Research Proposal:

An Exploration Into the Culture of Electronic Dance Music, the Source of its Allure, and the Role of Drugs Within the Genre         

            I will be investigating the genre of music widely referred to as EDM, and the sonic community or communities that accompany this style of music. EDM stands for Electronic Dance Music, and it is an umbrella term used to describe the category in which many different sub-genres of electronic club music fall; is broadly accepted the club-based dance music that came after disco, and is still widely listened to today. I plan to focus on three elements of EDM that, through my limited research to date, have shown themselves to be of elemental importance to the EDM community, and influential to the development of the music itself.

The effects drugs and drug culture are inextricably linked to EDM, and I will attempt to show that the use of drugs by both artists and listeners has affected the style of music, the cohesiveness of the community, and the general status EDM has held publicly throughout its history. I want to find out what effect the use of drugs within this subgroup of sonic communities has had on the kind of sounds that are used, and the style of live performance they have created. It is impossible to say whether or not EDM would exist if it weren’t for certain mind-altering substances that are strongly associated with this music, but it is the case that this music would not be the same if it weren’t for these drugs. A more answerable question to look into is how these drugs have altered the preferences of both those attending EDM shows and those producing and creating the music. What elements of current EDM styles are the result of the preferences and influences of altered brain chemistry?

In conjunction with developing an understanding of the effects drug taking have had on the sonic characteristics of EDM, I will also attempt to understand, define, and otherwise explain what sonic elements are present in EDM. Though I realize that the many different facets of this genre each carry their own unique flavors, variations, and sound profiles, there are also many common threads of shared soundscaping that EDM DJs and producers utilize. In my research I hope to identify these common elements, and in doing so, identify what sets EDM apart from other forms of electronic music, non-EDM music that might be danced to, and any other non-EDM genres.

Another element of the EDM culture that seems apparent is the sense of community and belonging that is often associated with EDM partygoers—this has been a key element to the cohesive, tight-nit nature EDM communities have had through the history of the genre. For many of the early years, this style of music existed as an underground, fringe genre. In the last twenty years or so, however, EDM has enjoyed varying degrees of pop-culture acceptance—popularity has swelled and receded in different parts of the world, but it is safe to say that since the early ‘90s EDM has enjoyed wide-spread recognition, acceptance, or at the very least acknowledgment as a genre capable of amassing massive, high-energy crowds. So what elements have given EDM—in its different permutations and varying levels of popularity—the ability to form such solidarity amongst its fans? There are different theories out there, and my hope is that in exploring these concepts I might better illuminate those seemingly intangible elements of EDM that keep people coming back for more of the experience. EDMs wide adoption by many youth (and adult, to a lesser degree) cultures around the world shows the power that this form wields, and in my research I hope to uncover some of the features which facilitate the ever-growing acceptance, use, and enjoyment of electronic dance music and its associated culture.



Engels, Rutger, et al. “‘Dancestasy’: dance and MDMA use in Dutch youth culture.” Contemporary Drug Problems Spring 2002: 157+. General OneFile. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.


This article covers the history of a subgenre within EDM known as ‘Dutch house.’ They consider the role MDMA (ecstasy) has played in the Dutch house scene, exploring the psychological and social impacts this drug and music combination has had on the Dutch youth who participate in Dutch house dance parties. This article argues that though Ecstasy can have some psychologically harmful effects in some instances, it may also “…contribute positively to the development of personal and social identity during adolescence.” (Pg. 157). The artic


Ferreira, Pedro Peixoto. “When Sound Meets Movement: Performance in Electronic Dance Music.” Leonardo Music Journal 18 (2008): 17-20. Print.


Ferreira—a Brazilian social scientist in the process of writing a book about sound and movement in electronic dance music culture—starts by making the point that EDMs primary musical structuring is based around getting people to dance. He asserts that often times critics and academics misunderstand this point. Another important point made in this article is that the soundscape of EDM is constructed primarily of sounds who’s source is indiscernible; it was not until electroacoustic technology reached a point where it diverged from the simple replication of identifiable sounds (i.e. instruments), to the generation of unidentifiable sounds that EDM soundscapes could be created—sounds created for the sole purpose of catering to club dance floor audiences. This article will aid in my understanding and conveying the predominant sonic signatures and characteristics that identify EDM.


Havere, Tina Van, Wouter Vanderplasschen, Jan Lammertyn, Eric Broekaert, and Mark Bellis. “Drug Use and Nightlife: More than Just Dance Music.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 27 July 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.


This study sets out to explore drug use in other forms of music than EDM to help understand whether or not EDM nightclub culture is more highly correlated with drug use than nightclub cultures of other music forms. The study examines what other factors might influence the prevalence of drug use in these club settings. The authors assert that respondents who used illicit drugs were 2.5 times more likely to report that they prefer dance music, further concluding that “…the frequence of drug use is linked to a more extended recreational nightlife environment.”(Pg. 9) These findings, and the general empirical nature of the research, will help me to distinguish the drug use habits of EDM communities versus those of other distinct music cultures.


Music and the Psychedelic Mind. Dir. Cousins. Prod. RJ Bentler, John Benson, and Gower Frost. Pitchfork., 17 Oct. 2012. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.


This short documentary (20 min.), a UCLA Professor of Psychiatry (Charles Grob), as well as many musicians, listeners, and others explore the link between various contemporary music forms (as well as some examples of much older music) and the influence of mind altering substances. This film argues that there is an inextricable link between much of how modern music and the culture surrounding it has formed and the use of psychedelic drugs. Though this video is intended for a broad audience, and is by no means a strictly academic work, it does rest most of its authoritative claims (mainly those made by Charles Grob) on research he has conducted; research which he discusses and explains. The explanations he gives will help me explore the psychedelic drug component that is inherent in EDM—EDM is focused on for much of the video—and gives me a better perspective on the probable pervasiveness of mind altering substances in other forms of music as well as EDM.


Reynolds, Simon. Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998. Print.


Simon Reynolds, a well regarded English music critic, explores the phenomenon that is EDM (Electronic Dance Music), chronicling the emergence of the genre; it’s growth, movement, ever-changing style, and foray with pop culture. He explores EDM as “…a matrix of lifestyle, ritualized behavior, and beliefs” (pg. 9) amongst its participants. He also delves into the undeniable affiliation much of EDM culture has to MDMA and other drugs, but is careful to explain that EDM goes far beyond simply being a drug culture. Reynolds argues that EDM is very much a way of life for its community members. This is very much an autobiographical analysis of a membership to this culture as anything else. The chapters I will focus on using are entitled “digital psychedelia: sampling and the soundscape,” “everything starts with an e: ecstasy and rave music,” and probably “in our angelhood: rave as counterculture and spiritual revolution.”