The Changing Landscape of EDM: A New Direction for Above & Beyond

My favorite artist, Above & Beyond, seems to be taking a more mainstream approach. Previously known for soaring melodic trance and occasional hard banging club tracks, the most recent singles from the group have been much more “pop” sounding. Which direction to take is an issue that most EDM producers find themselves grappling with as EDM becomes more mainstream. Let me first define what I consider to be a mainstream sounding dance track.

Below are two tracks, “Summer” by Calvin Harris and “Wake Me Up” by Avicii. Don’t get me wrong. I love these tracks, and I love what they have done to make the US audience more amenable to EDM! Well, on second thought I do think Avicii is pandering a bit much and trying to straddle too many genres with the hints of country in “Wake Me Up”.

 

Now, in light of those two tracks it would seem that Above & Beyond may be trying to strike a compromise. Their current singles “Sticky Fingers” and “Blue Sky Action” probably wont be as popular as the tracks above, but the point is that they represent a noticeable jump on the EDM spectrum towards dance. Take a listen to “Blue Sky Action” below and see what you think (skip to 1:00 to avoid the introduction).

Compare this to the hard-hitting “Hello”. What a beautiful track! The first minute is heavy on the bass and a bit repetitive which creates a huge relief when the track fades to a stretch of stripped down instrumentation and the slightest hint of airy female vocals. For the next 30 seconds you can gather yourself until the track really culminates at 1:38 in a brilliant mesh of soaring notes and hard-hitting and spaced apart bass notes. Perfection! If you like the sound of “Hello” check out similar tracks such as “Mariana Trench” and “Walter White”.

The single preceding “Blue Sky Action” strikes a perfect balance. The introduction begins assertively and fades to piano and the excellent vocal of Alex Vargas. This section, the eye of the storm, induces some serious eyes closed gentle head swaying. As this section continues you may find that gentle swaying will become stronger and stronger as the track builds up some incredible tension and culminates in a huge reveal at 4:01. This last section is certainly a crowd favorite on the dance floor. Below is the track (skip ahead to 0:45 to avoid the introduction).

Perhaps it is Above & Beyond’s goal to break into the US radio scene with these tracks. The US audience has already been softened by artists like Calvin Harris, Avicii, Swedish House Mafia, and Afrojack, and if Above & Beyond shifts their style to a more pop-heavy sound they may be able to capitalize on the popularity of these artists and the now familiar sound of dance tracks. I think the shift is smart, but I hope Above & Beyond doesn’t lose too much of what made it great in the process. That would be a heavy price to pay for an increased audience.

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