Electronica

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Electronica includes a wide range of contemporary electronic music designed for a wide range of uses, including listening, dancing, and background music for other activities. Unlike electronic dance music, which is sub-genre in the category, all examples of electronica are not necessarily made for dancing. 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.

With newly prominent music styles such as reggaeton, and subgenres such as electroclash, indie pop, 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.

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 used by popular artists in mainstream music.

Electronic Dance Music Culture, a contemporary subculture centered on raves, is a global phenomenon. Originating from ‘Acid House’ parties in Ibiza, Spain, and ‘Psychedelic Trance’ dance parties in Goa, India, raves became a digital counterculture of the 1990s. First in Europe and India, then in the US, and then all over the world, raves have become associated with peace-and-love idealism, community, an embrace of technology, and psychedelic consciousness, though they have been criticized for their acceptance of drug usage and sexual practices that are of questionable safety.

Electronica took benefit from advancements in music technology, especially electronic musical instruments, synthesizers, music sequencers, drum machines, and digital audio workstations. 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.

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) and ‘Post’ and ‘Homogenic’ (Björk). Electronica artists that would later become commercially successful began to record in the early 1990s, before the term had come into common usage, including for example Fatboy Slim, Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, Moby, Underworld, and Faithless. 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 Bristol-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 Vienna-based duo of Kruder & Dorfmeister, whose blunted, dubbed-out, slowed beats became the blueprint for the new style of downtempo.

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.

By the late 1990s, artists like Moby had become internationally famous, releasing albums and performing regularly in major venues. New York City became one center of experimentation and growth for the electronica sound. 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.

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 her album ‘Ray of Light’ and Australian singer Dannii Minogue with her 1997 album ‘Girl,’ 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.

Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ (2000) found one of the most polarized 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 many electronic musicians, such as Autechre and Boards of Canada, in a recording which reached number one on the US album charts.

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.

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 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 synthpop music, as well as from T-Pain, a hip-hop performer known for manipulating his voice by using the electronic effect processor 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.

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