One of the most recent innovations to musical genre occurred in the 60’s with the birth of the first electronic keyboard. Electric organs were the first to appear and become widely used (Voxes, Hammonds, Farsifas), electrically amplified pianos soon followed (Wurlitzer, Fender Rhodes, Clavinet) and, of course, the Mellotron, which was a kind of a pioneer sampling device, most famously used by The Beatles (in the “Strawberry Fields Forever” intro), King Crimson, and The Moody Blues. Although the electronically produced sound was very distinct in some of the songs, it still wasn’t true Electronica – the inclusion of acoustic and/or electric guitars, bass guitar and live drumming, etc. were dominant in the song’s sound, thus classifying it as Electro-Acoustic music.
One pioneer of early Electronic (and Electro-Acoustic) music was Jean-Michel Jarre. In 1968, Jarre joined the GRM Music Research Group in Paris, and began experimenting with Electro-Classical music (also sometimes considered to be in the New Age category with similar artists like Enya). In 1971, he composed a ballet, which was played in Opera De Paris. This marked the first time that Electro-Acoustic music was played publicly. After releasing another successful album, and composing a film score, Jarre made a record-breaking performance in Paris. It was a spectacular show, attended by a crowd of 1,000,000 viewers, and he used this opportunity to show off with a brilliant combination of lasers, fireworks, projectors and huge sound systems — elements which later became infused into Raves, Synthpop concerts and the House music subculture.
In 1964, Robert Moog presented one of the first analogue synths on the market – the Moog Synth. This innovation made the technology more affordable and widely available to the masses, who, in the late 70’s and early 80’s, swept the analogue synthesizer into the birth of a new sound in music – Electronica.
Electronica is defined as music created using electronic instruments (synthesizers, samplers, drum machines, etc…) and remains dominated by that electronic sound. It can be further characterized by its emphasis on melodic and harmonic structure, and also on its catchy, danceable rhythms and bass lines. Some Electronica enthusiasts find it difficult to distinguish between what is considered Synthpop, Techno, House, Acid Jazz / Fusion, Trance, Drum and Bass, Jungle, Industrial, Dance, etc… Everyone makes their own distinctions, based on factors like: “seriousness” or “deepness” of lyrical content, presence (or lack) of lyrical content, lyrics vs. samples vs. purely instrumental, presence (or lack) of melodic content, types of sounds/timbres within the music, and with what sort of image the artists present themselves.
Artists representative of Synthpop (often also referred to as “New Wave” – indicative of the changing style of British music in the early 80’s) include: The Human League, Depeche Mode, Eurythmics, Pet Shop Boys, Alphaville, Erasure, and Duran Duran, among many others. Synthpop’s style usually encompasses a strong lyrical and melodic / harmonic bent – the focus often falls on the singer and the image he/she presents for the band, as well as the mood / content of the lyrics, which is usually light in tone and not often very deep, although it can be highly emotional and serious, even dark and political at times.
Techno is typically founded in purely instrumental music, sometimes involving spoken word samples drawn from a variety of sources: film, television, radio, and even other artists’ works. Generally it is driven by its beat, although melodic and harmonic lines still figure heavily in its definition. Artists such as 808 State, Fluke, Orbital, Crystal Method, and Chemical Brothers, typically fall under the Techno category. Additionally, Synthpop and Techno are thought to be largely European innovations, blooming from their roots in one of the first all-electronic bands – Germany’s Kraftwerk – and developing simultaneously with the early vestiges of Hip-Hop and Rap in America under the guidance of artists such as Parliament Funkadelic, Inner City, and Grandmaster Flash.
From the fusion of Hip-Hop and Rap with European Techno comes American House music. House is based largely on the 70’s “spirit of community” and so, draws also from the influences of 70’s Rock and Disco, as well as a touch of Jazz and Rhythm & Blues which can be found in its heavy reliance on piano chords. For this reason, Fusion and Acid Jazz (with additional saxophone melodies) are often categorized as sub-genres of House. Some famous House artists include: Towa Tei, Dee-Lite, and The Chemical Brothers.
Again, there are often many groups which cross-over and fuse the boundaries of one or more genres of Electronica, such as The Chemical Brothers who, on their latest album, represent a mixture of House and Techno, and who previously represented a combination of Trance and Drum and Bass. The Prodigy are an example of a cross between Drum and Bass and Techno with a little bit of Jungle influence in their earlier works.