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Electronic Music 101

(Photo: Damien Lazarus,

Though it’s considered the music du juor, electronic music is hardly new. Commonly referred to as EDM (electronic dance music) by today’s listeners, the genre first came about several decades ago and has since played an integral role in changing the way music is not only created, but also heard and received. Its gradual but wildly successful comeback in recent years has also resulted in a variety of music festivals that celebrate electronic DJs, producers and fans. From the Ultra Music Festival (reaching its 15th year in March 2013) and Movement (reaching its 13th year) to newer festivals such as Moogfest and the borough’s very own 5th annual Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival taking place this weekend, there is something for every electronic music lover. In honor of the upcoming festival, Brooklyn Exposed presents Electronic Music 101 for seasoned fans, newcomers and everyone in between.

1. What is electronic music?
Like its name implies, electronic music steers away from “traditional” instruments and more toward synthesizers (analog, modular, hybrid, etc.), computers, effect pedals, MIDI controllers, drum pads and more. In a live setting, electronic artists use any variation of these instruments and equipment with additional backing—including vocals, at times—by other musicians. In a DJ set, he or she can either do an-all vinyl set with turntables or use laptops, CDJs and mixers, among other items. While some presume a DJ set is as simple as pressing a few buttons, a memorable show is defined by more than just the DJ’s song selection. Beat matching is an essential—if not the most important—technical skill of a DJ set. This technique allows for a seamless transition with each track to keep the flow going and avoiding awkward pauses between songs. While it may come easily for some, proper beat matching is best achieved with repeated practice.

2. When did it come about?
Like any genre, the creation, development and expansion of electronic music can hardly be summed up in a few short paragraphs. It’s no surprise then that its rich and extensive history is the subject of countless essays, books and even documentaries. To some, electronic music can be dated as far back as the invention of the phonautograph, the earliest sound-recording device. From there, various other devices and instruments were developed and improved such as the Audion tube, the Theremin and more. By 1907, a conversation regarding the use of these devices in relation to music began to take shape following the release of Ferruccio Busoni’s Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music which left a lasting impact on many at the time, including Edgard Varèse, who prophetically claimed “I almost think that in the new great music, machines will also be necessary and will be assigned a share in it. Perhaps industry, too, will bring forth her share in the artistic ascent.”

As it stands, however, contemporary electronic music is most often associated with the original Moog (rhymes with “vogue”) synthesizer of 1964. Created by Dr. Robert Moog, this development played a major role in music production in the late ’60s and ’70s as it was featured in songs by The Beatles, The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, Kraftwerk and countless other legends. In the early '70s, seminal German band Kraftwerk released synth-based albums that would become the forerunners for breakthrough artists including Pet Shop Boys, Erasure and Depeche Mode.

In regards to electronic music, the Moog also paved the way for disco’s commercial success. At the same time, the early days of hip-hop and scratching began to emerge, thus introducing NYC - and later the world - to ways of manipulating vinyl for entertainment. From there, disco and hip-hop helped give birth to house music (derived from Chicago warehouse parties) which created a snowball effect as new sub-genres began to appear such as breakbeat, trance and techno (notably made famous in Detroit), acid house, German techno, UK garage, synth pop, progressive house drum n’ bass and jungle. At the same time, New Wave went mainstream and DJs such as Moby and Fatboy Slim became international supertars. Even though not every new sub-genre relied on the Moog, it remained an essential aspect in the production aspect of electronic music while also influencing newer equipment and instrumentation used today. 

By the early 1990s, raves, underground warehouse parties and massive gatherings had begun to take place all in the name of these musical styles—it seemed unstoppable. By the start of the millennium, however, these beloved parties taking place worldwide were being shut down by law enforcement after reports of rampant drug use began to taint the genre’s culture, ultimately placing the scene on somewhat of a hiatus. While it never fully went away, electronic music and its fans lay low for a while before working its way back up with festivals such as Ultra Music Festival and Movement before becoming today’s preferred genre. In recent year it has returned stronger than ever and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

3. Who are the artists?
It’s impossible to list every sub-genre that falls under electronic music. It’s even more impossible to list all the noteworthy artists belonging to each genre. Instead, here’s a short compilation of legends, contemporary headlines and artists worth looking up.

Pioneers and Legends: Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, David Mancuso, Brian Eno, New Order, Stacey Pullen, Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Afrika Bambaataa, Kevin Saunderson, DJ Sneak, Derrick Carter, Carl Cox, Carl Craig, Paul Johnson, Frankie Bones, Marshall Jefferson, Danny Tenaglia, Sasha, DJ Frankie Knuckles, Satoshi Tomiie, Pete Tong, Aphex Twin, Depeche Mode, Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers, Ricardo Villalobos, Josh Wink, Moby, David Guetta, Tiesto, Deadmau5.

Contemporary Festival Headliners: Nicolas Jaar, Lee Burridge, Richie Hawtin Seth Troxler, Jamie Jones, Maya Jane Coles, Damien Lazarus, Wolf + Lamb, Matthew Dear, Nic Fanciulli, Steve Lawler, Art Department, Claude VonStroke, Guy Gerber, The Martinez Brothers, A-Trak, Loco Dice, Groove Armada, Diplo, Steve Aoki, Justice, Sven Vaath, Luciano, Avicii, Skrillex, Kaskade, Fedde Le Grand, Dada Life, Laidback Luke, Bassnectar, Bloody Beetroots, Dillon Francis, Excision, Datsik.

Keep On Your Radar: PillowTalk, dOP, Matt Tolfrey, Slow Hands, Kate Simko, Brodanse, Tale of Us, Maceo Plex, Magda, Manik, Droog, Footprintz, Subb-an, Photek, Disclosure, Bondax, Soul Clap, Ifan Dafydd, Perseus, Jacques Renault, Justin Martin, Zimmer, Homework, Duke Dumont, No Regular Play, Waifs & Strays, Audiojack, Tanner Ross, James Teej, Justin Miller, Frank & Tony, Bob Moses, Shlohmo, Star Slinger.

4. Where can you hear it?
From shopping stores to nightclubs, one can hear electronic music everywhere these days. For a unique experience, however, one should attend a music festival at least once. Below are some of the most anticipated annual festivals:

  • Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival – Brooklyn, NY
  • Burning Man – Black Rock Desert, NV
  • Coachella – Indio, CA
  • CMJ – New York, NY
  • Creamfields – UK, Argentina
  • Electric Daisy Carnival – Various locations
  • Global Gathering – UK
  • Moogfest – Asheville, NC
  • Movement – Detroit, MI
  • MUTEK – Canada
  • Mysterland – Holland, Chile
  • Sensation – Various locations
  • Sonar – Spain
  • Tomorrowland – Belgium
  • Ultra Music Festival / Winter Music Conference – Miami, FL

5. Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival
Currently celebrating its fifth year, the annual BEMF will take place this Friday, November 9 through Saturday, November 10. With an impressive line-up year after year, the festival has gone on to become a highly anticipated event for locals and attendees from around the region. This year’s performers include electronic prodigy Nicolas Jaar, Brenmar, Shlohmo, Baths, Photek, Gold Panda, Body Language, XXYYXX, Nadastrom, Pearson Sound, Sabo and more across different venues. Tickets are still available for $35 - $65.

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