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So… What is Electronica Anyway?

Using a calendar to chart the exact time and place of any style's birth is at best impossible, and so it is with Electronica. As a subdivision of Pop music, it has existed longer than its current moniker, though it was not until some point in the mid-90s that the multiple subcultures that Electronica now encompasses were seen as common entities. But without a doubt, the heritages of Techno, House, Drum and Bass, Breaks, and Hip-Hop are so intertwined that at times it is difficult to distinguish between them.

The Problem of the Past

Easily the most confusing factor involved with disentangling the sub-genres of Electronica is learning to understand the unique diction that attempts (poorly) to provide distinction between them. Usually, the division of styles is based simply upon tempo, sound source, and percussive structure. The problem is that the meanings of words are largely indistinct and often overlapping. The terms themselves have not remained in stasis: they have changed and evolved over time, often implying different meanings depending upon era and context.

For Instance — The Term “Break”, or “Breaks”

A 'break' is a drum loop. Usually, a 'break' is either sampled from an old funk tune, or electronically generated using a drum machine and preset sounds. A 'break' percussive loop differs from a 'house' percussive loop on two distinct points: it does not have a kick on every beat (though usually it does on beats 1 and 3), and it must have some snare presence on beats 2 and 4 (with some room for a bit of variance and occasional syncopation).

The term 'Breaks' (not 'break'), without further modification, refers to a style of Electronica that plays at about 125 BPM, and uses sampled acoustic drums ('breaks'). 'Breakbeat' is a synonym for Drum and Bass, a style that usually plays between 145 BPM and 160 BPM and uses 'breaks' (sped up and cut-up sampled loops or sequenced drums). A 'breakbeat' is a synonym for 'break', often referring to a 'break' playing at a Drum and Bass tempo.

Many modifiers can be used to alter the term 'Breaks', subtly changing its meaning. For instance, 'Tech-Breaks' are Breaks which use synthesizers as their main sound source for both melody and percussion. 'Disco-Breaks' are Breaks which use samples of old Disco records as their main sound source. Jungle can be thought of as a modifier for Drum and Bass, though it was first to emerge as a distinct entity. Jungle is Drum and Bass with elements of Dub and/or Reggae (from which it can be considered a partial descendant).

Strangely enough, the term comes from the early 80s pop-culture phenomenon of Breakdancing. 'Dropping the breaks' originally meant performing dance moves, but over time the phrase began to mean 'playing the beat'.

In Electronica, a style's identity seems to be defined by tempo, beat structure, and sound source. It follows that styles are perceived as similar when they share common elements. Drum and Bass (DnB), Jungle, Hip-Hop, Trip-Hop, and Breaks are related to each other by way of their percussive elements. They are all dependant on some type of 'break'.


The most prominent of the contrasting styles are: House, Trance, and (dancefloor) Techno. These form the core of the '4-to-the-floor' family, which relate to each other by the common element of a kick drum on every beat. Unlike a 'break', a '4-to-the-floor' percussive track doesn't require a snare (though it may have one). The only obligatory sounds are a Kick (sampled or electronic), and a Hi-Hat (sometimes supplemented by a tambourine or another percussive sound). Oddly enough, it would appear that the closest ancestors of early Detroit Techno and Chicago House are Giorgio Moroder, who was the production and brains behind Donna Summer and Van McCoy.

Sometime in 1975, Neil Bogart, owner of Cassablanca records, debuted a Donna Summer record called "Love to Love You Baby" for a party of friends at his home. His guests were apparently so enamoured of the song that the record was played four times in a row. The next morning, Bogart phoned Moroder, who had sent the record a week prior, and requested that the track be extended to 20 minutes for club rotation (the actual track turned out to be just less than 17 minutes). "Love to Love You Baby" was a distinct departure from the incumbent Rock of the time. The five-piece rock band is augmented by synthesized textures and an orchestra (reminiscent of the big band era). Melodies come from brass, woodwind and string sounds alongside the usual guitar, bass, and keyboard combination. But even more distinctive than the melodies is the beat, which features a '4-to-the-floor' kick drum pattern performed by the Roland 606 drum machine (the first fully programmable drum machine, released just several months earlier).

Six months before "Love to Love You Baby", Van McCoy released a funk record with similar qualities called "The Hustle". The track features a flute carrying the foreground melody, along with support from a string section, a brass choir, and a small vocal band. The '4-to-the-floor' kick pattern is slightly less pronounced than on the Summer record, being slightly syncopated and augmented during some of the bridge sections, but nevertheless, "The Hustle" was the biggest selling dance record of the 70s, and the blueprint of Disco.

Moroder's hands can be credited with three distinct innovations that led to the 4-on-the-floor dance music that was to follow. First, the extended mix: "Love to Love You Baby" existed in both 17 and 4 minute versions. Second, the electronic 4-to-the-floor rhythm: in order to make it easier for "Whites" to dance, Moroder simplified the percussive rhythms of funk music with a drum machine. Third, and most significant to electronica as a whole, was his creation of the first studio-based dance 'tracks'. In 1977, Moroder and Summer released "I Feel Love", which was, in effect, an early House prototype. Other than the vocals, "I Feel Love" uses entirely synthesized sounds; Summer's vocals are heard improvised over Moroder's framework of electronic arpeggiated progression. In fact, there is almost no discernable difference between "I Feel Love" and most of the House music that was to follow in the 80s and 90s. The evolution of the style lies mostly with the subtleties of production and effects that future technology was to allow.

Techno (Dancefloor... not Artsy)

The roots of 'Dancefloor Techno' stem from a suburb of Detroit, by way of three high school friends: Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson. Having first become interested in synthesizers while listening to Parliament and Kraftwerk, the three began making dancefloor oriented, post-Disco records with a Funk and Euro-Art-Pop edge. The industrialised backdrop of Detroit inspired quirky synth noises and mechanical sounding melodies. At the same time, all three began Dj-ing, experimenting with faders and the juxtaposition of odd-sounding melodies from varied styles of music.

In 1981, under the name Deep Space Productions, Atkins and May played their first DJ gig. Then, under the name Cybotron with keyboardist Rick Davis, Atkins released his first single, "Alleys of Your Mind', which became a huge underground hit in Detroit, selling almost 15,000 copies. By the end of the year, each of the three had formed their own record label, with May's Transmat label being a subsidiary of Atkins' Metroplex.

The most significant of the early, trend-setting tracks are Cybotron's 'Techno City"('83) and "Cosmic Cars"('82). In Techno City, we hear the '4-to-the-floor' beat of disco, but faster, and with several noticeable changes, including a customized electronic snare sound. The melodies were also a departure from disco, superimposing fragments of experimental synth-pop and funk on top of the dance floor beat (generated by one of the Roland drum machines). In effect, Techno City would become the template which dancefloor Techno and House music would grow out of.

The most striking differences between the two tracks are their tempos and percussive rhythms. "Cosmic Cars", being a touch slower than "Techno City", and having a break as percussion rather than a disco beat, is probably the earliest example of the "Breaks" sub-genre. Though elements of the style are heard as early as Kraftwerk's album, 'The Man Machine' ('78 ), "Cosmic Cars" is faster and funkier, fusing elements of late disco, funk, and art synth-pop.


Though it would manifest a local subculture that would last over 20 years, Detroit Techno would not reach the rest of the world until it was picked up by the Chicago House scene. Unlike in the rest of the US, disco music never fell out of popularity in Chicago. But, as disco had become largely a commercial product, and there was little demand for it elsewhere, there was no new disco to play for the Chicago listeners on the radio or in dance clubs. To fill the gap, DJs began spinning whatever they could find with similarities to disco: synth-pop, euro dance, and eventually some of the early Detroit tracks. Unlike Detroit techno, the birth of House music in Chicago did not begin with the production of new tracks, but rather, with club DJs mixing older material into new forms. Originally referring to the style of music heard at a popular Chicago nightclub called The Warehouse, House music evolved as a DJ culture at the hands of Frankie Knuckles (who spun at the Warehouse between 1979 and 1983).

Knuckles began editing older disco tracks with a reel-to-reel tape recorder, recombining their elements in different ways in order to provide new sounds for his audience. These 'pieces' of older songs would soon become the raw materials of House music. The Warehouse's next resident, Ron Hardy, began to mix with multiple copies of the same record, tempting a crowd's familiarity with a track by delaying their anticipation of a climactic moment.

One of the most significant differences between the Chicago and Detroit scenes was the strong presence of drugs in Chicago. The resultant music was aimed less at musicality than at providing the crowd with repetitive stimulation. As the popularity of the scene began to increase, competition between Djs became fierce. In order to compete with rivals, Djs began using live effects and drum machines to alter the sounds of their records. Knuckles bought a Roland 909 drum machine from Derrick May, adding a louder, more forceful percussive element to his mixes than was common in the older disco tracks. The aim of these tactics was to entrance the crowd, capitalizing on the effects of the drugs running through their systems.

Though the exact time of House's birth is wildly debated, the first international hit, "Love Can't Turn Around" by Farley 'Jackmaster' Funk and Jesse Saunders would come several years after in 1986. Less than a year later, Steve Silk Hurley's 'Jack Your Body' would hit number one in the UK. These two tracks exemplify the contrast within the House genre between Deep House and Minimal House (originally known as Jack Tracks which eventually became Acid House with the rediscovery of the Roland 303).

Deep House originally meant a wide variety of styles now seen as separate entities, including Funky House, Disco House, and what is now distinct as Deep House. Deep House began as a close descendant of R&B, often using uplifting vocal lines and acoustic samples. "Love Can't Turn Around" uses a sampled Tuba bassline and piano stabs, along with cheery male vocals. The most popular of the early Deep House tracks were anthems for gay pride, echoing the civil rights cries of racial activists from two decades earlier. Two of the most popular to have survived obscurity are The Children's "Freedom" (a 'child' in Chicago House slang meant being gay), and Joe Smooth's "Promised Land" (which directly quotes Martin Luther King).

And What About Hip-Hop?

The term Hip-Hop, coined by Afrika Bambaataa in the early 80s, originally described a primarily black/Hispanic subculture which included such activities as: rapping, break-dancing, DJing, and graffiti. In modern parlance, though there is still a strong reference to a closely related youth culture, Hip-Hop pretty much means Rap music. Rap music has many ancestors, including the call-and-response chants of tribal Africa, the smooth talking of 60s soulsters Isaac Hayes and Barry White, the innovative production techniques of early Dub producers such as Lee Scratch Perry, and the Beatles' album 'Abbey Road'.

Where and when Rap music originated is somewhat of a hazy issue. It might have been with the early turntable stylings of Kool Herc, who fashioned a rudimentary mixer in his basement and began beat-matching and cross-fading funk records at parties. Herc would mix the same 30 seconds of a track over and over, focussing on instrumental sections which the crowd reacted well to (which appeared in the House scene of Chicago, 10 years later). Another clear point of articulation seems to be in Grandmaster Flash's apartment, in the middle of the Bronx, sometime in 1974, when he began to mix the beat of one song with the bass-line of another, by playing around with 2 turntables on a homemade device fashioned after the one Herc was using. Flash began playing his beats in the park, where locals would have rhythmic conversations while he was spinning. These locals were to become the Furious Five, and Grandmaster Flash's style of mixing records eventually became loop-based Hip-Hop sampling.

The first Rap singles of note were Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" ('79), "The Message" ('82) by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks" ('80 - hmmm... Breaks... haven't we heard this term somewhere before?). These tracks were 'studio' versions of the early scratching and cutting that Grandmaster Flash and Kool Herc (essentially party DJs) had been playing to nightclub crowds a few years earlier. Once in the studio, the obvious relationship between early DJ techniques and 'multi-track recording' became apparent to both DJs and producers very quickly. The result is that Hip-Hop quickly became about studio firepower and the ingenuity of the engineer.

In fact, the most important step to follow the work of Grandmaster Flash came by the hands of a producer/keyboardist, Arthur Baker, who had recorded the tracks "Looking for the Perfect Beat" and "Planet Rock" with Afrika Bambaataa. Unlike "Rapper's Delight", which uses a very recognisable sample from disco band Chic's super hit "Good Times", "Planet Rock" used electronic drums from Roland's TR-808 drum machine, synthesized textures, and samples of Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express". Bambaataa, a self-admitted Kraftwerk fan, wanted to front "the first black group to release a record with no band" (Bambaataa in 'The Rap Attack').

The next wave of popularity came by way of a movement in pop-culture: Breakdancing. Several feature films, including 1982's Beat Street (featuring the music of Afrika Bambaataa) and the wildly popular Flashdance (1984) promoted Hip-Hop culture to a much wider audience than had ever been exposed to it before. By 1984, Breakdancing had achieved such popularity that the San Francisco Ballet opened its season with a well-publicized 'Breakin' Gala', and the Olympic games featured a 100-person strong break troupe during their closing ceremonies.

By the mid-80s, artists from other Pop genres began to incorporate elements of Hip-Hop in their records. Arthur Baker was recruited to give Hall and Oates' 1984 album 'Bim Bam Boom' a fresh sound, and Chaka Khan featured Grandmaster Melle Mel (one of the Furious Five) on the title track to her album 'I Feel You'.

Though many other producers are significant to the emergence of Hip-Hop as a major Pop genre, probably the most significant is Russell Simmons - producer of Kurtis Blow's track "The Breaks", brother of Run from Run-DMC (who Dj-ed on the track), and co-founder of the Def Jam Records empire. Simmons' first big triumphs, Run-DMC and LL Cool J, were the first generation of rap stars to achieve longevity of success in their careers. Run-DMC's first, self-titled album went gold, but it was not until their 1986 collaboration with Aerosmith, "Walk This Way" that they achieved international fame. "Walk This Way" had been a 'sleeper hit' for Aerosmith off of their 'Toys in The Attic' album (1975). After disbanding in 1979, because of drug problems, the group were interested in re-establishing their popularity. Simmons convinced them to pair up with Run DMC and re-release the track, feeling that a rock/rap collaboration might be a new way of softening the American pubic's love/hate relationship with sample-based Pop music. The resultant, redone "Walk This Way" was a colossal hit, selling more copies than any rap single ever had before. The major difference between the redone version and the original were some augmentation on the percussion via a Roland drum machine, and the presence of re-recorded vocals, featuring the vocalists from both groups.

Essentially, Run-DMC were the same can of soup with a new label. There was little difference in the music they were making from that of Grandmaster Flash, but they had several years to watch the style evolve and see what worked best. The major difference between their music and that of Hip-Hop artists a few years before is the attention to detail in studio production. The early percussive elements of their tracks were generated by drum machines, and were extremely repetitive and mechanic (like the one from their first single "Its Like That" - 1983, before Def Jam). To add a smoother texture, they were eventually replaced by sampled loops of an acoustic drum kit ('breaks') with some electronic augmentation. In "Run's House" (1987), the percussion is carefully manicured, with stereo delay on the hi-hats, doubly pronounced reverb on the snare, noise gates on the kick drum, and tight compression all around. The sampled melodies were also treated with greater care - fading in and out rather abrasive butt-splicing, filtering, cutting and recombining to provide some melodic development. The 'sound effects', such as turntable scratching, were compressed and edited with care, always falling exactly on the beat.

By the late 80s, Hip-Hop/Pop crossover was the norm, and a cleaner "commercial" form of Hip-Hop had evolved. In 1988, Tone-Loc's song, "Wildthing", became the highest selling single of all time, and Milli Vanilli won Best New Artist at the Grammy's, even though they only lip-synched the rapping during the bridge of "Baby, Don't Forget My Number". But the biggest step forward was to come at the hands of Public Enemy, whose album "It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back" (1988) was the most significant change since the genre's inception. The biggest differences are the quality of studio production and the syncopated lyrics, both of which achieved a complexity far surpassing what had been done before (to see how staggering the change was, compare the lyrics/vocal rhythms in Public Enemy's "Night of the Living Baseheads"(1988) with Run-DMC's Run's House"(1987)).

In a way, Public Enemy represented the ultimate in American Pop Minimalism, which had been developing through rap music since it began. There was little left of the tonal melodies that had begun with Grandmaster Flash, but here was far greater rhythmic complexity than existed in Afrika Bambaataa. 'Found sounds' (concrete 'samples') appear as points of articulation within tracks, with squelches and glitches becoming a part of the instrumentation. In "Night of the Living Baseheads", we hear radio announcers, rioting crowds, airplanes, gunshots, and sirens, all used with very little editing or treatment (ensuring that their psychoacoustic identities remain intact).

What It's All About...

During the disco era, music consumers begin to appreciate the skill involved with being a disc jockey for his ability to manipulate records and subsequently affect the mood of the dance floor. At the same time, there is a growing appreciation for producer/engineers and their usage of new and sophisticated studio techniques. As musicians become more acquainted with the possibilities that new technologies have to offer music, the public becomes more accustomed to a higher level of production in music. The beginnings of this are obscure, and lie somewhere within late '60s psychedelic rock, but a clear signpost is The Beatles' album 'Abbey Road'(1969), which was the first recording with close microphones.

'Electronica', as a loosely defined genre, is the synthesis of two indistinct lineages: studio innovation, and the commercialisation of the synthesizer (and to a somewhat lesser extent, the drum machine). In general, the rhythmic and pitched elements are derived from tonal/modal roots, with some sub-genres, styles, and moods preferring certain scales and modes to others (for example, the Phrygian and Locrian modes have become particularly popular with Techno producers over the last 15 years).

The history of Electronica, its sub-genres as well as itself as a sub-genre of Pop, grows out of the interdependent relationship between commercialized equipment and its application by musicians. In 1967, Robert Moog released the first commercial modular synthesizer and forever changed the face of Pop music. The Moog Synthesizer was boosted into the limelight via a strategic move on the part of Columbia Records, who in 1968 introduced their new electronic and modern music series "Music Of Our Time". A significant highlight of the series was Walter Carlos' album "Switched on Bach" (one of the best-selling classical recordings of all time), which featured an assortment of JS Bach played through a Moog Synthesizer. The Beatles, big fans of Stockhausen and his work with early synthesizers, were quick to feature a Moog on "The White Album" (1968). Soon, the Moog sound was 'all the rage', with dozens of Moog-based albums released in 1969 and virtuosos like Keith Emmerson of Emmerson, Lake and Palmer taking synthesizer stage performance to new heights. Emmerson actually helped Moog to perfect his next model, the Mini-Moog, which used voltage control switches to activate connections between modules, rather than manually connecting them with wires.

Though the Moog and Mini-Moog were revolutionary, they were monophonic. In 1974, the development of the microchip allowed for the emergence of polyphonic instruments and soon after, instruments with memory banks. The first commercial polyphonic synthesizer was the Oberheim 4 Voice, which was essentially 4 Mini-Moogs in one. The Prophet-5, released in 1977, was the first completely programmable polyphonic synthesizer, storing up to 120 custom sounds. By 1982, 100s of different models of synthesizer were now available and MIDI was established as the international standard of communication between digital instruments and computers. To capitalize on the establishment of MIDI, Yamaha released the DX series of digital synthesizer. Following its release, the Yamaha DX7 would become the most widely used synthesizer in pop music. The DX series synths were the first commercial keyboards to use frequency modulation. Using FM synthesis, Yamaha scored hundreds of presets in large memory banks, most of which were aimed at imitating the sounds of acoustic instruments. This gave producers and keyboard players a wide palette of easily sequenced sounds; sounds which were to form the core of pop source material in the 80s. Everyone from Michael Jackson to Depeche Mode to Bruce Springsteen to Derrick May used the sounds of the DX7 (along with many EA composers, including Kevin Austin in his DX-Ture series -

Alongside the more wieldy synths were the new, easy to use, and very inexpensive 'electric organs'. The electric organ is like a synthesizer with no controls, a keyboard attached to a bank of preset sounds with no ability to adjust those sounds. These make producing a variety of sounds even easier (though often of very low quality). The Casio VL1, launched in 1981 and one of the most popular mini-keyboards of its day, was a cross-bred synth-organ. The basic sounds are preset, but it can alter the envelope of some sounds (to hear this baby in action, listen to 1981 German pop hit 'Da Da Da' by Trio).

Possibly the most popular synthesizer in the history of electronica is the Roland 303. The 303 was originally released in 1983 as an 'electric bass player companion' to Roland's 606 model drum machine, which together were being targeted at guitar players as practice aids in the form of a rhythm section. Though the 303 was rejected by the public when released, because it sounded nothing like an electric bass player, Techno and House producers would later discover the wide variety of sounds it was capable of making. Using six simple control knobs with features like 'cutoff frequency' and 'envelope modulation', the 303 can be used to wildly alter the timbre of a given melody in real-time. With its one octave keyboard, but four octave range, the 303 could be used by 'anybody' to easily produce complex sounding synthesized melodies. Chicago's first 303 House track (House tracks using a 303 from this period are called Acid House) is Phuture's "Acid Tracks" (1987), which is an 11-minute long track with only a drum sequence and a looped but continually timbrally altered 303 bass line. Acid House is historically a direct descendant of Jack Tracks, the less melodic alternative to Deep House.

The first drum machine, which descended from the mechanical player-piano units of the late 1800s, appeared in 1949 as the Chamberlain Rhythmate. Like all of the early models to follow it (such as Wurlitzer's Sideman or Korg's Dunca Mata), the Rhythmate kept poor time, provided only extremely simple rhythms, and sounded terrible. These models were developed because of what organ companies saw as an emerging market: the home musician. Offering a drum kit to a home musician let him orchestrate and play back the music of an entire band! With the release of Roland's 606 in 1975, the role and ability of the 'home musician' began to change, causing a subsequent change in infrastructure that would slowly pass through the entire music industry.

In 1963, Milton Babbitt composed and realised "Philomel" using the RCA Mark II electronic synthesizer. At the time, the Mark II was the only machine in the world capable of producing the work. Using it required at least one technician, the use of binary paper punch-cards (the predecessor of the diskette), and a heaping pile of respect and privilege. Years earlier, before tape, Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry would record directly onto a disk using a lathe, editing by switching back and forth between multiple disks playing back at the same time. After Pierre Schaeffer equipped his studio with tape recorders in 1951, Stockhausen could produce 'Etude'. Later, as the Cologne studio came into existence, he could produce "Gesang der Jungelinge" (the first major work produced at the studio).

Historically, composers and songwriters have been dependant upon technology to produce their works. This is neither an insult to composers or technology; it is simply the statement that artists need tools to realise their ideas. The invention of the piano was integral to the music of the classical era. Its nearest predecessor, the harpsichord, which performed a similar role to the piano in most baroque music, was unable to produce variations in amplitude (which became a central feature of both music and music notation after the piano's arrival). Improvements in the piano near the end of the classical period allowed for faster playing, the emergence of piano virtuosity, and ultimately the music of composers such as Chopin and Liszt (whose works were too fast to play on the pianos of Bach's time).

In the early 90s, the cost of producing electronic music significantly lowers. Sequencing moves largely away from hardware to software (along with editing), sampler memory banks get larger, and synthesizers get cheaper and easier to use. Following the resurgent success of the 303, Roland and other competitors release scores of synthesizers with similarly easy to use controls, and more and more functions. In 1989, A Guy Called Gerald had to name his track 'Voodoo Ray', because his sampler couldn't fit the full "Voodoo Rage" sample he had originally intended to use. In 1999, even the poorest of Techno producers has enough RAM on her computer to play back as many 3-second samples as she'd like. Electronica has changed in the 90s, but the changes have been closely guided through time by releases of commercial technology and the resultant ripples sent throughout our society. The move away from hardware to software has allowed for an element of digital piracy - not only are studio components cheaper, but easier to steal.

Computers also become more powerful, and as the spread of technology broadens for these and other various reasons, virtuosos emerge. Many artists begin to create music that doesn't fit into the simple subdivisions that have been laid out above. Chicago and New York produce Acid Jazz (a hybrid of Hip-Hop beats and Hot Jazz). England produces Drum and Bass (which appears first as Hardcore, then as Jungle, and has many permutations including Tech-Step, 2-Step and Breakbeat), and Trance (a form of Techno using specific timbres and progressions). Hip-Hop lyricists become faster and DJs get better at scratching and combining records. But there are no new pitched, rhythmic, or timbral treatments introduced.

For Comparison...

To compare, take "I Feel Love" and hold it up to the light against Hardfloor's "Mahogany Roots" (a classic Techno track released in 1994). Very little has changed. Both use synthesized modal melodies, drum machines (though the Hardfloor track does use some acoustic samples), and a heavy 4-to-the-floor kick pattern. The difference lies in the subtlety of the synthesized textures (and a slight change in tempo). Hardfloor's textures evolve and shift throughout the duration of the track, while Moroder's do not. It is this - the real-time manipulation of synthesized textures, which is in turn the history of the relationship between MIDI devices - that defines the history of Dancefloor Techno.

Hip-Hop? Try comparing Public Enemy's "Night of the Living Baseheads" with Cypress Hill's "Insane in the Brain" (1993), and Run-DMC's "Run's House" with A Tribe Called Quest's "Once Again" (1996). The difference is in the subtlety of production, the increased use of compression, and the complexity of lyrical rhythms. Both "Night of the Living Baseheads" and "Insane in the Brain" use pitched squeals, while the other 2 are more melodic in nature. Even Gangster Rap, which I have markedly left out of my above description, uses similar rhythmic and melodic forms (arguably, the difference between Gangster Rap producers and others was that Gangster Rap producers used more synthesized textures than sampled melodies, and a less syncopated percussion track). Eminem's recent hit "The Real Slim Shady" (2001) features a funk line reminiscent of the early Sugar Hill Gang albums, with punchier drums (because of increased use of compression).

Though most of the changes in style have been rather insignificant to the history of Art Music, there have been some pretty exceptional works produced within Electronica's borders. Some of these include: Orbital's 'In Sides'(1996), Autechre's 'Amber' (1994), Squarepusher's 'Hard Normal Daddy' (1995), and Themselves' "No Music'(2003). Orbital and Autechre have pushed the limits of Techno (Autechre by adding complexity, Orbital by using a more symphonic design for their albums), while Squarepusher and Themselves have enacted similar movements in Drum and Bass and Hip-Hop (respectively). Interestingly, none of the above mentioned artists falls directly within the boundaries of their sub-genre. In order for there to be movement within these styles, this must be the case. Any set of distinctions really just aims at producing more of the same... making each of the sub-genres look less like individual styles, and more like a single track that has been re-mixed thousands of times.

- Digs Dorfman

Electronica Article Sources:


  1. Generation Ecstasy.  Reynolds, Simon.   Routledge, 1999
  2. ‘The Rap Attack' by William Eric Perkins from Droppin' Science :   Critical Essays on Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture.   Perkins, William Eric (ed.).   Temple University Press, 1996
  3. The Synthesizer.  Bates, John.   Oxford University Press, 1988
  4. Bring the Noise : A Guide to Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture.   Nelson, Havelock and Gonzales, Michael.   Harmony Books, 1991
  5. ‘The Disco Era' from Black Noise.  Rose, Tricia.   Wesleyan University Press, 1994
  6. Electric Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Music.   Chaddabe, Joel.   Prentice Hall, 1997

URLs: (changed significantly since I used it) (unfortunately now down, this site was at one time a focal point of my article)

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