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Electronica includes a wide range of contemporary electro music designed for a wide range of uses, including foreground listening, some forms of dancing, and background music for other activities; however, unlike electronic dance music, it is not specifically made for dancing. The term was first used in the United States in the early 1990s with regards to post-rave global-influenced electronic dance music. Genres such as techno, drum and bass, downtempo, and ambient are among those encompassed by the umbrella term, entering the American mainstream from "alternative" or "underground" venues during the late 1990s. Prior to the adoption of electronica for this purpose, terms such as electronic listening music, and intelligent dance music (IDM) were used.

Allmusic categorises electronica as a top-level genre on their main page, where they state that electronica includes "dozens of stylistic fusions" ranging from danceable grooves to music for headphones and chillout areas.

Electronica has grown to influence mainstream crossover recordings. Electronic sounds began to form the basis of a wide array of popular music in the late 1970s, and became key to the mainstream pop and rock sounds of the 1980s. Since the adoption of "electronica" in the 1990s to describe more underground music with an electronic aesthetic, elements of modern electronica have been adopted by many popular artists in mainstream music.

A wave of diverse acts

Electronica was made possible by advancements in music technology, especially electronic musical instruments, synthesizers, music sequencers, drum machines, and digital audio workstations . Early forms of electronic music required large amounts of complex equipment and multiple operators for live performances, and multiple engineers to record the music at high quality. As the technology developed, it became possible for individuals or smaller groups to produce electronic songs and recordings in smaller studios, even in project studios. At the same time, computers facilitated the use of music "samples" and "loops" as construction kits for sonic compositions.
This led to a period of creative experimentation and the development of new forms, some of which became known as electronica.

In the mid-1990s, electronica began to be used by MTV and major record labels to describe mainstream electronic dance music made by such artists as Orbital (who had previously been described as ambient) and The Prodigy. It is currently used to describe a wide variety of musical acts and styles, linked by a penchant for overtly electronic production;
a range which includes more popular acts such as Björk, Goldfrapp and IDM artists such as Autechre, and Aphex Twin to dub-oriented downtempo, downbeat, and trip-hop. Madonna and Björk are said to be responsible for electronica's thrust into mainstream culture, with their albums Ray of Light (Madonna), Post and Homogenic (Björk). Electronica artists that would later become commercially successful began to record in this early 1990s period, before the term had come into common usage, including for example Fatboy Slim, Fœtus, Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, Moby, Underworld and Faithless.
A focus on "songs", a fusion of styles and a combination of traditional and electronic instruments often sets apart musicians working in electronic-styles over more straight-ahead styles of house, techno and trance. Electronica composers often create alternate versions of their compositions, known as "remixes"; this practice also occurs in related musical forms such as ambient, jungle, and electronic dance music. Wide ranges of influences, both sonic and compositional, are combined in electronica recordings.

The more abstract Autechre and Aphex Twin around this time were releasing early records in the "intelligent techno" or so-called intelligent dance music (IDM) style, while other Bristolmarker-based musicians such as Tricky, Leftfield, Massive Attack and Portishead were experimenting with the fusion of electronic textures with hip-hop, R&B rhythms to form what became known as trip-hop. Later extensions to the trip hop aesthetic around 1997 came from the highly influential Viennamarker-based duo of Kruder & Dorfmeister, whose blunted, dubbed-out, slowed beats became the blueprint for the new style of downtempo. Roni Size, Goldie and Omni Trio commanded attention in the UKmarker as exemplars of the drum and bass genre.

It could be noted that older bands such as New Order and Depeche Mode had built on the new wave music of the 1980s and added more dance and electronic instrumentation and alternative rock influences to become early pioneers of "electronica" music. These two groups are very commonly cited as being hugely influential to the first generations of underground and later, alternative electronica artists.

Global patterns of popularity

By the late 1990s, artists like Moby had become internationally famous, releasing albums and performing regularly in major venues. In the United States and other countries like Australia, electronica (and the other attendant dance music genres) remained popular, although largely underground, while in Europe it had become one of the most dominant forms of popular music.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Electronica's maturing sound embraced multi-cultural influences both through the increasing commercial availability of audio sample libraries of musical instruments from around the globe, as well as cross-pollination with DJs, performers and recording artists from many nations. New York Citymarker became one center of experimentation and growth for the electronica sound, with DJs and music producers from areas as diverse as Southeast Asia and Brazil brought their creative work to the nightclubs of that city.

The Norwegian dance duo Röyksopp reached unexpected stardom in 2001 when its debut album Melody AM became an international bestseller. By 2002 the style had a harder edge and in the UK tracks like “Loneliness” by Tomcraft hit number One and the following year an electro dance scene emerged in the UK. The release of albums like “New Wave Electro” on Orange Sync Records and Electrotech Ministry of Soundmarker introduced this style to the clubs with post punk beats, mono Synth breaks which became the formula for the current electro dance scene in the UK.

Effect on mainstream popular music

Around the mid-1990s, with the success of the big beat-sound exemplified by The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy in the UK, and spurred by the attention from mainstream artists, including Madonna in her collaboration with William Orbit on Ray of Light, music of this period began to be produced with a higher budget, increased technical quality, and with more layers than most other forms of dance music, since it was backed by major record labels and MTV as the "next big thing".

According to a 1997 Billboard article, "[t]he union of the club community and independent labels" provided the experimental and trend-setting environment in which electronica acts developed and eventually reached the mainstream. It cites American labels such as Astralwerks (The Future Sound of London, Fluke), Moonshine (DJ Keoki), Sims, and City of Angels (The Crystal Method) for playing a significant role in discovering and marketing artists who became popularized in the electronica scene.

The adoption of elements of electronica by several of the world's most popular rock bands was also seen beginning in the mid 1990s, for example U2's Zooropa (1993) and Pop (1997) albums, Radiohead's OK Computer (1997), R.E.M.'s Up (1998), The Smashing Pumpkins' Adore (1998), Blur's 13 (1999) and Oasis's Standing on the Shoulder of Giants (2000) albums.
 Several of these albums were produced with electronic dance producers, such as William Orbit who produced both Madonna's Ray of Light. and Blur's 13.
 Radiohead's 2000 follow-up to OK Computer, Kid A, found one of the most polarised critical receptions for an adoption of electronic sounds by a rock group, but the album also received wide acclaim, and the band cited their debts to a large number of electronic musicians, such as Autechre and Boards of Canada, in a recording which reached #1 on the US album charts. The word "electronica" was commonly applied to such releases despite large differences in style.
 Indeed, by the late 1990s, the word was mostly used by rock fans to describe rock and pop artists' adoption of electronic music textures (such as samples, synthesizers and drum machines) with which they were otherwise unfamiliar, as well as to label a few dance-oriented acts that achieved popularity.
 This was particularly true in the US where the electronic dance subculture was much less prominent.

In the early 2000s, electronica-inspired post punk experienced a revival, with rock bands such as Interpol and The Killers specifically drawing on the 1980s sound of New Order and The Cure. Russian duet t.A.T.u. use electronica styles extensively, and fuse it with pop styles to form an edgy electronica style.

With newly prominent music styles such as reggaeton, and subgenres such as electroclash, and favela funk, electronic music styles in the current decade are seen to permeate nearly all genres of the mainstream and indie landscape such that a distinct "electronica" genre of pop music is rarely noted. However, the word continues to be more common in the U.S. music industry for synthesized, techno-inspired pop music, as specific genres such as drum and bass and IDM never achieved mainstream attention.

Hip hop fusion

Hip hop DJs and producers had been mining electronic sounds to create beats since Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash pioneered the use of drum machines and synthesizers in the early 1980s, and the hip hop genre shared with other forms of electronic music an emphasis on sampling. Beginning with the success of Dr. Dre and G-funk rap in the mid 1990s, many hip hop producers began turning to a more synthesized sound, resulting in the rise of "superproducers" such as The Neptunes, who cultivated a science fiction image with sleek, overtly electronic beats, and Timbaland, who did likewise and also was known for creative sampling, rising to fame for his work with Aaliyah and Missy Elliott and producing a variety of pop and R&B records for artists such as Justin Timberlake. Timberlake's 2006 hit songs "SexyBack" and "My Love", both produced by Timbaland, were particularly notable for their electronic aesthetic, while The Neptunes worked with a range of acts from Britney Spears to Jay-Z.

A variety of other hip hop performers used electronica-influenced sounds as hooks in their songs. Outkast, a popular and acclaimed hip hop duo, adopted sounds in their 2003 hit single "Hey Ya" and member/producer Andre Benjamin praised the music of Squarepusher. In 2007 Kanye West, initially known for more natural sounding hip hop productions influenced by classic R&B music, released his third album Graduation, which featured some songs with a sharp electronic aesthetic, a sound which greatly expanded on West's latest album, where he emphasized synthesizer and vocal manipulations prominently and cited major influences from 1980s synth pop music, as well as from T-Pain, a hip-hop performer known for manipulating his voice by using the electronic program Autotune. However, West's 2007 single "Stronger" used a prominent sample from a song by the French dance-oriented electronic act Daft Punk, whose work in the 1990s and early 2000s was also becoming highly sampled and influential on the musical aesthetic of acts in other genres such as indie rock and indie dance.

Post-Hardcore Fusion

Many Post-Hardcore acts such as Attack Attack!, I Set My Friends On Fire, Enter Shikari, I See Stars, and others infuse electronic beats and sounds in their music

TV Influence

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, electronica music was increasingly used as background scores for television advertisements, initially for automobiles. It was also used for various videogames—specifically Wipeout : a sci-fi combat hovercraft racer for which the soundtrack was composed of many popular and highly-appropriate electronica tracks that helped create more interest in this type of music -- and later for other technological and business products such as computers and financial services.

See also

Further reading

  • Cummins, James. 2008. Ambrosia: About a Culture - An Investigation of Electronica Music and Party Culture. Toronto, ON: Clark-Nova Books. ISBN 978-0-978489-21-2


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