There was a time, not many years ago, when people used to ask each other what type of music they liked as a way of finding common ground. Genres meant something! You would walk into a record store and head to the R&B section, the rock section, or the country section, and where you went said something about you. The concept of genres meant a lot to the music industry — it allowed record labels to define you as a consumer in order to be on the receiving end of the spending relationship as often as possible.

But then the internet happened, and everything got messed up. Suddenly, there were a billion different hashtagged microgenres: bloghouse, raptronica, country-rave, Tumblrwave… all the products of a new kind of music consumption led by the democratization of production and the free exchange of music all over the world. For old-school music biz people, this sucked! Without a prevailing cultural wind to guide them, they had trouble marketing to fans, and without physical album sales, it was difficult to stay in the black. But as people born in the ’90s grew up, a seemingly new cultural force emerged that the record industry saw as a pulsating white light at the end of a long, Napster-induced coma: EDM. Some clever marketer decided to package the pervasive electronic sound of pop music into Electronic Dance Music, and the move worked in a big way. The EDM industry, along with its corresponding superstars and festivals, has become such a force that it has generated the need for its own type of trade show in Las Vegas, called EDMBiz, where I found myself a few weeks ago. But before we go to the desert, let’s step back in time a couple decades.

In 1992, Eurodance hits like Captain Hollywood Project’s “More and More” were all over the radio and Nine Inch Nails’ “Wish” was all over MTV. This was a kind of first wave of experimental electronic pop in America, but for most people it didn’t have staying power. I was the exception: unlike a lot of ’80s babies, I used dial-up internet to dive into the furthest reaches of the electronic music market. As a teen, I was obsessed with intelligent dance music, or IDM — a term that everyone seemed to hate, but was the only thing that people could agree on to describe European masters like Aphex Twin, Four Tet, and μ-Ziq. In the 2000s, I followed the early evolution of the music through grime and then dubstep — a breed of electronica known for its devastatingly minimal bass abstractions. So in the early 2010s, when terms like EDM and dubstep began to float into American pop radio, I paid very close attention. At that time, Electronic Dance Music was too ambiguous for mainstream America to grasp — what was this hard-hitting, repetitive sound that made thousands of people dress up like UFOs and eat ecstasy until they died? Did it have any street cred, or was it only for n00bs? Should we call it techno? What in the shit is a Skrillex? Is this Rihanna album dubstep or what?