THE roar of 10,000 dance-music fans echoed backstage at Red Rocks Amphitheater near here one evening this month as Skrillex, the 24-year-old prince of dubstep, gave a brotherly bearhug to his protégé and opening act, Zedd.
Two years ago Zedd, whose real name is Anton Zaslavski, was making beats in obscurity in Germany. Now, riding the dance world’s accelerated career track, he’s recording with Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, and the crowd at Red Rocks obediently followed his every fist-pumping dance command.
“It’s crazy,” said Zedd, who is 22 but could pass for 16 if not for the fuzz along his jaw. “I’ve always been making music. But suddenly I’m on the other side of the world touring with people like Deadmau5 and Skrillex.”
To most people over 30 those names might not mean much. But electronic dance music, or E.D.M., is having its day as the sound of young America. Festivals like Ultra and Electric Daisy Carnival draw crowds of 100,000 or more, and dance beats fill high-rolling nightclubs up and down the Las Vegas Strip. Forbes recently ranked the annual earnings of top D.J.’s, topped by Tiësto with $22 million. Naturally the music industry is taking notice.
“The record labels now are all saying, ‘We’ve got to find the next Skrillex,’ ” said Gary Richards, the promoter behind the Hard festival franchise.
Aside from Zedd, who was courted by Jimmy Iovine of Interscope Records (Eminem, Lady Gaga, U2), the contenders include D.J. prodigies like Madeon and Porter Robinson, and the Chicago group Krewella, which just signed with Columbia.
Yet the rise of E.D.M. also reflects the shifting ground of the music industry, in which big record labels are no longer the primary career makers, and a young, hyperdigital generation of acts has its eyes on more distant and prestigious prizes like film scoring. Their hoped-for career trajectory would be not unlike that of, say, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, but accomplished in a year or two instead of decades.
“It’s not the ’90s; we have the Internet,” said Mr. Robinson, 20, who lives with his parents in Chapel Hill, N.C. “Record labels are not as important or influential as they used to be. They’re less capable of puppet-mastering the whole scene.”
Mr. Robinson, along with Zedd, Skrillex and star D.J.’s like Tiësto, David Guetta, Martin Solveig and Steve Aoki, are on the bill for the Electric Zoo festival from Friday to next Sunday at Randalls Island in New York.
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