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Nothing daft about it

Electronic music makes evolutionary jumps overnight — on maverick DJs’ bedroom consoles and in experimental musicians’ garage studios, writes Ameta Bal.

entertainment Updated: Jun 28, 2007 08:20 IST
Ameta Bal

Brad Pitt’s character says in the film Fight Club: “We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war…our Great Depression is our lives.” It was these middle children of history that created electronic music.

Electronic music was never a reaction to a social condition like the blues or jazz or rock movements had been. It was a natural derivative of the technological revolution spread out over the latter half of 20th Century. The frontrunners of the electronic music movement, the kind that evolved into the octopus-tentacled music genre of today, were musically-inclined geeks sitting with their digital remixing software running on overdrive. But these were talented geeks, mind you. Had they not been around, we wouldn’t have arrived at the mind-expanding music of acts like Massive Attack, Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, Fatboy Slim or the cutting-edge current crop of artistes.

Rewind to the 1960s and you find this genre’s humble beginning in the synthesizer sounds that were first introduced into jazz masters Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea’s music. The very first fusion album to contain synthesizer was perhaps Hancock’s Crossings. But it wasn’t used as a replacement for piano; it was only used for effects. Before that, one of the first signature tunes for television was the theme music for Doctor Who (1963) and in film, in the soundtrack of A Clockwork Orange (1971).

But all the innovation that happened in the late ’70s and the early ’80s turned the movement from simple synthesizer sounds to electropop. Subsequently, further sub genres sprouted and the creation of the techno sound in Detroit, Michigan, house music in Chicago, Illinois and the acid house movement in UK brought electronic music into the scope of art and turned it into a musical force to be reckoned with.

Although electronic music follows no rules, it came to be identified as one of four types — electronic art music or musique concrete (music made out of ‘real world’ sounds, or sounds other than those made by musical instruments); the industrial music and synth pop styles of the ’80s; dance music styles such as techno, trance, breakbeat, electro, jungle, dub and drum ‘n’ bass and for home listening styles such as glitch, trip-hop, breakcore.

Along with artistes mentioned before, Daft Punk, New Order, Bjork, Radiohead, DJs Paul Oakenfold, Paul van Dyk and Sasha have broken frontiers with their masterfully designed electronic sounds. Where the other parallel music movement, hip-hop, was shaped on the spoken word, electronic music, with its hooks, loops and break beats and no or sparse vocals, relied on carving its groove in the listener’s mind — by either striking a chord on a very basic, gut level (techno, drum n bass) or alternately on a mystical, even spiritual, level (trance, minimal).

Unlike any other genre, electronic music makes evolutionary jumps overnight — on maverick DJs bedroom consoles and in experimental musicians’ garage studios. Digweed, who performed in India last year, said in an interview: “Why I love electronic music so much is because it’s always at the forefront of change.”

By its very nature, electronic music seems to divide the general public sentiment. There are those who do not like the premise of electronic music and dismiss it as machinist, robotic musical form not involving any true genius. There are others who go with the flow and admit to not being averse to hanging out at the lounge bar listening to house music.

And then there are the EDM fiends who know their Soundcraft Ghost mixer from their Roland JX8P (mixing equipment), their electronigoth from their electrotech (EDM subgenres) and their DJ Vadim from their DJ Mc Wrec. And these guys live on the same planet, so there must be something to the genre after all, no?