Thousands of dancing fans gathered before an enormous digital cube covered in screens displaying memes, video game cutscenes, clips of endorphin-addled cartoon cats and random flashings of screensaver-esque visualizations while synthesizer strings slithered across a thumping bassline punctuated with warped blurts distorted to the point of warbling. This overwhelming performance was all controlled by the fingertips of one man: Deadmau5.
Known almost as much for his helmet, which resembles a wonked-out Mickey Mouse, and elaborate stage theatrics as he is for his high-intensity music, Deadmau5 is one of the biggest DJs in the world and a torch-carrier for a genre that has become the defining sound of the decade, both here in Vietnam and abroad. He will make his first appearance in Saigon next week, as electronic dance music continues its dominance in clubs and headphones across the city.
A brief history of electronic music
For the majority of music listeners, electronic dance music has a “you know it when you hear it” distinction: pumping basslines, a confluence of synthesizers, repetitive rhythms and altered vocal samples all churned out by digital instruments at the control of DJs who have long since eschewed physical records for the sake of increasingly complex equipment. It is a genre with roots dating back to 1970s disco and synthpop and includes, or at least stands adjacent to, subgenres such as techno, house, dub, trance, and drum and bass, depending on who one asks.
It has been the global music genre for the better part of a decade, with the financial muscle to prove it. In 2014, the genre was estimated to be worth US$4 billion, and it has only increased in popularity since. In 2017, the top DJs brought in US$298 million, up from US$270.5 million in 2016. The top earner, Calvin Harris, raked in US$48.5 million thanks to mid-six-figure payouts per show and festival bookings that earned him over US$1 million each. Harris, like contemporaries Skrillex, Tiësto, Steve Aoki, The Chainsmokers, Marshmello, Deadmau5 and the recently passed Avicii have become household names as their brand of dance-inducing music continues to rule clubs, festivals and bars, along with advertisements, sporting events and coffee shop playlists.
Electronic music in Vietnam
While it quickly became massive globally, electronic dance music was slower to take off in Vietnam. It may seem to be everywhere now, but its ubiquity took longer to form than in Europe, North America and many other parts of Asia. Many credit DJ Jase Nguyen with helping give it a foothold here. Born Nguyen Thanh Trung, Jase grew up in Saigon but moved to Australia at age 16, where he became immersed in the global EDM scene and began making music himself. When he returned to Vietnam, he helped introduce much of the music he loved. He told DX Mag in 2014: “You could say I started the bass movement in Vietnam (since 2007) — first with The Beats Saigon, which aims to bring more international acts to perform in Saigon, but since international acts come on an irregular basis, I needed a new monthly platform to promote bass events, so I started Bass Republic three years later.”
Read more of Paul Christiansen’s article on Saigoneer.
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