Most any Austin-area DJ or dance promoter will say it: The day is coming when turntablists join guitar players, songwriters and indie rockers in the Live Music Capital's creative pantheon.
No one is sure when that moment of mass acceptance will come, but an ongoing resurgence of electronic dance music in clubs, theaters and underground locations all over Travis County and beyond suggests it's not far off.
"Places that would normally have live bands instead of DJs are opening up more and more to that type of music, and there's been a lot more action for DJs in the last couple years," said Bryan Olivas of Austin, who spins records as DJ Supafly at regular gigs at Red Fez, Plush and the Side Bar on top of one-off shows and parties. "DJs were kind of relegated to the smaller spots in town for a long time, but that's changed as DJs in general have become more visible and clubs have been willing to take a chance."
A look at recent and future music listings in Austin bears this out, with bar- and club-level weekly events sharing time with large events featuring DJs from all over the world. Clubs such as Karma Lounge, Lanai, Plush, Barcelona, Elysium, Beauty Bar and the relatively new Republic Live have created an undergrowth of regular weekly and monthly bookings and generated interest that make possible high-profile events such as Dutch superstar DJ Tiësto playing Friday night at Austin Music Hall, or the multi-DJ Spring Love event taking over the Travis County Expo Center on Saturday.
Together those shows are expected to draw around 10,000 combined attendees from Austin and beyond during two days, which would add to the string of successes by out-of-town promoters who have moved in to capitalize on a growing interest in electronic dance music locally.
"My partner moved here from Sacramento two years ago and saw there was a demand but no one was doing anything on a really big scale," said Jimmy Mondragan, co-owner of California's Massive Intent, which is organizing Saturday's Spring Love concert and has promoted nearly a dozen events at the expo center that have drawn more than 5,000 people each time.
"We've helped spark the interest of big promoters from other states, and it's to the point now where DJs from all over the world want to come here. It's a cool place for them to hang out, and times are changing in the level of professionalism of people putting on events," Mondragan said.
Inside Mondragan's events and others, crowds of teens through thirtysomethings (and beyond) move in near unison around stages piled high with speakers, lasers, video projections, dancers in Day-Glo costumes and superstar DJs such as Mark Farina and Dieselboy spinning and switching between vinyl platters and laptops with beat-making software. The events often feature all the trappings of rave culture that have permeated popular culture — pacifiers, glow sticks, outre costumes and an overall touchy-feely vibe created, in part, by an easy availability of Ecstasy and other drugs (including several offerings made to this reporter at various events).
Promoters of large shows such as Mondragan's employ law enforcement for security, with several on-site officers pointing to overall safety as their main concern though drug busts do happen when connected to incidents such as a fight or an overdose.
The cooperation with law enforcement and use of large-scale advertising are developments that have helped sustain Austin's recent electronic dance music resurgence. Veterans of the scene say its last upswing in 2000 through mid-2002 featured numerous underground rave events almost every week in empty warehouses, fields, clubs and pretty much anywhere that could hold a sound system and the several thousand regulars who learned of events through hand-to-hand fliers, pager recordings and other clandestine means.
"In those days you could have any kind of show and get 1,000 to 2,000 people, minimum," said Steven Voldase, a promoter with Austin's Area512 Entertainment, who organizes electronic dance music events all over Austin, including a supporting role in Friday's Tiësto concert. "Things were going on everywhere and it was beyond crazy for a while. Thankfully, it's starting to come back around again and you have good club shows in between the bigger things like what Massive (Intent) are doing."
Voldase and others say the early-2000s scene petered out because of a string of misfires by promoters of large events — including some at the now-pivotal Expo Center — and strict enforcement of state and federal "crack house" drug laws, which extended possession penalties to anyone on the premises where drugs were found by officers. Learning from those missteps, promoters in Austin have taken advantage of growing interest in electronic dance music in popular culture along with a continuing influx of new residents from DJ-friendly locales and a willingness by bar and club owners to experiment with music offerings during an economic downturn.
"The underground scene is still there and it's still really exciting, but there's now a bunch of outlets for people to enjoy this music again all over the place," said Jason Jenkins, a longtime DJ in Austin clubs and host of the weekly electronic dance music-focused Hypersonic Radio show on KROX and www.hypersonicradio.com. "You see a lot of weekly bookings in the clubs downtown that are doing well and then you've got people looking for different bigger spots around town that they can use to bring in big names. It keeps on growing and I don't think it's close to tapped out yet."
Which provokes the question; how long until the Live Music Capital, widely known for Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Townes Van Zandt, earns a reputation as a hotspot for the London/Ibiza set? Some say we're just about there.
"There were so many DJ events happening during South by Southwest this year with Glitch Mob or Travis Barker and DJ A-Trak and others, I think you can already say it's happening in a lot of ways," said Michael Long, president of Nightculture Inc., which promotes electronic dance music events throughout Texas, includin Friday's Tiësto concert.
"The response has been there and it's become a super-cool place that all the artists from all over the world want to come to play."
Want to get your feet sweaty on one of the many local dance floors rocked by DJs from Austin and beyond? Start with this helpful, but by no means definitive, guide to electronic dance music in Austin, including Saturday's Expo Center event.
DJ Tiësto: 8 p.m. Friday at Austin Music Hall. $52-$72. austinmusichall.com
Spring Love: 40 DJs including Mark Farina, Dieselboy and Matt Darey. 8 p.m. Saturday, Travis County Expo Center. Tickets, $25-$45, at massiveintent.com , Stubb's, the Long Center and Waterloo Records.
Lanai: Austin veteran DJ Jason Jenkins mans the popular Saturday night residency at this Congress Avenue hotspot. 422 Congress Ave. lanaiaustin.com
Karma Lounge: A haven for a wide variety of music throughout the week, DJs rule the roost on Wednesdays. 119 W. Eighth St. karma-austin.com
Elysium: A reliable home for goth, industrial, new wave and classic alternative tunes on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. 705 Red River St. elysiumonline.net
Beauty Bar: A shifting lineup with just about weekly appearances by DJ Richard Henry, DJ Scorpio and Prince Klassen. 617 E. Seventh St. beautybar.com
Plush: a tiny spot that gets moving with regular nights featuring dubstep, drum 'n' bass, hip-hop, big beat and more. 617 Red River St. 478-0099
Republic Live: Short on weekly bookings, but big names like Erol Alkan, Rusko and Kaskade have passed through recently. 301 W. Fifth St. 480-9888
Barcelona: A good bet just about any night with the Irresponsible Voltron gang making Thursdays a standout. 209 E. Sixth St. barcelonaaustin.com