THE INTRODUCTION to The Underground Is Massive, journalist and critic Michaelangelo Matos' rough guide to the history of electronic dance music in the US, offers up a mea culpa: Even at 400-plus pages, a lot of key information about the rise of this musical madness had to be left on the cutting-room floor. "Many major electronic dance careers are shortchanged," Matos writes. "So are entire movements, genres, scenes, and events that, with a little shift of emphasis, could be swapped out with others here with little loss."
Knowing that at the start is instructive, but it also haunts the reading of this chronicle. The book is dense, almost frustratingly so, with Matos roaring from the early days of Detroit techno to Skrillex accepting his first Grammy Award at a near-breathless pace.
Along the way, Matos makes stops at events and festivals that helped push EDM firmly into the mainstream: significant raves; the 1996 Even Furthur festival in Wisconsin where Daft Punk (sans helmets) made their Stateside debut; Woodstock '99; the 2006 installment of Coachella where Daft Punk (in helmets and inside a giant pyramid) became stars; and the massive 2011 Electric Daisy Carnival.
Elsewhere, Matos whizzes through introductions to EDM's many, many genre variations, as well as the literally hundreds of different promoters and artists and enthusiasts involved in small and large ways. At times, it's downright dizzying trying to keep up. (Full disclosure: I transcribed a few of the interviews used in this book.) Already overstuffed, adding even more to Underground would have made it massive indeed—and likely impossible to digest.
At the same time, Matos really had no other course of action. Outside of writing an encyclopedia with a thick volume for each subset of dance music, the vast expanse of EDM necessitates this kind of bulky concentration of information. But this jam-packed quality doesn't make Underground any less enjoyable. Using his journalistic skills, Matos builds up his story with care and intelligence, while keeping an ear cocked for choice quotes from the 300-plus people he interviewed. A favorite: Here's Norman Cook, AKA Fatboy Slim, discussing rumors about the specific amounts of alcohol that promoters were contractually obligated to provide for him: "A certain amount of vodka, definitely. But it wasn't a demand in writing—[more like] 'It's Norm, give him his usual.'"
Matos is even better when flexing his critical muscles and exhibiting his deep love of this music. That comes out best in his delicious descriptions of various tracks throughout. He speaks of the "bleeps like flashlights shining out of a dark swamp" and "a groove full of muscle and sinew" found in producer Joey Beltram's "Energy Flash," and the "irresistible eight-note riff that sounds like it's being exhaled by a video game monster" in the Gusto single "Disco's Revenge."
Matos' sketches of songs like these shine throughout Underground and even unintentionally work to the book's advantage: You may wind up working through it slowly, because you'll be stopping every few pages to listen to one of those songs.