The History of Electronic Dance Music

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Most sources about the history of electronic music don’t focus on the main thing: the beat! Here you find that missing ‘dance’ link.

I researched electro roots in different genres like Disco, Dub, Pop and Rock, Science Fiction Motion Picture Soundtracks etc. and list only the danceable tracks here, which were played back in the day and led to the newer genres, e.g. ‘Synth(i) Pop’ (= mainly UK New Wave), ‘electronic body music (EBM)’, ‘house music’, ‘techno’, ‘trance’, ‘electro rap’,  ‘drum&bass (D&B)’ and many more sub-genres (or sub-styles). Common denominators are synthesized melodies and/or bass lines and a total arrangement ‘stripped to the bone’ (vocals mainly as chorus, often instrumental versions, less strings/guitars etc.).

So let’s skip the 1950s and 1960s groundbreaking experimental avant-garde and ambient sounds of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Steve Reich, Oscar Sala, John Cage, Brian Eno, Cluster and other obscure German Krautrock bands, even large parts of 1970s Jean Michel Jarre’s and Kraftwerk’s works as well as Pink Floyd and Silver Apples…

Beats and melodies are produced by drum machines and synthesizers. The invention and development of these machines coined the contemporary sounds: from (Mini) Moog over many analog synthesizers to Roland TB 808 and 303 groove boxes.

All genres coexisted in parallel to ‘pure’ Electro and influenced each other. Over the years the new genres mentioned above received their names. There exist no sharp definitions for genres. In fact they overlap: e.g. most of the 1980s techno tracks can also be referred to as ‘electro’.

The term ‘techno’ was historically just a name used in the title of electro tracks (Y.M.O.: Technopolis (1980) and Technodelic (1981), Man Parrish: Techno trax (1982), Cybotron: techno city (1984), Knights of the Turntables: techno scratch (1984), Chris & Cosey: Techno primitiv (1985), Kraftwerk: Techno pop (1986)).

So here we go year by year and stop at the first representative of each new genre:

1962: In my opinion the oldest danceable 100% electro tracks are ‘Tornados: Telstar’, a happy electro hymn, and the TV jingle and Motion Picture Soundtrack of ‘Dr. Who’ by ‘BBC Radiophonic Workshop (Delia Derbyshire)’, which already has a real bass line.

1969: ‘Gershon Kingsley’ produced ‘Popcorn’, another happy ear worm (more successfully covered by Hot Butter in 1972).

1971: ‘Jean Michel Jarre: La cage’, his 1st 7” single with a continuos beat in the first half of this avant-garde electro track.

1974: Cluster: Hollywood is one of the first Electro Pop songs (more danceable than Kraftwerk’s Autobahn of the same year).

1975: ‘King Tubby meets the rockers uptown’ and ‘Joe Gibbs: Half ounce’ as two prime examples of Dub with emphasized electronic beats (of course there existed a lot of dub music earlier…)

1976: another German Krautrock song which swept over to Electro Pop is ‘Can: I want more’. A USA crossover from Jazz to Electro Disco: ‘Dexter Wansel: Life on Mars’. The Greek Vangelis published ‘Pulstar’ and from Jamaica came: ‘Tapper Zukie: MPLA dub’.

The ‘original’ Disco music was invented in the mid-1970s in the USA and starred multi-artist ‘orchestras’ often accompanied by analog synthesizers. Few tracks – mainly from Italian/French producers – with dominant synth lines fit into my definition of electronic disco. Many of these had been played  together with Afro and other genres as ‘Cosmic’ sound (check my playlist).

1977: let’s start with the milestone of ‘Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder: I feel love’ and Giorgio Moroder’s solo work of the same year ‘From here to eternity’, followed by ‘Cerrone: Supernature’ and add some underground tracks like ‘Droids: Do you have the force’, ‘Munich Machine/Giorgio Moroder: Get on the funk train’  and ‘John Forde: Stardance’.

1977 (continued): the pure electro milestone was ‘Kraftwerk: Trans Europe epress’ together with ‘Metall auf Metall’. From France came  ‘Space: Magic fly’, a dreamy synth melody, and ‘Zanov: Moebius 256 301’, which sounds like dub techno in the beginning. Real electro dub from Jamaica: ‘Lee Perry: Disco devil’ and – very astonishing –  a pop music crossover from the UK: ‘Cat Stevens: Was dog a doughnut?’.  German ambient Krautrock starting with a beat : ‘Ashra: Sunrain’. More obscure German electro tracks: ‘Michael Bundt: la chasse aux microbes’ and a year later…

1978: … ‘Leda: endless race’. More French electro of that year: ‘Space Art: Nous savons tout’. Underground electro disco: ‘Trans Volta: Disco computer’, ‘Kebekelektrik (Gino Soccio): War dance’ and ‘Black Devil: Disco club’. Pure electro: ‘Kraftwerk: Die Roboter’

1979: last year of traditional disco with the following synth/electro disco tracks: ‘Laser: Laser’, ‘Telex: Moskow Diskow’ and ‘Gino Soccio: Dancer’. Industrial electro came from the UK: ‘Throbbing Gristle: Hot on the heels of love’ and (more new wave like): ‘Tubeway Army (Gary Numan): Are friends electric?’, ‘Cars’ and ‘Underpass (1980)’, ‘Simple Minds: I travel’, ‘Visage: Frequency 7’. Groundbreaking Atari  sampling on the Japanese ‘Y.M.O.: Computer games’ as well as on the Australian ‘Player 1: Space invaders’.

1980: Swiss electro pop pioneers ‘Yello: Bostich’. The German Anton Monn produced the very last electro disco track: ‘Charisma: Magnifique’. The Sondtrack of ‘Foxes’ contained ‘Giorgio Moroder: Valley of the dolls’. Anonymous remixer ‘Mach’ sampled Munich Machine’s: Get on the funk train and produced ‘On and on’. Jesse Saunders sampled that in 1984 for his version of ‘On and on’ which is widely regarded as the first House Music track ever!

Italian disco evolved to ‘Italo Disco’ in the 1980s. Here are the synth highlights: ‘Azoto: Exalt-exalt’ (1979),  ‘Pluto & Humanoids: World invaders’ (1981), ‘Simonetti/Pignatelli/Morante: Flashing’ (1982), ‘Alexander Robotnick’s: Problemes d’amour’ (1983), ‘Mr. Master: A dog in the night’ (1983), ‘International Music System: Online’ (1983), ‘Charlie: Spacer woman’ (1983), ‘Mr. Flagio: take a chance’ (1983), ‘Sensitive: Driving’ (1984).

1981: ‘Cybotron (Juan Atkins)’ issues the first Techno 7” single: ‘Alleys of your mind’ in the USA. This was the true techno milestone. Some people call ‘A Number of Names: Share vari’ the first techno track but in my opinion this is more conventional electro. Germany’s ‘Manuel Goettsching: E2-E4’ is the basis for balearic house Sueno Latino (1989).  German ‘New Wave’ act Liaisons Dangereuses deliver ‘Peut etre … pas’, an electro ‘pre-house’ tune. An US underground gem: pulsating electro madness ‘Silicon Soul: Who needs sleep tonight’. From Japan came: ‘Logic System: Domino dance’, a melodic electro track. Out of the UK: ‘Ultravox: Keep torque-ing’, rather hard electro than synthi pop/new wave. And from the USA electro dub underground: ‘ESG: Moody/UFO’. Pure German electro: ‘Kraftwerk: Dentaku’. Electro Funk highlights : ‘Johnsons/Maurice Starr: Jail bait’ and ‘Prince Charles: I’m  a fool for love’.

1981/1982: Belgium electronic body music (EBM) begins with Front 242: ‘Body to body’ (1981) and ‘black white blue’ (1982). USA Electro Rap starts in 1982 with ‘Afrika Bambaataa: Planet Rock’ (heavily sampling Kraftwerk) and countless others.

1983: ‘Charanjit Singh: Ten ragas to a disco beat’ was the Indian milestone, using a Roland TB303 before it became popular in Acid House (1st Track: Sleazy D: I’ve lost control, 1986). ‘Jesse Saunders: I like to do it in fast cars’ – prototype House track, but no really house music yet. And another Kraftwerk masterpiece: ‘Tour de France’.

1984: ‘Art of Noise: Do Donna do’ – pure electro – and ‘Knight Action/Sedenia: Single girl’ – another protoype House music track.

1984: ‘Jesse Saunders: On and on’ – the first house music track on vinyl. See story above (1977 Munich Machine and 1980 Mach). Jesse Saunders also issued ‘Funk you up’ in the same year.

1985:  ‘Mr. Fingers (Larry Heard): Mystery of love’ laysthe foundation of Deep House.

1986: ‘Kraftwerk: Techno pop’ pure electro – the title speaks for itself and has THE message for the future ‘es wird immer weiter gehn, Musik als Träger von Ideen = it will go on and on, music as transporter for ideas)

1987: ‘Phuture (DJ Pierre): Acid tracks’ – the seminal acid house milestone, but the first one was ‘Sleazy D: I’ve lost control’ in 1986.

1988: ‘KLF: what time is love’ and ‘3am eternal’ are the first trance tracks from the UK, followed by ‘Mosaic III (Sven Vaeth): Hypnotic ecstasy’ (1989) and ‘Abfahrt (Torsten Fenslau): Alone it’s me’ (1989) from Germany.

1989: ‘Renegade Soundwave: Phantom’ an early breakbeat/rave example (which continued as unique genre) as basis for the earliest drum&bass releases: ‘LTJ Bukem: Logical progression’ (1991) and ‘A Guy called Gerald: 28 Gun bad boy’ (1991)…

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