Identity Festival gives fans what they want: Escape from reality


Dance music fans react to the music during the 2012 Identity Festival at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow. (Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post)
July 29, 2012

If you’ve chatted with a dance music fan lately, chances are you’ve played the subgenre game. Progressive house or crunkstep? Trance or tribal? Breakbeat or moombahton?

Like the world of coffee connoisseurs, it’s never as simple as just ordering a cup of joe.

It’s the same with beats per minute, or BPMs. As electronic dance music and its subgenres have grown in popularity, fans have become more particular. Because they can be. They have options.

On Friday, the Identity Festival, a traveling electronic music festival in its second year, came through Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, where thousands of young, sweat-soaked fans pledged their allegiance to certain subgenres by way of neon hats and T-shirts that read “Trance Family,” “More Moombah” or the ubiquitous “Sex, Drugs and Dubstep.”

There were bunny ears and face paint and neon bras, and fans happily exposed tattoos their parents probably don’t know about. It’s overblown, sure, but dressing the part is a way for fans to find a sense of belonging.

But what happens when an underground scene hits the mainstream? Or when it spirals out of control — the Boston Herald reported that two died and dozens were hospitalized at the Mansfield, Mass., Identity Festival the night before? Will EDM suffer an identity crisis?

Maybe someday, but for now festivals are running with the rave boom. Many concert companies even structure their stages around specific subgenres. The main stage Friday played mostly house music, and the parking-lot stage primarily churned out dubstep.

The third stage was where things got interesting. Sponsored by Glow DC, the small but roaring lot between the other two stages gave a nod to local producers such as Baker and Atkinson and the guys of Volta Bureau. The crowd was smaller and older than those at Excision or Eric Prydz but just as dedicated. Many posted up for the entire eight-hour festival as young ravers scampered through.

Meanwhile, at the main stage, Madeon — an 18-year-old French producer who recently wooed crowds at Coachella and Electric Daisy Carnival in New York — took a more pop-centric approach. With remixes of hits such as Jay Z’s “99 Problems,” The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” and Deadmau5’s “Raise Your Weapon,” his set wasn’t underground but still pure, aimless fun.

Underneath a faint rainbow, fans leapt and screamed, throwing fists in the air when Madeon dropped a raucous version of Blur’s “Song 2,” something they probably remember singing along to when their best friend first got his or her driver’s license. It was nostalgic and new, stormy and sweet, and maybe an indicator that EDM doesn’t have to stay underground to survive. Maybe all its fans want is an escape from reality — and the Facebook picture of themselves in the neon shirt to admire the next day.

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