Electronica – When music became experimental

Articles // Sun 7 Nov 2021 - 23:51pm

By the early-to-mid 1990s, the underground rave scene was getting tired of the same monotonous high-hat and kick drum beat. It was time for a new, more ‘listenable’ style of music to grace the scene. Was electronica the answer?

With electronica largely being an umbrella term, this doesn’t stop the avid music listener being able to distinguish it from other adjacent genres. The amalgamation of trip-hop, mid-tempo electronic, drum and bass, jungle, house, ambient and even jazz music, was the perfect recipe for electronic music fans to sink their teeth into something more experimental and cerebral.

It was no coincidence that electronica came onto the scene as advances were made in the technological world, with samples, splices and synth loops becoming more accessible to the average producer — and with this, came experimentation. Electronica pushed a number of now highly acclaimed artists such as, Tricky, Portishead, Boards of Canada, Moby and Björk into the spotlight.

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For a brief moment in time during the late 90s, electronica managed to bridge a gap between tech and dance-pop, somewhere between underground and mainstream. This was largely down to producers like William Orbit — whose popularity rose among mainstream artists like Blur and Madonna, wanting to experiment with sound and broaden their discographies.

From car television advertisements to video games, electronica’s listenability and lack of lyrics proved useful for soundtracks in the commercial world. However, becoming commercially recognised only resulted in the genre being deemed as corny and repetitive. Despite this, electronica managed to idle into the new millennium, carried by artists like Groove Armada.

Eventually the novelty of technological advancement started to wear off, as music softwares and sample packs became accessible from bedrooms — electronica started becoming a distant memory, only to be taken over by electro-house and dubstep.

Electronica contributed to the global admiration of the mid-to-late 90s, recognisable for its fresh experimentation with technology, nostalgic melodies and distorted, mid-tempo drum beats. In the present day, it appears only as a projection of nostalgia; a memory trapped and contained in an era of time.

However, because of this, there is an entire niche catalogue for enthusiasts to spend their time collecting and reminiscing over — and so, bittersweet is the end to a genre that redefined electronic music.

Words by Lewis Hadfield