A well-written article called “Why It’s EDM’s Fault Outkast Flopped” has gotten a lot of attention around the interwebs this week. In it, author Tim Hirsh picks apart the duo’s Coachella performance and blames the audience’s lack of energy on false expectations created by attending the sensory overload of an electronic dance concerts. The key quote: “The needle has slowly shifted away from ‘music,’ towards ‘party.'”
Hirsh isn’t completely wrong. Take a look at the trailers and aftermovies for the world’s most successful EDM festivals, and you’ll be hit with a wave of communal energy that’s completely awe-inspiring. More than any other genre of music, EDM is explicitly designed for the live space (hell, “dance” is in the name). But while Hirsh contends that the stratospheric production values of today are replacing the lyrics-based of yesteryear, he overlooks the most basic rule of headlining a music festival: sustaining a personal connection with the audience. This article shouldn’t be considered a eulogy for the whole genre—rap artists like Kanye, Macklemore, and Drake have been clear festival highlights for the last few years. But it does show that whether you’re Avicii, Jay Z, Muse, R. Kelly, or Lionel Freaking Richie, the best festival headliners find a way to enrapture their audience by sheer force of personality.
It’s not EDM’s fault Outkast flopped; it’s Outkast’s. Three Stacks and Big Boi haven’t had a smash hit since 2006, bowing out of the game in 2008 after Idlewild (easily the biggest critical and commercial misstep of their career). Most concert-goers weren’t ready for a 90-minute set where roughly half of it was from the Clinton administration or earlier. In essence, Hirsh’s article talks about the wrong set of false expectations. Since Outkast’s hiatus, the strength of their back catalog and a few really hot guest verses have kept people asking when they were going to get back together. Unfortunately, we’ve now got an entire season of festivals with Outkast as the main headliner, homogenizing the whole summer.
Don’t get me wrong: I can’t wait to see Outkast play a SpotieOttieDopaliscious set later this summer. Any act coming back from hiatus is bound to have a few bumps, and if they’re the artists I think they are, I expect Andre and Big Boi to be rocking stages twice as hard once they get a few more shows under their belts. Still, it’s hard to get a mainstream crowd to rock with you when they don’t know the words to your hits. As hyped as this reunion was when it was announced, I have a feeling that 40+ festival bookers are going to look back on 2014 and admit they jumped the gun a little on their headlining choice.