Electronic Music is on the Rise in Austin

It’s after midnight on a Friday in late August, and the steady pulse of a driving beat resonates even outside the glass doors of The Concourse Project. Inside, a vibrant array of laser lights dart around a fog-filled room packed with swaying bodies as a shadowy silhouette commands an assemblage of mixers beneath a giant disco ball. Located past the airport off Highway 183 in far Southeast Austin, the space is a mecca for electronic dance music fans. Since opening in September 2021, Concourse has already booked some of the genre’s biggest acts, including Steve Aoki, Diplo, and Marshmello.

With their company, RealMusic Events, co-owners Kelly Gray and Andrew Parsons began producing electronic music shows in Austin in the fall of 2009 at clubs like Sky Lounge, Republic Live, and Kingdom—the latter of which became the company’s primary hub of operation until it closed in 2018. (Now helmed by their former business partner, Garrett Boyd, Kingdom reopened this September with the same focus.) While renowned for its dive bars and honky-tonks rife with indie and country artists, Austin has always had a contingent of dance music lovers, according to Gray. But she’s seen an uptick in her popularity in recent years, as a network of devotees have created a tightly knit scene.

“There’s something different here with the community—people are always commenting about how they’ve found their lifelong friends or partners because of these shows,” says Gray, who sees Concourse as an influential polestar in the rising trend. “Before, the size venue that we have would seem too big for dance music shows in Austin, but now we’re regularly sold out.”

That escalating trend aligns with a national interest in electronic music, as deejays have appeared at marquee festivals across the country. No longer bound to genre-specific events like Electric Forest in Rothbury, Michigan, or Ultra Music Festival in Miami, electronic artists like The Chainsmokers and Odesza have headlined stages at ACL Fest in recent years.

The Concourse Project marks the first dedicated electronic music venue in Austin large enough to attract internationally renowned artists on a regular basis. Not only does the space feature a 15,000-square-foot warehouse and a smaller outdoor patio, but it also sits on 15 acres of land capable of hosting large field-based shows, like Seismic Dance Event, a multi-day festival organized by RealMusic Events. This November marks the fifth installment of the gathering, which brought out around 3,000 attendees per day in its last iteration. This year, it’s expected to draw more than 5,000 festivalgoers daily, headlined by artists like Gorgon City, Fatboy Slim, and Jamie xx.
It’s not just larger spaces that have expanded the reach of dance music in Austin, as some of the city’s mainstay clubs have also increasingly relied on deejay sets. Red River bar Cheer Up Charlies has typically featured live bands multiple times a week but pivoted to more frequent events with dance music after reopening in May 2021. “People just wanted to let loose and forget and move their bodies because everybody was inside for so long ,” says owner Maggie Lea.

Lea also points out that being stuck at home for months gave plenty of aspiring deejays countless hours alone in their rooms to hone their skills, and as Austin grows, the population will undoubtedly represent a wider set of interests. “People who moved here during the pandemic came from places that had more of a focus on electronic music,” she reiterates.

Dylan Reece, an Austin-based deejay who performs at Cheer Up Charlies as well as clubs like Neon Grotto and Coconut Club, says, “I’ve noticed that there are not only way more deejays, but there are styles and scenes that are being represented that maybe didn’t used to be.” Those genres range from techno, house, and trance to Latin pop and cumbia.

Both Reece and Lea note that Austin’s queer community constitutes a sizable portion of dance music’s fandom here. That’s true not only of the popular clubs in Austin’s gay district on Fourth Street, but also of a growing late-night warehouse scene. Such pop-up shows are driven by known promoters who produce events in a variety of makeshift venues, the location of which is generally announced last minute. “These are not clubs that are going to be on Google Maps or Yelp or something,” he says.

For example, the event series Body Mechanics features electronic music that focuses on a sex-positive ethos. Although not an expressly queer event, inclusivity is a central tenet of its promotion. These shows start late and go even later—well after 2 am—and skirt liquor laws by allowing patrons to bring their own beverages or simply not having sanctioned bar sales.

Like Gray, Reece sees an incredible camaraderie among dance music fans and the burgeoning community in Austin. So, when night falls, and your lonely heart calls, there’s a dance hall for you, whether you’re seeking a line of two-stepping cowboys or a sea of ​​ravers. With Austin’s expanding array of electronic music, you won’t have any trouble finding a dance partner—or even a few thousand.

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