Welcome to the EDM Jungle

In the mid-1990s, record labels were cash-flush and music magazines plentiful. Warner Bros., Capitol, Universal, Mercury, RCA, Arista, Mute, and Astralwerks shuttled US-based music journalists across the Atlantic to cover England's burgeoning Britpop, trip hop, drum and bass, and techno music scenes. The latter three genres were hailed by the press as the "electronic dance music revolution."

Back then, my writing career was divided between jazz, indie rock, and electronic music. I wrote for Rolling Stone, JazzTimes, Ray Gun, and Option, among others. There was ample work, and music journalists—those of us covering popular music genres at least—enjoyed the good life.

In that seemingly simpler era, when the internet had not yet revolutionized everything we consume and the manner in which we consume it, electronic dance music (EDM) sounded menacing, like our imagined future.

Just as the Beatles, Stones, and others had recycled and revitalized American rhythm and blues 30 years earlier, English EDM artists like Goldie, Roni Size, Tricky, Squarepusher, Portishead, and—to different degrees—the Future Sound of London, Massive Attack, and the Chemical Brothers reprocessed early American hip-hop.

The most obvious example of this (re)reappropriation was the so-called Amen Break, a drum break sampled from "Amen, Brother," the B-side to the 1969 hit single "Color Him Father" by Washington, DC, soul band the Winstons. A seven-second blast of reverb-laden groove explosion, the Amen Break was popular in 1980s hip-hop and can be heard, eg, in Salt-N-Pepa's "I Desire," N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton," and Mantronix's "King of the Beats."

Following suit in the '90s, British drum and bass DJs sampled the Amen Break, boosting its BPMs to form the blazing bedrock of Source Direct's "Secret Liaison," Aquarius's (aka Photek's) "Dolphin Tune," and Shy FX & UK Apache's "Original Nuttah." Ambient synth tones or gaseous vocal and percussion samples leavened the tracks' heavy-artillery drumbeats.

Metalheadz Sunday Sessions at London's Blue Note club, DJed and founded by Goldie, was ground zero for the drum and bass culture. In 1995, I watched slackjawed as solo dancers flagellated and jumped like pogo sticks to Goldie's drum and bass warfare. It was like nothing I've heard or seen, before or since.

My frequent UK press junkets found me buying as many EDM CDs as I could carry home from the Virgin Megastore—that, and Cuban cigars from the tobacconists on Shaftesbury Avenue. I interviewed Squarepusher, Plone, Plug, Coldcut, the Future Sound of London, and others. I stayed in quaint hotels, visited relatives near Stonehenge, and watched Trainspotting at a small theater in Kings Cross.

Nearly 30 years, later, EDM has surfaced. It has been mainstreamed, commercialized, profit-extracted, and transformed into banal background music for cologne and auto advertisements and 007 films. But for one intense, trippy moment, the EDM underground sizzled.


funambulistic's picture

Well, that was a waste of typing - all the text went "poof", lost in the interwebs forever.

Anyway, a TL/DR version: great feature, love EDM, nice selection, sounds great on good systems...

Anton's picture

That's happened to me before, as well.

I like your summary!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'Block Rockin' Beats' :-) ......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'Busy Child' :-) ........

downunderman's picture

For those with an interest a good book - 'The All Music Guide to Electronica' is very much what you need. Issued as an actual hardcopy book way back in 2001 [ISBN 0-87930-628-9]. Nearly 700 pages worth and if you can snag a second hand copy you will be well rewarded.

supamark's picture

The Chemical Bros. are EDM (and you left off one of the most important/popular EDM albums - The Crystal Method's "Vegas"), and you can at least dance to Laika but the rest of the list fails on the "dance" part of EDM. You can't really dance to trip hop like Portishead's "Dummy," or to drum and bass like Squarepusher, especially drum and bass - too fast/twitchy.

Yes, I know not all 90's EDM is "big beat" but that genere was a big part of it. Probably should have included more examples of different kinds of house music in the list (wasn't really my thing but it's mos' def' EDM). Yes, I spent a lot of time in dance clubs lol.

Maybe call this list interesting 90's electronic music of various genres instead?

funambulistic's picture

... can please all people, unfortunately. Some of my favorites are not mentioned either, but that's okay - Ken painted the EDM "movement" with a very broad brush and I am sure it was not meant to be all inclusive. Having been in the midst and writing for various mags most likely afforded him greater exposure and knowledge than most of us will ever have.

As far as EDM goes, my experience (and, fortunately, said experience was reinforced by some nostalgia driven research last night) is that the term is pretty much all inclusive of a variety of genres: some one can dance to, others, well...

fbailiey's picture

Looks like he missed the canvas.

supamark's picture

but the "M" in EDM literally stands for "dance". If you can't dance to it, how can it be electronic DANCE music? It's a nice cross section of 90's electronic music, but not all of it is dance music. I mean, Portishead's "Dummy" (an excellent album, I own a copy) is trip hop and a fine example of that genre - I've never in 20+ years heard it referred to as EDM, just trip hop or trip hop adjacent genres. Accuracy is important.

AaronGarrett's picture

It's possible that EDM is restricted to British music (maybe that is how the term is used) but if we are talking about electronic dance music I think the opposite is true. EDM is an international music and has countless undergrounds from Bucharest to Sao Paolo to Shanghai to Berlin to Rotterdam, etc. etc. And some of the biggest stars are also some of the most creative musicians in the world -- Ricardo Villalobos and Nina Kraviz are as experimental as you could want and fill stadiums. It has not been an Anglophone dominated music for a long time. And it begins internationally, a bunch of friends in Detroit listening to Kraftwerk and imagining future dance music and the mutation of Italo Disco to House in Chicago.