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Electronic dance music has enjoyed immense popularity in the Netherlands for many years now and Dutch DJs invariably top the list of the world’s best DJs. Why is that? And why is the dance genre not yet as popular in the USA?

Alex van Venrooij, cultural sociologist at the University of Amsterdam, was awarded a Veni grant for his research on the factors influencing the emergence of new genres and the success of electronic dance music in particular. The Veni grant offers researchers who have recently gained their PhDs the opportunity to further develop their ideas for a period of three years.

What strikes you when listening to the various radio stations in the USA is that there is a tremendous difference in the choice of music played on Dutch and US radio. What Alex van Venrooij refers to as ‘electronic dance music’ - or the dance genres such as house, techno and trance - has a less prominent presence, notably in the USA. ‘In Europe, electronic dance music is mainstream and legitimate – even Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, honoured DanceValley with his presence. Electronic dance music has remained a niche genre in the USA for quite some time and seems to have achieved a breakthrough in reaching a wider audience only recently. I wonder what the reasons are for the difference in development and why certain genres have become popular under certain circumstances whereas other genres have not.’

‘There's no such thing as a national music culture’

Simply concluding that people in the USA ‘just have’ different tastes in music to Europeans is something Van Venrooij does not accept. ‘We're talking about western nations who emulate each other in a great many respects. You cannot talk about very distinct cultures and a national music culture – whatever that might mean. I believe the explanation lies more in the "field of pop" itself and the influence of specific players, such as radio producers, recording companies, journalists, critics, music magazines, etc. My hypothesis is that the genres compete with each other in some way to draw these parties’ attention, and genres therefore mainly influence each other’s development opportunities.’

The research placed particular emphasis on those artists who switched from rock to electronic dance music, or on those who combined both music styles. ‘Take New Order, who switched to dance music. Or Underworld, who were originally a rock band. Because bands have their roots in an accepted style, such as rock, the electronic dance music they later make, is perhaps considered rather more "legitimate".'

Gay music and black music

The researcher does examine cultural differences, particularly the image of certain genres. ‘Music genres often invoke negative associations with certain groups in society and minorities. Country, for instance, is a considered a "white" genre and hip-hop is considered as "black", while electronic dance music was often viewed as "black gay music" in the USA in its early years. These views and national differences in tolerance in respect to minorities may perhaps explain why this music genre has not transcended the scene level in the USA.’

Van Venrooij will use various sources of reference for his research, such as hit lists, music and other magazines, newspapers and artist biographies. He will also take stock of the number of record labels specialising in electronic dance music and draw a comparison between the Netherlands, the USA and the UK (the linking pin between Europe and the USA). Van Venrooij will commence his research in early 2013.