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The FACT Dictionary: how ‘dubstep’, ‘juke’, ‘cloud rap’ and many more got their names

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  • published
    10 Jul 2013
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electronic dance music (EDM) /ɪlɛkˈtrɒnɪk-dɑns-myuzɪk/ (/i’di’ɛmˈ/)
(c. 2010, US)

As recently as 2009, when a North American said ‘electronic dance music’, they meant exactly what they said – music for dancing to, made with computers not guitars. Used interchangeably with ‘electronica’, the unsatisfying catch-all made sense in a musical culture that had never seen house or techno break into the mainstream, as they have done sporadically in Europe since the ’80s.

But sometime in the late noughties, young Americans started turning up to Las Vegas speedways in their droves, spangled on boosters and demanding to hear all manner of hands-in-the-air bangers cranked out by reborn trance DJs like Paul Van Dyk. Clad in day-glo bikinis and fur boots, the fans may look like they’ve fallen through a timewarp from Gatecrasher circa ’98, but they don’t discriminate musically – trance, electro, techno or dubstep; all genres are welcome as long as they can bring the Big Drops. And that’s where Electronic Dance Music cleaves itself from electronic dance music en masse – EDM may cross genres, but what acts like Skrillex, Steve Aoki and Avicii have in common is a restless traversing of euphoric peaks and troughs; high drama delivered with digital sheen.

Semantically, though, it may be that the rise of the term EDM was a marketing move as much as anything – with raves virtually outlawed in the U.S. by the turn of the millennium, savvy promoters looking to give their events an air of legitimacy steered clear of the old terminology, also banning rave accoutrements like dummies and glowsticks, and taking a stance against the scene’s (obviously still endemic) drug use.

In fact, recent research suggests that EDM may not be a genre at all, but something more like a demographic – a recent survey discovered that more than a quarter of EDM devotees like going to the events but don’t actually listen to the music.


1. Avicii – ‘Levels‘ (2011)

2. Zedd – ‘Clarity‘ (2012)

3. Knife Party – ‘Bonfire‘ (2012)


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