This story is over 5 years old.


2004 was The Worst Year in Dance Music

Dance music is bigger than ever, but only a decade ago it was on the brink of destruction.

2004: also the worst year for hats. 

Dance music in America is bigger than ever. So big, in fact, that it's nearly impossible to find an EDM story that doesn't start off with "Dance music is bigger than ever." Why, you might ask, is the size of dance music such a big deal? Maybe because just 10 years ago, dance music was in absolute disarray. The mere act of watching it climb and claw it's way to the very top, bigger than ever, is something worth celebrating.


Will it last? Nobody knows but one thing every episode of Behind the Music teaches us is that you have to hit rock bottom before you can make a comeback. That's why we're going to look back at 2004, the WORST YEAR EVER IN DANCE MUSIC.

Like all stories of excess and decline, the great 2004 dance music crash was a long time coming. Having experienced incredible growth throughout the 90s, first in Europe and later in America, the "electronica" boom, as it was called during that era, saw artists like Chemical Brothers, Moby, Fatboy Slim and The Prodigy become massive stars by the late 90s. Radio, MTV, and even commercial licensing were embracing the once-underground sounds of dance music. The rave scene had penetrated even the smallest towns across the USA, while in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Toronto, megaclubs like Twilo, Circus and The Guvernment reigned supreme in the eyes of clubbers and the media alike.

Almost immediately, cracks in the foundation of the electronica blitz began to show. In the early 00s, Megastar DJs like Armin van Buuren, Sasha and Paul van Dyk had underwhelmed with artist albums once tipped to crossover to mainstream acclaim and now buried in the rubble of electronica dust.

Drugs, always an issue when an emerging subculture hits the mainstream, were an undeniable obstacle. As ecstasy came to prevalence in the late-90s, the government drug warriors quickly moved in to shut the rave scene down. Under sponsorship by then-Senator Joe Biden, Congress attempted to pass the 2002 Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act, better known as the RAVE Act. It was a mammoth blow to the electronic music scene as it would have held concert promoters liable for the drug use of their patrons.


Still, the RAVE Act was only one factor in dance music-oriented nightlife's demise. As with many other aspects of American life, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 had a major chilling effect on all nightlife in New York City and other major US cities as people were suddenly less interested in activities of all-night excess.

However, for all of the outside forces working against it, there was plenty of blame to go around when discussing dance music's near death. Electroclash, the neophyte genre that blended post-punk New Wave aesthetic with techno sounds and house sensibilities, had acted as a sort of life-support for a couple of post-Millennial years but by 2004, the gag had essentially worn out its ironic throwback stance. Meanwhile, the big room, big rave sounds of house, trance and progressive, still chasing the 90s heyday, had become overly ambitious and bloated.

"Too many people took themselves too seriously and didn't have fun," recalls Mark Dienger, a 90s Chicago raver who by 2004 was living in Los Angeles and managing star DJs Richard Vission and Deep Dish. Dienger believes that despite the obvious decline in dance music, those remaining in the scene still had unreasonable expectations following the electronica boom. Aspirations overwhelmed honest enthusiasm.

"I don't remember anyone making much music for themselves that they loved," he states. "Everyone was just trying to be the next Dirty Vegas-type act to appear in a commercial. It was annoying."


It's hard to argue with Dienger's assessment of 2004's electronic music output. Survey any Bests-Of list from that year, and you will find almost no electronic releases of note. From the Billboard mainstream dance chart to Pitchfork's recap of important underground sounds, only a few outliers—Daft Punk and DJ Dan on the former, DJ/rupture and DFA on the latter—managed to make marks.

Another essential indicator, the 2004 Coachella Festival, demonstrated a precipitous drop-off in electronic music, with only two acts, Basement Jaxx and Kraftwerk, anywhere near the top of the line-up. The quantity of DJs performing the then-two day fest was the lowest it had ever been—at an event that had begun five years earlier with an almost entirely electronic bill, headlined by a few alternative rock super stars.

"If you look at the dance acts [at Coachella 2004], it's not super interesting," Dienger explains. "Kraftwerk, 2manydjs and LCD Soundsystem are the only names that jump out as something I would like to see."

Those names, especially LCD Soundsystem, would be key to dance music's rebirth. Having begun to teach Strokes fans how to dance in tiny Brooklyn bars (the only ones that avoided Giuliani's catastrophic "cabaret laws") with early singles like "Losing My Edge," James Murphy would release the almost-oracular "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" in 2005. The following year, 2006, Daft Punk themselves would unveil their now-legendary pyramid show at Coachella, a moment that changed everything, as much as anything in pop culture history can. More French acts—Justice and the Ed Banger DJs, in addition to rockers turned neu-ravers MSTRKRFT, were waiting in the wings and quickly captured a new generation of kids who would rediscover the dancefloor glory forgotten by the previous one.

In early 2008, Kanye West performed the Daft Punk-sampling hit "Stronger" with the robot duo backing him up at the Grammys. This opened the floodgates for other pop stars to pair with dance music producers, most notably another Frenchman, David Guetta who had found a particularly enthusiastic fan in the Black Eyed Peas' All of this would evolve into the pop-centered EDM scene of today, one that, if we didn't mention it before, is bigger than ever.

While we celebrate the amazing second act dance music has been given, let's not forget to reflect on the grim years behind us. 2004 was a truly awful year for dance music, one that will hopefully never be repeated. For those who are concerned, the best way to protect EDM's future is to remember the mistakes of the past.