From the Outside: East vs. West
Last week, I returned to Philadelphia after a two-week trip to Washington State, where I grew up. Traveling 2,000 miles on a red-eye flight got me thinking about all the differences between the two coasts, including the differences in music and culture. I’ve mentioned before the disparities I’ve seen in my (admittedly limited) experiences at EDM shows on both coasts: out west, people seem to get a little wilder with their costumes, whereas shows in Philly have more of a “come as you are” feel. And everyone knows about the classic East Coast-West Coast hip-hop rivalry, and the differences between the sounds of artists like 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G. It got me thinking: while there probably aren’t the same vicious rivalries between East Coast and West Coast EDM, are there tangible differences between the sounds?
While each additional experience may add depth to this question, it’s still an interesting subject to explore right now. The origins of modern electronic dance music in America actually fall on neither the East nor the West Coast, but in Chicago in the early 1980s, when house music first hit the American scene. In fact, some people believe the term “house music” was originally a reference to a Chicago nightclub called The Warehouse. An early spinoff from the Chicago sound was Detroit techno, and from there, the new sound quickly spread across the country. Other sounds from other places began to influence the genre and its many spinoffs and distant relations, often coming from Europe, such as ambient house and later dubstep, both of which came from Britain.
It’s clear that electronic music evolved in many different directions, resulting in the wide variety of sounds we know today. However, it’s not clear that these sounds evolved separately enough in different places to create distinctive styles depending on location, at least not in America. What arose in one area quickly spread to other venues and was adopted, experimented with, and shared further. Modern electronic music arose in the digital age (duh—it is made largely with computers, after all!) Is it possible that between the ease of sharing sounds in the age of computers, and the sociable nature of the EDM scene, that there is no true distinction between the EDM sounds on either American coast? After all, electronic music isn’t exactly the stuff of gangsters. Though some rivalries and territorialism do exist—between U.K. dubstep and the Americanized version, for example—it’s not on the same level as the hip-hop scene.
It makes sense, when you lay it out succinctly: electronic music is shared largely over the Internet, which is the same no matter where you live, and via festivals, which often attract people from all over the country. The cross-pollination of sounds and the community aspect of the EDM scene haven’t left much room for striking differences and rivalries between places. Even if a new sound does arise in a particular place, it tends to spread quickly instead of evolving separately.
Yet if there aren’t differences between the sounds of the East Coast and the West Coast, I still wonder if there is anything to my earlier observation about differences within the scenes themselves. Is showing up to a festival in New York the same as it is in California, or do they have different vibes? Is a Bassnectar show in Seattle going to feel different from one in Philadelphia?
I don’t know the definitive answer to that yet, but it sounds like a great field research project. In the meantime, do readers with more experience than I do have any thoughts on the subject? I’d love to hear your thoughts and perspectives — please share them below!