Grading the Evolution: Our country's first all-EDM all-the-time radio station touches down in Boston

I have an irrational love affair with electronic music. Most of my days are spent perusing the scenes of cities I've never been to -- London, Berlin, Tokyo -- attempting to stay abreast on movements that I'm not a part of. On a national scale, I've remained cautiously optimistic in regards to the whole EDM boom, with my (admittedly selfish) hope being that some of these kids drawn to the arena-sized spectacle will eventually catch on to some wayward shit and DJs that I adore will garner bigger bookings as a result. Here in Boston I've remained a bit of an outsider having just moved to the city a couple years ago. But I have nothing but respect for the city's promoters, working tirelessly against our puritanical club restrictions to provide world class talent night in and out. This past year in particular has seen a palpable boom in exceptional draws.

All of this to set up the wave of mixed emotions that nearly knocked me from my chair upon hearing last night's late breaking news. In a bit of a global/national/local world's colliding scenario, media conglomerate Clear Channel have launched "the first real EDM station in the country" right here in Boston. (On the 101.7 frequency that our WFNX station used to call home nonetheless. Curious and somewhat ironic, but of little consequence to this story. We're still kicking.) At 6 pm, the previous placeholder (the oft-maligned Harbor) played their final song (not surprisingly "Sweet Caroline") and then made the switch over to the Evolution, a newly minted venture that has existed only online since its inception six weeks ago.

My initial reaction was one of confusion. There's no more denying the EDM craze. It's permeated nearly every facet of our popular culture, from our awards ceremonies to our search engine commercials. And admittedly, it already possesses a rather monolithic grip on our mainstream radio airwaves -- with popular acts ranging from Chris Brown to Taylor Swift to Muse all shamelessly jacking cues from glitzy electro and milquetoast wub. People who listen to Kiss 108 and programming of that ilk are essentially listening to sugar-coated EDM stations. In that regard, the move was a no brainer.

But why the big rollout for Boston? From that above linked Globe article: "Dylan Sprague, Clear Channel's operations manager in Boston, said the city's appetite for electronic dance music, known as EDM, makes it an ideal setting for a broadcast station devoted to the genre." OK, but what about New York or Miami or Los Angeles? Those cities are far more accommodating of the movement. The summer festival circuit proves as much. And I suppose the only rational explanation is that this is a trial run. Boston being only the 10th biggest radio market in the country provides a low risk scenario where if things don't pan out, Clear Channel can always just push a button and revert back to Gin Blossoms and Sheryl Crow.

But this being an early review, enough with the logistics. More important is whether or not this station is something that the fine folks reading this blog -- all with acute musical tastes and little time for bullshit -- should care about. And not to be all wishy-washy, but the jury is still out on that one.

The clear centerpiece of the station's programming is Pete Tong, the BBC Radio 1 luminary who will be handling the 7-9 pm nightly timeslot on the Evolution. Sometimes derided for being a flip-flopper -- a single glance at his weekly playlists reveals an eclectic range of selections, from relative drivel like Swedish House Mafia and Avicii to boundary challenging mainstays like Todd Terje and Scuba -- Tong doesn't exercise much of a currational filter. Cynics may look upon this and question why, if he has a pulse on underground, doesn't he stick to that territory. He can clearly discern the difference between pop-baiting nonsense and forward-thinking material (as could most with ears), so why waste time with the former?

Being the eternal optimist that I am however, I have a bit of a different outlook on the situation, immediately realized during my car ride home from work last night. In immediate succession, Tong played a song by David Guetta, a song by the Claptones, and a remix of a Hot Chip song by Sasha. For those keeping score, that's a throwaway tune of the utmost proportions, followed by one that I generally geek out to if I hear it played out, followed by something that I hadn't heard before but fully endorse. And therein lies Tong's wonder. The Mahatma Gandhi of this electronic game, extending an olive branch to all corners of the spectrum. It all hearkens back to my first paragraph really; my hope being that someone flipping through the dial may pause on 101.7 because they hear a Guetta song that they like and therefore be exposed to a song like "Regrets" (also played by Tong last night and one of my favorite tunes of 2012). A minor but consequential step in the right direction.

The remaining 22 hours of daily programming is what I'm still undecided on though. Immediately following Tong's show, they launched into a mix that kicked off with Cajmere's "It's Time for the Percolator," an all-time classic house number  and something I never in a million years could envision hearing on terrestrial radio. I had to tune out at that point, but it seemed to suggest that the evening will afford a freerange platform, with some eclectic and worthwhile stuff popping up during the time of evening where people like to get a little weird. For shits, I set my alarm clock last night so that I'd wake to the sounds of the Evolution. And at 9 am on the dot, I woke to the sounds of an electro drill to the head, indicating that the drive-time, afternoon hours may stray closer to the top 40 territory.

It's all worth keeping an eye on. There's a serious opportunity to break barriers here, even if most who would really care about said barriers being broken haven't listened to the radio in years. Common sense seems to suggest that the triple-chinned Clear Channel fat-cats would be more concerned with this thing succeeding and expanding the venture to other areas, which would mean playing it safe and giving the drooling masses what they want. But that eternal optimist in me is hoping for far more impactful gains.

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