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After Avicii, DJs pushing limits of electronic music

AFP, NEW YORK

Tom Howie of Bob Moses performs at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 13 in Indio, California.

Photo: AFP

Just more than a year after the death of electronic dance music (EDM) superstar Avicii, the electronic scene is in flux, faced with hip-hop’s dominance as the youthful party music du jour.

Artists in the once-underground genre largely associated with nightclubs and raves are branching out, toying with new features in their acts such as live instrumentals in a bid to stay fresh.

Avicii was one of the first DJs to take EDM mainstream, playing to massive crowds at festivals and collaborating with pop stars including Madonna and Coldplay.

The Swede’s untimely death at the age of 28 left a void, with many calling Avicii EDM’s version of Kurt Cobain, the Nirvana frontman who died at 27.

The DJ ahd cautioned that EDM — which includes styles such as house, techno, trance and dubstep — must evolve to stay alive.

“Since it got so big in America the past couple of years, dance music is taking over everywhere,” he told the London Evening Standard. “It’s important that it keeps changing so it doesn’t become a fad.”

Now, with an eye for more musicality and performance art, many of today’s contemporary EDM artists are shelving the higher-intensity, party-pounding beats for more experimental work.

The Canadian duo Bob Moses has crafted a blended rock-electro style with live instruments and robust vocal hooks, breaking out of the warehouse scene they grew up in to play major festivals such as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and the New York’s Governors Ball.

“When we came together in the time that we did and the place that we did — which was Brooklyn in, like, 2012 — it was all about underground dance music and warehouse raves,” the duo’s Tom Howie said. “That was like super punk rock — super new and exciting.”

EDM’s move into the mainstream opened up new paths for the duo, they said, leading them to experiment with bringing mics and guitars into DJ booths to create a fusion sound.

Emphasizing lyrics has allowed the pair to reach a wider audience, said Jimmy Vallance, the other half of the group.

This way, they can “really let the songs speak, as opposed to leading with the production,” Vallance said.

At Coachella this year, Russian DJ Nina Kraviz surprised many when she transformed her set into an audiovisual live show — one way that critics say DJ culture could reinvent itself.

As much performance art as techno, the attention-grabbing — albeit polarizing — performance saw the artist turn the stage into a furnished living room, in which she posed in mirrors, paced and sang along to her dreamlike beats.

French DJ Agoria has been involved in EDM since the rise of house and techno in the late 1990s that included the explosion of “French Touch” music, which saw acts such as Daft Punk, AIR and Cassius sweep the club scene with disco-tinged tracks.

For his new record released this year — titled Drift, for “drifting through genres and tempos within a set” — he sought to alternate styles and moods to shake up his sound.

“As a producer, I don’t feel like spending my days at home doing the same loops,” he said. “I wanted to do something fresh and new.”

The 43-year-old, who founded the French electronic festival Les Nuits Sonores in Lyon, last year took that quest for newness to astronomical heights, collaborating with NASA to transmit music he composed 12.4 light-years into space.

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