City Lights Music Festival to show off diversity of electronic music

Aug 16, 2012

On Friday and Saturday, Grand Rapids will host the second annual City Lights Music Festival. The festival will bring in a few electronic dance musicians from across the country and a ton of Grand Rapids talent.

Zach Betts, also known as Biff Tannen after the bully in the Back to the Future films, is one of the artists in the local lineup. Betts started the group Minor State with his brother Tyler. He says producing electronic music opens up many possibilities for artists.

“I don’t have to call up four guys and say ‘Hey, can we get together and practice?’ or I have to work around other people’s schedules,” Betts says. “I can take my time. I can wake up in the morning, jump on my computer, sit in front of my keyboard and just start pounding out note. So essentially I’ve got my orchestra if I want. I’ve got a violin if I want. I have flute. I have pretty much any instrument at my disposal.”

“On top of what they call ‘presets,’ which are pre-set instruments with inside synthesizers that are built into the computer, I can actually do my own sound design and build my own instruments to what I hear in my head,” says Betts.

But what exactly is the electronic sound? I had City Lights co-organizer Shannon Williams take me through an audio tour of just a handful of the many genres and sub-genres of electronic dance music, starting with trance. (Play the story to hear samples of trance, deep house, dirty dutch, dubstep, and other electronic genres.)

Zach Betts says public events like City Lights Music Fest are a sign that the electronic music scene is growing in the U.S. He says just a few years ago, you could only hear local electronic artists online or at underground dance parties.

“Those typically are a lot of fun, but usually they’re unsanctioned and they pop up out of nowhere and no one really knows about them,” says Betts. “Now you have more sanctioned events, which makes it a lot more public, which helps out the music scene in general. It helps me out as a producer because then people will discover who I am. And it will be people that I’ve never been able to play to because we’re in such a public scene.”

Zach Betts of Minor State, and other artists, will play at the City Lights Music Festival in Grand Rapids this weekend.

Five Misconceptions About Electronic Music:

1. Electronic music started in Detroit. City Lights co-organizer Shannon Williams says a type of electronic music commonly called "The Detroit Sound" started in Detroit, but other subgenres of electronic music originated elsewhere. Chicago is the birthplace of house music and the United Kingdom can take credit for popularizing dubstep.

2. "Techno" and "electronic music" are the same. False. Williams says techno is a subgenre of electronic music. Electronic music has many genres and can take on several forms depending on what the D.J. chooses to mix with.

3. You don't listen to electronic music. Many artists today use some elements of electronic music, like auto tune and synthesizers. Williams says electronic music is all over the media, even some disco could be considered early electronica.

4. Dubstep tracks are like slow songs. That depends on how many beats you count, says Williams. If you count only one beat, it could seems very slow, but if you count two beats it could seem fast.

5. There aren't many places to hear electronic music other than dance parties. D.J. Zach Betts says this is changing because of the electronic music events that have sprouted up in the past few years. He says resources like SoundCloud have also made sharing electronic music simple.

Here is a list of a few of the featured tracks in this story:

"Cafe Del Mar" remix by Tiesto

LMFAO remix by Chucky

"Night by Night" by Chromeo

"Cyber Faith" by Biff Tannen

City Lights preview track by Minor State