Dance music has mass appeal, just not in the U.S.

Virgin Vest

August 07, 2008|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,Sun reporter

The difference is striking.

In the Netherlands this past April, trance DJ Armin van Buuren spun for an exhausting nine hours in front of a sea of more than 15,000 fans.

Sunday, he's a headliner in the Virgin Mobile Festival's 3,000-person-capacity Dance Tent. His slot is only two hours.

The shorter set and smaller crowd reflect the drastic differences between club music fans in Europe and here in the United States. Overseas, big name DJs like van Buuren regularly draw thousands to festivals in countries across Europe. In Baltimore, they usually play clubs and spin for hundreds.

"Dance music has always been seen as a second-class citizen in the music world here," said promoter and deep house DJ LG Concannon. "The biggest prob[lem] is, there's no real support for dance music on the radio or in the media like there is in Europe - especially in England."

Club music gets a bigger push from the national press in Europe, promoters say. House music and DJ culture get more airplay on European radio stations, and the leading DJs are regularly profiled in magazines and on music television shows.

"They blow these guys up into idol status," Concannon said.

That doesn't happen on nearly the same level here.

"It blows my mind," said local promoter Evan Weinstein. "It's elevator music in England, and here you can't even get 400 people in a club to come listen to it. ... It didn't even catch on [in Baltimore] like it did in D.C."

In Washington, mega-clubs such as Ibiza routinely bring in some of the world's most famous DJs. Though Washington is only a 45-minute drive from Baltimore, the club-going crowd is drastically different, Concannon said.

In Washington, "you've got a lot of embassy kids who are here because of the nature of the government work," he said. "It's a more cosmopolitan, international mix of people. They're coming with an exposure to dance music and an expectation of a club experience that's different than we normally have in Baltimore."

Large-scale raves were popular in Baltimore and Washington in the mid-1990s, but house music's popularity began to dwindle here in the past decade. Vinyl faded to CDs, and record stores, which were hubs of the club music scene, closed when the Internet emerged. That dealt a huge blow to the scene, Concannon said.

The mentality changed, too. In house music's heyday, people would come to clubs to dance to music they'd never heard before. Now, they go to clubs to drink and listen to Top 40 radio or Baltimore club music, he said. And as the first wave of house music lovers aged, a new one did not spring up to take its place.

"The younger generation is just really not that into it," Concannon said. "There's still something out there, but it's not what it used to be."

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