While the rest of the planet fell under the spell of house, techno and electro nearly two decades ago, millions of Americans and Canadians still dismiss entire genres of music simply based on the fact that it’s made on computers. Here’s punk rock icon turned comedian Henry Rollins offering his famous four-lettered opinion of the “talent” required to create dance music, seemingly unaware that he’s echoing the criticism levelled by “real” musicians at his band 30 years earlier (and, indeed, the same criticism aimed at Pink Floyd ten years before that).

And yet, despite large swathes of Canadians still content to ignore and, sometimes, criticize EDM’s (Electronic Dance Music) distinct charms, last night BC Place opened up its doors to the Contact Winter Music Festival, the largest event of its kind ever held in Western Canada. Following only Roger Waters and Sir Paul McCartney as artists with the clout to play the new and improved BC Place, this was unequivocally a big deal.

And although the Stadium wasn’t packed like it was for those icons of Classic Rock – the seats were empty, the action all taking place on the CFL-sized floor space – there was still the unmistakable sense in the air that this was a special evening.

“Thank you Vancouver for this amazing night,” agreed Alesso, the first superstar DJ to set the party alight. Spinning a selection of sing-along Euro House favourites, Calvin Harris’ “Sweet Nothing” and Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child” went down particularly well; the Scandinavian DJ did his best to turn BC Place into a temporary Ibiza superclub.

Daniel Stephens, one-third of British trio Nero, chose to take Vancouver on a trip to a London basement with a vicious set of dubstep, practically steeped in grime. Dubstep, for those not familiar with the genre, is reminiscent of accelerated instrumental hip hop with the sounds of a dial-up modem thrown in over the top. It goes without saying that this isn’t music for everyone, but for those with a taste for something a touch more aggressive than Alesso’s bouncy house, the Nero set, which incorporated some bowel-rupturingly bass-heavy remixes of tracks by Lil Wayne, Die Antwoord and The White Stripes, was stupendously sweaty fun.

All of which was, in theory, a warm up for Toronto’s Deadmau5 (known to his Mum as Joel Zimmerman) whose unmasked arrival on stage produced the densest crowd surge of the evening, a visual explosion of lighting effects (including a never-ending collage of cartoon portrayals of dead mice) and a noticeable crank in volume. Rather than send the party straight into overdrive, Deadmau5 started his marathon set slowly, unveiling a solid 25 minutes of anonymous minimalist house before locating his Mouse mask and upping the tempo with his own Close Encounters of the Third Kind-sampling “Closer”. The party was on from that point, with highlight “Ghosts n Stuff” standing out as a clear fan favourite, Zimmerman taking the opportunity to step out from behind his decks to soak up some adulation with a stroll around the stage.

In Pictures: Contact Winter Music Festival

As fun as it all was, it’s still true that even with the best lighting design in the world, watching a skinny dude in a baseball cap tweaking knobs and faders behind a bank of electronics is hardly a riveting visual experience.

But that’s missing the point of what made the Contact Winter Music Festival a historic Vancouver night out. Because even though the evening’s musical selection might not have been to everyone’s taste, the crowd – an ethnically diverse, unfailingly polite, largely alcohol-free, perpetually entertaining and enthusiastic bunch – was a prime example of what both the city and dance music should be all about. Come as you are. Dress up or dress down. Dance however you like. It really doesn’t matter.

If last night proved anything it’s that Vancouver has the potential to be a genuine hub of North American EDM. The really exciting thing is that if it happens, it’ll be as much about the people supporting it as the artists doing the creating. And if that’s not rock and roll, nothing is.