How a $4.5B industry is changing the city

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For Sun-Times Media

Turns out, bombastic beats and neck-breaking bass can work wonders for your bottom line.

Electronic dance music has exploded in popularity — and profitability — in Chicago, thanks in part to entrepreneurs like Brandon Carone.

He organizes the annual Wavefront Music Festival, a weekend of electronic dance music, or EDM, at Montrose Beach. Attendance was up 75 percent this year, the fest’s second, as more than 70,000 people gathered along the lake to see superstar DJs like Derrick Carter, Fatboy Slim and Frankie Knuckles.

“I’ve had experience with the Ultra Music Festival in Miami, and we knew that coming to one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the U.S. [Chicago] would be a great idea,” says Carone, COO of the EnV Group, which puts on Wavefront.

He declined to give revenue figures (though three-day passes to last month’s event sold for $189 a pop). Carone did say he estimates shelling out between $700,000 and $1 million to market next year’s fest, set for July 4 weekend.

EDM has also seen significant growth at Lollapalooza, the city’s biggest music festival, for which 270,000 people gathered in Grant Park last year. In 2008 Lolla added a small tent, named Perry’s for fest founder Perry Farrell, to showcase DJs and dance music. EDM soon outgrew its tent and Perry’s is now a full-blown stage, which will feature acts like Steve Aoki, Major Lazer and Baauer (“Harlem Shake”) when Lolla kicks off Friday.

And Wavefront and Lolla aren’t even the half of the major dance-music events Chicago has taken on in recent years. International EDM fest Electric Daisy Carnival brought in big-time DJs David Guetta and Tiësto for its first show here in May at the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet. The second annual Spring Awakening was held at Soldier Field in June and featured Moby, Calvin Harris and Bassnectar. And the fourth North Coast Music Festival, with Afrojack and Big Gigantic in the dance-heavy mix, is set for Labor Day weekend at Union Park.

Chicago is a hub for electronic music, its scene aligning with those in Las Vegas, Miami and Ibiza, says Kent Otto, editor in chief of music magazine Electronic Midwest. “The potential growth of the industry appears to be limitless,” he says. “Multimillion-dollar partnerships are being formed to fuel the massive demand.”

That interest seems to be making its way to artists here too. Green Velvet, a fixture on the Chicago house scene since the early ’90s, is enjoying the love the city’s been getting lately.

“It’s allowed me to tour more in the States,” says Green Velvet, aka Curtis Alan Jones, aka Cajmere, who had his first hit with “Coffee Pot (It’s Time for the Percolator)” in 1992. “I’ve stayed active in Europe and Asia for years, but now I don’t have to take so many long flights.”

Green Velvet, who performs regularly at local nightclubs The Mid, SpyBar and Dolphin, credits Chicago’s success to its attitude and vibe.

“[Chicago] is one of the most diverse scenes anywhere,” he says. “People from all over get along and party.”

Carone says there’s still plenty of room for EDM to grow in Chicago.

“As it becomes more known, you’re going to see attendance [at major festivals] double, even triple,” he explains.

That means more big beats and even bigger profits.

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