Electronic Music Styles (related resource)
The style of dance that exploded American house music around the world, Acid House first appeared in the mid-’80s in the work of Chicago producers like DJ Pierre, Adonis, Farley Jackmaster Funk, and Phuture (the latter of whom coined the term in their classic single, “Acid Trax”). Mixing elements of the house music that was already up and running in Chicago (as well as New York) with the squelchy sounds and deep bassline of the Roland TB-303 synthesizer, acid house was strictly a Chicago phenomenon until stacks of singles began to cross the Atlantic, arriving in the hands of eager young Brits. The sound jelled in small warehouse parties held in London in 1986-87, and then went overground during 1988’s infamous Summer of Love, when thousands of clubgoers traveled to the hinterlands for the massive events later known as raves. Acid house hit the British pop charts quite quickly, with M/A/R/R/S, S’Express, and Technotronic landing huge hits before the dawn of the ’90s. By that time, the acid house phenomenon had largely passed in England and was replaced by rave music. New-school US producers from Cajmere to Armand Van Helden to Felix Da Housecat kept the sound alive and well during the ’90s.
The music played by a generation raised on jazz as well as funk and hip-hop, Acid Jazz used elements of all three; its existence as a percussion-heavy, primarily live music placed it closer to jazz and Afro-Cuban than any other dance style, but its insistence on keeping the groove allied it with funk, hip-hop, and dance music. The term itself first appeared in 1988 as both an American record label and the title of an English compilation series that reissued jazz-funk music from the ’70s, called “rare groove” by the Brits during a major mid-’80s resurgence. A variety of acid jazz artists emerged during the late ’80s and early ’90s: live bands such as Stereo MC’s, James Taylor Quartet, the Brand New Heavies, Groove Collective, Galliano, and Jamiroquai, as well as studio projects like Palm Skin Productions, Mondo Grosso, Outside, and United Future Organization.
When the squelch of mid-’80s acid house music was given time to sink into the minds of impressionable youths, they became quite influenced by the sound. Many who began to make music in the early ’90s applied the sound to harder techno instead of the warm sounds of classic Chicago house. Quite similar to early German trance, Acid Techno includes the earlier recordings of Aphex Twin, Plastikman, and Dave Clarke, among others.
Alternative Rap refers to hip-hop groups that refuse to conform to any of the traditional stereotypes of rap, such as gangsta, funk, bass, hardcore, and party rap. Instead, they blur genres, drawing equally from funk and pop/rock, as well as jazz, soul, reggae, and even folk. Though Arrested Development and the Fugees managed to cross over into the mainstream, most alternative rap groups are embraced primarily by alternative rock fans, not hip-hop or pop audiences.
Ambient music evolved from the experimental electronic music of ’70s synth-based artists like Brian Eno and Kraftwerk, and the trance-like techno dance music of the ’80s. Ambient is a spacious, electronic music that is concerned with sonic texture, not songwriting or composing. It’s frequently repetitive and it all sounds the same to the casual listener, even though there are quite significant differences between the artists. Ambient became a popular cult music in the early ’90s, thanks to ambient techno artists like the Orb and Aphex Twin.
Ambient Breakbeat refers to a narrow subgenre of electronic acts with less energy than the trip-hop or funky breaks, but with a pronounced hip-hop influence to their music. Some of the more downtempo works on British labels like Mo’Wax and Ninja Tune paved the way for New York’s DJ Wally (of the Liquid Sky Records brigade) and British artists such as Req, each good examples of the style.
Coined by the Beyond label for its compilation series of the same name, Ambient Dub has since been generalized by artists, critics, and audiences alike to refer to any form of rhythmic, usually beat-oriented ambient using the tastes, textures, and techniques of Jamaican dub-style production (e.g. reverb, emphasis on bass and percussion, heavy use of effects). Although the term has fallen out of favor due to the fevered intermingling of styles characteristic of post-rave electronica, it remains useful in demarcating the denser, more electronic applications of dub from the more hip-hop derived styles of downtempo, atmospheric beat music. Artists include the Orb, Higher Intelligence Agency, Sub Dub, Techno Animal, Automaton, and Solar Quest.
An early categorical marker used to distinguish newer wave ambient artists such as the Orb, the KLF, Irresistible Force, Future Sound of London, and Orbital, Ambient House was often applied indiscriminately to designate dance music not necessarily just for dancing. In its more rigorous application, ambient house implied music appropriating certain primary elements of acid house music-mid-tempo, four-on-the-floor beats; synth pads and strings; soaring vocal samples-used in a dreamier, more atmospheric fashion. It’s since been replaced (or rather, some would argue, complicated) by a barrage of more specific terms and is rarely used.
Ambient Pop combines elements of the two distinct styles which lend the blissed-out genre its name-while the music possesses a shape and form common to conventional pop, its electronic textures and atmospheres mirror the hypnotic, meditative qualities of ambient. The mesmerizing lock-groove melodies of Kraut-rock are a clear influence as well, although ambient pop is typically much less abrasive. Essentially an extension of the dream pop that emerged in the wake of the shoegazer movement, it’s set apart from its antecedents by its absorption of contemporary electronic idioms, including sampling, although for the most part live instruments continue to define the sound.
A rarefied, more specific reorientation of ambient house, Ambient Techno is usually applied to artists such as B12, early Aphex Twin, the Black Dog, Higher Intelligence Agency, and Biosphere. It distinguished artists who combined the melodic and rhythmic approaches of techno and electro-use of 808 and 909 drum machines; well-produced, thin-sounding electronics; minor-key melodies and alien-sounding samples and sounds-with the soaring, layered, aquatic atmospheres of beatless and experimental ambient. Most often associated with labels such as Apollo, GPR, Warp, and Beyond, the terminology morphed into “intelligent techno” after Warp released its Artificial Intelligence series (although the music’s stylistic references remained largely unchanged).
Springing from the fertile dance scenes in Miami (freestyle) and Detroit (electro) during the mid-’80s, Bass Music brought the funky-breaks aesthetic of the ’70s into the digital age with drum-machine frequencies capable of pulverizing the vast majority of unsuspecting car or club speakers. Early Miami pioneers like 2 Live Crew and DJ Magic Mike pushed the style into its distinctive booty obsession, and Detroit figures like DJ Assault, DJ Godfather, and DJ Bone melded it with techno to create an increasingly fast-paced music. Bass music even flirted with the charts during the early ’90s, as 95 South’s “Whoot (There It Is)” and 69 Boyz’ “Tootsee Roll” both hit the charts and went multi-platinum.
Bhangra started in Northern India, and shows what happens when you blend traditional music with electronic dance sensibilities. It has now spread to other parts of Asia and the UK.
Rescuing the electronica community from a near fall off the edge of its experimental fringe, Big Beat emerged in the mid-’90s as the next wave of big dumb dance music. Regional pockets around the world had emphasized the “less intelligent” side of dance music as early as 1994, in reaction to the growing coterie of chin-stroking intellectuals attached to the drum’n’bass and experimental movements. Big beat as a distinct movement finally coalesced in 1995-96 around two British labels: Brighton’s Skint and London’s Wall of Sound. The former-home to releases by Fatboy Slim, Bentley Rhythm Ace, and Lo-Fidelity Allstars-deserves more honors for innovation and quality, though Wall of Sound was founded slightly earlier and released great singles by Propellerheads, Wiseguys, and Les Rythmes Digitales. Big beat soon proved very popular in America as well, and artists attached to City of Angels Records (the Crystal Method, Überzone, Lunatic Calm, Front BC) gained a higher profile thanks to like-minded Brits. Other than Fatboy Slim, the other superstar artists of big beat were the Chemical Brothers and Prodigy, two groups who predated the style (and assisted its birth). Both the Chemical Brothers and Prodigy were never tight fits either, given productions that often reflected the more intelligent edge of trip-hop, and rarely broke into the mindless arena of true big beat.
The sound of big beat, a rather shameless fusion of old-school party breakbeats with appropriately off-the-wall samples, was reminiscent of house music’s sampladelic phase of the late ’80s as well as old-school rap and its penchant for silly samples and irresistible breaks. Though the sample programming and overall production was leaps and bounds beyond its predecessors, big beat was nevertheless criticized for dumbing down the electronica wave of the late ’90s. Even while recordings by the Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, and Fatboy Slim hit the American charts and earned positive reviews-granted, from rock critics-worldwide, many dance fans rejected the style wholesale for being too reliant on gimmicky production values and played-out samples. Big beat lasted a surprisingly long time, given the restraints of a style reliant on the patience of listeners who’ve heard the same break dozens of times, as well as the patience of DJs to hunt local thrift stores to find interesting samples on old instructional records.
Dance Hall Reggae
This dance music style takes reggae and electrifies it, strips down the beat to the essentials of drums and bass, and adds a vocalist doing rapid-fire “toasting” over the beats. Several pop groups have adopted this style and had hits, but the results are pretty diluted compared to the original.
An outgrowth of disco, Dance-Pop featured a pounding club beat framing simple, catchy melodies closer to fully-formed songs than pure dance music. It’s primarily the medium of producers, who write the songs and construct the tracks, picking an appropriate vocalist to sing the song. These dance divas become stars, but frequently the artistic vision is the producer’s. Naturally, there are some major exceptions-Madonna and Janet Jackson have had control over the sound and direction of their records-but dance-pop is music that is about image, not substance.
Brian Eno’s original vision of ambient music as unobtrusive musical wallpaper, later fused with warm house rhythms and given playful qualities by the Orb in the ’90s, found its opposite in the style known as Dark Ambient. Populated by a wide assortment of personalities-ranging from aging industrial and metal experimentalists (Scorn’s Mick Harris, Current 93’s David Tibet, Nurse with Wound’s Steven Stapleton) to electronic boffins (Kim Cascone/PGR, Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia), Japanese noise artists (K.K. Null, Merzbow), and latter-day indie rockers (Main, Bark Psychosis)-dark ambient features toned-down or entirely missing beats with unsettling passages of keyboards, eerie samples, and treated guitar effects. Like most styles related in some way to electronic/dance music of the ’90s, it’s a very nebulous term; many artists enter or leave the style with each successive release.
Early Detroit Techno is characterized by, alternately, a dark, detached, mechanistic vibe and a smooth, bright, soulful feel (the latter deriving in part from the Motown legacy and the stock-in-trade between early techno and the Chicago-style house developing simultaneously to the southwest). While essentially designed as dance music meant to uplift, the stark, melancholy edge of early tracks by Cybotron, Model 500, Rhythm Is Rhythm, and Reese also spoke to Detroit’s economic collapse in the late ’70s following the city’s prosperous heyday as the focal point of the American automobile industry.
The music’s oft-copied ruddy production and stripped-down aesthetic were largely a function of the limited technology available to the early innovators (records were often mastered from two-track onto cassette). The increasingly sophisticated arrangements of contemporary techno (on through to hardcore and jungle), conversely, has much to do with the growth and increasing affordability of MIDI-encoded equipment and desktop digital audio. Second- and third-wave Detroit techno, too, has gained considerably in production, although artists such as Derrick May, Juan Atkins, and Kenny Larkin have sought to combine the peerless sheen of the digital arena with the compositional minimalism of their Detroit origins.
No longer simply contained within the 313 area code, Detroit techno has become a global phenomenon (partly as a result of the more widespread acclaim many of the original Detroit artists have found in other countries), buoyed by the fact that many of the classic early tracks remain in print (available through Submerge). Detroit’s third wave began re-exploring the aesthetic commitment of the music’s early period, with hard-hitting beats (Underground Resistance, Jeff Mills), soulful grooves (Kenny Larkin, Stacey Pullen), and a renewed interest in techno’s breakbeat roots (Aux 88, Drexciya, “Mad” Mike, Dopplereffekt).
Disco marked the dawn of dance-based popular music. Growing out of the increasingly groove-oriented sound of early ’70s and funk, disco emphasized the beat above anything else, even the singer and the song. Disco was named after discotheques, clubs that played nothing but music for dancing. Most of the discotheques were gay clubs in New York, and the DJs in these clubs specifically picked soul and funk records that had a strong, heavy groove. After being played in the disco, the records began receiving radio play and respectable sales. Soon, record companies and producers were cutting records created specifically for discos. Naturally, these records also had strong pop hooks, so they could have crossover success. Disco albums frequently didn’t have many tracks-they had a handful of long songs that kept the beat going. Similarly, the singles were issued on 12″ records, which allowed for extended remixes. DJs could mix these tracks together, matching the beats on each song since they were marked with how fast they were in terms of beats per minute. In no time, the insistent, pounding disco beat dominated the pop chart, and everyone cut a disco record, from rockers like the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart to pop acts like the Bee Gees and new wave artists like Blondie. There were disco artists that became stars-Donna Summer, Chic, the Village People, and KC & the Sunshine Band were brand names-but the music was primarily a producer’s medium, since they created the tracks and wrote the songs. Disco lost momentum as the ’70s became the ’80s, but it didn’t die-it mutated into a variety of different dance-based genres, ranging from dance-pop and hip-hop to house and techno.
Downbeat is a quite generic term sometimes used to replace ambient house and ambient techno, considering that the amount and complexity of electronic listening music described under the “ambient” umbrella had made the terms practically useless by the mid-’90s. It often implies the use of moderate breakbeats instead of the steady four-four beats of most ambient house or ambient techno. The style also breaches territory claimed by trip-hop, ambient techno, and electro-techno. In its widest possible definition, downbeat is any form of electronic music created for the living room instead of the dance floor.
Dream Pop is an atmospheric subgenre of alternative rock that relies on sonic textures as much as melody. Dream pop often features breathy vocals and processed, echo-laden guitars and synthesizers. Though the Cocteau Twins, with their indecipherable vocals and languid soundscapes, are frequently seen as the leaders of dream pop, the genre has more stylistic diversity than their slow, electronic textures. Dream pop also encompasses the post-Velvet Underground guitar rock of Galaxie 500, as well as the loud, shimmering feedback of My Bloody Valentine. It is all tied together by a reliance on sonic texture, both in terms of instruments and vocals.
Dub derives its name from the practice of dubbing instrumental, rhythm-oriented versions of reggae songs onto the B-sides of 45 rpm singles, which evolved into a legitimate and accepted style of its own as those re-recordings became forums for engineers to experiment with the possibilities of their mixing consoles. The practice of re-recording reggae tracks without vocals dated back to 1967, when DJs found that dancehall crowds and partygoers greatly enjoyed being given the opportunity to sing the lyrics themselves. Around 1969, some DJs began talking, or “toasting,” over these instrumentals (known as “versions”), frequently reinterpreting the already familiar original lyrics. The most important early DJ was U-Roy, who became renowned for his ability to improvise dialogues with the recorded singers; U-Roy ran the sound system owned by engineer King Tubby, who mixed all of the instrumental tracks over which his DJ toasted. Eventually, Tubby began to experiment with remixing the instrumental tracks, bringing up the level of the rhythm section, dropping out most or all of the vocals, and adding new effects like reverb and echo. The results were seen by many reggae fans as stripping the music down to its purest essence. 45-rpm singles with dub versions on the B-sides became ubiquitous, and King Tubby’s credit on the back soon became a drawing card in and of itself. Full-fledged dub albums began to appear in 1973, with many highlights stemming from Tubby’s mixes for producers Bunny Lee and Augustus Pablo (the latter of whom also played the haunting melodica, which became one of dub’s signature added elements); other key early producers included the minimalistic Keith Hudson and the colorful, elaborate Lee “Scratch” Perry. By 1976, dub’s popularity in Jamaica was second only to Rastafarian roots reggae, and the sound had also found acceptance the UK (thanks largely to the Island label), where roots reggae artists like Burning Spear and Black Uhuru became just as well-known for their forays into dub. The Mad Professor and the experimental Adrian Sherwood helped Britain’s dub scene remain vital in the ’80s, but in spite of skilled newcomers like Scientist, Prince Jammy, and Mikey Dread, Jamaican popular taste had by then shifted to DJ toasters and lyrical improvisers, which led to the prominence of dancehall and ragga. The downtempo atmospherics and bass- and rhythm-heavy textures of dub had a lasting influence outside of reggae, beginning with Public Image Ltd.’s 1979 Metal Box/Second Edition album; during the ’90s, dub was frequently incorporated into the melting-pot eclecticism of underground avant-garde rock, and Britain’s thriving electronica/drum’n’bass scene owed a great deal to dub’s mixing and production techniques.
Blending ’70s funk with the emerging hip-hop culture and synthesizer technology of the early ’80s produced the style known as Electro. But what seemed to be a brief fad for the public-no more than two or three hits, including Afrikaa Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” and Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message,” neither of which made the pop Top 40-was in fact a fertile testing ground for innovators who later diverged into radically different territory, including Dr. Dre (who worked with the World Class Wreckin’ Cru) and techno godfather Juan Atkins (with Cybotron). Electro also provided an intriguing new direction for one of the style’s prime influences. Herbie Hancock, whose 1973 Headhunters album proved a large fusion hit, came storming back in 1983 with the electro single “Rockit.” Despite its successes (documented in full on Rhino’s four-disc Electric Funk set), the style was quickly eclipsed by the mid-’80s rise of hip-hop music built around samples (often from rock records) rather than musical synthesizers. Nevertheless, many techno and dance artists continued harking back to the sound, and a full-fledged electro revival emerged in Detroit and Britain during the mid-’90s.
Electro-Acoustic music thrives in more unfamiliar territory; the styles that emerge are often dictated by the technology itself. Rather than sampling or synthesizing acoustic sounds to electronically replicate them, these composers tend to mutate the original timbres, sometimes to an unrecognizable state. True artists in the genre also create their own sounds (as opposed to using the preset sounds that come with modern synthesizers). In progressive electro-acoustic music, the electronics play an equal if not greater part in the overall concept. Acoustic instruments performed in real time are usually processed through reverb, harmonizing, and so on, which adds an entirely new dimension to the player’s technique. At best, this music opens up new worlds of listening, thinking, and feeling. At worst, progressive electronic artists worship technology for its own sake, relinquishing the heart and soul of true artistic expression.
Influenced by the early-’80s phenomenon of electro-funk but also reliant upon Detroit techno and elements of ambient house, Electro-Techno emerged in the mid-’90s when a full-fledged electro flashback hit London clubs, complete with body-rocking robots and vocoder-distorted vocals, inspired by original electro classics like Afrikaa Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock.” The actual fad-spearheaded by Clear Records and led by artists like Jedi Knights, Tusken Raiders, and Gescom (masks for Global Communication, µ-Ziq, and Autechre, respectively)-was quick in passing, but it inspired some excellent music during the latter half of the ’90s, including the work of England’s Skam Records, Sweden’s Dot Records and, closer to the original sources, Detroit’s Drexciya and AUX 88.
Electronic is a broad designation that could be construed to cover many different styles of music-after all, electronic instrumentation has become commonplace, and much dance-oriented music from the late ’80s on is primarily, often exclusively, electronic. However, in this case, it refers mostly to electronic music as it took shape early on, when artists were still exploring the unique possibilities of electronically generated sound, as well as more recent music strongly indebted to those initial experiments. Avant-garde composers had long been fascinated with the ways technology could be used to produce previously unheard textures and combinations of sounds. French composer Edgard Varèse was a pioneer in this field, building his own electronic instruments as early as the 1920s and experimenting with tape loops during the ’50s. Varèse’s work was hugely influential on American avant-gardist John Cage and German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, both of whom greatly expanded the compositional structures in which electronic devices could be incorporated. But electronic music didn’t really begin to enter the wider consciousness until around the ’70s, when sequencers and synthesizers became more affordable and easier to obtain. Wendy Carlos’ 1968 Switched-On Bach album, a selection of Bach pieces performed on the Moog synthesizer, had ignited tremendous public attention, and Stockhausen’s teachings had begun to inspire a burgeoning experimental music scene in Germany. Kraut-rock groups such as Can and Neu! integrated synthesizers and tape manipulations into their rabid experimentalism, but the two most important electronic artists to emerge from the scene were Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. Kraftwerk pioneered the concept of pop music performed exclusively on synthesizers, and their robotic, mechanical, hypnotic style had a tremendous impact on nearly all electronic pop produced in the remainder of the 20th century. Tangerine Dream, meanwhile, was indebted to minimalist classical composition, crafting an atmospheric, slowly shifting, trance-inducing sound that helped invent the genre known as space music. Other crucial figures included Klaus Schulze, who explored a droning variation on space music that was even more trancelike than Tangerine Dream, and Brian Eno, whose inventive production and experiments with electronics in a pop context eventually gave way to his creation of ambient music, which aimed to blend thoroughly into its environment and often relied heavily on synthesizers. Ambient and space music helped give rise to new age, which emphasized the peaceful, soothing, and meditative qualities of those influences while adding greater melodicism; the progressive electronic branch of new age crafted a more dramatic, lushly orchestrated style that broke with electronic music’s roots in minimalism. Synth-pop, techno, and its artier companion electronica all owed a great deal to the basic innovations of early electronic artists as well.
A suitably vague term used to describe the emergence of electronic dance music increasingly geared to listening instead of strictly dancing, Electronica was first used in the title of a series of compilations (actually called New Electronica) spotlighting original sources of Detroit techno such as Juan Atkins and Underground Resistance alongside European artists who had gained much from the Motor City’s futuristic vision for techno. The word was later appropriated by the American press as an easy catch-all for practically any young artist using electronic equipment and/or instruments, but electronica serves to describe techno-based music that can be used for home listening as well as on the dance floor (since many electronica artists are club DJs as well).
Euro-Dance refers to a specific style of club/dance music produced on the European continent during the ’80s and ’90s. Euro-dance is generally informed by disco, hi-NRG, and house music, and performed entirely in the recording studio on synthesizers and drum machines; the producers are much more responsible for the finished product than the singers. Like its close relative Euro-pop, it’s usually simple, lightweight, and catchy, with fluffy, repetitive lyrics that don’t require much translation among listeners who speak different languages. The main difference between Euro-dance and Euro-pop is the exclusive and pronounced dance-club orientation of the former; while Euro-pop is frequently informed by dance music, it doesn’t have to be, and when it is, it doesn’t always fit into dance-club playlists. Most Euro-dance artists concentrate on crafting hit singles, with album releases almost an afterthought.
Thousands of miles away from sunny Jamaica, a loose collective of Berlin producers jump-started the style of music known as Experimental Dub. If the scene was centered at all, it occurred at Hard Wax Records, a record store as well as a tight distribution company that was home to several of the style’s crucial labels (Basic Channel, Chain Reaction, Imbalance) and producers (Maurizio, Mark Ernestus, Porter Ricks, Pole, Monolake). Indebted to Chicago acid house and minimalist Detroit techno figures like Jeff Mills, Rob Hood, and Plastikman, experimental dub was rather easily characterized; the sound usually focused on a mix of crackling, murky atmospheres that sounded almost subaquatic, with a mid-tempo beat and strong, clanging percussion. The similarities to classic Jamaican dub producers King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry were indirect at best, but the term worked well for identifying the signature sound of many of Germany’s best experimental producers. Other than the Basic Channel camp, experimental dub’s most important figures were Mike Ink (aka Wolfgang Voigt) and Thomas Brinkmann. Ink, a longtime Berlin producer responsible for more than a half-dozen aliases and labels, did most of his important work on the Profan and Studio 1 labels. Brinkmann, a comparative newcomer to the style, earned praise for his remixes of material by Ink and Plastikman. Experimental dub, in turn, inspired several major techno figures (including Plastikman and Mills) by the late ’90s, and its influence was even seen in American indie-rock and post-rock.
With the revival of the classic electro style, dubbed the neo-electro movement, came a wave of Experimental Electro artists with more abstract agendas, still influenced by the sound of the streets but with more curious minds when it came to noodling around in the studio. Names such as Freeform and Bisk characterized the style.
As the name suggests, Experimental Rock is music pushing the envelope of the form, far removed from the classic pop sensibilities of before. Typically, experimental rock is the diametric opposite of standard “verse-chorus-verse” music. Because the whole point is to liberate and innovate, no hard and fast rules apply, but distinguishing characteristics include improvisational performances, avant-garde influences, odd instrumentation, opaque lyrics (or no lyrics at all), strange compositional structures and rhythms, and an underlying rejection of commercial aspirations.
The field of electronic dance music has limitless possibilities for experimentation, so Experimental Techno has a similarly wide range of styles-from the disc-error clicks and scratches of European experimenters Oval and Pan sonic to the off-kilter effects (but straight-ahead rhythms) of Cristian Vogel, Neil Landstrumm, and Si Begg. Experimental techno can also include soundscape terrorists such as Twisted Science, Nonplace Urban Field, and Atom Heart; digital-age punks like Alec Empire; and former industrial stalwarts under new guises, such as Scorn, Download, or Techno Animal. Any artist wishing to take electronic dance places it’s never been can be characterized as experimental, and for better or worse, that includes a large cast.
Often growing in tandem with contemporary styles like electro and house, Freestyle emerged in the twin Latin capitals of New York City and Miami during the early ’80s. Freestyle classics like “I Wonder If I Take You Home” by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, “Let the Music Play” by Shannon, and “Party Your Body” by Stevie B relied on angular, synthesized beats similar to electro and early house, but also emphasized the romantic themes of classic R&B and disco. The fusion of mechanical and sensual proved ready for crossover during the period, and both Shannon and Lisa Lisa hit the Top 40 during 1984-85. Freestyle also dovetailed nicely with the rise of dance-pop during the mid-’80s-Madonna’s early producer and remixer, John Benitez (aka Jellybean), was also active in the freestyle community. By the end of the decade, a number of artists-Exposé, Brenda K. Starr, Trinere, the Cover Girls, India, and Stevie B-followed them into the pop or R&B charts. Even after popular success waned in the late ’80s, though, freestyle moved to the underground as a vital stream of modern dance music alongside house, techno, and bass music. Similar to mainstream house, freestyle artists are usually (though by no means exclusively) either female vocalists or male producers. Newer figures like Lil Suzy, George Lamond, Angelique, Johnny O, and others became big stars in the freestyle community.
An amalgam of trance, hip-hop, and jungle, Funky Breaks became one of the most widely heard styles in electronic music thanks to its popularity as the sound of choice for those wishing to make some noise on pop charts and television commercials during the late ’90s. Pioneered by the Chemical Brothers plus James Lavelle’s epic-stature Mo’Wax Records stable, funky breaks really came into the fore in 1997, the year music-industry experts predicted would finally break the new electronica in the mainstream. Of the artists picked to spearhead the revolution, almost all-the Prodigy, Death in Vegas, the Crystal Method, Propellerheads-had that sound. That’s also a significant reason why the electronica revolution failed, at least commercially, since the highly-touted acts all sounded similar.
Most popular in the Netherlands and Scotland, Gabba is the hardest form of hardcore techno, frequently exceeding speeds of over 200 BPM. Popular DJs and producers like Paul Elstak and the Mover categorized gabba’s early evolution from German trance and British rave. By the mid-’90s, the music had acquired some rather unsavory connotations with neo-fascism and the skinhead movement, though much of the scene was free from it. Surprisingly, gabba made a rather successful attempt at the Dutch pop charts, with Elstak producing several hits. Many producers and fans proclaimed him a sell-out, and soon there appeared a divide in the scene between the hardcore and the really hardcore.
Named for what is arguably the birthplace of house music, the Paradise Garage in New York, Garage is the dance style closest in spirit and execution to the original disco music of the ’70s. Favoring synthesizer runs and gospel vocals similar to house music but with production values even more polished and shimmering than house, garage has a very soulful, organic feel. Though the style was most popular in New Jersey in the ’80s, the mainstream of British dance clubs championed the style throughout the ’90s as well.
Named after a region on the coast of southwestern India famed as a clubbing and drugging paradise ever since the ’60s, Goa Trance broke away from the Teutonic bent of European trance during the early ’90s and carried the torch for trance during the rest of the decade. The presence of LSD on the Goa scene-instead of the ubiquitous club drug Ecstasy-translated the music into an appropriately psychedelic version of trance that embraced the mystical properties of Indian music and culture. Traditional Indian instruments such as the sitar and sarod (or electronic near-equivalents) often made appearances in the music, pushed along by the driving, hypnotic sequencer music that trance had always been known for. The style is considerably less turntable-oriented than other electronic dance styles, especially since vinyl tends to melt in the heat (DATs are often used instead). As a consequence, Goa had comparatively few DJs to recommend it worldwide until the late ’90s. Labels like Dragonfly, Blue Room Released, Flying Rhino, Platipus, and Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto Fluoro became important sources for the sound. Oakenfold, Britain’s most popular DJ, finally gave Goa trance the cache it had lacked in the past by caning it on the radio and in clubs across the country. The British sound system known as Return to the Source also brought Goa trance to the mainstream hordes, releasing three volumes in a compilation series of the best trance music on the scene.
Gradually evolving from the English rave scene of the late ’80s and early ’90s, Happy Hardcore featured many of the same elements that characterized rave: impossibly high beats per minute, similarly fast synthesizer/piano runs, and vocal samples altered to make the most soulful diva sound like a warbling chipmunk. The jungle/drum’n’bass movement had also emerged from rave, but the two scenes split and grew quite anathemic. The positive vibes of happy hardcore were criticized by most clubgoers as music for the drugged-out youth, but just as the hardcore-into-jungle scene found favor with critics later in the decade, a certain amount of respect for happy hardcore appeared as well. The work of combination DJ/producers such as Slipmatt, Hixxy & Sharkey, Force & Styles, and DJ Dougal produced innumerable compilations, as well as the inevitable solo production LPs.
The fastest, most abrasive form of dance music currently available at any one time, Hardcore Techno was, by the mid-’90s, the province of a startlingly wide array of producers, including breakbeat junglists, industrial trancesters, digital-era punks, and cartoonish ravers. The style originally emerged from Great Britain’s 1988 Summer of Love; though the original soundtrack to those warehouse parties was influenced by the relatively mid-tempo rhythms of Chicago acid house, increased drug intake caused many ravers to embrace quicker rhythms and altogether more frenetic forms of music. Many DJs indulged their listeners by speeding up house records originally intended for 33-rpm play, and producers carried the torch by sampling the same records for their releases. During 1991-92, hardcore/rave music had hit the legitimate airwaves as well, led by hits like SL2’s “On a Ragga Tip,” T-99’s “Anasthasia,” and RTS’ “Poing.”
The resulting major-label feeding frenzy produced heavy coverage for lightweight novelty fare like “Go Speed Go” by Alpha Team, “Sesame’s Treat” by Smart E’s, and “James Brown Is Dead” by L.A. Style. By 1993, British producers like Rob Playford, 4 Hero, and Omni Trio began leading hardcore techno into the breakbeat territory that would later become known as jungle, even as the Teutonic end of hardcore morphed into harder trance and gabba.
During the mid-’90s, most ravers had grown out of the dance scene or simply tired of the sound; though the original hardcore/rave sound had spread to much of the British hinterlands as well as continental Europe, most Londoners favored progressive house or the emerging ambient techno. The simultaneous lack of critical coverage but wide spread of the sound-into the north of England and Scotland as well as the continental centers of Germany and the Netherlands-served to introduce a variety of underground styles, from the digital hardcore of Germany’s Alec Empire to English happy hardcore. In fact, the term had practically become a dinosaur by the end of the decade.
Hi-NRG is a fast variation of disco that evolved in the ’80s. Driven by a fast drum machine and synthesizers, Hi-NRG was essentially a dance-oriented music with only slight hints of pop. There would be a few hooks-generally sung by disembodied vocalists wailing in the background-but the emphasis of the music, like most dance music, was in the beat. Hi-NRG was a predecessor to techno and house, which drew from its beats in decidedly different ways. House had a funkier, soulful rhythm, while techno expanded with the mechanical beats of Hi-NRG.
Hip-hop is essentially the rhythm track to rap, which meanders at a relatively slow tempo, and features a minimalist collection of samples, loops, and/or turntable playing. The emphasis is definitely on the bass, with fat, thick drum beats. Groups like Public Enemy took hip-hop beats but added raps with more of a political, literate edge.
House music grew out of the post-disco dance club culture of the early ’80s. After disco became popular, certain urban DJs-particularly those in gay communities-altered the music to make it less pop-oriented. The beat became more mechanical and the bass grooves became deeper, while elements of electronic synth-pop, Latin soul, dub reggae, rap, and jazz were grafted over the music’s insistent, unvarying four-four beat. Frequently, the music was purely instrumental and when there were vocalists, they were faceless female divas that often sang wordless melodies. By the late ’80s, house had broken out of underground clubs in cities like Chicago, New York, and London, and had begun making inroads on the pop charts, particularly in England and Europe but later in America under the guise of artists like C+C Music Factory and Madonna. At the same time, house was breaking into the pop charts; it fragmented into a number of subgenres, including hip-house, ambient house, and most significantly, acid house (a subgenre of house with the instantly recognizable squelch of Roland’s TB-303 bass-line generator). During the ’90s, house ceased to be cutting-edge music, yet it remained popular in clubs throughout Europe and America. At the end of the decade, a new wave of progressive house artists including Daft Punk, Basement Jaxx, and House of 909 brought the music back to critical quarters with praised full-length works.
A loaded term meant to distinguish electronic music of the ’90s and later that’s equally comfortable on the dancefloor as in the living room, IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) eventually acquired a good deal of negative publicity, not least among the legion of dance producers and fans whose exclusion from the community prompted the question of whether they produced stupid dance music. Born in the late ’80s, the sound grew out of a fusion between the hard-edged dance music heard on the main floor at raves and larger club events, and the more downtempo music of the nearby chill-out rooms. DJs like Mixmaster Morris and Dr. Alex Paterson blended Chicago house, softer synth-pop/new wave, and ambient/environmental music, prompting a wave of producers inspired by a variety of sources. (Many DJs and producers were also reacting against the increasingly chart-leaning slant of British dance music during those years, exemplified by novelty hits like “Pump Up the Jam” by Technotronic and “Sesame’s Treat” by Smart E’s.) The premiere IDM label, Sheffield’s Warp Records, proved home to the best in the sound-in fact, the seminal Warp compilation Artificial Intelligence alone introduced listeners worldwide to a half-dozen of the style’s most crucial artists: Aphex Twin, the Orb, Plastikman, Autechre, Black Dog Productions, and B12. Other labels-Rising High, GPR, R&S, Rephlex, Fat Cat, Astralwerks-released quality IDM as well, though by the mid-’90s much of the electronica produced for headphone consumption had diverged either toward the path of more experimentation or more beat orientation. With no centered, commercial scene to speak of, North America became a far more hospitable clime to IDM, and by the end of the ’90s, dozens of solid labels had opened for business, including Drop Beat, Isophlux, Suction, Schematic, and Cytrax. Despite frequent attempts to rename the style (Warp’s “electronic listening music” and Aphex Twin’s “braindance” were two choices), IDM continued to be the de facto way for fans to describe their occasionally undescribable favorites.
Industrial music was a dissonant, abrasive style of music that grew out of the tape-music and electronic experiments of the mid-’70s bands Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle (the term was coined from the latter’s label, Industrial Records). The music was largely electronic, distorted, and rather avant-garde for rock circles. By the mid-’80s, industrial dance bands Ministry, Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, and Skinny Puppy had evolved from the original template. During the next decade, industrial went overground and became a new kind of heavy-metal courtesy of crossover groups like Nine Inch Nails, White Zombie, and Marilyn Manson.
During the ’80s, industrial music progressed from being an obscure, experimentalist style to a position where it was quite popular and straight-ahead for a growing audience unenthused by limp-wristed alternative music as well as cock rock and heavy metal. Early distinguished by the term “electronic body music,” several artists, such as Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, Skinny Puppy, and Ministry gained significant airplay in clubs. By the ’90s, industrial had split along a guitar/electronics divide, with the latter usually carrying on the tradition of electronic body music. America’s Cleopatra Records featured the most Industrial Dance acts, including Leætherstrip, Spahn Ranch, and Die Krupps.
Based almost entirely in England, Jungle (also known as drum’n’bass) is a permutation of hardcore techno that emerged in the early ’90s. Jungle is the most rhythmically complex of all forms of techno, relying on extremely fast polyrhythms and breakbeats. Usually, it’s entirely instrumental-it is among the hardest of all hardcore techno, consisting of nothing but fast drum machines and deep bass. As its name implies, jungle does have more overt reggae, dub, and R&B influences than most hardcore-and that is why some critics claimed that the music was the sound of black techno musicians and DJs reclaiming it from the white musicians and DJs who dominated the hardcore scene. Nevertheless, jungle never slows down to develop a groove-it just speeds along. Like most techno genres, jungle is primarily a singles genre designed for a small, dedicated audience, although the crossover success of Goldie and his 1995 debut Timeless suggested a broader appeal and more musical possibilities than other forms of techno. Dozens of respected artists followed in their wake, fusing breakbeats with influences lifted from jazz, film music, ambient, and trip-hop.
Kraut-Rock refers to the legions of German bands of the early ’70s that expanded the sonic possibilities of art and progressive rock. Instead of following in the direction of their British and American counterparts, who were moving toward jazz and classical-based compositions and concept albums, the German bands became more mechanical and electronic. Working with early synthesizers and splicing together seemingly unconnected reels of tape, bands like Faust, Can, and Neu! created a droning, pulsating sound that owed more to the avant-garde than to rock ‘n’ roll. Although the bands didn’t make much of an impact while they were active in the ’70s, their music anticipated much post-punk of the early ’80s, particularly industrial rock. Kraut-rock also came into vogue in the ’90s, when groups like Stereolab and Tortoise began incorporating the hypnotic rhythms and electronic experiments of the German art-rock bands into their own, vaguely avant-garde indie-rock.
Madchester was the dominant force in British rock during the late ’80s and early ’90s. A fusion of acid house dance rhythms and melodic pop, Madchester was distinguished by its loping beats, psychedelic flourishes, and hooky choruses. While the song structures were familiar, the arrangements and attitude were modern, and even the retro-pop touches-namely the jangling guitars, swirling organs, and sharp pop sense-functioned as postmodern collages. There were two approaches to this collage, as evidenced by the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. The Roses were a traditional guitar-pop band, and their songs were straight-ahead pop tunes, bolstered by baggy beats; it was modernized ’60s pop. Happy Mondays cut and pasted like rappers sampled, taking choruses from the Beatles and LaBelle and putting them into the context of darkly psychedelic dance. Despite their different approaches, both bands shared a love for acid-house music and culture, as well as the hometown of Manchester, England. As the group’s popularity grew, the British press tagged the two groups-as well as similarly-minded bands like the Charlatans [UK] and Inspiral Carpets-“Madchester” after a Happy Mondays song. (It was also known as “baggy,” since the bands wore baggy clothing). Madchester was enormously popular for several years in the UK before fading, largely because the Roses and the Mondays fell prey to laziness and drug abuse, respectively. The genre never made much impact in America outside of alternative circles, but Madchester’s offspring-bands like Oasis, Pulp, and Blur that were heavily influenced by the collision of contemporary and classic pop-became international stars in the mid-’90s.
One of the main innovations in the contemporary classical field, Minimalism has also influenced new age composers and electronic producers alike, particularly in progressive electronic styles where sequencers play an important role. Generally, this music is characterized by a strong and relentless pulse, the insistent repetition of short melodic fragments, and harmonies that change over long periods of time. A trio of ’60s figures, LaMonte Young, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich, did the most to pioneer the field, though Philip Glass had the most success with the style during the ’70s.
For several months in 1995, British clubs were afire with the sights and sounds of robots, body-poppers, and a revival of America’s early-’80s electro movement. Though much of the attention was given to the old-school masters (Afrika Bambaataa, the Egyptian Lover, Newcleus), much of the influence for the electro revival had come from more recent sounds. Detroit acts such as Drexciya, Underground Resistance, and Ectomorph had begun looking back to electro, and Drexciya’s multi-volume series of 1994 EPs were much-heard on the other side of the Atlantic. In Britain, Clear Records headed the revival hot-list, with singles from Jedi Knights, Tusken Raiders, Plaid, and Gescom (almost all were aliases for more well-known dance acts including Global Communication, µ-Ziq, and Autechre). Though the electro revival didn’t last long as a British club trend, good records continued to be released (especially by Clear), and other labels, such as Skam, Musik Aus Strom, and Dot, progressed beyond the sound to create intelligent new music with heavy electro influences.
A rather brief phenomenon (even for the style-a-minute world of dance music), Newbeat emerged late in the ’80s as a mid-tempo derivation of acid house. Influenced as well by Detroit techno and Euro-dance, newbeat was centered in Belgium, where labels such as R&S and Antler-Subway-home of the newbeat anthem “I Sit on Acid” by Lords of Acid-characterized the style with acid synth leanings, but more pop-friendly approaches to dance. The blazing success of the KLF during 1990-91 sustained newbeat for awhile, but after their exit from the music industry, the style faded quickly. While both Antler-Subway and Lords of Acid later moved on to a self-parodying approach to acid house, R&S became a respected name in the dance industry, focusing mostly on trance and ambient techno.
Sludgy, abrasive, and punishing, Noise is everything its name promises, expanding on the music’s capacity for sonic assault while almost entirely rejecting the role of melody and songcraft. From the ear-splitting, teeth-rattling attack of Japan’s Merzbow to the thick, grinding intensity of Amphetamine Reptile-label bands like Tar and Vertigo, it’s dark, brutal music that pushes rock to its furthest extremes. By the end of the ’90s, a resurgence in the use of sine waves-originally explored by musique concrète artists in the ’50s-became increasingly frequent among noise artists such as Otomo Yoshihide.
Noise Pop is just that-pop music wrapped in barbed-wire kisses of feedback, dissonance, and abrasion. It occupies the halfway point between bubblegum and the avant-garde, a collision between conventional pop songcraft and the sonic assault of white noise-guitars veer out of control but somehow the melody pushes forward, and the tension between the two opposing forces frequently makes for fascinating listening.
A hard-edged dance style developed late in the ’90s with the convergence of techno and drum’n’bass as well as a few elements of the earlier rave scenes, Nu Breaks was led by artists and DJs including Brits Adam Freeland, Dylan Rhymes, Beber, Freq Nasty, and Rennie Pilgrem plus a bare few Americans like BT. From drum’n’bass the style borrowed two-step breakbeats and chilling effects, from techno its smooth flow and machine percussion, and from early-’90s rave/hardcore some of the crowd-pleasing bells and whistles (figuratively as well as literally) that in some cases had not been heard for years. Freeland was probably the best-known of the nu breaks crew (especially since most producers concentrated on singles output), as rock-steady mix sets like Coastal Breaks and Tectonics earned acclaim with dance fans around the world.
Old School Rap
Old School Rap is the style of the very first rap artists who emerged from New York City in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Old school is easily identified by its relatively simple raps-most lines take up approximately equal amounts of time, and the rhythms of the language rarely twisted around the beats of the song. The cadences usually fell squarely on the beat, and when they didn’t, they wouldn’t stray for long, returning to the original pattern for quick resolution. The emphasis was not on lyrical technique, but simply on good times-aside from the socially conscious material of Grandmaster Flash, which greatly expanded rap’s horizons, most old school rap had the fun, playful flavor of the block parties and dances at which it was born. In keeping with the laidback, communal good vibes, old school rap seemed to have more room and appreciation for female MCs, although none achieved the higher profile of Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five or the Sugarhill Gang. Some old school songs were performed over disco or funk-style tracks, while others featured synthesized backing (this latter type of music, either with or without raps, was known as electro). Old school rap’s recorded history begins with two 1979 singles, Fatback’s “King Tim III” and the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” although the movement had been taking shape for almost a decade prior. Sugarhill Records quickly became the center for old school rap, dominating the market until Run-D.M.C. upped the ante for technique and hardcore urban toughness in 1983-84. Their sound and style soon took over the rap world, making old school’s party orientation and ’70s funk influences seem outdated. When compared with the more complex rhythms and rhyme schemes of modern-day rap-or even the hip-hop that was being produced less than ten years after “Rapper’s Delight”-old school rap can sound dated and a little unadventurous. However, the best old school tracks retain their liveliness as great party music no matter what the era, holding up surprisingly well considering all that’s happened since.
Post-Rock was an experimental, avant-garde movement that emerged in the mid-’90s. Most post-rock was droning and hypnotic, drawing from ambient, free-form jazz, avant-garde, and electronic music more than rock. The majority of post-rock groups were like Tortoise, a Chicago-based band with a rotating lineup. Tortoise viewed their music not as songs, but as ever-changing compositions that they improvised nightly. Most post-rock groups were defiantly anti-mainstream and anti-indie-rock in the vein of Tortoise. However, there were certain groups-like Stereolab-that essentially worked in a pop and indie-rock format, only touching on the experimental and avant-garde tendencies of most post-rockers. Thrill Jockey’s reissue of albums by European experimental names like Mouse on Mars and Oval led to the birth of a transatlantic scene, of sorts, with Germans more focused on electronic music while most Americans preferred rock-oriented setups.
House music had reached the mainstream by the late ’80s (more so in Britain than anywhere else), and while several early house hits were by genuine pioneers, they were later overwhelmed by the novelty acts and one-hit wonders dominating the charts around the turn of the decade. As well, ambient, techno, and trance made gains early in the ’90s as electronic styles with both street cred and a group of young artists making intelligent music. A generation of house producers soon emerged, weaned on the first wave of house and anxious to reapply the more soulful elements of the music. With a balance of sublime techno and a house sound more focused on New York garage than Chicago acid house, groups like Leftfield, the Drum Club, Spooky, and Faithless hit the dance charts (and occasionally Britain’s singles charts). Though critically acclaimed full-lengths were never quite as important as devastating club tracks, several Progressive House LPs were stellar works, including Leftfield’s Leftism, Spooky’s Gargantuan, and the Drum Club’s Everything Is Now. By the mid-’90s, the innovations of progressive house had become the mainstream of house music around the world.
Rave is more of an event than a genre of music. Raves were underground parties where acid house and hardcore records were played and large quantities of drugs-particularly ecstasy-were consumed. Most of the music played at raves had a psychedelic quality, even before drugs became a major element of the scene. DJs played at the raves, mixing stacks of house and techno singles; the DJs, not the recording artists themselves, became the most recognizable names in the scene. Raves were primarily an English phenomenon during the late ’80s and early ’90s. They were conducted in large venues, particularly abandoned warehouses and open fields. Eventually, the British government became concerned that raves were a dangerous, antisocial phenomenon that had to be shut down, but the parties never disappeared, especially since word of the events were usually passed through word of mouth and handmade fliers. In the States, raves began to make some inroads in the early ’90s, but they never gained a large audience, even by underground standards. Throughout the ’90s, bands that were directly influenced by rave culture-particularly “baggy” bands like the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, and Charlatans; Brit-pop acts like Pulp and Oasis; and techno artists like the Prodigy-made their way into the mainstream, and the culture continued to capture the attention of British youth into the late ’90s.
Salsa is the music of Latin America, which has stretched its way up to the United States by way of Puerto Rico. Rhythmically complex and featuring large bands with lots of personnel (percussion, horns, vocalists, piano, bass, etc.), salsa remains a vital form of music in the Latin community, and is becoming increasingly popular with mainstream America.
Schranz – New!
Since there has been a lot of talk about the word “Schranz” lately, I wanted to post my very own statement about it and not one,which is written by people who don`t really know. Yes, it is true, together with a friend I came up with the word “Schranz” in a Recordstore in Frankfurt in the year 1994. Not true is, that I am now annoyed by the term, I am only annoyed by all the discussions which come up about it, especially here in Germany. Everyone who uses the word “Schranz” to describe her or his musical taste or even way of living, shall do so and I think that is completely o.k.. Basically I like to call what I spin and produce “Techno” and in general “electronic Music”. For me personally, since that day in 1994, “Schranz” is a description for various dark and distorted sounds in Techno. At that point I couldn`t come up with a better word, but of course then I also didn`t know, that one day it would become so popular. I don`t want to and I can`t tell anyone how and where to use the word and in what respect. That´s CLAU 04 was called :”Call it what you want…” So be tolerant, make up your own mind about it and don`t believe everything which is written in magazines. Chris Liebing, 2002
The Japanese pop phenomenon known as Shibuya-Kei exploded forth from the ultra-trendy Shibuya shopping district of west Tokyo, an area home to some of the most fashionable and best-stocked record and clothing stores in the world. Shibuya-kei-literally, “Shibuya style”-was the name given to the like-minded pop musicians who emerged from this consumer culture, a group of young Japanese weaned on a steady and amazingly eclectic diet of Western pop exports; the result was an unprecedented collision of sights and sounds, with trailblazing acts like Pizzicato 5 drawing on disparate influences ranging from the lush lounge-pop of Burt Bacharach to the rhythms and energy of urban hip-hop. In its purest form, shibuya-kei is classic Western pop refracted through the looking glass of modern Eastern society-music cut up, pasted together, and spit out in new and exciting ways. Shibuya-kei is also pop music at its cutest: it’s a view to a world where the sweetness and simplicity of the girl-group era never ended but simply evolved, never out of step with the times but always true to its roots as well-the Lolita complex so pervasive throughout Japanese culture informs much of this music, and its youthful innocence is the key to much of its endearing charm.
Shoegazing is a genre of late ’80s and early ’90s British indie-rock, named after the bands’ motionless performing style, where they stood on stage and stared at the floor while they played. But shoegazing wasn’t about visuals-it was about pure sound. The sound of the music was overwhelmingly loud, with long, droning riffs, waves of distortion, and cascades of feedback. Vocals and melodies disappeared into the walls of guitars, creating a wash of sound where no instrument was distinguishable from the other. Most shoegazing groups worked off the template My Bloody Valentine established with their early EPs and their first full-length album, Isn’t Anything, but Dinosaur Jr., the Jesus & Mary Chain, and the Cocteau Twins were also major influences. Bands that followed-most notably Ride, Lush, Chapterhouse, and the Boo Radleys-added their own stylistic flourishes. Ride veered close to ’60s psychedelia, while Lush alternated between straight pop and the dream pop of the Cocteau Twins. None of the shoegazers were dynamic performers or interesting interviews, which prevented them from breaking through into the crucial US market. In 1992-after the groups had dominated the British music press and indie charts for about three years-the shoegazing groups were swept aside by the twin tides of American grunge and Suede, the band to initiate the wave of Brit-pop that ruled British music during the mid-’90s. Some shoegazers broke up within a few years (Chapterhouse, Ride), while other groups-such as the Boo Radleys and Lush-evolved with the times and were able to sustain careers into the late ’90s.
Ska originated in Jamaica in the early 60s, with an emphasis on vocals and horns, and rhythm guitar hitting on the offbeats. Today’s “ska revivalists,” like No Doubt, often jack up the tempo but otherwise remain relatively faithful to the concept.
Once used as a tag to describe ’70s-era acts like Hawkwind, in more recent years the term Space-Rock has come to embody a new generation of heady, hypnotic bands with aspirations of cosmic transcendence. Arguably the first and most prominent of the new space-rock groups was Britain’s Spacemen 3, whose famous “Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to” credo subsequently influenced most, if not all, of the like-minded bands in their wake; indeed, the music of the genre is typically narcotic, defined by washes of heavily reverbed guitar, minimalist drumming, and gentle, languid vocals.
Revving up the sweet sound of garage techno by adding ragga vocals, rewinds, and DJ scratching along with occasional drum’n’bass rhythms, Speed Garage hit the London clubscene in 1996, gaining momentum from its Sunday-night status as a good end-of-the-week comedown to supplant jungle/drum’n’bass as the hotly tipped dance style of the late ’90s. Influenced by American producers like Todd Edwards and Armand Van Helden, speed garage grew with European acts such as the Dream Team, Double 99, Boris Dlugosch, and the Tuff Jam crew.
Tech-House is used to describe a variety of rangy, mostly European producers who culled many of the rhythms and effects of acid and progressive house yet with a clean, simplistic production style suggestive of Detroit and British techno. The style came to cover a wide variety of names including Herbert, Daniel Ibbotson, Terry Lee Brown Jr., Funk D’Void, and Ian O’Brien, among others.
Techno had its roots in the electronic house music made in Detroit in the mid-’80s. Where house still had explicit connection to disco even when it was entirely mechanical, techno was strictly electronic music, designed for a small, specific audience. The first techno producers and DJs-Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins, and Derrick May, among others-emphasized the electronic, synthesized beats of electro-funk artists like Afrika Bambaataa and synth-rock units like Kraftwerk. In the United States, techno was strictly an underground phenomenon, but in England, it broke into the mainstream in the late ’80s. In the early ’90s, techno began to fragment into a number of subgenres, including hardcore, ambient, and jungle. In hardcore techno, the beats-per-minute on each record were sped up to ridiculous, undanceable levels-it was designed to alienate a broad audience. Ambient took the opposite direction, slowing the beats down and relying on watery electronic textures-it was used as come-down music, when ravers and club-goers needed a break from acid house and hardcore techno. Jungle was nearly as aggressive as hardcore, combining driving techno beats with breakbeats and dancehall reggae-essentially. All subgenres of techno were initially designed to be played in clubs, where they would be mixed by DJs. Consequently, most of the music was available on 12″ singles or various-artists compilations, where the songs could run for a long time, providing the DJ with a lot of material to mix into his set. In the mid-’90s, a new breed of techno artists-most notably ambient acts like the Orb and Aphex Twin, but also harder-edged artists like the Prodigy and Goldie-began constructing albums that didn’t consist of raw beats intended for mixing. Not surprisingly, these artists-particularly the Prodigy-became the first recognizable stars in techno.
Breaking out of the German techno and hardcore scene of the early ’90s, Trance emphasized brief synthesizer lines repeated endlessly throughout tracks, with only the addition of minimal rhythmic changes and occasional synthesizer atmospherics to distinguish them-in effect putting listeners into a trance that approached those of religious origin. Despite waning interest in the sound during the mid-’90s, trance made a big comeback later in the decade, even supplanting house as the most popular dance music of choice around the globe.
Inspired by acid house and Detroit techno, trance coalesced with the opening of R&S Records in Ghent, Belgium and Harthouse/Eye Q Records in Frankfurt, Germany. R&S defined the sound early on with singles like “Energy Flash” by Joey Beltram, “The Ravesignal” by CJ Bolland, and others by Robert Leiner, Sun Electric, and Aphex Twin. Harthouse, begun in 1992 by Sven Väth with Heinz Roth & Matthias Hoffman, made the most impact on the sound of trance with Hardfloor’s minimal epic “Hardtrance Acperience” and Väth’s own “L’Esperanza,” plus releases by Arpeggiators, Spicelab, and Barbarella. Artists like Väth, Bolland, Leiner, and many others made the transition to the full-length realm, though without much of an impact on the wider music world.
Despite a long nascent period when it appeared trance had disappeared, replaced by breakbeat dance (trip-hop and jungle), the style’s increasing impact on Britain’s dance scene finally crested in the late ’90s. The classic German sound had changed somewhat though, and the term “progressive” trance gained favor to describe influences from the smoother end of house and Euro dance. By 1998, most of the country’s best-known DJs-Paul Oakenfold, Pete Tong, Tony De Vit, Danny Rampling, Sasha, Judge Jules-were playing trance in Britain’s superclubs. Even America turned on to the sound (eventually), led by its own cast of excellent DJs, including Christopher Lawrence and Kimball Collins.
By the early ’90s, house music had undergone several fusions with other styles, creating ambient house, hip-house and, when the four-on-the-floor punch was blended with polyrhythmic percussion, Tribal House. The style covers a bit of ground, from the mainstream leanings of Frankie Bones and Ultra Naté to the electro-hippie sensibilities of Banco de Gaia, Loop Guru, and Eat Static (all denizens of the UK’s Planet Dog Records).
Yet another in a long line of plastic placeholders to attach itself to one arm or another of the UK post-acid house dance scene’s rapidly mutating experimental underground, Trip-Hop was coined by the English music press in an attempt to characterize a new style of downtempo, jazz-, funk-, and soul-inflected experimental breakbeat music which began to emerge around in 1993 in association with labels such as Mo’Wax, Ninja Tune, Cup of Tea, and Wall of Sound. Similar to (though largely vocal-less) American hip-hop in its use of sampled drum breaks, typically more experimental, and infused with a high index of ambient-leaning and apparently psychotropic atmospherics (hence “trip”), the term quickly caught on to describe everything from Portishead and Tricky, to DJ Shadow and U.N.K.L.E., to Coldcut, Wagon Christ, and Depth Charge-much to the chagrin of many of these musicians, who saw their music largely as an extension of hip-hop proper, not a gimmicky offshoot. One of the first commercially significant hybrids of dance-based listening music to crossover to a more mainstream audience, trip-hop full-length releases routinely topped indie charts in the UK and, in artists such as Shadow, Tricky, Morcheeba, the Sneaker Pimps, and Massive Attack, account for a substantial portion of the first wave of “electronica” acts to reach Stateside audiences.
Zouk comes from the Caribbean, but it also extremely popular in France, where musicians from former French colonies congregate (Kassav is one of the better-known Zouk groups in France). Zouk is uplifting, uptempo music with the kind of vocal and instrumental interplay that’s reminiscent of purely African music.