Worldwide itinerary that touches down on all six (6) inhabited continents. Ultra Festivals that were abandoned years ago are being revived as every global sub-market is a competitive territory. Ultra even decided to make moves in its hometown. For the very first time, Resistance is hosting branded events in Miami. Resistance is getting a club residency at the brand new M2 club of the same caliber we used to see from Resistance Ibiza.
Never one to be outdone, Tomorrowland dropped the mic on all of us when it announced that Tomorrowland Brasil was returning in 2023. It appears that three weekends of magic in 2022 showed the brand just how beloved it was around the globe. For the first time in many years, Brazil will have Ultra, Tomorrowland, and a series of other major events like HOLO, Afterlife, and more. Could TomorrowWorld be next? Right now the answer is still no, but let Tomorrowland do one thing at a time. After all, we never imagined in a million years that Tomorrowland Brazil would return, and Chattahoochee Hills is once again vacant in September.
While these festival titans battle it out, we all win because there are more high-quality events with quality lineups for us all to enjoy.
The Rise of the AV Performance
Eric Prydz has been leading the charge of this movement for several years. He has always understood the value of a full audiovisual spectacle, where the visuals are as meticulously crafted as the music being played. His EPIC or HOLO shows have gone through various iterations, but always focused on the same goal; to combine bleeding-edge technology with Eric’s legendary DJ performance. Now it seems that the techno scene has picked up on this trend, and some have run with it.
Tale of Us’ Matteo launched his ANYMA Project with this in mind, earning him our #1 Rising Star of 2022. The Project is not simply about producing and releasing music. Each track is also combined with its own signature static art piece and a live video art piece. Combine these with HQ video of the live video being performed at a signature Afterlife event, and you have the NFTs that are funding this exciting new movement. Matteo has teamed up with real artists, under the eye of Alessio De Vecchi, to craft an audiovisual story that builds with each new track. ANYMA began introducing this story with ‘Running’, and each new release has featured a new NFT visual package that advances the theme of the artificial becoming sentient and then merging with the natural world. The concept of technology and nature working in concert is exactly what you get at an Afterlife event. While Eric Prydz HOLO may get a handful of performances in a year, Afterlife is becoming a global tour touching dozens of cities each year. Each city gets a signature production package of LED screens, lights, and lasers that could be considered art all by themselves.
The AV movement has expanded to others in the techno realm like Adriatique, Mathame, and even Drumcode. These AV shows are bringing a whole new audience into the techno world, and it’s astonishing to witness the growth.
Melodic Techno Remains on Top
It used to be easy to finger the subgenre of the year, but then sometime around 2018 it all started to blend together. Each subgenre has spun off into its own community and they all mix and mash aspects of other genres at times. However, in 2022, it’s safe to say we can identify Melodic Techno as the trendy genre of the moment.
While melodic techno has been around for several years, it began rising in prominence during COVID, as energetic festival bangers had no place to go. Cerebral, deep, contemplative, and occasionally dark music rose to prominence. The era of screaming on the mic and introducing a new guest before each track is coming to a close (for the most part). We’re back to 90+ minute sets where the DJ says not a single word throughout. The journey is important once again, much in the way it was when EDM entered its golden era in 2011.
You know melodic techno is the genre of the moment because everybody has a melodic techno alias and all of the usual suspects have begun releasing tracks of that style. Kaskade performed an entire EDC set in that style, and then he joined up with deadmau5 for the Kx5 project to continue the journey. ANYMA tracks are everywhere. We can’t say we’re complaining since the music is generally high quality compared with some of the other trendy genres of the past.
Trance Goes Through a Rebuilding Phase
As melodic techno rose, trance stumbled. Trance is becoming the niche that techno once was. No longer under the eye of the masses, it’s going back to its harder, more intense, and more emotional roots. Trance is somewhat reborn through melodic techno, and many trance artists are releasing melodic techno as well. Trance is becoming heavily influenced by techno too. Armin van Buuren remains as insightful and talented as ever, pegging names like AVIRA as the future back in 2018. Armada and ASOT have broadened their horizons to welcome these sounds into the trance umbrella. The trance scene is still alive and well, and we’re sure it will have another moment soon.
The Metaverse/NFT Trend Went as Quickly as It Came
During 2020 there was an explosion in attention on NFTs, especially within the dance music scene. It seemed like many artists, labels, festivals and more were looking for some way to cash in on the Crypto craze. With a bevy of questionable campaigns, a large number tried and failed to get us to care about NFTs. However some, us included, were weary of these overpriced JPEGs from the very beginning.
And who can forget the 6-8 months where everybody was ready for us to live in the digital metaverse? After Facebook rebranded and pushed the concept, everybody tried to rebrand their “digital festivals” from COVID lockdowns as some sort of metaverse thing. At the end of the day, people were just not that interested in watching a festival in a low-quality video game environment once they had real options again.
Over time it became clear to more and more people that NFTs and the metaverse, at least in most of the forms they were being discussed and promoted, were somewhat of a scam and certainly not worth whatever crazy amount they were supposedly selling for. In the wake of the SFX fraud, many people who purchased expensive lifetime pass NFTs for Coachella lost them completely. So please, unless you are ANYMA, don’t pitch your NFT or metaverse story to us.
Pollen is Dead But Destination Festivals Are Here to Stay
In a relatively short period of time, Pollen went from nothing to a juggernaut and then collapsed. During COVID and slightly before the idea of destination festivals began growing in popularity. Once lockdowns started happening everybody was clamoring for an escape to somewhere that would allow them to party. Pollen started hosting all of these events, but eventually, the company got too far over its skis. The collapse was swift and ugly, leaving many ravers screwed in the process.
However, destination festivals remain as popular as ever.
Two Glass Ceilings Broken in One Performance
For a period of time, there was an endless amount of digital ink spilled complaining about a lack of female representation in dance music and festival lineups. At the same time, techno may be rising but it still had only made a dent in the mainstage scene. Both of these glass ceilings were shattered this Summer when Belgian wunderkind Charlotte de Witte closed the Tomorrowland mainstage.
While the number of female DJs in some subgenres may be relatively small, in the techno scene that distinction has barely ever existed. Many of the most talented and beloved techno DJs are women, and their personal brands have never needed to be about the fact that they are women in techno. It’s just not even a thing. We have Nicole Moudaber, ANNA, Ida Engberg, Lilly Palmer, Monika Kruse, Juliet Fox, Miss Monique and of course Charlotte de Witte. For Charlotte to close arguably the biggest stage in world is a huge achievement for techno and women. She did not hold back to suit the crowd either, delivering a rip-roaring set that probably changed some lives.