More than 3,500 Benny Benassi fans showed up to watch the electro house DJ perform a set at the Tucson Convention Center, last month. Dressed in wooly-eared Ewok caps, fur boots, frilly neon tutus and armed with an arsenal of foam rainbow batons, the audience of mostly teens and twentysomethings pushed against the stage and each other, turning the center's lower level exhibition hall into a frenzied, primal, sweat-induced dance party.
Benassi showered the crowd with confetti, then blew their hair back with a two-hour-long, sensory overload of jaw-rattling beats and a surreal blend of abstract images splashed across oversized video screens.
The concert was the latest in a string of successful, high-profile electronic music shows held in Tucson over the last two years.
Big names, including dubstep DJ Skrillex and Avicii, who ranked sixth on DJ Magazine's 2011 Top 100 DJs list, have been welcomed to the Old Pueblo with open arms and high turnout rates.
Fans like Daniel Moss appeared in droves to see Avicii perform on a recent drizzly Sunday afternoon in an empty lot just west of North Fourth Avenue.
Moss, a hydrological engineering intern at the Bureau of Land Management, split Tucson fans into two camps, both of which he found intriguing.
"You can't really tell at concerts who the die-hard fans of the music are, who don't let a single soundwave get by and who is just inspired by the atmosphere and immediately gets whipped up into things," Moss, 22, said. "When you are in that kind of environment, it immediately inspires you."
The increased interest, be it for house, breakbeat or any of the other subgenres that fall under the electronic music banner, is due primarily to its integration into mainstream, radio-friendly music, says Corbin Dooley, co-host of the Friday night electronic music program "Electric Feel" on KXCI (91.3-FM).
"The artists brought it," he said. "(Artists like) Ke$ha, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga. Hip-hop makes electronic music more palatable since hip-hop has become more mainstream. Rock music has embraced dubstep. Now you have Korn featuring Skrillex on KFMA."
The increase in radio play has led to an increase in interest, especially among college students.
Adam Richman, a 21-year-old regional development major at the University of Arizona, started his still-blossoming promotions company, the Big Room Group, in 2009, specifically to take on electronic music shows.
Richman, who came to Tucson from Boca Raton, Fla., for school, saw the overwhelming attraction to artists such as David Guetta and Avicii among his peers.
"That is what's in right now," he said. ""It's played at every party you go to, every time you get into someone else's car. That is what you hear."
Richman took that knowledge and gathered investors to help create shows that catered to those interests.
His first major attempt, the inaugural N9ne Fest in 2010 at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, featured mashup master Girl Talk, as well as Far East Movement, and brought in an estimated 5,800 people.
"That was a turning point for me," Richman said.
Since that concert, Richman has put on a number of large-scale productions, including Lil Jon at the second N9ne Fest in 2011, Avicii and Benassi.
All of them featured electronic sets. All of them were highly successful.
"We are batting 1,000 right now," Richman said. "The scene here in Tucson is growing, and this is what people want."
Ronnie Spece, a longtime music promoter and founder of PHAT Entertainment, has been a little more cautious in branding this electronic revival as more than just a fad.
Spece is a Tucson native who got into the music during the electronic boom in the mid-1990s, listening to artists like The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk.
At 35, Spece has experienced the ups and downs of electronic music in Tucson, both as a fan and a promoter.
Some of the shows his company has brought in have been very successful. Others have failed miserably.
Even now, during what's supposed to be a golden moment for electronic music, Spece has seen mixed results.
The Skrillex show he held at the Rialto last June, completely sold out. The Cosmic Gate show he promoted a mere four months later only produced a few hundred people.
"There are very few sure things in this business," Spece said. "Sometimes you think you will do well on something, but for some reason, in Tucson, it doesn't work."
While major acts have attracted large crowds, some local DJs are not feeling the love.
Tucson's own electronic artists have found themselves being shut out of opening slots at bigger shows and have a limited number of venues they can turn to for live performances.
Brothers Jessmar and Jeff Romea have DJ'd as a duo under the name Hades 2 for the last four years, playing a mix of progressive house, techno and breakbeat.
They've managed to get their tracks played on radio stations all over Europe, but despite their best efforts, they often find themselves marginalized in Tucson because of the cliquey nature of the business.
"It is an ugly popularity contest," Jeff Romea said. "A lot of the promotional groups will book out the DJs that they have in their circle. It is not a showcase of new talent. No one is trying to help each other or push each other to the surface."
With a fragmented local scene, people like Spece are attempting to bring more DJs to the forefront.
He agrees that there should be more opportunities for local artists. Venues such as Club Congress and Level Lounge have been good about featuring local talent, he said, but many of the clubs stick primarily to Top 40 tracks.
In April, Spece is adding his own element to the local scene, aside from bringing in national artists, by starting PHATfree, an event at the Playground Bar & Lounge downtown, which will feature local DJs performing strictly electronic music the last Saturday of every month.
"It is my own attempt to get back into why I really do this," he said. "It's just about the music."
Spece wants to one day open his own club downtown, and hopes at least some of the support building for electronic music now might support his future efforts.
"Not all these kids are going to stay with it," he said. "But if a small percentage of them start exploring more into the music, not just the party, it will help keep the scene alive."
The Deadmeat Tour with Steve Aoki and Datsik
• When: 8 p.m. next Thursday
• Where: Rialto Theatre, 318 E Congress St.
• Tickets: $31 in advance and $35 day of show through the Rialto box office, 740-1000.
• More info: phatentertainment.net
B. Bravo & the Starship Connection
• When: 10 p.m. March 9.
• Where: Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St.
• Tickets: $5. 21 and over.
• More info: hotelcongress.com
Feed Me With Teeth
• When: 8 p.m. March 18.
• Where: Rialto Theatre.
• Tickets: $23 in advance and $26 day of show through the Rialto box office, 740-1000.
• More info: phatentertainment.net
Borgore Flex Tour
• When: 7 p.m. April 18.
• Where: Club Congress.
• Tickets: $25. 18 and over.
• More info: hotelcongress.com
Corbin Dooley, co-host of the show, "Electric Feel," Friday nights on KXCI (91.3-FM), has five must-hear songs for electronic music newbies:
"Born Slippy" by Underworld
A classic '90s rave anthem, popularized by the "Trainspotting" film. Fast and furious, with a mantra vocal that contrasts with a pulsing rhythm section.
"Bug Powder Dust" (Kruder & Dorfmeister Session) by Bomb the Bass
Incredible performance by guest vocalist Justin Warfield, with Austrian duo Kruder & Dorfmeister bringing amazing bass, breakbeats and melodies to this downtempo gem.
"Mr Spock" by Justin Martin & Ardalan
Modern minimal tech house with clever, precise tones, intricate sound effects, and a deliriously playful melody.
"Strobe" by Deadmau5
Beautiful and blissful progressive electro house, featuring unique dynamics that might even please classical music fans.
"Promises" (Skrillex & Nero Remix) by Nero
Two champions of the dubstep genre collaborate on this powerful tune, with Alana Watson delivering an emotionally charged vocal.
• Squarzan - facebook.com/squarzan
• Blank - soundcloud.com/blank520
• DJ Hart - facebook.com/thedjhart
• Hades 2 - soundcloud.com/hades2
• Corbin Dooley - corbindooley.com
• Big Room Group - facebook.com/bigroomgroup
• Phat Entertainment - phatentertainment.net
Gerald M. Gay is a Tucson-based freelance writer. Contact him at email@example.com