For many, electronic music is a relatively new concept. Sure, there’s been people making electronic sounds for decades but it’s only in the last few years that it’s really come to fruition and become a genre in its own right, from house to trance, techno to dubstep.
But there are some bands and songs that have been around for years and have shaped the development of the genre. So, here’s a little look at some of the classic songs and artists that have helped shape what we listen to today.
The first song I remember listening to was “Star Guitar” by The Chemical Brothers in 2003. It was one of the first songs I’d heard with a proper beat and repetitive bassline, something I now take for granted as part of most dance music. But at the time it was something new and different, something I’d never heard before.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered Daft Punk, who were always my favourite band. Their 2001 album Discovery was an exciting mix of cheesy pop hooks with heavy beats and distorted guitar riffs that really stood out from the rock music I’d previously listened to.
What is electronic music? In its simplest form, it’s music that is made electronically. But rather than simply making sounds on a keyboard, the sound can be entirely created from scratch with the use of effects and synthesizers, or treated and manipulated in an infinite number of ways.
It’s not a genre with a set style or sound like rock or pop and you could argue that electronic music has been around since the invention of the first musical instrument. Electronic music is much more abstract and it takes on many different forms as it crosses over into other genres like dance, rock, pop and even classical.
What makes this list different is that it focuses on the classic tracks from the 70s, 80s and 90s that helped to shape the genre. While many of us grew up listening to these tunes, we thought it would be interesting to explore them in a little more detail.
In the early 1980s, electronic music was a genre without a name. It was something that had been bubbling away on the underground for a few years and was about to burst into the mainstream.
If one record could sum up this time, and the style of music that was about to be born, it would be “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer. Released in 1977, it introduced the world to Eurodisco and set the scene for the likes of Abba and Chic.
In 1978 Kraftwerk released “The Man Machine”, which contained some of their most celebrated tracks: “The Robots” and “The Model”. Both have been sampled over and over again by dance producers.
Another band that came out of Germany were Tangerine Dream. They had a huge influence on the electronic music scene thanks to some of their soundtrack work on films like Thief (1981).
One track that has stood out is Depeche Mode’s cover of “Route 66”. It was recorded live at the Hammersmith Odeon in London in 1984 and released as part of their first live album Some Great Reward.
It’s hard to imagine a more volatile and fast-moving genre than electronic music. It is the product of a generation of inspired youth empowered by cheap technology, who hacked into their domestic equipment and turned it to musical use. The result is an overwhelming diversity of styles and sounds; what follows are just some of the more prominent tracks and artists that have shaped the genre.
In many ways, electronic music is a genre without history; its only link to the past is a shared vocabulary of sounds and techniques. But like any living tradition, there are key figures who’ve been instrumental in shaping its development.
One such person is Martin Rushent, who produced all three Human League albums, including their classic album Dare, which contained their two biggest hits “Don’t You Want Me” and “Love Action (I Believe in Love).” Rushent also worked with The Stranglers on their seminal album Rattus Norvegicus.
Rushent was one of a number of British producers who helped shape the emerging sound of synthpop – along with Mute Records’ Daniel Miller, Virgin’s Steve Lillywhite, and Chris Thomas from EMI.
In the early to mid-90s, there was an explosion of music that truly embodied what it meant to be a teenager during that time. The age of the internet was being born (or at least the consumer version), and the information superhighway was starting to take shape.
There were various styles of music that were huge during this time. Grunge, hip hop, punk, new wave revival and alternative rock all had their place in the musical landscape. But one genre was perhaps most directly affected by the birth of the internet, and I wanted to share some thoughts on what I consider to be the top 10 electronic songs from this era.
Electronic music, by nature, is the product of a composer sitting in his studio, often alone. It’s not a genre that brings to mind images of live performances, band members, or even collaboration. Because it’s such a solitary process, it’s easy to forget that electronic music had its roots in popular music and can be traced back to 1940s and 1950s swing and jazz.
It was the creation of the modern synthesizer by Robert Moog in the 1960s that made producing electronic music more accessible to composers and musicians alike, and as Moog himself put it: “My first customer was Dick Hyman; my second customer was Keith Emerson.” Both composers would go on to create some of the most influential electronic music of all time.
In 1970 Emerson released Tarkus with his eponymous band Emerson Lake & Palmer. The album may have only reached number nine on the charts in Britain (it failed to chart at all in America), but it was an instant classic for fans of progressive rock. The title track “Tarkus” features an iconic image on its cover—an armadillo-tank with a mace—and is considered one of the first concept albums of the rock era.
The album’s opening track, ”
Electronic music is in its infancy. It is often said that the history of electronic music spans a period of only 50 years. While this is true, it has produced some of the most important musical compositions of all time.
The roots of electronic music go back to the invention of synthesizers in the 20th century. As we enter the 21st Century, we are witnessing a new age in electronic music that is changing our perception of sound and music. The history of this genre is divided into five main eras:
1. Early Electronic Music (1850-1950)
2. Post-War Electronic Music (1950-1970)
3. Computer Age Electronic Music (1970-1990)
4. Contemporary Era Electronic Music (1990-2004)
5. Future Era Electronic Music (2004-present)