EDM: An Electronic Dance Music Primer

By Chris Breitenbach

After the infamous “Disco Demolition Night” at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1979, American dance music went underground. But the last decade has seen it return to the mainstream with a vengeance. Here, then, is a primer, of some of the best Electronic Dance Music (EDM) the library has to offer.

  • Syro

    2014 by Aphex Twin, 1971- prf

    Arguably the most influential electronic music artist of the last 25 years, Richard James (Aphex Twin) released Syro last year, his first album of new material in almost a decade. Drums sputter, groove’s begin only to be abandoned, ancient synths are tweaked, melodies appear and evaporate. It’s odd, highly innovative music you can wiggle your hips to.

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  • Double Cup

    2013 by DJ Rashad

    Over the last 10-years Chicago’s South Side has nurtured a new and exciting genre of dance music called Footwork. It’s whiplash fast, sample-heavy, sweetly melodic and in the right hands, an exhilarating sugar rush. The late Rashad Harden (DJ Rashad) knew just how to do it too, and Double Cup still stands as the best thing to ever come out of the Footwork genre.

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  • Amygdala

    2013 by DJ Koze

    Stefan Kozalla, the German DJ and music producer who releases albums as DJ Koze, is a master of making some of weirdest yet delightfully palatable dance music out there. And Koze’s music is definitely “out there.” Amygdala, his latest album, is a masterpiece of carefully constructed (and lovingly deconstructed) technicolor dance music with a charming surrealistic streak.

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  • Faith In Strangers

    2014 by Andy Stott

    For the most part, dance music has played it smooth. The sound is typically crisp, warm and enveloping, the better for dancers to lose themselves in the groove. But there’s always been a fringe that likes to distort things, to throw mud and static into the mix and make things uncomfortable. Faith in Strangers is a haunted, rusted hulk of an album, all grime and no shine. And yet for all its alienating shades of grey, Faith in Strangers is a remarkably invigorating, meticulously sculpted album.

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  • In Colour

    2015 by Jamie xx

    Jamie Smith, who records under the alias Jamie xx, comes from London, where dance music never fled underground. In fact, when the US was shunning dance music, most of Europe was opening its arms to amazing underground dance tracks being produced by musicians in Chicago and Detroit. Smith grew up in a world where dance culture and its accompanying soundtrack were idolized, and his debut album is a reverent, even nostalgic ode to its many charms. If you’re looking for a point of entry into the sprawling world of dance music as it stands right now, In Colour is your cup of tea.

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  • Cosmogramma

    2010 by Flying Lotus, 1983-

    Steven Ellison’s music under his Flying Lotus alias is on the more challenging end of the EDM spectrum. And like so much dance music, the album draws hungrily from other genres- jazz, soul, hip-hop, science fiction and video games in this case. It’s a funky stew of sonics with odd sounds sprouting up everywhere, though Ellison keeps it all rooted and warmly engaging.

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  • Geogaddi

    2002 by Boards of Canada

    Boards of Canada, a couple of brothers from Scotland, are the ultimate purveyors of nostalgia. Imagine an old photograph, one taken sometime in the mid-70s, colors gently faded, a blurred image of children playing in autumn twilight, and you come close to the wistful, haunted and sometimes downright creepy sound Boards of Canada conjure. Geogaddi, their sophomore album, is like the soundtrack to a fairytale gone to seed. The sounds are full of decay and tape-hiss, bordering psychedelic. It’s a careful mix of utopia and the occult, a rustic commune overrun with witchcraft. Halloween music.

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  • It's Album Time

    2014 by Todd Terje

    I find it delightfully quirky that Norway (of all places!) is a hotbed of Disco revivalism . One of its biggest champions is Todd Olson who records under the name Todd Terje, itself a sly homage to the great House music producer Todd Terry. Got that? No matter, Terje’s debut album, the seemingly universally adored It’s Album Time, is stuffed with some of his greatest dancefloor anthems of the last few years, including the album’s last track, the gloriously uplifting and awe-inspiringly cheesy, Inspector Norse.

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