NPR Examines the Major Label’s Electronica Push in the ’90s

Electronic Dance Music Crowd


How do you sell an enigma? In the 1990s, American rave was a big but scattered subculture. Packaging its fleeting tunes and site-specific good times for mainstream consumption would take some doing. When rock and hip-hop began show signs of weakness mid-decade, a handful of true believers, funded by major-label money, would make their move.

In America, raves — British-style warehouse and outdoor parties featuring DJs playing house, techno and their variants — first washed ashore in 1989, when groups of largely British ex-pats began throwing U.K.-style warehouse parties in L.A., San Francisco and Brooklyn, independently but in basic sync with one another. By 1993, rave was an established fact in the heartland.

Few U.S. labels paid attention at first — rave was largely a European phenomenon, with few “name” artists that the majors could sell to radio. House and techno were singles-oriented, their first albums compilations. Most of those were only available in England, though — American fans either bought 12-inches, mixtapes from local or regional DJs, or imported compilations.

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