The Building Blocks of EDM: Feeling, the Soar, and the Drop

EDM music is a “sensory affective bridge between touch, sonic experience and sense of connection in dancing crowds” (5). It seeks to invoke tactility (5) and centers around the idea of feeling. Some songs are made for dancing while other songs are meant to make you think (1) and can help the listener access “daydreams and imaginative fantasies” (4). The music encourages individual movement yet at the same time makes one feel like part of something larger than him or herself, especially when experiencing the music live in a crowd (1). In these live EDM performances, the music serves to create connection and intimacy amongst the concert-goers.

Indeed the overarching concept of “feeling” is associated with EDM through literature, song titles and lyrics. “Feeling” in this sense embodies “the overlap between emotion, affective knowing, perception and touch” (5) which is the fundamental idea at the heart of EDM music. The music is able to achieve this complex result of “feeling” through structure and key elements like heavy bass, fleshy timbre and sonic grain (5).

There are two key elements in popular EDM music today which orchestrate “feeling”: the soar and the drop.. The soar is the “build up” to a climax found in music like the song Gangnam style by Psy or in the music of Calvin Harris or David Guetta. The soar serves to build rhythmic and tamboral intensity “to the point where people can’t hear distinct rhythmic events and just hear constant sound” (2) It allows the artist to structure the climax of a song in an entirely different way than an artist can do with strummed chords (2).

The drop serves to shake things up and introduce a shock (2). Sometimes drops are catchy and a pleasant progression from the soar and climax while other times the drop really is a shock. Pop artists like Rihanna also play around with using drops in their music (2).

Academics have proposed that people enjoy these structures, the soar and the drop, because in tandem they exemplify and perform the resilience that people wish to embody. As the soar gets going and the music builds up there is often silence or a sonic crash after which the music bounces back stronger than ever with the drop (2). These structures are similar to Atari Teenage Riot in the early 90’s but work in a very different way politically. Unlike the 90s, neoliberalism has reached a point where noise is no longer disruptive and is now viewed as normal (2).

Indeed, noise and volume are a key component of EDM music and not always a disruptive one. In reference to EDM music by Swedish Producer/DJ Basshunter, a listener in a study on the subjective experience of music noted you can put the “volume up to a certain pitch,” which you can’t do in most genres like classical, to a level that “makes accessing easier” (4): accessing imaginative fantasies or daydreams that is. Indeed, heavy bass is associated with strong feelings (4).

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