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Indie electronic, also known as indietronica, can be both a descriptor or a genre. Typically, indie electronic stems from indie rock, synth-pop, or electronic music, often combining elements of many genres. The genre first began in the 90s, with indie electronic music often utilizing synths, drum machines, and digital audio workstations. The genre increased in popularity as synths became more available throughout the 90s.
In the late 1920s-early 1930s, composers began exploring sounds that were previously not considered to be musical. With the invention of magnetic audio tape, composers found a new control over these sounds. A technique called musique concrète allowed composers to physically cut and place different pieces of tape together to create compositions that mixed natural and industrial recorded sounds. Pierre Schaeffer in collaboration with Pierre Henry created some of the first popular electronic music.
The Brussels World Fair in 1958 marked a milestone for electronic art on a global scale. Poème électronique by Edgard Varèse and Concret PH by Iannis Xenakis were written specifically for an artistic, architectural structure called the Philips Pavilion. The pieces were synchronized to a video, making this one of the first visual art and electronic music collaborations to be displayed for the world. Other prominent, early electronic innovators include Boulez and Babbitt.
In 1970, French President Pompidou funded the Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music (IRCAM). Established and led by Boulez, the initiative focussed on two main disciplines: computer music research and computer music production. This program aided the discovery of many advances in electronic music technology.
The BBC Radiotronics Workshop was a collective that utilized methods closely related to musique concrète techniques. The workshop was one of BBC’s sound effects units known for scoring shows like Doctor Who and taking huge strides in electronic music innovation. The workshop contained some of the most advanced electronic equipment between 1958 and 1998. Similar to musique concrete, the workshop’s early methods, including manipulating tape. The workshop members were able to play tape back at different speeds and ultimately change the pitch. While they did not initially allow musicians in the studio, they went on to work with artists including Pink Floyd and Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones. Effect pedals from the studio were used by guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. Many of the sounds created in the workshop have been sampled by various popular artists within the indie electronic genre.
Formed in 1989 by Ian Crause, Paul Willmott, Daniel Gish, and Rob Whatley, Disco Inferno (not to be confused with the song by the Trammps or the disco cover band in Cleveland, OH) was a pioneer in using digital sampling in rock music. Influenced by both My Bloody Valentine and the Bomb Squad simultaneously, it makes sense how they would come to use hip-hop’s sampling technique in a new way. With a Roland S-750 sampler, the band was able to incorporate the sounds of nature, cities, cars, and human voices into their music.
Underground avant-pop band Stereolab was formed in 1990. Influenced by pop music and krautrock (a genre that describes German influenced electronic rock), the band uses synths heavily. They make a point to use vintage gear. After a 10 year hiatus, the band returned to the stage in 2019.
Steve Beckett and Rob Mitchell were immersed in Sheffield’s underground music scene, as they worked in a record store. When they teamed up with producer Robert Gorden, Warp Records was formed in 1989. Warp has a stacked catalog of influential indie electronic artists including Aphex Twin, LFO, Flying Lotus, Danny Brown, Grizzly Bear, and Brian Eno.
Sub Pop was formed in 1986 and gained acclaim for signing grunge heavyweights including Nirvana. As electronic music began to appear in rock music, Sub Pop became a leader in the indie electronic scene, signing bands like The Postal Service and Beach House.
Today, indie electronic can be used to describe a pretty vast array of sounds. From chill, independently released electronic music, to songwriters incorporating some innovative production techniques, here are some of our favorite releases.
Artists within the genre can be spotted in some of the largest venues in the world and have been dominating in the festival scene. Performing alongside rock, pop, and hip-hop artists at some of the largest festivals, the genre has created a huge footprint on festival lineups. The DIY, relatable lyrics mixed with danceable moments resonate well with festival crowds. The more chill indie electronic music provides a great soundtrack for those looking to relax for a moment during the weekend’s excitement. Coupled with amazing visuals and lighting design, the indie electronic sets are not to be missed. Festivals like Electric Forest, Coachella, Osheaga, Gov Ball, and Bonnaroo showcase some of the top indie electronic talent.
The genre has made a lot of progress over the last 20 years and does not show any sign of stopping.
On that note, we hope you enjoy our editorial selections, new artists and the latest indie electronic favorites here at We Are: The Guard.
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