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The Story of Electronic Music

There’s no denying that modern electronic music owes a lot to earlier pioneers. But it wasn’t until the late 1960s that we first saw the genre break out of niche circles and into broader audiences. The groundwork for this explosion had been laid decades earlier, but it wasn’t until the invention of cheap synthesizers that the possibilities became apparent.

The early days of electronic music were marked by a number of milestones, from the invention of the theremin by Russian scientist Georgi Theremin to George Crump’s seminal Moog synthesizer.

These innovations paved the way for electronic music as we know it today. From house and techno to ambient and chillout, here’s everything you need to know about how electronic music came to be.

The Invention of the Theremin

The theremin is an early example of an electronic musical instrument. It was created by Russian scientist, inventor and composer Leon Theremin in the late 1920s. He built his theremin from a wooden box and copper wire. By moving the wooden box across the wire he could control the pitch of the instrument.

A theremin is similar to a radio, with the difference being that you control sound with your hands instead of a remote control.

Theremins were first used in sci-fi films, where they’d be used to create eerie soundtracks. But pop music soon embraced the theremin as well. In the early 1930s, theremins were used by jazz musicians such as Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. Soon afterwards, “Songs to the Sun”, a album by composer George Antheil, featured a lot of theremin music.

Robert Moog’s Synthesizer

The first commercial Moog synthesizer was invented by American inventor Don Buchla and released in 1967. However, American engineer Robert Moog built his own prototype of the synth in 1957. Moog was a keyboardist and synthesizer enthusiast in his spare time.

The experience of working with synthesizers inspired Moog to start his own company that would manufacture the instruments. Moog was one of the pioneers of electronic music production.

House Music: From Chicago to New York City

While the invention of synthesizers paved the way for modern electronic music, it was the house movement that truly revolutionized the genre. House wasn’t a new genre at all, but rather a revival of the disco sound that had been popular in the early ‘70s.

The first house records appeared in the late ‘70s, but it wasn’t until the early ‘80s that house music really took off. This was largely thanks to the innovative music production skills of DJ/producers such as DJ Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley and DJ Pierre.

House music made a huge impact in Chicago, where it was first developed. It was at this time that house music became closely associated with the gay and black communities in Chicago. House music is still hugely popular in Chicago, where famous venues include The Warehouse and Millennium Park.

Trance: From Detroit to Ibiza

Trance wasn’t originally a subgenre of electronic music at all, but rather a type of dance music that was being played at raves in the early 1990s. Trance quickly became one of the most popular subgenres within electronic music.

Trance music is typically an upbeat style of electronic music that often features a trance-inducing melody. Trance songs often feature an entrancing melody and uplifting lyrics; many trance songs are about overcoming obstacles and finding peace in life.

Ambient, Chillout and Electronica: From Berlin to Tokyo

By the late ‘80s, electronic music had become much more diverse and experimental. The genres of ambient and chillout had been around for some time, but they really started to become popular in the ‘90s.

At the same time as ambient and chillout had become popular, so too had electropop—a hybrid of pop music and electronic music.

Japanese artists contributed a lot to the evolution of electronic music. Artists such as DJ Deut and Haruomi Hosono explored electronic sounds, while others, such as Kitaro, used Asian instruments to create new hybrid genres such as ethnic electronica. Ethnic electronica has become hugely popular in recent years. It’s a genre that blends traditional music with futuristic sounds.

Electronic Dance Music: From New York City to EDM Culture

By the late ‘90s, electronic dance music was firmly established as a mainstream form of popular music. However, it wasn’t until the ‘00s that the genre really took off.

This was largely thanks to the efforts of DJs such as Deadmau5 and Paul Oakenfold. Deadmau5’s original track ‘Faxing Berlin,’ released in 2006, helped to introduce electronic dance music to a wider audience.

Electronic dance music is a broad term that covers a variety of subgenres of electronic music. It’s a genre that often focuses on rhythm and catchy melodies, and often features a prominent bassline. Styles of electronic dance music include house, techno, trance, dubstep and many others.

Final Words

The story of modern electronic music is fascinating. The invention of cheap synthesizers paved the way for a veritable explosion in the genre. This was helped in no small part by pioneers such as Don Buchla and Robert Moog, while the invention of the theremin paved the way for the first electronic instruments.

From there, the genre only grew and continued to evolve. There was much experimentation with new sounds and new instruments during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but it wasn’t until the late ‘80s that we first saw the genre break out of niche circles and into broader audiences. Electronic music continues to grow and evolve to this day, and it’s fascinating to watch.



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