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photo of paradise garage
Monument to the disco era:
The Paradise Garage in
New York City.

Dance Music Foundations

During the late 1980s and the 1990s, electronic dance music grew by massive leaps and bounds. Now that the technology is firmly in place for nearly everyone, purely electronic music goes mainstream. The most widespread venues for the "display" of this music are night clubs and music festivals. Musical sub-genres begin to emerge to classify the wide range of musical styles electronic musicians are creating at breakneck speed. It is beyond the scope of this site to cover all of these developments, so a general overview must suffice.


photo of a disco ball
Mostly associated with 70s disco,
disco balls were widely used in nighclubs in the 1920s.

A discussion of dance music cannot be complete without the inclusion of disco. Although Disco typically incorporated many acoustic elements not firmly within the Electronic Music category, it did lay the foundation for all subsequent dance genres to follow. As disco evolved, the constant 4/4 rhythm annunciated by a powerful kick drum on each downbeat, gave birth to the genre of house music, which in term spawned a nearly endless list of sub-genres. Disco is the "mother" of all electronic dance music, and DJs and producers within the genre laid the groundwork for future developments in Electronic Dance Music (EDM). Furthermore, disco was a unique american creation, combining elements of R&B, soul, and funk to create extended versions of songs specifically developed with the dance floor in mind.

House Music

DJ Sneak, Chicago house DJ, discusses the style of house music and his experience as a house DJ. He describes how a wide variety of musical styles swirl together in the house music genre. He says, "Growing up in Chicago with tons of other DJs that want to be better than you, so you kind of get your skills together early, you know," and "Everything I do I try to put soul into it." Although Sneak does not talk about the creative process as much as I'd prefer him to, this clip will give you some idea of the music. Truthfully, sound can never be adequately described with words; that would like like dancing about architecture.

House Music originated during the early 1980s in Chicago, Illinois. This music rests firmly in the EDM category and is typically made with drum machines and synthesizers, with a heavy reliance on the R&B, soul, and funk elements found in Disco music. A prominent DJ in this genre are Lil Louis with his hugely popular track, French Kiss, which features a drastic tempo change and massive buildup. This formula became a staple of house music production, and nearly every great track features a break down followed by a powerful build-up. Shortly after Chicago, the UK scene exploded with house music: a response to the dwindling popularity of night clubs. As house music emerged, the club scene in the UK revitalized and house is a hugely popular in the UK to this day. source: Wikipedia


Derrick May discusses the creative process of his song, "Strings Of Life." He describes the creative process as a series of accident and discovery. He says, "I knew I had done something I had never done before, I knew I had done something scary. So it was an accident, the accident is that it happened. The mistake is that I did it to begin with- that was the mistake."

Techno developed very closely with house music and was born in Detroit, Michigan in the mid to late 1980s. The genre also focuses on R&B, funk, and soul elements but was also more affiliated with "machine" sounding music. Juan Atkins is widely credited as the originator of techno. However, as with any collective movements, it is not easy to pinpoint a single person responsible for the development of an art form. It can be said that Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May are the 'holy trinity' of techno. All of these artists heavily influenced the development of techno, and created the very popular group, Inner City, which is known as a classic group today. source: Wikipedia

Drum and Bass

Goldie released "Inner City Life" in 1994 on FFRR records.

Drum and Bass did not fully develop until the early 1990s and as a genre has fallen short of the impact Disco, House, and Techno have made on the musical and cultural landscape. Nonetheless, this genre has maintained lasting popularity. Much of the music style can be abstractly compared to a jazz drum solo and the distinctive 2/4 upbeat rhythm heard in be-bop jazz. One of the premier early artists of this period is Goldie, and perhaps his best known song is Inner City Life. Just by the title, one can see how artists across all sub-genres of EDM feed off one another.

Closing Thoughts

Mylo released "Destroy Rock & Roll" in 2003 on Breastfed Recordings.

These early sub-genres of EDM have led to countless subsequent sub-genres of these sub-genres! The nature of dance music is that it is constantly evolving in style, and is a unique cultural art form that has become its own language. A work released today will sample and 'reinvent' a work from the past. This artistic freedom and constant change within EDM helps account for its artistic vitality from one iteration to the next. Perhaps the biggest idea to take away from this period in Electronic Music history is that the art form is never stagnant, and is continually morphing into new relevance based on the sensibilities of the day. Current dance artists feel free to sample and restyle older songs, one just one example is the Mylo track, Destroy Rock n Roll. This sensibility practically defines all of EDM: everything is fair game, musical recycling is standard, ideas are constantly remixed. Dance music has maintained great popularity since the birth of Disco, and every new generation of artists contribute and thus recreate the genre. Dance music truly is a language unto itself, and as long as the artistic freedom and morphing qualities of the music remain, we can expect further evolution and a continued rich history.

Stay tuned.