Some people just don't listen. Or so it seemed when, 80 minutes into a marathon Q&A with fellow dance music journo Simon Reynolds, an audience member asked author Michaelangelo Matos at what point in time he believed electronic music stopped being underground. Had this middle-aged fella not been listening when Matos and Reynolds—discussing Matos's new book The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America—repeatedly referenced Daft Punk's seminal performance at Coachella in 2006 as the watershed moment for EDM?
Had he been snoozing when, an hour into the session at Skylight Books in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, Matos chose the Daft Punk-at-Coachella excerpt to read aloud to the standing room-only audience? Was he not riveted by Matos's telling of my personal story (quoted extensively in the book) of experiencing the curtains parting on the duo's legendary pyramid show while peeping out the vents of a porta-potty (page 330, kids)?
So it was with the slightest hint of exasperation, à la The Simpsons's Comic Book Guy, that Matos answered the inquiry, to which the questioner responded that for him, electronic music went mainstream in the late 80s when MARS-FM hit the airwaves of Los Angeles. Far from a clueless newb, the audience member revealed to be a dance music veteran, with roots that apparently date back to before many of the Millennials currently making EDM the "sound of now" were even born.
Such is often the difficulty when discussing longtail genres like EDM, and their decades-long rise to public consciousness. Witnesses to these sorts of cultural phenomena tend to peg their personal participation as the benchmark by which all things are judged. What came before is vaunted history, and what came after is never quite as good. It seems a revelation as powerful as one's first rave (typically paired with one's first pill) makes an objective viewpoint nearly impossible.
An implicit understanding of this narcissistic viewpoint felt by most dance music fans was sagely pointed out by Reynolds (whose 1998 book, Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture, is as definitive a work about the UK's own dance music explosion as Matos's tome is about America's) in his very first question of the evening, asking why the author in the hot seat declined to insert any first-person narrative into The Underground Is Massive.
But that doesn't mean Matos has no personal connection to the music he has now staked his career on (though he is a capable author who covers a wide swath of popular music professionally). As the talk unfolded, he continually hinted at his personal preferences (house and techno, good; EDM, not so much). It was a sentiment clearly carried by the entire audience that nodded affirmatively throughout the discussion.
Of course, this should come as little surprise. 20-something festival-loving EDM fans don't gather at 7:30 PM on a Friday night to discuss a 400-page book about the history leading up to their favorite music. That is an activity strictly reserved for middle-aged post-ravers who have to "get back to the fam," following the overtime assembly that ran until 11 PM (gasp!). This is how we rave in 2015.
And then there was the woman in the front row who, after 90 minutes in a now uncomfortably warm bookstore, asked a final question of Matos and Reynolds—"What are each of your five all-time favorites?" A truly sophomoric query that raised the optimistic possibility that perhaps this whole EDM explosion (and the books that come with it) might actually deliver on the promise to turn casual listeners of today's poptronic sound into fans of serious (and historically-vetted) underground electronic music. Reynolds' and Matos's answers were, unsurprisingly, entirely from the 1990s.