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Caught in the Trap

Arts & Culture | February 19, 2013

On New Year’s Eve, in a crowd of thousands of college kids raving, I witnessed the rise of a new sub-genre within electronic dance music (EDM): trap. Though trap originates from rap artists such as T.I., Gucci Mane, and Young Jeezy, the term “trap” has shifted from the dark subject of a life of drug-dealing to a commodified and almost comedic genre of electronic dance music. The new genre retains the heavy rap beat of its predecessor while weaving in electronic synthesizers and dance tempos. A near overnight sensation, the widespread emergence of trap music at raves reveals a notable trend within EDM culture—electronic dance genres are in a rapid state of flux, constantly redefined into various fluid subgenres.

Specific genres aside, the rave scene looks very much the same as it did four years ago when dubstep took over: huge stages, thousands of ravers, and dancing reminiscent of a religious ritual. At this New Year’s rave, leopard-print fur coats, pink gorilla suits, Deadmau5 masks, and glow-sticks are some of the getups I see around me. Truck-sized speakers vibrate my body. Two guys behind me each rail a line of coke and a girl to my right pulls out two pills of molly. I figure it’s a good time to spark up a joint I snuck into the rave. “Solidarity,” the guy next to me declares as I offer him a toke. “That’s what I love about this community. Peace, love, unity, respect.” And there’s some truth to his statement: for one night, my individuation dissipates and a transcendental bond forms among the teenagers and college kids around me in the crowd. Or maybe that’s just the drugs.

The culture, the drugs, the dancing, the bright lights—it’s stayed the same. Yet rave music itself is constantly being redefined. For decades, house reigned supreme among electronic music genres. In 2009, dubstep began its ascent to mainstream popularity. Now, electronic music has shifted again with the rise of trap. SPIN Magazine’s Brandon Soderberg describes trap as a mix of “the glitches, drops, and all-encompassing doom of Atlanta-rooted, strip-club, drug-deal stomp with post-everything thrills of Soundcloud refix culture.” Due to this splintering of genres, it’s now difficult to label any electronic DJ as fitting neatly into one genre or another—DJs are quick to adopt the latest trends in EDM in an increasingly fluid manner. Artists who produce dubstep, for example, often weave trap songs into their set list during raves, and vice versa.

A considerable amount of controversy surrounds whether or not trap perverts the rap term “trap” and its lineage. Trap undeniably takes elements from the underground Southern rap music of the same name. Originally, the term referred to the place where drugs are sold, but grew to have larger implications about the hopeless mindset that drives young people to sell drugs. The beat is an intense backdrop of snares, hi-hats, and a brooding bass sound. Innovative DJs in EDM culture, however, have adapted the sounds of rap’s trap to a different audience.

The dark subject matter was abandoned and replaced by comical sound-bites,—“Damn son, where’d you find this!” or “Don’t get caught in the trap!”—synthesizers, and samples from popular electronic songs. Trap music should be thought of as the incorporation of rap into electronic dance music, not the other way around. One of the leading trap DJs, Baauer, explained in an interview that his favorite part of making trap music is “looking for crazy sounds that I’ve never ever heard used in a song before.” Far from being an evolution of the rap genre, this new trap’s audience is ravers, and its main source of influence is electronic dance music, not rap.

Baauer, Flosstradamus, RL Grime, Carnage, and Tnght are a few of the DJ’s taking over raves as headliners of trap. In an interview with Music Talks, Baauer recounts making his music before the genre became so popular: “When I was making it, it was just made  for fun, just fooling around. I had no idea it would get that kind of crazy attention.” Another trap DJ, Flosstradamus, agrees with Baauer—trap music is about having fun. “People already calling this trap shit a ‘fad’,” Flosstradamus explained in a recent Facebook post, “calling it the next dubstep or whatevs. Fuck all that nerd shit, let’s just have fun, damn!”

As the countdown to New Year’s begins, and Baauer’s remix of “Rollup” blasts for the tenth time, the distinction between various subgenres of EDM fades in my mind. The crowd of college ravers shouts elatedly in anticipation of the drop. The specific genre isn’t particularly important to these ravers. House, dubstep, trap—none of those names matter when you’re dancing at a rave. What matters is the community, the dancing, the lights, and the DJ at the head of the spectacle. Though online music blogs might make it seem like EDM has changed drastically over the past year with the emergence of trap, EDM’s roots in dance music are still very much alive. Ravers have rewarded the innovative sounds and novelty of trap music, but at the end of the day, what they want isn’t rap but electronic dance music in a festive place with thousands of other kids raving beside them.