Avicii’s U.S. arena tour: too big too soon?

At the recent EDM Biz conference in Las Vegas, inthemix attended a panel under the banner ‘Arena House – Taking EDM On The Road’. The discussion focused on the accelerated move in the U.S. from club nights to DJ-headlined arena tours, and whether ‘EDM’ translates to traditional live venues. While some success stories were cited – like the Swedish House Mafia’s recent takeover of Madison Square Garden in New York – there was an air of caution about artists upsizing too early. The unspoken (and occasionally spoken) case-in-point was Avicii’s Le7els tour around North America, which has not been entirely smooth sailing for the young star.

After a mixed reception to the Swede’s new live show at Coachella, the first run of U.S. arena dates were postponed, reportedly to get the production right. However, recent shows have been far from sold-out, with several reports of bustling General Admission floors but empty and curtained-off seating sections. Some anecdotal reports suggest venues with capacities of around 20,000 people have been hosting around 5,000.

The EDM Biz panelists warned against over-reaching as a dance artist despite the current U.S. Boom. In an earlier panel, Marc Geiger, head of music for WME Entertainment, coined the Le7els tour “an irrational decision fuelled by an irrational market. Avicii trying to be a rock star is a big mistake.”

The consensus seemed to be that despite the EDM fervour out there, you still need to graduate from clubs to mid-sized venues before taking the arena leap. “I personally think that with festivals, where people can see multiple artists for a typically reasonable price, they might not buy a ticket to see a single artist they just saw at Electric Daisy Carnival,” said Paul Morris of thriving booking agency AM Only on the ‘Arena House’ panel. Added EDC founder Pasquale Rotella: “There are only going to be a handful of DJs who can pull off a show like Swedish House Mafia in New York.” Despite the behind-the-scenes doubts, Avicii’s stage show continues on its U.S. rounds until September, billed as the “first-ever” Stateside arena tour by a dance artist.

Running concurrently to Avicii’s tour is Kaskade’s Freaks Of Nature North American circuit. The homegrown veteran is also hitting the kinds of rooms usually reserved for touring rock acts, but his progression to arena headliner has been far more gradual. During the closing ‘Artist Panel’ at EDM Biz, Kaskade was asked whether he believes a close connection with fans – “the pure moment” – is lost in these vast venues.

“No, I think it’s just changed,” he replied. “I think the moment happened at King King where the guy in the front row is dripping on the CDJs and shorting out the Pioneer.” (King King is a Hollywood club where the DJ cut his teeth.)

“But I think now the music’s reached so many more people. I think the experience has always been about dancing alone or in a group of friends. It’s not like you’re dancing with anyone. You’re just hanging out, and it’s loud. That can happen in a warehouse, like when I used to go see Richie, or it can happen at the Staples Centre [in L.A.] or King King.”

Comparing the trend to Australia, there isn’t much of a parallel: we’re used to seeing big-ticket DJs on festival tours, despite the very occasional DJ-headlined concert-venue run like Tiesto’s hugely-successful 2010 Kaleidoscope tour. However, it was the topic buzzing around Vegas throughout ‘EDC Week’, and revealed the issues that come from the EDM gold-rush.