Missoula is frequently put in the spotlight for its booming music scene. We’ve seen big names like the Rolling Stones, Sir Paul McCartney and Macklemore. For Montana, that’s a big deal, and the rest of the state does not have as great a track record for bringing in well known artists.
We’ve even been commended on the diversity of our music scene. Country music, though oddly unpopular in Missoula despite its Montana location, maintains a decent presence — Luke Bryan played a set here recently. Rock music is celebrated weekly at the Top Hat with Grateful Dead Nights, and Missoula even has its own symphony for the classical music junkies.
But within the diverse music-loving crowd is the seedy underbelly of the music scene that no one really quite understands – the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) lovers.
You can sometimes spot them on the north side of the Higgins bridge, lined up in front of the Wilma, adorned by glow sticks and glow-in-the-dark body paint. They dress in all white and bright neon colors — or in some cases, just their underwear. The classic example is Missoula’s Life in Color festival.
“We’re required to wear all white and things that we can get covered in paint,” said EDM fan and University of Montana junior Max Gibson. “So, while the DJ was playing, we would have paint covered in all over us. That was more to get us all excited, something to look forward to. We’re not just standing there jumping around, we’re waiting to get our faces covered with paint!”
They have a strange obsession with faux fur — faux fur leg warmers, giant overcoats and winter hats being the more popular of the apparel — which you would think would be unbearably warm given that they wear this in a sweaty crowd of people while jumping up and down and grinding against each other.
But the strangest part about the whole music ordeal is that Missoula doesn’t even have a club. Not one single dance club thrown into the mix of more than 20 downtown bars. In larger cities, a prominent EDM culture is a given. In Montana, one really has to wonder how EDM even makes it into the concert series.
Yet EDM seems to attract more people than any other music scene. They stumble up from underneath the bridge, en masse, every time an EDM artist performs at the Wilma.
“For me, what draws me in is mainly the music,” said Gibson. “If I know the people that are going, that’s an extra thing.”
And although it keeps the Wilma busy with more “concerts,” the big question is “is it even concert music?”
“Depending on what it is, you will maybe have the time of your life,” said Gibson. “It’s mainly the music and also the atmosphere.”
Saturday Night Live sums it up best in their video “When will the bass drop?” In the video, Andy Samberg performs as artist “Davinnci.” While DJing in front of screaming fans, Samberg performs a multitude of other tasks — playing games on his computer, frying an egg, raking through the sand in a miniature zen garden, sketching a self-portrait and playing jenga. The crowd continues to cheer, shouting statements like “this is music,” and “this is the best day of my life.” People even hand “Davinnci” cash and jewelry, eventually Samberg pulls out a credit card machine and starts swiping cards as people starting handing him those too.
Samberg’s point, of course, is the common complaint that EDM isn’t really music at all, and that DJ’s aren’t musicians. At least, not the type that you would go to a concert for. EDM has often received flak because sound boards, iPods and laptops are not “real instruments.”
In a dance club, this hardly matters, but when it’s being marketed as a concert, and the DJ is the focal point of the event, there is some truth to Samberg’s argument.
This problem manifests itself right in the heart of downtown Missoula. With no dance club, the EDM lovers don’t really have a place to call their own. The Wilma treats raves no differently than any other concert, and it shouldn’t.
“These events should never ever be for anyone less than 18 years old,” Missoula resident Lucas Lees said. “For Zedds Dead, they were letting in people as young as 16. The reason this is a problem, is because you have people getting extremely intoxicated and young girls dressing in extremely sexual ways, then acting like adults. I don’t think anyone has a problem imagining what that can lead to.”
Concerts in general tend to be more of an open-to-all-ages kind of event. But within the context of the culture that follows EDM, it’s not always appropriate for all ages. In Missoula, unfortunately, there is no alternative.