a guide to electronic music
A GUIDE TO ELECTRONIC MUSIC
Bleep's guide to Electronic Music is a 55 track compilation charting the historical emergence of electronic music by looking at landmark tracks from the 1930s up to present day.
Our aim with this selection of music is to show the length and breadth of the medium, providing a snapshot of the genres forms and styles, and the development of the artform. Whilst there are omissions and compromises that we have had to make, we hope that we achieve our aims and we do some justice to the variety of music that we love.
This compilation developed out of a project to create a Facebook timeline charting the development of electronic music from the late 19th Century until now.
At just 21 years old, London producer, James Blake releases on newly relaunched R&S Records.
At its core 'CMYK' is forged from a myriad of 90's R&B samples (Aaliyah, Kelis) their voices mangled, barely recognisable and thrown into a red-eyed fire of DSP and hours spent in the waveforms.
A hypnotizing track taken from Actress' 'Splazsh' album on Honest Jon's Records, an album which occupies it's own experimental space within established dance genres such as techno. Actress himself calls his music "R&B concrète" perhaps a reference to the French movement, Musique concrète.
Brian Eno, the legendary English musician, composer, record producer, singer, and visual artist releases an album on Warp Records. Cited as one of the principal innovators of both ambient and generative music, 'Emerald and Lime' is the beautiful opening track from his debut album for Warp.
A track lifted from the enigmatic producer’s highly acclaimed 'second album - Untrue'. The album went on to be nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. After much speculation of his identity (with claims of him being Aphex Twin or Fatboy Slim), the rumours were finally squashed when he revealed on his Myspace page that he was William Bevan with the statement: ""I'm a lowkey person and I just want to make some tunes, nothing else
Often labelled as the “King of Grime”, since inception, Wiley has played a pivotal role in grime / eski-beat as both producer and MC. This track is taken from his third album, ‘Playtime is Over’ released on Big Dada.
Often cited as the producer’s producer, J Dilla’s influence on hip-hop and sample based beat-production is unparalleled. His final farewell to the world is the brilliant ‘Donuts’ album which he made on his death-bed whilst in hospital with some simple sampling equipment and a stack of vinyl. 3 days after the album was released, he passed away from a rare blood disease called Lupus.
19 year old, Croydon-based producer Skream releases ‘Midnight Request Line’ - a track that gains popularity and acts for many as an introduction to dubstep and arguably playing a pivotal role in popularising the genre.
Taken from his second album, ‘Rounds’ – Kieran Hebden effortlessly glides from breaks-driven uptempo tracks to audio-twinkling electronics seamlessly merged with sublimely soulful instrumentation.
‘Endless Summer’ was a breakthrough album for Austrian experimental musician Christian Fennesz. Mixing heavily processed guitars, while pushing the electronics crackling and shimmering to the background further extending the albums reputation into the timeless.
Although to a more mainstream audience, this track is best known for soundtracking a Motorola advert – this track ‘Hyped-Up Plus Tax’ is taken from Dabrye’s incredible genre-making ‘One / Three’ album on Ghostly. Glitch-hop, bursting phuture skewing R/B rhythms and skittering cut-up collage, Dabrye made his mark with this one... and how.
Mark Fell and Mat Steel make up the Sheffield duo SND, who in the late 1990's further pushed the boundaries of abstractionism within electronic dance music. Through their meticulous dissections and distillations of radio waves, they create a truly reductionist palette that is re-assembled in to pointilist and punctuated arrangements. They create work that challenges and occupies the dancefloor while simultaneously facilitating an acousmatic listening experience originally encouraged by the pioneers of Musique Concrete.
An experimental techno masterpiece, Wolfgang Voigt (AKA GAS, AKA Kompakt founder) drew together his –almost- entire discography into this, resampling and repitching classical samples to make a epic sound scape. Like nothing else on the sonic map, Voight’s work is at once Lynchian and lovely, macabre and murky, dripping with the sonic dew of the forest floor.
Truly twisted and iconic electronic pop music at it’s absolute finest by Aphex Twin. With one of the most revered music videos of all time directed by Chris Cunningham and this being one of the most loved electronic tracks of all time, there was no possible way of us doing our Guide to Electronic Music without including ‘Windowlicker’…
Scottish duo, Boards of Canada, release their timeless debut on Warp Records and Skam. ‘Music Has The Right To Children’ receives rave reviews throughout the international music press - sparse melodies, analogue synthesizers and fragmented speech set the blueprint for one of electronic music’s best loved groups. ""Roygbiv” is an acronym for the sequence of hues in a rainbow. (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green Blue, Indigo ,Violet).
After founding Ninja Tune in 1990. Coldcut went on to create their classic cut and paste collage ‘More Beats and Pieces’ which scored them a UK Top 40 chart place in 1997. The style of using stock footage, cut-up samples and audio snippets was something they had championed for a long time with the likes of remixing Eric B. and Rakim in 1987 almost a decade earlier to this song...
The mysterious Detroit duo of Drexciya consisted of Gerald Donald and the late James Stinson. A Drexciyan race of underwater dwellers descended from pregnant slave women thrown overboard during trans-Atlantic deportation was the official story they gave of their existence. Recorded live, their unique brand of Detroit techno and electro mutations combined TR-808 drum machine, with bass, melodies, and synth textures ebbing and flowing through their sub-aquatic world.
One of the earlier jazz-orientated songs in Detroit techno legend Carl Craig’s career and released by his own label – Planet E Recordings. Carl Craig himself takes care of programming duties with assistance from an ensemble of percussionists and musicians. Top quality stuff.
Pioneers of the much-imitated 'dub techno' genre, Basic Channel have since been lauded as one the greatest techno outfits to have existed. The production team and record label consisted of Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus, and originated in Berlin, Germany from 1993 onwards.
Descended from house music from Chicago and New York, UK Garage gains popularity in the early ‘90s featuring distinctive syncopated 4/4 rhythms, shuffling hi-hats and beat-skiping kick drums alongside common traits such as chopped and pitch-shifted voal samples and low-end bass hits. This track ‘Together’ is a prime example from the Nice’ N’ Ripe label.
‘Flutter’ was created to protest against The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 - a government attempt to ban large UK rave dance events featuring music with "repetitive beats". 'Flutter' had been programmed in such a way that no bars contain identical beats and can therefore be played under the proposed new law.
Majestic machine funk classic from true Detroit innovator Robert Hood. - a founding member of group Underground Resistance as a 'Minister Of Information' with Mad Mike Banks & Jeff Mills. A stone cold slice of elegant, phuture-rhythm from Robert Hood’s classic ‘Minimal Nation’ album that gave birth to minimal techno…
Twilight zone, junglist vibrations from one of the true pioneers of the early darkside sound - Bizzy B. Not for the faint hearted!
Jeff Mills and Mike Banks had visions of Jazz music and musicians operating on the same "man machine" doctrine dropped on them from Kraftwerk. Early experiments with synthesisers and jazz by artists like Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Weather Report, Return to Forever, and Larry Heard also pointed them in this direction. Out of this line of thinking came this underground smash, ‘Hitech Jazz’
In 1990, LFO’s classic self-titled debut single on Warp Records was estimated to have sold 2,000 copies... It ended up selling 130,000 copies in it's lifetime and went to Number 12 in the UK Top 40 Chart. The track remains a timeless classic and one of the most lauded when looking at the evolution of electronic music, perfectly defining the era of Sheffield Bleep techno with one of the most hypnotic melodies that electronic music has ever seen…
Originally taken from their ‘Combat Dancin’ EP, 4Hero with this track captured a morphing world as the bleeps ‘n’ bass of Sheffield combined with hip-hop breakbeats and moved towards what later become known as ‘drum and bass’. A rave anthem helped by the macabre vocal sample: "Mr Kirk? Your son is dead. He died of an overdose."
In author and music journalists Simon Reynolds’s book ‘Generation Ecstasy’. He said that Joey Beltram revolutionized techno twice before the age of 21”. This was for his 2 tracks “Mentasm” and “Energy Flash” which can be heard here…The New York DJ and producer perfectly captured a sound and era in one of R&S Records’ most classic 12” releases.
Jamie Principle and Frankie Knuckle's; "Baby Wants To Ride" is a classic of 1980's New York House. Released on the hugely important Trax Record's in 1989, the track features all the hall marks of the era. With Frankie Knuckles feeding off the repetitive grooves that came out of disco, and utilising the newly affordable synths and drum machines and Jamie Principle adding his sleazy club vocals this track sums up that era in New York clubbing.
808 State seminal track ‘Pacific State’ first featured on their ‘Quarastate’ EP released through Creed Records in 1988. Definitive of the acid house scene emerging at the end of the 80s, the track peaked at number 10 on the UK singles chart, and leads to 808 State being signed to Trevor Horn’s ZTT label.
Comprising of Kevin Saunderson and Paris Grey, the group ‘Inner City’ release the Number 1 smash which is considered a pioneering track in the history of techno and the first development of the Detroit techno genre. Perhaps one of the most fun techno songs ever made… Big fun. And how.
Released in 1988, “Voodoo Ray” was the best selling independent UK single in 1989 after reaching Number 12 in the Top 40. An early Acid House anthem sampling the vocals of comedians, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, from their first ‘Derek and Clive’ LP. Classic.
Chicago-based group Phuture (now known as PHuture 303) releases one of the first acid house record 'Acid Tracks' on Trax Records. The record is also considered the be one of first to use the characteristic ‘squelch’ bass line sound of the Roland TB-303 synthesizer which has become a well-known trait of Acid House music.
Unity Sounds one of the most crucial British Dancehall labels released this essential 12” from Selah Collins. Halfway in between traditional reggae and the incorporation of cheap electronic keyboards to create dub, reggae and dancehall riddims… The sound of UK Digi Dancehall is being formed.
Under his new 'Model 500' guise, Juan Atkins produces his first single, 'No UFO's. The track still has obvious influences from Funk and Afrofuturism, but the his records are becoming more electro orientated and structured for the clubs. This record lays the foundation for what will become Techno.
Noted for their innovative fusion of electronic sounds into pop music, British avant-garde group, Art Of Noise, made heavy use of digital sampling synthesizers - predominantly the Fairlight CMI - throughout their work. ‘Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise?’, the debut full-length by the group - whose line up consisted of producer Trevor Horn, music journalist Paul Morley, composer Anne Dudley, engineer Gary Langan and programmer J J Jeczalik - reached number 8 in the UK Chart, and is widely considered a classic album which showcased the power of sampling technology popularised its wider use.
Despite the anti-disco backlash that happened in the early 80’s, this track went on to be a huge successful mainly down to the innovate techniques of Robby Kilgore, who played all the instruments on this seminal track. It featured a series of keyboard chords and drum patterns produced by gating a Roland TR-808 drum machine and heralded a new era of dance-pop.
Released the same year as New Order's 'Blue Monday' and pretty identical, the track 'Love Reaction' by drag queen / actor / singer - Divine caused a controversy about who created this iconic rhythm of the 80s dance club scene with it's distinctive semiquaver kick drum intro, programmed on an Oberheim DMX drum machine.
Although a classically trained musician, Arthur Russell - who recorded under aliases Dinosaur, Indian Ocean, Killer Whale and Dinosaur L - produced sounds ranging from beat-heavy disco to minimalist compositions. However, his most memorable and loved works are arguably rooted firmly within the dance genre - one of the tracks generally considered one of his greatest perhaps being the funky and infectious acid jazz grooves of ‘Go Bang!’.
Incorporating the sounds of Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestrar, 'Planet Rock' is released by Afrika Bambaataa in 1982 on Tommy Boy Records. He is one of the first Hip Hop producers to utilize the Roland TR-808 - an instrument will go on to define the Miami Bass sound and the early Techno years.
"Although a commercial failure in India during it’s original release, Charanjit Singh’s ‘Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat’ (an album of original electronic disco compositions Singh recorded in 1982), it’s more recent
rediscovery in more recent years has brought this incredible to light. Charanjit Singh is now known as an unknowing pioneer of Acid House preceding PHuture 303’s 'Acid Track' by five years.
Using traditional Indian sounds, Singh projects them through a variety of electronic instruments (Roland TB-303, Roland TR-808 and a Roland Jupiter-8) carving out a virtually unexplainable and unique record."
With their third and possibly most loved album. ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’, Throbbing Gristle experimented with the sounds of disco, rock and exotica. 'Hot on The Heels' will became a disco anthem, exposing their diversity and depth as one of the most unique electronic outfits.
Bruce Haack's legacy to electronic music up until recently has been hidden deep in the backwaters of home experiments. Unearthed by Stones Throw's Peanut Butter Wolf through the introduction of the late J.Dilla, Haack's invention of 'Farad' - his self made vocoder, is finally given the recognition it deserves within the continuum of electronic music. Pre-dating Kraftwerk's Autobahn by several years, Haack's music explores the symbiotic relationship between Man and Machine, while creating some serious electro-funk.
Using a variety of electronic instruments, including a number of analog synthesizers, Jean Michel Jarre conceived a sound as emotionally provoking as it is distinctly electronic. ‘Oxygène’, consisting of six movements, sold 15 million copies; cementing the importance and influence of the release as a milestone in the development of electronic music - perhaps most notably as a major factor in the wider use of synthesizers throughout the ‘70s.
Initially a child prodigy as a violinist, Clara Rockmore became a peerless master of the theremin - generally the greatest player of the instrument since its invention. Having worked directly with Léon Theremin since the early stages of the instrument’s development, Rockmore produced classical works using the electronic instrument - reaching a sound somewhere between violin and human voice in her work.
Uplifting, spiritual and introspective, Popol Vuh - which translates somewhat appropriately as ‘meeting place’ - achieved a sublime synthesis between the organic and the electronic. The group, led by the irreplaceable Florian Fricke, produced some of the very first ambient music, incoporating the (at the time) fledgling sounds of the Moog synthesizer.
Morton Subotnick is one of the first composers to collaborate with electronic instrument designer Don Buchla, using his Electric Music Box - a modular voltage-controlled synthesizer. Buchla’s device allows Subotnick to incorporate regular rhythms into his music - something previously unachieved in electronic music - resulting in the groundbreaking sound delivered on ‘Silver Apples of the Moon’.
As part of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, one of the sound effects units of the BBC, some of the most pioneering and forward thinking electronic music and sound effects were created to compose themes, idents and incidental recordings for the BBC. Here is one such example as John Baker re-imagines a traditional Welsh song 'Tros y Gareg' for a BBC indent.
Originally taken from the ultra-rare LP ‘Musique Electronique Du Cosmos’ which was a collection of soundscapes created for television and radio use, this track shows Jean-Jacques Perrey’s dexterity as a producer. He built himself an experimental laboratory and recording studio where he invented "a new process for generating rhythms with sequences and loops" using tools as simple as scissors, spliced tape, tape recorders and synthesizers. Of course, it helped that he also was a close friend of Robert Moog...
Daphne Oram, instrumental in establishing The BBC Radiophonic Workshop, was an indisputable pioneer in the development of electronic music and synthesized sound. Surreal, experimental, and tinged with melancholy, ‘The Oram Tapes, Vol. 1’ - a 37-track compilation of her work - showcases the breadth of her work into the possibilities of electronic tones.
This piece, alongside Varese's 'Poeme Electronique' was written for the Philips Pavilion designed by Le Corbusier for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. Made up of recordings from burning charcoal, then layered and transposing the recordings to create evolving Pointillistic densities and beautiful textured ranges of snaps, crackles, and pops, this piece from Iannis Xenakis shows the changing and maturing of the Musique Concrète movement.
Louis and Bebe Barron become the first to produce an entirely electronic film score and soundtrack with Forbidden Planet. Most of these sounds were generated using an electronic circuit called a ""ring modulator"". After recording the basic sounds, the Barrons further manipulated the sounds by adding other effects, such as reverberation and delay, and reversing or changing the speeds of certain sounds. Here we have included the main title sequence in our Guide to Electronic Music compilation.
A seminal track created by Karlheinz Stockhausen that for the first time combined electronic sounds with the human voice by means of matching voice resonances with pitch and creating sounds of phonemes electronically. This technique was considered important for bringing together the seemingly disparate worlds of the German elektronische Musik movement and the French Musique Concrète movement.
This composition by Pierre Henry is another example of “Musique Concrete", where songs are made up of non-traditional sources and recordings like trains, dogs barking, and voice recordings. Dark and unsettling, a lengthy glissando is used to symbolise the removal of Orpheus's veil as he enters hell - hence the title ‘Voile D'Orphee’ (Veil of Orpheus).
Cited as the first use of octophonic music (a process using 8 audio channels), John Cage creates the ‘Williams Mix’ composition by the use of eight simultaneously played independent quarter-inch magnetic tapes. Each channel was intended to represent different categories: city, country, electronic, manually produced, wind, and "small" sounds. The splicing of these categories created a unique and fascinating “audio montage” that shows why John Cage is still so revered in the progression of electronic music today…
The groundbreaking and avant-garde Pierre Schaeffer, influenced greatly by the Italian Futurists and John Cage, inaugurated Musique Concrete. This track was the first piece from the "Musique Concrete" genre, composed in 1948 entirely out of sounds and recordings from trains.
Originally composed by Olivier Messiaen, this beautiful and contemplative piece of music is a monumental moment in electronic music. Argued to be the first piece of purely electronic music written expressly for live performance on the Ondes Martenot, an instrument closely related to the Theremin.