Every Man for Himself

Spokane’s Electronic Dance Music fans may support national DJs, but local acts are left fighting for limited limelight

Last March, neon-clad droves of sweaty, cake-covered kids poured out of the Knitting Factory doors. The cold night air served as a stabilizer for the Steve Aoki set they’d just witnessed inside. For the previous few hours, the crowd had danced in rhythm to Aoki’s raucous electronic beats as he bounced all over the stage with lasers flashing. So entranced were his fans, no one seemed to mind when he chucked sheet cakes, orange juice and champagne at them and surfed over them in an inflatable raft.

Aoki is a rock star DJ in the electronic dance music movement — a resurgent genre often associated with massive festivals, party drugs and colorful costumes. And the style has more than arrived in Spokane.

EDM 101

The music is challenging to describe, especially when artists use tags like “cosmic disco” or “freestyle amorphous music.” And that’s not even getting into established genres like “moombahton,” “psytrance,” “trap,” or Starbucks coffee order-length names like “big room progressive electro house.” Here’s a breakdown of the four main Electronic Dance Music genres.

The high-intensity “gateway” genre that converted rock listeners to EDM, sparking the mainstream U.S. movement. Songs feature heavy bass, and strange wobbly and beeping sounds not present in almost any other music genre. Anticipation builds until the drop, where the bass slams back into the song with the main melody. Download: “Promises” — Skrillex and Nero Remix

Best appreciated by those who love to dance and sing along. Vocals are usually female and positive. The sounds are less alien or robotic than in dubstep, making house more conducive to parties. Download: “Reload” — Sebastian Ingrosso, Tommy Trash and John Martin

Of the EDM genres, trance is the most melodic. Bordering on spiritual, trance takes listeners on an emotional journey, with a climb, peak and descent without the thumping house beats or harsh dubstep sounds. Globally, trance is the most popular. Download: “Sun & Moon” — Above & Beyond

Highly rhythmic with heavy drumbeats and half-beats. Often sharing characteristics with pop and rock music, it’s considered a bridge between instrumental and electronic music. The quick, steady beat pairs well with putting on your headphones and getting to work. Download: “Eyes Closed” — Netsky

American and international EDM acts fill a quarter of the Knitting Factory’s schedule until 2014, signaling a healthy local fan base. When Life in Color threw “the world’s largest paint party” at the Spokane Arena last year, it was such a huge hit the touring show is returning in October. The Gorge Amphitheatre has even gotten into the act, with Paradiso Festival selling out the 25,000-person venue in only its second year.

Mark Dinerstein, talent buyer for the Knitting Factory, says it was tough drawing DJs to Spokane at first. For DJs accustomed to enormous crowds, the Inland Northwest’s population is not exactly ideal. But when popular acts like Aoki, Skrillex and Kaskade spread word of supportive fans, Dinerstein’s job got easier.

Convincing people to show up was another challenge.

“People weren’t used to paying $20 or more to see a DJ,” Dinerstein says.

Technology had to catch up to the music, and now it’s more feasible for artists to enhance performances with custom stages, lasers and go-go dancers. Yet with all of these enhancements, the local EDM scene is still struggling to catch on.

On a recent Saturday night, Carr’s Corner hosted a show of four local DJs that drew a meager crowd. Despite decades of talent behind the decks, high quality sound and an accommodating dance floor, the handful of adults present chose to sit. Meanwhile at Big City Saloon, a packed dance floor jammed to Journey, Britney Spears and Shania Twain.

DJ Funk, host of the Carr’s Corner show and a two-decade EDM veteran, is one of many local DJs to play for empty dance floors. He likens Spokane’s DJs to a bunch of pirates — it’s every man for himself, especially today as an explosion of “bedroom DJs” vie for Spokane’s limited limelight.

Funk didn’t choose to live in Spokane for the music scene. At 43, he’s survived most of his contemporaries from the Los Angeles warehouse rave era and spun records all over the country. Spokane was a place he could settle down with his family, but he still maintains a full-time DJ career.

Funk doesn’t rush to support unproven local artists, so he’s the first to admit most DJs don’t like him.

“Respect is earned, not given,” he says. “Just because you have a ‘DJ’ in front of your name doesn’t mean I have to respect you.”

Earning respect from people like Funk has been an uphill battle for DJ Beauflexx, but now he’s in high demand. He opened for Aoki last March and will open for Datsik next week.

A residency at the Lion’s Lair gives him the luxury to play his own music while other DJs take jobs at clubs, relinquishing their EDM tracks for Top 40 hits.

“Getting into this scene and gaining acceptance has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Beauflexx says. “I sat here for a year trying to learn how to scratch, and nobody wanted to help me. Other DJs told me to go on YouTube and learn myself.”

And while an increase in EDM fans has been good for the scene, Beauflexx says new DJs have oversaturated the scene with mediocre shows, making it hard to stand out.

“Everybody wants to be the cool guy,” Beauflexx says, but his reality is a sharp contrast to the superstar DJ lifestyle. He travels across the state to play for no paycheck. He’s invested thousands of dollars into shows that flop. Equipment gets stolen or breaks. His weekly EDM night isn’t thriving like it once was.

Meanwhile, Dinerstein will deliver EDM as long as it’s in demand. “This is what Spokane wants — we’re very attentive,” he says.

The Knitting Factory lineup is a good sign for the scene, Beauflexx says, but “the local shows are not quite there.” 

Spokane’s next big local EDM show: ElektroWeen • Fri, Oct. 18 at 7 pm • The Hop! • 706 N. Monroe • $7.50–$15 • All-ages • facebook.com/Hopspokane

Spokane Symphony Masterworks 6: Made in America @ The Fox Theater

Sat., Feb. 4, 7:30 p.m. and Sun., Feb. 5, 3 p.m.
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