How Los Angeles became the dance music epicenter of the US, according to Pete Tong
The epochal rise of electronic music stateside has cemented Los Angeles as a world-class dance music destination. Long an enticing vacation and touring locale, LA has since been transformed into a more permanent home for dance music emigrants seeking a piece of the action. It’s no coincidence that artists, managers, and label heads have been flocking to the city in mass — there’s something bubbling here, and it’s palpable.
To get a better sense of how Los Angeles became this melting pot of industry culture – and the dance music epicenter of the US — we spoke to acclaimed BBC Radio 1 host and DJ, who himself relocated to the city in 2013. In many ways, Tong has become the voice of our generation, channeling his thoughts and forecasting trends every week on the Essential Mix and Essential Selection. Who thus better to ruminate on the burgeoning electronic music culture of LA?
Tong attributes much of the scene’s success to LA’s history as the entertainment capital of the world. “I think that it’s a place that attracts and collects a lot of creatives,” he says. “There’s a lot of precedents in the film and television industries… when dance music finally clicked in, 2007, 2008, it just felt like, if people were going to stay here, the place they’d be most comfortable to stay would be Los Angeles.”
Outside of its historical appeal, Tong notes the influence of LA’s bustling, homegrown community. “Some of the most interesting and most creative domestic music is shaped out of LA,” he says. Tong specifically points to artists like Skrillex and Diplo, and the success of OWSLA and Blood Company, who have effectively pioneered a new wave of crossover dance music. “I think the DNA of it has come out of a mix mash of influences that is created in Los Angeles,” Tong says.
Beyond this, Tong notes the impact of California in general: “California has been a major part of the foundation of why the scene is so strong in America,” he says. “It’s because of the success of the festival model and the big one-off event model and California is strong, if not stronger, than the rest of America.” Tong particularly mentions event producers Insomniac and HARD Presents, who have served as the bastions of LA’s rave culture for the last decade. “They shaped as much as anyone the way in which the scene evolved,” Tong says.
Furthermore, Tong notes a more recent trend in the city: the proliferation of authentic house and techno culture. “On the underground tip, a lot of people assume that only happens in New York, and to a certain extent in Miami,” he says. “LA now, when you look at the calendar of who appears just between Exchange LA and Sound, it’s pretty remarkable. It’s pretty much everybody who matters in terms of underground music, barring a few who don’t like to leave Berlin.”
Ultimately, it’s this rare combination of forward-thinking crossover acts, world-class festivals, and flourishing underground culture that makes LA the all-important crux of our North American scene. It’s the reason, after all, that Tong and crew decided to bring the renowned International Music Summit to LA. “We put it there to create a platform for networking and discussion,” Tong says. “To talk about the issues of the day, and educate people to what was going on in our world.”
Now in its fourth year, IMS Engage has proven a badge of recognition from the industry at large for what’s brewing in the city — not to mention a vital asset for taking the scene to the next level of visibility. “We just wanted to give electronic music a little more credibility,” Tong says. “I guess we always had a little chip on our shoulder. Are we really taken seriously at the top table, at the highest level of the business?”
It’s a question that speakers and panelists will seek to answer on Thursday, April 21, when IMS Engage takes over the W Hotel in Hollywood. Tickets are available here.