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Fall of an empire: Six things to expect in the wake of the SFX crash

The dance music landscape has changed. Again

  • Words: Marcus Dowling | Illustration: Patch Keyes
  • 15 March 2016

In 2013, entertainment mogul Robert F.X. Sillerman was about to become the most dominant businessperson with the most dominant company in electronic dance music. The CEO of SFX Entertainment, he had $1 billion to spend on building a dance music empire.

SFX wasted no time in snapping up music retailer Beatport for $50 million. It nabbed a plethora of events companies including Holland's legendary ID&T and took over Miami club operator MMG Nightlife. It also took charge of a swathe of festivals including Tomorrowworld, Mysteryland, Electric Zoo and Stereosonic. The billion dollar empire fuelled the EDM explosion, taking it to grand new heights, with Sillerman poised to control mainstream dance music for the foreseeable.

But three years later, SFX is bankrupt, and its “dominant” component pieces are being sold at auction for pennies on the dollar (and that's not to mention the lawsuits). The explosion has peaked and the empire has come tumbling down. Its fall changes the landscape of dance music completely.

Here are six things to expect in the wake of the crash.

1 We’ll Never See A Robert Sillerman-style Mogul Try To Control Dance Music Ever Again

In September 2012, Sillerman told Billboard Magazine that he "[knew] nothing about EDM," continuing with, “I understand its appeal. It's borderless, it's free, it's energetic, it's a party, it's a party in your mind-and I understand that. But I sit in the meetings, to the extent that they are [meetings]. I meet the people whose places we're buying. And I haven't a fucking clue what they do or what they're talking about. Not a clue. And I love it. I just love it."

In one statement, Sillerman epitomised the optimistic energy behind the would-be empire as well as the attitude that would bury his company before it even got off the ground. His business plan failed because, as is plain to see, dance music is a living, breathing industry that's constantly evolving and is full of nuance. Sure, it's ripe for an entrepreneur but a successful one has to understand the game, not just throw money at it and hope for the best.

2 Boutique Festivals Will (continue to) Rise

Away from the SFX mega festival circuit, there are a plethora of events pushing new, underground music. They're both established, like the 20-year-old Movement in Detroit, and emerging, like San Diego’s CRSSD Festival, an “anti-rave for the mature electronic crowd” that's just completed a highly successful third year. There's also a swathe of "camp-outs", which take ravers out of carparks and into the woods for new underground dance music experiences. These will no doubt be the events that capture the imagination of older heads as well as the generation coming through.

Evolution is a cyclical process. Avicii, Afrojack, Steve Aoki and Deadmau5 have all surged to the global pop forefront, demanding big-budget mainstream spotlight as provided during events like Ultra. But an ever-growing community less enamoured with mainstream dance music demands more niche-oriented events that eschew the lasers and stadium feel of the EDCs and Tomorrowlands of the world, opting instead for calm vibes, space for actual dancing and presentation that's organic rather than totally OTT.

 
 
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