EDM / Dance
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The accessibility of the top EDM songs from all over the globe, being widely available is a relatively recent phenomenon! Think of it this way - electronic dance music has emerged from underground dance clubs and illegal raves to now become one of the most popular music genres on Earth.
What constitutes the best EDM, however? How do you gather together songs ranging from drum 'n bass to house to techno and all points in-between? Especially considering how each audience has very particular needs which are often quite contradictory?
That's not even to mention the challenge of finding the most popular EDM songs in the first place. If you follow electronic music at all, you'll know that the best singles and most innovative artists often don't even make it to an official release. You've got to scour DJ mixes, podcasts, and social media feeds to truly keep your finger on the global beat.
Which is precisely what we do here at We Are: The Guard.
To help take stock of the current EDM scene, let's take a look at some of its history. We'll also take a glance at some of the most popular EDM sub-genres to help you pick them apart and find the gems yourself.
The history of EDM goes all the way back to when electricity first started being pushed through wires. The earliest electronic instrument, the Orchestrion, was like a mixture of a player piano and a mellotron and acted as a kind of proto-Jukebox.
We're talking about electronic dance music, however. Not electronic reproductions of classical music. Or the wild, whirring bleeps and bloops of early 20th Century electronica. Early synthesizer records would only qualify as EDM tracks if you like to pogo to particle accelerators. We'll begin our pre-history of EDM with the Dr. Who theme song. Although 1963's "Doctor Who theme" - composed by electronic innovator Delia Derbyshire and Dick Mills and realized by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop - is more Musique concrète than anything with its reliance on tape splicing and manipulation, it's still got a funky bassline and you can get down to it.
The "Dr. Who Theme Song" also marks the moment when electronic music would enter mass media on a wider scale. No longer tied to images of flying saucers and global annihilation, electronic sounds were finally unleashed to reveal the full range of its capacities.
Electronic dance music as we know it today officially got its start in the '70s, however, with the advent of disco and euro dance.
Many of EDM's roots in the 1970s still don't sound much like the house-thumping, bassquake of today's club music. It still laid the groundwork for how EDM is both made and consumed to this day.
Disco is the most direct ancestor of today's dance clubs, raves, and EDM music festivals. Starting in the early '70s, disco blended rock, soul, funk, and jazz with some of the emerging electronic sound sculpting technologies, most notably the drum machine. The disco sound and style really got going in the late '70s, in earnest, with the rise of euro disco and dance.
Futuristic producers like Giorgio Moroder would start to bend and warp soul and funk styles into new shapes and sounds. Tracks like Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" sound like an erotic ballad beamed from the other side of a warp beam, while still remaining rooted in the sweaty earthiness of funk and soul.
Disco is also responsible for introducing the "two turntables and a microphone" approac to DJing, which would quickly get picked up by hip-hop and reggae artists. These genres have run parallel to one another ever since, coming back together again in the late '90s and into the new millennium.
Many other underground genres were quick to adopt the newly emerging electronic technology, employing their sound-bending potential in new and innovative ways. Synthpop and new wave would take these potentialities to the next level in the '80s, laying the foundation for EDM's eventual global takeover.
All of these discrete threads would come together in the 1980s, coalescing into today's idea of EDM. The availability of more affordable electronic instruments, like the Roland synthesizers and drum machines, would make some of the earliest and most influential electronic genres possible. The rise of cassette tapes and pirate radio would make disseminating those sounds easier than ever, as well, helping EDM reach a widespread audience.
Some of the earliest hip-hop acts were virtually indistinguishable from other electronic styles. Electro, short for electro-funk, came to prominence in the early '80s. Tracks from the likes of Afrika Bambaataa and Herbie Hancock are virtually indistinguishable from European synthpop like Kraftwerk or Japan's Yellow Magic Orchestra.
The true roots of EDM lie in The Windy City of Chicago with the rise of House Music.
All of these various styles of early electronic music came together under the crafty fingers of radio DJs like The Hot Mix 5 or club DJs like Frankie Knuckles or Ron Hardy. Early hip-hop, electro, futuristic disco, and synthpop were combined with drum machines and electronic effects. Some DJs would create edits of their favorite singles, setting the stage for remixes, which would become standard currency in EDM.
All of these threads would come together on Jesse Saunder's "On and On," widely thought to be the first house record. These sounds would start to trickle out to the wider world to take on different regional flavors. House music emigrated roughly 300 miles north, to Detroit, laying the groundwork for a harder, steelier variant: techno music.
House would start to enter the mainstream via singles like M/A/R/R/S's "Pump Up The Volume" and "Doctorin' The House," by Coldcut. Clearly, the intersection between club and pop music goes back much farther than Miley Cyrus.
Techno's roots aren't that different from house music. The earliest techno producers/DJs fused electro, funk, futuristic jazz, with house music itself, combining the many different shades of African American music with electronic instruments and futuristic production techniques. Ironically, considering the austere, repetitive, alien nature of techno, the style was actually born of a quest for beauty and a freedom from the tyranny of post-industrial living.
Techno was largely created by the holy trinity known as the Belleville Three. Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson's music may sound like the score for a Terminator back alley chase, it was meant to approximate the possibility of technology, all clean lines and precise rhythms.
Techno would be instrumental in introducing EDM into Europe, who'd been resistant to Chicago's house music. Tracks like Derrick May's "Strings Of Life" would become huge hits in the UK and throughout Europe. It would also help create further permutations, like acid house, which would rise to prominence in the late '80s.
The rising popularity of techno and acid house in the UK and Europe would help give momentum to the rising rave movement.
The world as a whole became infatuated with cyberculture in the '90s. It's the decade that gave us widespread access to the Internet, for instance. CGI would become omnipresent, as well. It was clear we were becoming inhabited by the machines.
It makes sense that the '90s would be the moment when EDM truly arrived. It would still remain largely underground in the '90s despite being hugely popular. The best EDM tracks of the '90s were still circulated via whitelabel 12"s, pirate radio, mixtapes, and illegal raves.
Electronic dance music continued to diversify throughout the 90s, breaking down into a wide range of BPMs, each with its own audience. There was the euphoric rush of trance music, with its reliance on hyper-fast tempos and catchy pop vocals. Complicated drum breaks were further sliced and diced, like the dreams of Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa on dissociatives, becoming first jungle and then morphing into drum 'n bass.
Some of the other sub-genres would take on a slower, more ominous hue, like the jazz/electronica/hip-hop hybrid known as trip-hop. Or they would speed up, for a similar result, like the amphetamine aggression of hardcore.
Some of the top EDM hits ever written were produced in the '90s. Even though the scene was still underground, it was right below the surface. The massive explosion of EDM in the 2000s to present was rife for blast-off.
As the Digital and Information Age came of age in earnest in the 2000s, all things subcultural and underground quickly became inescapable. EDM was no exception, becoming a soundtrack for hedonism, lifestyle marketing, social unrest, and technological explosion of the first two decades of the 21st Century.
Every strain and variant of EDM's gained popularity and momentum since the millennium. Dubstep may be the purest, most concise allegory for the evolution of electronic music in the 2000s.
Like techno, dubstep started out as a militant, futuristic art movement that was quickly co-opted into the drug-addled monster shredding subwoofers from sunrise to sunset.
Beginning in the late '90s, dubstep started out as an extension of UK jungle, drum 'n bass, and a particularly filthy style of UK hip-hop known as grime. Dubstep would take the intricate rhythms of two-step and future garage.
Dubstep's almost elegant austerity would quickly lose its nuance and theoretical underpinning when it traveled back across the ponds. Americans would take the tectonic depth charge of dubstep's drops to carnival-like proportions, modulating into what's often called "monster step" or "brostep."
Dubstep was just one form of underground dance music that came to prominence during the Information Age. Virtually every other style is enjoying mainstream success or a renaissance, thanks to extensive archiving, vibrant communities, and global EDM festivals.
Trap music may be the other best example of 21st Century EDM. Similar to dubstep, trap started out as backing tracks for experimental, non-commercial hip-hop, most notably crunk and dirty south. Trap started out as a perfect cybernetic hybrid of hip-hop and cutting-edge EDM like dubstep. It wouldn't take long to fall into its own groove, shredding speaker systems in low riders around the world.
Perhaps the greatest surprise might be that trap has actually outlived dubstep and dirty southern , although both still have their adherents. As almost everything does in the simulacrum of the Digital Age.
There's a flavor of EDM for absolutely everybody. Everybody that's fascinated by the moving power of machine-generated repetitious beats and the infinite potential that synthesis and sampling have to offer.
Going forward, We Are: The Guard predict the top EDM songs will return back to the handmade ways of early techno, house, and even synthesis. The cybernetic perfection of digital d'n'b; the dopamine-hacking over-indulgence of latter-day dubstep; the pristine perfection of PsyTrance are easily reproducible and sort of generic. Producers and DJs are finding new ways to make tracks stand out and stick to the hungry ear canals of euphoric ravers.
So here's to a new golden age of the best EDM dance songs a mind can imagine!
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