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DJs battle with dance music dominance in U.S. pop music

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The explosion of electronic dance music in the U.S. has thrust DJs into the spotlight, but with great power comes great responsibility as they strive to stay fresh and maintain quality as demand for their skills rise.
/ Source: Reuters

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The explosion of electronic dance music in the U.S. has thrust DJs into the spotlight, but with great power comes great responsibility as they strive to stay fresh and maintain quality as demand for their skills rise.

Electronic dance music has become a dominant force in the 2012 popular music charts, as mainstream artists such as R&B singers Rihanna and Usher, hip hop singer Nicki Minaj, and the 'Queen of Pop' Madonna have embraced club-heavy beats, often working with top DJs such as David Guetta.

This year's Grammy awards ceremony featured the first tribute to dance music with performances from DJs Guetta and Deadmau5, rappers Chris Brown and Lil Wayne, and rockers The Foo Fighters, highlighting the fusion of genres in the music charts.

"I've worked hard for it to happen and I'm very happy...I think I was one of the first to create a bridge between electronic and urban music and create a new standard of pop music," Guetta said to Reuters.

"But at the same time so many people are doing it now that I'm also trying to do something different."

The French DJ has seen his own status in the U.S. skyrocket. His latest two-disc album, "Nothing But The Beat," featuring collaborations with some of pop's biggest names on one disc, and solely instrumental tracks on the other, peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 album chart in late 2011, his highest entry in the U.S.

Guetta has been at the forefront of an expanding dance music scene, that started out of Europe's house music and trance clubs in the mid-1990s and was promoted further by holiday locations such as the Spanish island Ibiza and Greek island Ayia Napa that became known as 'party capitals' for the dance music scene.

But its arrival into the mainstream music scene has lead to some dissent in the once-niche community, as underground DJs become big names in pop music.

Guetta disagrees that its new-found popularity is a threat.

"I think dance music needs some heroes and it also needs underground, and it's because there's so many different scenes inside our scene that it's so powerful...We just want to make and play good music," he said.

Swedish DJ Sebastian Ingrosso, who has seen his own status rise as part of the Swedish House Mafia trio, called the spotlight on electronic dance music "scary," saying he feared it could compromise the quality of music produced.

"I see dance music like when the electric guitar came, and some would play good, and some would play bad. But it's here to stay, the quality has to come too," said Ingrosso.

Some attempts by artists to embrace the dance music genre have backfired. Minaj's latest dance-pop album, "Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded," was slammed by critics.

Despite the critics, Minaj's latest single "Starships" is flying high on the Billboard Hot 100, while "American Idol" alum Kelly Clarkson, known for her pop-driven anthems, incorporated dance-heavy beats into her latest single "Stronger," which peaked at No. 1 on the chart.


While dance, house and dubstep music thrived in Europe in the early 2000s, America's music scene was dominated by garage rock bands such as Green Day and Blink 182. It is only in very recent years that DJs are finally getting their moment in American popular music.

"They're the new rock stars...DJs and dance culture has always been there, and it's always been pretty massive globally. America's been the last to catch on," said singer-songwriter Ryan Tedder, who has written, co-written and produced traditional pop hits such as Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love" and Beyonce's "Halo."

Tedder has long championed the dance music phenomenon, previously working with British trance DJ Paul Oakenfold in 2006 for two songs. He currently has a single with Ingrosso and Sweden's Alesso, "Calling (Lose My Mind)," which the pair performed for crowds at the Coachella music festival in Indio, California over two weekends this month.

Guetta, Ingrosso and newcomer dubstep DJ Datsik all credit Coachella for being an important platform in the evolution of dance music in America, using the festival's trendy crowd as a testing ground for new music.

Canadian artist Datsik, 23, a rising star in dubstep sub-genre of electronic dance music, made his Coachella debut this year playing a coveted Friday night slot in the Sahara dance tent. He credited the explosion in the dance music scene for giving him a chance to appeal to a larger audience.

"The right artists are finally getting the credit they deserve, DJs are finally starting to become noticed...and it's only making the scene for DJs bigger, drawing people to the industry and producing bigger, better, louder shows," he said.

(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy, Editing by Jill Serjeant)