As beautiful as it is historic, the first thing you're likely to observe about Cavo Paradiso in Mykonos is the nightclub itself. Perched on top of a mountainside that looks out over the Aegean Sea, here has been the home of over two decades of sonic-soaked sunrises; a place where turquoise waters blend at the horizon with an endless blue sky. The second is that the storied Greek venue is characterized by perhaps the most intense summer schedule on the planet. From the beginning of July until the end of August, Cavo Paradiso presents back-to-back events showcasing an A to Z lineup of the industry's biggest DJs. Together they embody the predominant categories of dance music today.
It was my curiosity in Cavo's diverse programming that brought me to the playground of the Cyclades islands earlier this month. On consecutive evenings, the site would respectively play host to Marco Carola and Ingrosso—two electronic heavyweights that epitomize the opposing techno versus EDM experiences.
Debate between the genres is reaching a boiling point. The gloves are off and representatives of each group are coming out swinging. Seth Troxler has been a vocal opponent of EDM, citing it as a matter of authenticity where one makes music based on a genuine idea and the other on profit. He also referred to EDM as "ear rape" last year. Conversely, Laidback Luke is amongst the many to come to EDM's defense, claiming techno purists are offering a very narrow-minded view of the culture. Hardwell, Zedd, and Dyro recently agreed. Ingrosso himself has even gotten involved, having to publicly defend controversial comments where he referred to underground music as "amateur." The list goes on.
I'd long contemplated an opportunity to contrast the techno versus EDM experiences from ground level, amongst the crowd as a listener—the raver front lines, if you will—and my visit to Cavo Paradiso promised to offer it.
An exterior view of Cavo Paradiso at peak time. All photos by Johnny Panopoulos.
On one hand you had Marco Carola, the global techno ambassador so instrumental in the development of the Italian electronic scene in the early '90s. To this day, he remains one of the most respected artists in techno, widely regarded as a key factor in driving the genre towards international recognition. On the other, there was uber-popular Sebastian Ingrosso, whose luxurious hard partying lifestyle, stint with Swedish House Mafia, and string of blaring commercial hits helped define the excessive EDM generation. Apart from the regrettable cake-throwing antics of Steve Aoki, if any DJ best represents the EDM spectacle, it's arguably him.
While Cavo Paradiso has existed on the same open-air premises since 1993, entering the famed institution on successive occasions was like crossing the threshold of two separate universes. I'm a techno guy, and while I've never embraced the all-black thing, being amongst the Carola crowd made me feel at home. Locked into the groove of every repetitive 4/4 beat and crashing hi-hat cymbal, these revelers were fierce about their music. That sense of intensity, as a result, did make them appear as though they took themselves a little too seriously. It's a common critique of the underground circle. To be fair, this isn't for everyone—most niche markets aren't, that's why they're niche. Yet these were my people, and a Marco party is my kind of party.
The Ingrosso battalion was a little more, well, bipolar. One moment his youthful horde would be arm in arm, blissfully crooning along to every lyric of a track's build-up like a delirious choir. Then the second the beat would drop, they'd transform into a riotous mosh pit. Whether you're into that or not, make no mistake it was pure, unadulterated passion. But the audience's differences didn't end there. Rather than shuffling with their feet like the techno troupe, the EDM lot pumped their fists. Instead of sophisticated players armed with platinum blondes in the VIP, there were American adolescents taking swigs out of an enormous bottle of Grey Goose Magnum. But EDM is about being loud, sometimes absurd, and in your face. It works.
You could compare the experience of EDM to a race and techno to a marathon. It's as if EDM is more concerned with getting somewhere as fast as possible—to the next big drop, to making the crowd peak, to getting people as fucked up they can—whereas techno is more of a long-distance quest. A Cavo regular gave that thought credibility when I asked him if Ingrosso would be going past sunrise as Carola had the night before. He rolled his eyes and snickered, "You think these guys know how to play more than three hours?"
That's ultimately what the techno, EDM, and any electronic experience comes down to, the DJ and their style. In the case of Marco Carola, you've got an absolute boss standing tall on 25 years of authority. He's a virtuoso who hasn't lost his focus in all that time. It reflects in the cerebral way he plays. While Ingrosso and EDM artists, in general, are still getting a rise out of crowds with bangers that worked in 2008—no different than busting out a greatest hits collection—techno DJs like Carola are listening up to 1,500 new selections a week. So every cut he mixed in was fresh. And when Marco did throw it back, it would be his own edits of vintage house classics, such as a thudding version of Snap's "I Got The Power." There is something very singular about the techno experience in this regard. You aren't just viewing a DJ set... you're often enrolled in a clinic.
With Ingrosso, I was gazing upon a pageant that was every bit as much a circus as performance. When the Stockholm native wasn't dramatically heaving his body into every crank of the knob, he would be pumping up the crowd on the mic. When he wasn't on the mic, he was firing the confetti and Co2 cannons. The thing is, the longer it went on, the more I was able to appreciate it for what it was: a show. Active since 1999 and a force to be reckoned with since 2008, Ingrosso didn't reach superstar level by accident. The stuff he plays can be polarizing, but seriously, what trendy music isn't? And while I'd pay good money to see the stoic Marco Carola get up on the decks like Ingrosso and salute the crowd, that's not what techno is. That's EDM. And it's incidentally what people are paying damn good money from Las Vegas to Ibiza to be a part of. Billions, in fact. So the EDM experience must be doing something right.
As the sun rose at the end of Ingrosso, it dawned on me that what I was witnessing was really no different than the previous morning with Marco Carola. The melodies of each artist and congregations enjoying them may have been worlds apart, but an identical energy filled the space. I realized it wasn't about one experience being better than another, but appreciating how this form of expression can move people. This is a mark of the overall power of electronic music and a testament to Cavo Paradiso's mystique.
EDM may be a race and techno a marathon, but that idyllic feeling at the finish line of each is one in the same. The journey is what counts. A good time is a good time, even if it's not packaged the same way. So as a techno listener, who am I or anyone else to shit on the EDM experience simply because it's not my type of scene? Different strokes for different folks, as they say. And for all the EDM enthusiasts, don't be so afraid to step out of your fluorescent bubble and try something new. You might learn something.
There's so much more to this culture than competing genres, rival artists, and bickering fanbases. In the end, as Marco Carola is so fond of saying, 'it's all about the music.'
Christopher is on Twitter