For the past four years straight, New York's biggest concert venue, Madison Square Garden, has rung in the new year with epic three- or four-night strings of Phish concerts. Reviewers describe the band's elaborate shows as "awe-inspiring" and "madly creative." But when the band decided to move their act to Miami this year, live music fans were disappointed by the replacement act: EDM power duo Skrillex and Diplo otherwise known as Jack Ü.
There is a silver lining. Despite all the buzz behind EDM, Jack Ü is struggling to live up to Phish's legacy in one important way: They can't sell out the venue.
Fans of live instrumental music should take heart. Though this may look like another sign of the coming EDM apocalypse, the numbers tell a different story. Every one of Phish's shows at the Garden sold out in an average of 10 minutes from when the tickets went on sale. Phish has also already sold out its show at Miami's American Airlines Arena — an even bigger arena than MSG. Jack Ü has thus far been unable to do the same. If they don't, the show may not break even. EDM may not be the undeniable future of music that many thought it would be.
Selling out Madison Square Garden is obviously no easy feat, and in some ways it's more difficult for EDM acts. But Skrillex and his team decided to make a statement. To hear their managers tell it, they want this show to be a watershed moment — a moment for EDM to finally emerge on the global scene as a dominant musical force.
"To us, it's more about symbolism than business," Tim Smith, who manages Skrillex, told the Wall Street Journal.
"Are we leaving money on the table by not playing Las Vegas or wherever? Sure," said Andrew McInnes, a partner in the management firm TMWRK, representing Diplo. "But ultimately I think this will pay dividends by making the fees [for Diplo and Skrillex] go up elsewhere and drawing even more attention to them on a global scale."
Yet the way sales are unfolding, this show may not make the unequivocally powerful statement Skrillex and Diplo were hoping for. And if the group's poor reception at Burning Man is any indication, they may not have the kind of live acumen that's fueled Phish's 30-plus year career.
So as we move into the new year, we should take heart. Everyone loves to talk about old music's demise — of the robotic future of our most human art. Whether or not Phish is as relevant as they once were, it's comforting to know that there's still a higher premium placed on real instruments than on DJed sets. Phish reportedly has an open invitation to return. Maybe they'll be back a year from now to continue making history.