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Exploring Electronic Music Genres

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Electronic Music Genres - iMusician

Electronic music is one of the broadest music categories, spanning an extensive spectrum of styles and genres. While our previous articles delved into the development of electronic music and the history of electronic music festivals, this piece explores the most prominent and significant electronic music genres and subgenres. Join us for an adventure in the electronic music world!

1. Ambient music

Ambient music was first introduced by British musician Brian Eno, who coined the term to describe an audio recording intended to create atmosphere. Nowadays, we can define ambient music as a style of largely electronic instrumental music that emphasizes the mood and atmosphere of the sound rather than its traditional musical structure and rhythm. Therefore, it may lack net composition, beat, and structured melody. Instead, it utilizes layers of sound that encourage a sense of contemplation and create a calm and soothing ambiance.

The genre originated in the 1960s and 1970s when new musical instruments, like synthesizers, were introduced to the wider market. While it hasn’t notably gained much commercial success, it has received a certain level of fame throughout the years, particularly in the Internet age.

With its development and, mostly, integration with other genres, such as classical music, avant-garde music, jazz, or folk, many derivative subgenres were established, including ambient techno, ambient pop, and ambient industrial.

Relevant artists: Brian Eno, C418, Max Richter, Tycho

2. Dub

Dub music is an electronic music style that drew influence from reggae and developed during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was pioneered by producers and recording engineers, such as Errol Thompson, Lee Perry, and Hopeton Overturn Brown.

The concept of dub music lies heavily in the creation of remixes of existing recordings, usually by manipulating the originals by removing vocal parts, emphasizing the rhythm section, applying studio sound effects like echo and reverb, and occasionally dubbing instrumental and vocal snippets from the original version or other compositions.

The style has influenced several genres both within and outside electronic music, including rock, hip-hop, pop, punk, EDM, and drum and bass.


Relevant artists: Scientist, Lee Perry, Ruddock Osbourne, Augustus Pablo

3. Breakbeat

Breakbeat debuted in the 1970s (mostly in the US and the UK) and is known for using drum samples from early recordings of hip-hop, jazz, R&B, and funk (in fact, breakbeat can sample pretty much any kind of music). Traditionally, a ‘break’ refers to the part of a funk or jazz composition during which the rhythm "breaks" to let the soloist or rhythm section play alone.

The genre is broadly characterized by a danceable rhythm, simple chord progressions (played on a loop), various audio effects, and, most notably, the intensive use of syncopated drum patterns and polyrhythms. Additionally, breakbeat is subject to no fixed speed rules.

Starting in the 1980s, breakbeats were integrated into non-hip-hop genres, and then in the 1990s, new subgenres were derived from the genre, including breakbeat hardcore, psychedelic breakbeat, and nu-skool breaks.


Relevant artists: The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy, Death By Vegas

4. House

House originated in Chicago in the late 1970s in a local gay nightclub, Westhouse. The genre was primarily spearheaded by DJs Frankie Knuckles and Marshall Jefferson and is characterized by a repetitive food-on-the-floor beat, a typical tempo of 120 BPM, and the Roland Bassline Synthesizer TB-303.

While in its early stages, house was rather a mix of futuristic and synth-heavy Eurodisco, merged with genres such as jazz, soul, and funk, in its later versions, it had a strong influence on pop and dance music and has developed into many more sub-genres. These include future house (emerged in the 2010s in the UK), deep house, garage house, leftfield house, melodic house (with a strong melodic, heavy sound), afro house, tech house, vocal house, and soulful house.

In its most typical form, house utilizes a repetitive four-on-the-floor beat with heavy bass drums, snare drums, off-beat hi-hats, claps and/or snaps at a tempo of 120-130 beats per minute. The genre is further characterized by deep basslines, synthesizer riffs, and, occasionally, spoken, sung, or sampled vocals.

Relevant artists: Daft Punk, Fatboy Slim, Swedish House Mafia, Avicii

Acid house

Acid house, also known simply as acid, developed from house music in the mid-1980s, also influenced by DJs in Chicago, US. The style is defined by a soft sound and the bassline of an electronic bass synthesizes-sequencer by Roland (Roland TB-300).

Acid house became particularly popular in the UK, becoming essential to local rave scenes. At the end of the 1980s, acid house became British mainstream and later strongly influenced various pop and dance styles, including trance, hardcore, jungle, techno, and trip-hop.


Relevant artists: DJ Pierre, Sleezy D

Electro house

Also derived from house music, electro-house is typified by its heavy bass, mainly buzzing basslines, and tempo of around 130 BPM.

Relevant artists: Benny Benassi, Steve Aoki, Skrillex, Daft Punk


5. Drum and bass & jungle

Drum & bass (D&B) and jungle are genres of dance music that developed out of the UK’s rave scene and sound system culture in the 1990s. Both styles can be characterized by very fast, even rapid, breakbeats of 150-200 BPM (165-185 BPM for D&B), sub-heavy to heavy bass lines, syncopated percussive loops, synthesized effects, and vocal samples found in Jamaican dub, reggae, or hip-hop.

There is no universally accepted distinction between the two genres—generally, the jungle is perceived as the direct precursor to the drum and bass genre. Both genres can further be distinguished into multiple sub-genres. While Jungle has since evolved into two main branches—ragga jungle and jump-up—D&B has three main sub-genres: heavy D&B, light, and mainline.

Relevant artists: Leviticus, DJ Hype, Aphrodite, Blondie, Pendulum


6. Techno

Techno music is by far one of the biggest genres of electronic music and a relevant sub-genre of electronic dance music (EDM). It was developed in Detroit in the mid-1980s, and its key characteristics are a solid, steady four-on-the-floor beat ranging from 120-150 BPM and the use of electronic instruments, like drum machines (such as the Roland TR-808 and the TR-909), sequencers, synthesizers and digital audio workstations (DAWs). It also often features heavy repetitions, synthetic textures, and futuristic themes.

The term ‘techno,’ referring to a type of electronic music, was first coined in 1984 by a Detroit music producer, Juan Atkins, who was inspired by Alvin Toffler’s novel Future Shock. Parallel to the techno scene in Detroit, a techno wave was also emerging in Germany, particularly in Frankfurt and Berlin.

By the end of the decade, the genre had spread across several European countries, mainly to the UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands. By the early 1990s, several European regional variations and styles derived from techno had been developed, including acid techno, hardcore, bleep techno, deep techno, or dub techno.

Relevant artists: Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Kelli Hand, Drexciya, Plastikman, The Chemical Brothers, Apparat


7. Hardcore / Hard techno

Hardcore, also known as hardcore techno or hardcore house, is an EDM sub-genre whose origins date back to the early 1990s in the UK, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. It’s defined by faster tempos (160-200 BPM or more), distorted and intense sawtooth kick drums, a synthesized bassline, and often violent-themed and sounding textures. The genre also utilizes aggressive guitar riffs and shouted or screamed vocals.

Some of its derivative sub-genres are gabber, speedcore, industrial hardcore, and breakcore.


Relevant artists: Sefa, Angerfist, Dr. Peacock

8. Trance

Trance music, often considered a hybrid of techno and house, is a sub-genre of EDM derived from the British new-age music scene and the German techno and hardcore scenes of the 1990s. The defining characteristics of trance are a tempo somewhere between 128-150 BPM, the emphasis on melody and repetitive melodic phrases, and the use of tension and other elements throughout the track, which usually reaches 1 or 2 ‘peaks’ or ‘drops.’

Furthermore, the genre is mostly instrumental, occasionally featuring mixed-in vocals — usually of mezzo-soprano to soprano female vocalists. There is usually no traditional verse and chorus structure. Generally, the term trance is primarily used to describe a state of hypnosis and heightened consciousness. The music genre aims to portray these states and elements, particularly by mixing layers with a melody build-up, climax, and release.

Over the years, trance has been strongly influenced by other genres, namely techno, house, pop, chill-out, ambient, classical music, or film music. As an outcome, new subgenres of trance were established, including progressive trance, psychedelic trance, uplifting trance, and vocal trance.

It’s been said that Trance made its first appearance in the 1990s in German nightclubs (particularly in the city of Frankfurt) before spreading across the whole of Europe. It gained global popularity with acts such as DJ Tiësto, Ferry Corsten, and later Armin Van Buuren.

Relevant artists: DJ Tiësto, Armin Van Buuren, Nina Kraviz, Paul van Dyk


9. Industrial and post-industrial

The industrial genre takes the fusion of rock and electronic music to the next level, drawing on harsh, mechanical, transgressive, and provocative themes and sounds. Notably, AllMusic defines it as the "most abrasive and aggressive fusion of rock and electronic music," characterized by heavy percussions, fast tempos, altered instrumentation, noise-centered compositions, and distorted vocals.

Reportedly, the emergence of industrial music in the mid-1970s was a response to growing information overload and, ultimately, the "age during which access to and control of information were becoming the primary tools of power." The first industrial artists also toyed and experimented with various controversial topics, such as fascism or sexual perversion, producing both musical and visual performance art.

In the 1980s, industrial music split into quite a wide range of subgenres, like dark ambient, industrial rock, and neofolk, often collectively called ‘post-industrial music.’


Relevant artists: Nine Inch Nails, 3Teeth, Skinny Puppy

10. Downtempo

Downtempo, or Downbeat, emerged in the late 1980s alongside the UK’s Bristol underground scene, which gave birth to artists such as Massive Attack, Tricky, and Portishead. It spread into the world in the 1990s, with Underworld, Fila Brazilia, and Bonobo becoming some of the most prominent artists in the genre.

Generally, downtempo can be characterized by an atmospheric sound and slower beats than those usually showcased in dance music. The style is also closely associated with ambient music, differing only in the emphasis on rhythm (downtempo places greater emphasis on rhythm than ambient music).

Relevant artists: Underworld, Thievery Corporation, Bonobo

11. UK Garage

Inspired heavily by the jungle genre, UK Garage originated in England in the early to mid-1990s. It is characterized by shuffled drum patterns with syncopated hi-hats, cymbals, snares, big, subby bass lines, and ‘chopped up’ vocal samples. Tracks in this genre usually have around 130 BPM and may feature four-to-the-floor or more irregular "2-step" drum rhythms. Besides jungle, UK Garage incorporates elements from other genres, including R&B and dance-pop.

The popularity of UK Garage started declining in the mid-2000s, giving rise to its sub-genres — speed garage and 2-step — as well as other genres incorporating its element, including dubstep, bassline, and grime. The genre experienced a resurgence in popularity in early 2011, driven by artists and producers such as Wookie, MJ Cole, Zed Bias, and Disclosure.

Relevant artists: MJ Cole, Artful Dodger, Disclosure, Zed Bias


2-step

As a genre of electronic music and sub-genre of UK garage, 2-step is defined by an irregular rhythm that misses a bass drum pattern that is very frequent in other electronic styles with a regular four-on-the-floor beat.

The 2-step sound, on the other hand, can be characterized by syncopated kick drums that skip a beat, a shuffled rhythm, or the use of tuplets/triplets merged with different percussion elements. Female vocals, usually in an acapella version, are also usual for the genre.


Relevant artists: Craig David (feat. Artful Dodger), Dem 2, Dreem Teem

Dubstep

Dubstep reportedly originated in the early 2000s in South London and is, therefore, considered a relatively new branch of electronic music. Yet, the early elements of dubstep could already be experienced with the growth of the Jamaican sound system party scene in the early 1980s.

Similarly to 2-step, this genre is also defined by syncopated beats that have a speed of around 130-140 BPM, prominent sub-bass frequencies, and a break at half-time. After becoming commercially successful in the UK towards the end of the 2000s/beginning of the 2010s, dubstep’s popularity spread to the US, as well, spearheaded mainly by the American musician Skrillex.

Relevant artists: Skrillex, Major Lazer, DJ Snake, SLANDER


12. Disco

Disco is a globally known genre of dance music and a subculture that debuted in New York in the 1970s. It was the first genre to introduce the idea of going to and dancing in clubs all night long. Disco is defined by a typical four-on-the-floor beat, string sections, horns, electric piano, synthesizers, syncopated basslines, and electric guitars.

Throughout the 1970s, the genre gained huge popularity both in the US and across Europe, with the most prominent artists including ABBA, Donna Summer, the Bee Gees, Chaka Khan, Boney M, and many more.

The popularity of disco music started declining massively in the USA after the so-called ‘Disco Demolition Night,’ a 1979 Major League Baseball (MLB) promotion that ended in a riot, and continued to do so throughout the 1980s. However, the genre remained popular in Italy and some other European countries in the 1980s and gained new popularity in India and the Middle East.

Eventually, disco became a key influence in the development of and shaping the sound of EDM, house music, new wave, and dance-punk.


Other relevant artists: Giorgio Moroder, Village People, Sister Sledge, Thelma Houston

13. Electronica

Electronica refers to both a relatively broad group of musical subgenres purely intended for dancing and a music scene that originated in the UK in the early 1990s. In the USA, the term is used to describe general electronic music.

Electronica was developed particularly by technological advances and the establishment of many electronic musical instruments, including synthesizers, sequencers, drum machines, and more. As an outcome, the genre uses a wide variety of styles and musical acts that are distinguished by overly strong electronic production.

In terms of elements associated with electronica, the style is characterized by a tempo of 140 beats per minute, the use of large ranges of frequencies, tones, and pitch, snare patterns with modulated bass lines, and a bass drop for effects.

Relevant artists: Moby, Goldfrapp, Aphex Twin


IDM

IDM, an abbreviation for Intelligent Dance Music (also known as braindance), refers to a style of electronic music that is considered to be better suited for listening at home than dancing. It originated in the UK in the early 90s, yet the genre's name is said to come from the US, where it was inspired by the Warp compilation ‘Artificial Intelligence.’

IDM is described as a type of music focused more on individual experimentation rather than specific genre characteristics. It encompasses texture and ambient soundscapes.

Relevant artists: Aphex Twin, Speedy J, The Black Dog, The Orb


14. Electro

Electro, also known as electro-funk, is a genre of electronic music and early hip-hop that originated in the early 1980s following the massive decline of disco music in the USA. It was directly influenced by funk music, early hip-hop elements, New York boogie, and German and Japanese electronic pop music.

Electro-music tracks typically feature heavy electronic sounds with strong funk-inspired basslines and usually no vocals. In case vocals are included in a track, they are delivered in a deadpan manner, usually through vocoding or talkboxing.

Notably, the Roland TR-808 drum machines played a crucial role in the development of electro-music sound, particularly with their syncopated beats and distinctive synthetic percussion.

Relevant artists: Anthony Rother, Dave Clark, Warp 9


15. Electropop

Electropop developed as a fusion genre combining elements of pop and electronic music styles. It originated in the UK in the early 1980s and has been perceived as a variant of synth-pop, placing a strong emphasis on its electronic sound.

Electropop is known for its heavy use of synthesizers, drum machines, and samplers, hook-heavy songwriting with radio-friendly sound, and dense, layered, and compressed production. The genre has been in and out of the mainstream, with the most recent revival happening in the late 2000s.

Relevant artists: Calvin Harris, Robyn, Ellie Goulding


Eurodance

As its name implies, Eurodance is a sub-genre of EDM that originated in Europe in the late 1980s. It’s known for its emphasis on rich vocals, often with rapped verses. The genre is furthermore characterized by cutting-edge synthesizers, strong melodic hooks, and intense bass rhythm.

Eurodance also combines elements of other genres, like house music, techno, hip hop, and Eurodisco.

Relevant artists: Snap!, Jam and Spoon, Intermission


Dance-pop

Dance-pop describes a popular music subgenre that developed at the turn of the 1970s and 1980s. Generally, it refers to uptempo music that is intended for both dancing in nightclubs and listening to on contemporary hit radio. Additionally, dance-pop can be characterized by uncomplicated and easy song structures, strong beats, catchy tunes, and strong hit melodies.

Nowadays, dance-pop is a popular mainstream music style, and there are plenty of musicians and bands that create and perform in the genre. These include Katy Perry, Paula Abdul, Cher, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Backstreet Boys, and many more.


16. Ethnic electronica and regional EDM

Ethnic electronica is a broad category of electronic music known for combining elements of electronic and world music. The genres are rooted primarily in regional culture and local traditions instead of global trends. It originated in the 1980s in the Western Balkans, where similar styles of contemporary pop music were developed, including Serbian ‘turbo-folk’ or Bulgarian ‘Chalga.’

In the 1990s, ethnic electronica spread more uniformly to other countries thanks to advancements in electronic music technology. The use of electronic musical instruments, acoustic instruments, and traditional folk arrangements became characteristic of the genres, each creating distinct styles.

The style became once again popular in the 2010s, with artists such as Bon Iver and Alt-J achieving substantial commercial success in the mainstream culture. Notably, the Ukrainian ethnotronica scene gained international fame, with Go_A, Yuko, and Mavka as the most prominent artists of the style.

Relevant artists: Alt-J, Bon Iver, Yat-Kha, Toke-Cha, Yuko


17. Futurewave (Newbreed)

Futurewave, originally known as newbreed, is a meta-genre created by the fusion of several loosely related, primarily electronic music genres — so-called ‘micro-genres’ — that appeared on the internet throughout the 2010s. Such ‘micro-genres’ include chillwave, seapunk, grave rave, ambient garage, and future funk.

Generally, it groups genres that "have something in common, something abstract," but differ in their tactic and the way they approach music.

Relevant artists: Snailshouse, Car Machines, Tupperwave


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