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Clubbing culture was traditionally made up of local scenes but has recently become a big business. High profile mega-festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival, Tomorrowland, and Ultra Music festival bring in hundreds of thousands of people to one spot to spend days and nights partying as one gigantic throbbing mob.
It’s the same story of growth-creates-consolidation that happens in other industries, from banking to movie theaters.
Take beer. In the American beer industry, the combined market share of the four largest firms rose from under 10% in 1910 to over 80% in the 1990s. The bigger firms enjoy economies of scale and can offer more value to consumers. Yet even as industries get more concentrated and players get larger, there remains a demand for smaller, specialized products.
Again, in beer, there has been a steady rise in microbreweries. Currently, there are about 2,700 craft breweries operating in the United States, compared with only 83 breweries operating in 1983.
Like microbreweries, party promoters around the country are creating local EDM scenes that build distinct local clubbing cultures. One such festival is the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival. The festivals is co-produced by Jennifer Lyon, who grew up going to punk shows in Orange County and now promotes shows through Mean Red Productions, and Katie Longmyer, founder of Good Peoples, a network of artists, designers and musicians. Their smaller-scale approach to the electronic music festival provides a more intimate alternative to massive EDM festivals, with their corporate sponsorships and carnival atmosphere. It’s a boutique take on the EDM festival, like a music equivalent of a local coffee shop.
A small EDM festival appeals to consumers for the same reason that they might go to a small neighborhood bank or fashion boutique. According to a paper in the American Journal of Sociology, there are three main reasons that small niche markets develop alongside larger more consolidated companies:
A taste for the progressive. Some consumers consider large mass-produced products, like events designed to appeal to huge crowds, as industrial, bland, and generic. By trying to appeal to everyone, the products can sometimes lose their edge. This is particularly troubling for electronic music fans who don’t see themselves as part of the mainstream. A small festival can capture unique sub-genres (or in the case of beer, various nuanced flavors). They can offer music that is more progressive, underground, or otherwise ahead of the curve.
According to Lyon and Longmyer, The Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival appeals to people who are open to discovering new music. The DJs are encouraged to create sets that are challenging to listen to, rather than mainstream. “ This idea that we don’t book obvious lineups is a very Brooklyn thing ,” said Lyon. “There is a very Brooklyn vibe of people who are explorers. They will be familiar with a quarter or even half of the lineup but they buy the ticket and take the risk because they’re just that excited about the music,” adds Longmyer.
Quest for higher quality. Small companies or events can mean more attention to detail, especially in matching a festival to the local community and its interests. In the case of beer, microbreweries pride themselves on using the highest quality ingredients that appeal to more discerning customers.
A small local EDM festival can deliver higher quality through the promoters’ familiarity with the local scene. Lyon and Longmyer have strived to give the festival a uniquely Brooklyn flavor by partnering with local artists who create installation pieces and visual content. “Art and music have become very integrated in the super-underground DIY warehouse party scene, which is really alive and well right now in Brooklyn,” said Lyon. “We hire an art curator every year and he reaches out to the local art community. Last year we had a sculpture outside in the art ticket booth and we had a local projection mapping company come and do visuals within all of the events,” said Longmyer. “It’s really exciting.”
Consumption as self-expression. Some people go for smaller niche products as part of their rejection of mass consumer society and corporate culture. The hipster culture in particular has granted a unique status to consuming small and obscure products as a means of self-expression.
The Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival is very much a part of this movement, which makes sense given its location in Williamsburg. Lyon and Longmyer explained that their goal is to create an event that advances the idea of living with intention. “It’s about experiencing the music in the way that lets it affect you,” said Lyon. In contrast to the huge festivals’ emphasis on fashion, they focus on the music. “While we would love everyone to wear furry boots and we’re super down on costumes,” she adds, “this festival experience is really more about the music, experiencing the artist and having a relationship with the artist.”
The seventh Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival will be held in Williamsburg on November 7th and 8th.