Regardless of what classical and elite music’s opinion may be, EDM is the thing today. In this day and age, everywhere we go, every song we listen, has electronic music of some form or the other. But have you ever wondered where all these modern bass drops, looped clicks, and psychedelic trance originated from? Whatever was going on in people’s heads when they came up with these innovations?
We have procured a list of songs from the last century that were historic in laying the foundation for the Electronic Dance Music we are banging our heads to every weekend.
George McCrae – Rock Your Baby – 1974
George McCrae’s 1974 disco hit Rock Your Baby was one of the first songs to ever use a ‘drum machine’, an electronic instrument used to create percussion sounds. Musical Instrument Manufacturer Roland’s drum machines significantly influenced the development of dance and hip hop music, and genres such as techno, house and acid in the 80’s.
Written and produced by Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch of KC and the Sunshine Band, “Rock Your Baby” was one of the landmark recordings of early disco music. The song reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in the US, as well as on the UK Singles Chart.
Giorgio Moroder Ft. Donna Summer – I Feel Love – 1977
Italian producer Moroder’s ‘I Feel Love’ is widely credited as “one of the most influential records ever made”, originating electronic dance music, and as the first track in the Hi-NRG genre. In 2011, The Guardian’s Richard Vine ranked the release of “I Feel Love” as one of 50 key events in the history of dance music, proclaiming it as “one of the first to fully utilise the potential of electronics, replacing lush disco orchestration with the hypnotic precision of machines”
Giorgio Moroder’s innovative production of this song, recorded with an entirely synthesized backing track, spawned countless imitators in the disco genre and was influential in the development of new wave, synth-pop and later techno.
Fun Fact: In 2011, the Library of Congress added the song to the National Recording Registry, deeming it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important”
King Tubby – King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown – 1976
A dub instrumental track produced by reggae musician Augustus Pablo and mixed by King Tubby, it was a dub version of the Jacob Miller song “Baby I Love You So”, also produced by Pablo. Dub music, stemming from the roots reggae and sound system culture that flourished between 1968 and 1985, is one of the important precursors to contemporary electronic dance music.
Online music guide AllMusic claimed that the song is “widely regarded as the finest example of dub ever recorded”. When Tubby completed the dub, he regenerated the drums several times and created a totally new rhythm which was later tagged “rockers”.
Afrika Bambaataa – Planet Rock – 1982
Although it was primarily an underground hit in the United States, Canada, and UK, Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock helped change the foundations of hip-hop and dance music and became one of the most influential pieces and eventually an icon of the hip-hop, breakdance and electronic music cultures. In November 2004, “Planet Rock” placed at number 240 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and number 10 in About.com’s Top 100 Rap Songs.
The influence of “Planet Rock” can still be heard in the work of producers such as Timbaland and The Neptunes. In 1998, Afrika Bambaataa produced a remix combining electro and house music elements, called “Planet Rock ’98,” which is regarded as an early example of the electro house genre.
Warp 9 – Nunk – 1982
Planet Rock was followed later that year by another breakthrough electro record, “Nunk” by Warp 9. “Nunk” was code for NUNK= N-ew wave + f-UNK. The first single by the group Warp 9, Nunk appeared as a vocal and instrumental version on the group’s 1983 debut album It’s a Beat Wave. The song was characterized by a robotic chant, syncopated rhythms and arcade-sounding, sci-fi influenced synths from funky keyboard riffs to eerie string lines.
Fusing elements from electro-pop, rock, Latin, Afro-Cuban, and hip hop is integral to Warp 9 and to the identity of electro hip hop. Brian Chin of Billboard called “Nunk” a “very skillful pastiche of a whole passel of recent street and fusion sounds, along with a simple rap.”
Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing – 198
Among the long list of classics by Marvin Gaye sits an electronic milestone of a song: Sexual Healing. It has been described as a post-disco, soul and funk song. Gaye’s chartbuster begins with a deep bass drum followed by “tinny” handclaps, “ticky” snare, and “tishy” hi-hats generated by a Roland TR-808 drum machine.
Sexual Healing is in fact listed at number 233 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Fun Fact: As the song fades out, Gaye can be heard singing, “please don’t procrastinate, it’s not good to masturbate.”
Depeche Mode – People are People – 1984
Depeche Mode are considered to be among the “50 Bands That Changed The World”, and have had 50 songs in the UK Singles Chart. Although they were only famous in Europe and Australia in their early years, the release of People Are People brought them out to the world. It was the first time a Dance Music track topped a country’s singles chart. “People Are People” has since become an anthem for the LGBT community, regularly played at gay establishments and gay pride festivals in the late 1980s.
The percussion on this song incorporates various culinary implements. Literally pots and pans and things were thrown down the stairs and their crashing rhythms recorded. These were then put into loops.
Jesse Saunders – On & On – 1984
In the early 1980s, Chicago radio jocks played various styles of dance music, including older disco records and electro funk and pop music. Some even made and played their own edits of songs, and sometimes mixed in effects, drum machines, and other rhythmic electronic instrumentation, resulting in the birth of House Music.
On and On, the hypnotic electronic dance song, produced in 1984 by Chicago DJ Jesse Saunders had elements that became staples of the early house sound. The new blend took disco loops and samples and gave them a futuristic flair courtesy of a Roland 808 drum machine and other machine wizardry. “On and On” is often cited as the ‘first house record’.
Derrick May – Strings of Life – 1987
The success of house and acid house paved the way for Detroit Techno, a style that was initially supported by a handful of house music clubs in USA. The term Techno first came into use after a release of a 10 Records/Virgin Records compilation titled Techno: The Dance Sound of Detroit in 1988. One of the first Detroit productions to receive wider attention was Derrick May’s “Strings of Life” (1987), which, together with May’s previous release, “Nude Photo” (1987), helped raise techno’s profile in Europe, during the 1987–1988 house music boom
According to British DJ Mark Moore, “Strings of Life” led London club goers to accept house. Within a year, in summer 1989, up to 10,000 people at a time were attending commercially organised underground parties called raves.
So you see, EDM has been around for over 40 years, growing bigger and bigger through experimentation. And the thing about experimentation is, it never ends. Hybridization, where elements of two or more genres are combined, can lead to the emergence of an entirely new genre of EDM on any given day.
That’s it. You can go back to listening to Skrillex now.