WIRED has served as a successful launching pad for many of the Southeast’s biggest names in electronic musicâ€¦ Â maybe even too successful. According to longtime Athens DJs and event organizers Darcy Reenis (AKA D:RC) and Chris “Variant” Thompson, there are some former WIRED acts that have blown up so much the fest can’t even afford to have them back. For example, Atlanta’s Mike Distal. Once a regular feature on the WIRED stage, he’s now signed to the biggest U.K. dubstep label, Tectonic, and his asking price has skyrocketed as he tours across Europe. This year’s lineup looks poised to produce some key alumni as well. The ultra-heavy bass music of Atlanta duo Mantis has been in high demand all over the country. Up Until Now has played Colorado’s famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre with Sound Tribe Sector 9. Sorted is about to play the CounterPoint Festival in Atlanta. And headliner Charlie P, who has changed his game since his breaks-oriented debut in the early 2000s, is now hitting the festival circuit hard and building a passionate following in the Southeast.
And yet, despite the wealth of talent we have at our doorstep and the rising profile of electronic music on a global scale, Thompson and Reenis say that getting crowds out to support local DJs in Athens has been an uphill battle.
“It’s such a love/hate thing here,” Thompson says with an exasperated sigh.
“If somebody comes from out of town with a name, [fans in Athens] will spend $20 to go see that person, but they won’t spend $2 to see the guy who opens for him on a Tuesday,” adds Reenis.
To some extent, the same could be said for local bands in any genre; building a following is always a challenge. Hopefully, presenting a focused showcase of burgeoning talent within the larger context of AthFest will help get new fans interested and engaged. WIRED itself, at least, has been steadily growing.
In WIRED’s first days at Boneshakers and then at the various clubs that previously occupied New Earth’s space, attendees were limited to a small but dedicated following that Reenis likens to a “family reunion.” And then, something changed.
“Since 2008, [WIRED] has grown exponentially,” says Thompson. “2008 was the first year we noticed something differentâ€¦ And the last two years have been insane, basically.”
So, what was that magic something that changed the game? In a word: dubstep.
“As soon as dubstep hit and it started getting really popular, a lot of people got into [electronic music],” says Reenis. I think the whole festival circuit in general helped foster interest, I guess, but it coincided with the popularity of dubstep.”
While some purists and old-school turntablists may scoff at the changes taking place in the genreâ€”the new reliance on laptops, the commercialization of the sceneâ€”Thompson and Reenis are quick to dismiss the bickering as pretentious and counterproductive.
“Something getting more popular should not be seen as a bad thing,” says Reenis. “That’s what people have been pushing for the whole time, and now you’re getting it, so enjoy it.”
What both DJs have noticed is that while mainstream, modern acts like Skrillex might serve as the gateway for new electronic music fans, once fans get onboard, they tend to start looking around and looking back for more challenging music.
“Older genres are being pulled back into popularity,” says Thompson. “We’ve noticed a rumbling in the underground of [drum and bass coming back], even though that’s been labeled as dead for five to seven years.”
“Now I think that dubstep has sort of run its course, and even that core crowd is aging,” says Reenis.
“If you’ve been a fan since 2007, when you were 18, you’re now, like, 22â€¦ You’re starting to ask: ‘What else is out there?'”
Hopefully, WIRED will have some answers. Reenis and Thompson craft the WIRED lineup like their own fine-tuned sets: balancing a variety of sub-genres between the two stages and slowly building momentum and energy throughout the night so that the party goes from chill to rave by 2 a.m.
There is more to this world than Skrillex, kids. Like 100 glowsticks, WIRED is here to illuminate you.
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