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Digital Dreams festival more than just a music event

One man's dream is another's nightmare, just as one man's heaven is another man's hell. This weekend marks the third edition of the Digital Dreams Musical Festival, the largest event of electronic dance music (EDM) in the country. We spoke to Ryan Kruger, managing director of Electronic Nation Canada (the dance division of promoter Live Nation), about drugs, dance and the new devil's music.

You've just returned from Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, a festival of more than 300,000 people and a rite of passage now for the EDM generation. How does Digital Dreams, which is expected to expand this year from 50,000 fans to 80,000, compare?

Electric Daisy Carnival stands above almost any other electronic event in North America, if not the world. I think if you can imitate it or bring something close to it to Toronto, there's no other way to experience it, short of going to Las Vegas. We're bringing the large-scale, international EDM event to a world class city.

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Fans of the genre know what to expect, but what would attract the casual fan or general festivalgoer? What do you give them, that, say Toronto Jazz or Field Trip does not?

There's the music, it's obviously the main component, but there's something else going on, visually and in other ways. You've got four stages, multiple dance genres and crazy art. The visual element is at an epic level – sometimes it overrides the musical element.

Which is a point of contention with the so-called purists of the genre, who see these type of glittery mega-festivals as cheesy. What do you say to them?

A typical band-based show is really all about the band and seeing and hearing the band perform. But DJ-ing isn't the most exciting thing in the world to watch. One of the ways of compensating is by making the show so visually entertaining that it's more than watching a performer. It literally is a carnival. Beyond the aural element, the visuals take everything to the next level.

And if not visuals, we have drugs to get to the next level. Can you talk about drugs and their connection to the EDM scene?

The electronic dance culture is, I think sometimes unfairly, sometimes associated with drugs more than others. At the end of the day, drugs are in our society and in our jails and in our high schools. So it's no surprise that drugs are at concerts. I think the drug emphasis is exactly the same in EDM as it is with any other youth-driven culture.

But given the drug stigma, how does that affect the way you run a festival of this size?

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We've had to take way more preventive and security measures than any other youth-orientated activities have. So, what we have at our event is actually a much safer environment, when it comes to security and policing and medical care and just the general population looking over other people's shoulders. We have to be careful. We have to go that extra mile. We have to do everything possible in order to prevent that image from hurting us, and hurting our brand or creating a negative stereotype.

Let's flip that around. Is the negative stereotype so bad for the brand? I see EDM as the new rock and roll. It's edgy, and it's not your parent's music.

Generally kids don't listen to the music that their parents listen to. And I'll take that to the next level and say that kids of one generation generally don't listen to what the previous generation listened to, and by that I mean five or 10 years. So, the explosion that had happened in EDM in North America has really happened in the last five years. It's about rebellion, and it's about young adults needing to stake out their own identity.

Music, along with fashion, has been the traditional way of staking in the past 70 or 80 years or so. With it comes a fear and misunderstanding from the previous generation. That's where we're at with EDM right now, aren't we?

There's always a grain of youth rebellion and the "kids are going to hell in a hand basket" mentality when it comes to whatever the current generation is into. I'm sure Elvis Presley was sending the kids to hell.

But, before Elvis, just the act of dancing was seen in some circles as scandalous. So, I ask you, is EDM the devil's music?

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The kids are having a good time. They're doing what kids do, which is to hang out with their friends and enjoying themselves. They'll grow up, they'll move on, and they'll all have great lives after this. You know what? The kids are alright.

Digital Dreams happens June 28 and 29, at The Flats at Molson Canadian Amphitheatre (1-855-985-5000 or

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