By Michael Oszust
“I just love that there is this invisible thing. You can’t touch it. You can’t play with it. You can’t put it in a jar. It can move your whole body. It can actually destroy you.”
The invisible thing that Kyle Norton is describing are the sound waves he experiences when music is being blasted from powerful speakers.
Norton is a 23-year-old living in Grand Rapids. He attends Grand Valley State University, majoring in advertising. He’s also a musician. He creates electronic music under the name Nortroniks.
“I was actually given the name. I didn’t really think of it myself,” said Norton.
When he performs, you won’t see him playing an instrument or singing into a microphone. You will see a man on his computer surrounded by huge powerful speakers blasting music that sound as loud as the finale of a 4th of July fireworks show.
For Norton, computer-generated music is as creative and artistic as classical or rock or any other mainstream music made by actual instruments. He signifies a new breed of musicians taking advantage of computers to make sounds of a traditional band of five.
A simple way of explaining how Norton creates music on his computer starts with him creating a bass line, a guitar line and a drum loop. Then he will add live instrumentation and samples from vinyl tracks for sounds that he can’t create on his own.
Norton released his first album, “Greater Colors,” in October 2013. “Greater Colors” is composed of ten songs with the top played song on SoundCloud being “Sound of the Future,” which has more than 2,000 plays.
The album has sounds from the past that have been edited to work with his futuristic computer generated sounds. For example, his song “Do the Roswell Rock” opens with a sound bite from an old radio broadcast of a UFO being found in Roswell, N.M. Then the song comes alive with horn instruments, classic hip-hop beats and samples from the broadcast that are blended with futuristic sounds that you might hear in the cockpit of an alien spacecraft. The whole album blends the past and future for a sound that most listeners wouldn’t have been able to experience before computers.
“My genre of music would be instrumental hip-hop, (but) I made up my own name because instrumental hip-hop leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I call it groove-hop,” said Norton. “Really, in the end, it’s EMD — electronic dance music.”
Electronic dance music is like a symphony orchestra but an orchestra needs many more people and instruments to produce the wide range of sounds. Electronic dance music only needs a computer and one conductor.
Nortroniks and artists like him believe that electronic dance music is the future of music. They may be right. Electronic dance music’s popularity doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. According to the International Music Summit’s 2013 Business Report, EDM digital track sales grew by three times that of any other major genre in 2012.
EDM has become more popular because of how much fans and artists are able to interact with each other over social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. According to Pew Research, 90 percent of people from ages of 18 to 29 have social media accounts. This allows up-and coming artists to share their music for free with fans and provide easy access to song downloads that cost a small fee. In return, artists receive free exposure from fans who share their music.
For example, “@Laurafvt: @Nortroniks is the best new discovery of 2014 so far. Can’t wait to hear more from you.” This tweet gives Norton free exposure to Laurafvl’s 875 followers. If someone is interested in him because of the tweet, they could go to Norton’s profile and find links to his music. Before social media, it would have been much harder for Norton and his fans to share his music with people from across the country like Laurafvl who lives in Virginia. She first heard Norton’s music on the music blog site welcometothenextlevel.net, which linked to his SoundCloud account.
The social media site SoundCloud.com allows artists to upload their music and share it with followers. According to Next Big Sounds’ annual State of Online Music, Soundcloud.com has 40 million musicians that reach more than 200 million listeners a month. FORBES estimates that in 2012, SoundCloud made roughly $20 million in sales. The mainstream industry has started to recognize electronic dance artists as well. In 2014, the electronic dance duo Daft Punk won a Grammy for Best Album of the Year.
The rise in popularity of EDM has also given rise to EDM music festivals. Michigan is home to the Electric Forest Music Festivial, which was ranked the forth-best music festival of 2014 by MySpace. The Electric Forest Music Festivial is a three-day event in Rothbury, Mich. on the Double JJ Ranch. This year, the festival will be held on June 26 to June 29. According to MLive, the festival had 25,000 attendees in 2012 and saw a rise to more than 30,000 in 2013.
Young people have moved away from the mainstream rap and hip-hop of the 2000s, but are now listening to the many subgenres such as trap, dubstep, and trip hop, all of which fall under the genre of EDM. Fans of this genre are generally between the ages of 18 to 25 years old.
The growing popularity of electronic music has also helped local businesses such as Papa Pete’s located in Kalamazoo.
“I think electronic music has been growing huge here. We have always been supporting it,” said Peter Stamos, manager of Papa Pete’s. “We have always had at least one or two nights of the week have some type of DJ show or set.”
Norton played his first show as Nortroniks at Papa Pete’s. “Oh god, it was horrible,” said Norton while reflecting on his first live performance.
“Kalamazoo is a pretty big spot for electronic music,” said Stamos. “We have a pretty good following for them. They love coming out supporting them, especially the local guys that started off playing in basements.”
Some people have doubted the longevity of electronic dance music; even Norton has.
“When it first came out, I thought it would be gone in five years,” explained Norton. “Then I realized it’s not. It’s just evolving. I think it’s going to evolve into something else. At the end, it will be people with machines making cool sounds.”
To listen to Nortronik, visit soundcloud.com/nortroniks.