Jon Pareles has the insight into what the EDM beat is all about, and how it differs from disco, which likewise swept the nation (and the music business) four decades ago:
[W]hen you think about ’70s disco, it was funk. And it was Latin. And it was syncopated. And it was African-American, and it pulled in a lot of crazy stuff. This year the beat that was socking me over the head at the headlining sets was about as un-Afro-American as you could get. It was a march. A march straight out of Europe, straight out of a factory. It’s really simple, and you don’t have to worry about where to put your limbs, because you know how to march. This simplification unifies audiences — that’s what marches are for — but there’s less room to pick your polyrhythm and do your own kind of dance.
Another aspect to this is demographics, or at least age. Disco in the ’70s, as it reached America through Saturday Night Fever and the mass media, was not strictly a youth movement, and in fact it may have had more significance among adults. It was the soundtrack to the sexual revolution as it spilled over from the ’60s, with the Beatlemania generation now trying to keep their freak on as parents, and the central message of the music was communal sex. Although I fondly remember the kids in my neighborhood circa 1978 staging a “disco party” for our parents, the image of the genre that remains for me is more of 30-year-olds in sequined costumes.
But EDM — despite the long history of the genre — is essentially a youth music, and, as Pareles notes, in festival mode it becomes a force of conformity. Like disco it’s a costume party, but one whose cues are not communicated to adults, and the uniformity of the music and the beat do enforce a sort of march. The bigger question here is why this much more diverse and socially liberal generation would embrace a sound bleached of all black influence.