History Of Electronica

The History of Electronic Music, the Early Years, covering the remaining genres and popular misconceptions of electronic music.

Trance relies (sometimes) solely on its harmonic structure, often limiting itself to a few chords and sounds and containing a beat only when non-intrusive to the meditative state induced by the seemingly endless repetition of those chords. Moby was the first artist to pioneer Trance music, and remains, in my opinion, the best example of said genre.

Drum and Bass can be distinguished from other divisions of Electronica by its emphasis on only rhythmic structures and bass hits; it very rarely contains any sense of melody or harmony (if it does utilize chords or melodies, they are very short motifs, repeated so as not to take away from the constantly changing beat). Additionally, Drum and Bass sometimes employs heavy Rap-style vocals or Spoken Word. Jungle is very similar to Drum and Bass in its reliance on rhythm as the main focus, except that it utilizes exceedingly fast beats often accompanied by a short, repeating melody line or sound as well as time compressed voice samples which play at an almost "Alvin and the Chipmunk's"-like timbre. Jungle also draws from Reggae as a source for rhythmic styles and samples.

Then we have groups such as Depeche Mode, whose founder (Vince Clarke) not only pioneered early New Wave Synthpop popularity, but whose departure from the group led to two new genres. His next project, Yazoo, combined the soulful, bluesy vocals of Alison Moyet with traditional Synthpop tunes - an extremely successful, but unfortunately short-lived genre (the only example that I know of) -- which later became a source of sorts for Dance music in the 90's. And in Clarke's absence Depeche Mode took a new direction, heading into a more heavily sampled, moody sound that was one of the earliest examples of the Industrial style, but which found its music and band image developing into a combination of Synthpop and Industrial, often referred to as Dark Wave, or Goth.

Dance music is probably the category most often encountered by radio-listeners and club-goers today. It can be most easily described in the music of bands such as La Bouch, Quad City DJ's, Real McCoy, 2 Unlimited, and other bands who utilize the same sampled rhythm tracks that revolve around a basic 4/4 pattern of kick drums and hi-hats. Also common to Dance music bands is a "soul" singer, usually a female vocalist, who repeats short lyrical phrases over the driving beat. Of all the categories, this is my least favorite, mostly because it seems to be the genre responsible for giving all Electronica its "push button music" association. Dance's insistence on the simple 4/4 pattern - ubiquitous throughout all Dance music, no matter the song or the band - gives the impression that anyone can sit down at a computer (with or without other instruments) and churn out a tune in less than five minutes; and while I have no doubt that that's exactly what some Dance bands are doing, that unfairly takes credibility away from artists who use the computer as their medium of expression. In my opinion, artists such as Vince Clarke, who has been known to spend months at a time tweaking old analogue equipment for just the right sound, or Orbital, who have been known to spend years searching for and recording / mastering just the right samples, deserve more credit than those who simply turn on a Roland TR 909 drum machine and call up the first preset pattern for use in all their songs. I don't feel that Electronic music should be dismissed with such phrases as "Oh, that? That's not music. The computer writes it all for them," which is often what springs to mind in the average listener when the subject is broached. They don't seem to realize that it still takes compositional skill and talent, as well as technical chops, to write a good song. It is unfortunate to me that this ignorant view is often the first impression listeners have of electronic music, especially since Electronica has been so important to other technological breakthroughs in the way we perceive music, such as music videos and MTV. Along with the popularity of artists such as Madonna, Duran Duran's huge following in the States (as well as internationally) helped make it possible for MTV to launch in the early 1980's. The group was well known to be one of the pioneers in exploiting music video technology to enhance their image. MTV even awarded them a "Duran Video Day" on New Year's Eve 1982. All throughout the 80's, MTV proved its staying power largely because it was dominated by European (and a few American) Electronica acts.

Other breakthroughs followed - consider Joy Division, the highly acclaimed UK post-punk band that was on the eve of huge international success when vocalist Ian Curtis suddenly took his life in May of 1980. After 3 successful albums (also considered precursors to the Industrial scene), Joy Division came to an abrupt end. However, the remaining band members formed New Order, and in 1982, released a more dance-oriented single, "Temptation". A year later, they released the song that would become the biggest-selling 12" single of all time -- "Blue Monday". This single paved the way to a new 12" culture, and brought a whole new perception of music to the scene in the artistry of the DJ.

Hopefully, Electronic music will continue to evolve in the 21st century, spinning off new genres and new advancements in technology until it gains back some of its (well-deserved) credibility. Maybe it will even become acceptable to the mainstream as a valid form of artistic expression. Only time will tell.

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