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Electro (music)

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Title: Electro (music)  
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Electro (music)

Electro (short for either electro-funk, or electro-boogie)[2][3] is a genre of electronic dance music directly influenced by the use of TR-808 drum machines,[4][5] and funk sampling.[6][7] Records in the genre typically feature drum machines and heavy electronic sounds, usually without vocals, although if vocals are present they are delivered in a deadpan manner, often through electronic distortion such as vocoding and talkboxing. This is the main distinction between electro and previously prominent genres such as disco, in which the electronic sound was only part of the instrumentation. It also palpably deviates from its predecessor boogie for being less vocal-oriented and more focused on electronic beats produced by drum machines.

Following the decline of disco music in the United States in the late 1970s, electro emerged as a fusion of funk and New York boogie combined with German and Japanese electropop, with Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) being key influences.[8] In 1982, producer Afrika Bambaataa released a track that used music from one of Kraftwerk's songs. In 1983, Hashim created an influential electro funk sound and Herbie Hancock had the hit single "Rockit". The early 1980s were electro's mainstream peak. By the late 1980s, the genre moved away from its funk influences. Electro became popular again the late 1990s with artists such as Anthony Rother and DJs such as Dave Clarke.[9] A third wave of popularity occurred in 2007. Electro has branched out into subgenres, including "electrocore" and Skweee, which developed in Sweden and Finland.


  • Definition and characteristics 1
  • History 2
  • Contemporary electro 3
  • Artists 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Definition and characteristics

The beat like that of a TR-808 at 0:04 and the electronically processed vocals at 0:22 are characteristic of the genre. (credit: Breaking Energy by 808Chunk)

Problems playing this file? See .

From its inception, one of the defining characteristics of the electro sound was the use of drum machines, particularly the Roland TR-808, as the rhythmic basis of the track. As the genre evolved, computers and sampling replaced drum machines in electronic music, and are now used by the majority of electro producers. It is important to note, that although the electro of the 1980s and contemporary electro, (electronic dance music) both grew out of the dissolution of disco, they are now different genres.

Classic (1980s) electro drum patterns tend to be electronic emulations of breakbeats, with a syncopated kick drum, and usually a snare or clap accenting the backbeat. The difference between electro drumbeats and breakbeats (or breaks) is that electro tends to be more mechanical, while breakbeats tend to have more of a human-like feel, like that of a live drummer. The definition however is somewhat ambiguous in nature due to the various uses of the term.[10]

The Roland TR-808 drum machine hit the market in 1980, defining early electro with its immediately recognizable sound. Staccato, percussive drumbeats tended to dominate electro, almost exclusively provided by the TR-808. As an inexpensive way of producing a drum sound, the TR-808 caught on quickly with the producers of early electro because of the ability of its bass drum to generate extreme low-frequencies.[11] This aspect of the Roland TR-808 was especially appealing to producers who would test drive their tracks in nightclubs (like NYC's Funhouse), where the bass drum sound was essential for a record's success.[12] Its unique percussion sounds like handclaps, open and closed high-hat, clave and cowbell became integral to the electro sound. The Roland TR-808 has attained iconic status, eventually being used on more hits than any other drum machine.[13] Through the use of samples, the Roland TR-808 remains popular in electro and other genres to the present day.

Other electro instrumentation was generally electronic, favoring analog synthesis, programmed bass lines, sequenced or arpeggiated synthetic riffs, and atonal sound effects all created with synthesizers. Heavy use of effects such as reverbs, delays, chorus or phasers along with eerie synthetic ensemble strings or pad sounds emphasized the science fiction or futuristic themes of classic (1980s) electro, represented in the lyrics and/or music. The 1983 recording, Light Years Away, by the electro hip hop group Warp 9 exemplifies the sci-fi aspect of electro: an afrofuturist, sci-fi tale of ancient astronaut visitation,[14] reflected in both the lyrics and instrumentation. The imagery of its lyrical refrain space is the place for the human race pays homage to Sun Ra's 1974 film,[15] while its synth lines and sound effects are informed by computer games, video and cartoons, "born of a science-fiction revival." [14]

Most electro is instrumental, but a common element is vocals processed through a vocoder. Additionally, speech synthesis may be used to create robotic or mechanical lyrical content, as in the iconic Planet Rock and the automatous chant in the chorus of Nunk by Warp 9.[16] Although primarily instrumental, early electro utilized rap. Male rap dominated the genre, however female rappers are an integral part of the electro tradition, whether featured in a group as in Warp 9 or as solo performers like Roxanne Shante. The lyrical style that emerged along with electro became less popular by the 1990s, as rapping continued to evolve, becoming the domain of hip hop music.

About electro origins, Greg Wilson claims:


Afrika Bambaataa (left) in 2004

Following the decline of disco music in the late 1970s, various funk artists such as Zapp & Roger began experimenting with talk boxes and the use of heavier, more distinctive beats. Boogie played a role during the formative years of electro, notably "Feels Good" by Electra (Emergency – EMDS-6527),[17] the post-disco production "You're the One for Me" by D. Train (Prelude – PRL D 621),[17] and the Eric Matthew/Darryl Payne productions "Thanks to You" by Sinnamon (Becket – BKD 508),[17] and "On A Journey (I Sing The Funk Electric)" by Electrik Funk (Prelude – PRL D 541).[17] Electro eventually emerged as a fusion of different styles, including funk, boogie combined with German and Japanese electropop, in addition to influences from the futurism of Alvin Toffler, martial arts films, and video game music. The genre's immediate forebearers included Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO).[8]

In 1980, YMO was the first band to utilize the TR-808 programmable drum machine.[18][19] That same year, YMO member Ryuichi Sakamoto released "", which is regarded as an early example of electro music,[20][21] and is credited for having anticipated the beats and sounds of electro.[22] The song's influence can be seen in the work of later pioneering electro artists such as Afrika Bambaataa[22] and Mantronix.[21]

In 1982, Computer Games), Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Tyrone Brunson, The Jonzun Crew and Whodini.[14]

In 1983, Hashim created the influential electro funk tune "Al-Naafiysh (The Soul)" which became Cutting Record's first release in November 1983.[25] At the time Hashim was influenced by Man Parrish's "Hip Hop, Be Bop", Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science" and Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock".[26] "Al-Nafyish" was later included in Playgroup's compilation album Kings of Electro (2007), alongside other electro classics such as Sakamoto's "Riot in Lagos".[27] Also in 1983, Herbie Hancock, in collaboration with Grand Mixer D.ST, released the hit single "Rockit".

Bambaataa and groups like Planet Patrol, Jonzun Crew, Mantronix, Newcleus, Warp 9 and Juan Atkins' Detroit-based group Cybotron went on to influence the genres of Detroit techno, ghettotech, breakbeat, drum and bass and electroclash. Early producers in the electro genre (notably Arthur Baker,[28] John Robie and Shep Pettibone) later featured prominently in the Latin Freestyle (or simply "Freestyle") movement, along with Lotti Golden and Richard Scher (the producer/writers of Warp 9) fusing electro, funk, and hip hop with elements of Latin music.[14] Detroit techno DJ Eddie Fowlkes shaped a style called electro-soul, which was characterized by a predominant bass line and a chopped up electro breakbeat contrasted with soulful male vocals.[29] Kurtis Mantronik's electro-soul productions for Joyce Sims presaged new jack swing's combination of hip hop and soul elements.[30]

By the late 1980s, the genre had declined because of the anchoring of rap to the hip hop culture.[31] Baker, Pettibone, Golden and Scher enjoyed robust careers well into the house era, eluding the "genre trap" to successfully produce mainstream artists.[32]

Contemporary electro

Although the early 1980s were electro's heyday in the mainstream, it enjoyed renewed popularity in the late 1990s with artists such as Anthony Rother and DJs such as Dave Clarke, and has made yet another comeback for a third wave of popularity in 2007. The continued interest in electro, though influenced to a great degree by Florida, Detroit, Miami, Los Angeles and New York styles, has primarily taken hold in Florida and Europe with electro club nights becoming commonplace again. The scene still manages to support hundreds of electro labels, from the disco electro of Clone Records, to the old school b-boy styles of Breakin’ Records and Dominance Electricity, to the electrofunk of Citinite, and to harder more modern styles of electro of labels like Bass Frequency Productions and Nu Illusion Music.

New branches of electro have risen over the last couple of years. Florida has pioneered the "Electrocore" sound, started in the late 1990s by artists like Jackal & Hyde and Dynamix II and carried on to this day. Skweee is a genre which developed in Nordic countries such as Sweden and Finland, hence its first name "Scandinavian Funk". The outlets and artists of Skweee are still mostly limited to the Nordic countries.

From the late 1990s onward, the term "electro" is also used to refer two other fusion genres of electro, either blended with techno and new wave in electroclash,[33][34] or with house and the former in electro house.[35][36][37] There is some debate within the electro community on how much these genres constitute as "true" electro.[5][38]


Juan Atkins performing as Model 500 in 2007

See also


  1. ^ a b Ishkur (2005). "Ishkur's guide to Electronic Music". Retrieved October 4, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Electro-Funk > WHAT DID IT ALL MEAN ?". Greg Wilson on Retrieved 2009-12-23. 
  3. ^ a b Rap meets Techno, with a short history of Electro. Retrieved on 2011-07-18.
  4. ^ Gavin Weale (2001) The Future Sound Of Electro.
  5. ^ a b Reynolds, Simon (2013). Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture. Soft Skull Press. The dominant style at Hard Summer, provided by artists like Zedd, Erol Alkan and Bloody Beetroots, is what's been tagged 'electro house', although to my ears it has little relationship with either house or electro (in the original eighties 808-bass-bumping sense). 
  6. ^ Electro itself is a musical style blending "funk & synthesizers with elements of hip-hop", according to Dent, Susie (2003). "The Language Report". p. 43. 
  7. ^ Sean 'P-Ski' P (1995) Electro – What Does It Mean?.
  8. ^ a b "Electro".  
  9. ^ Ishkur (2005). "Ishkur's guide to Electronic Music". Retrieved June 1, 2014. Kraftwerk invented it in 1971. Hip hop hijacked it in 1981. Everyone forgot it by 1991. And then everyone started releasing "Hey! Remember Kraftwerk?" albums in 2001. 
  10. ^ Electro-Funk : What Did It All Mean?. Retrieved on 2011-07-18.
  11. ^ Keyboard 14 (11): 34. 1988. ; as cited in Théberge, Paul (1997). Any sound you can imagine: making music/consuming all counts of technology. Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan University Press. pp. 197.  
  12. ^ Harvey, Steven "The Perfect Beat" The Face Magazine, October, 1983
  13. ^ Peter Wells (2004), A Beginner's Guide to Digital Video, AVA Books, p. 18,  
  14. ^ a b c d e f Toop, p. 148
  15. ^ IMDb
  16. ^ "Scifi Street Sounds"
  17. ^ a b c d David Pattie, Sean Albiez (2011). Kraftwerk: Music Non-Stop. A&C Black, 2011. p. 728.  
  18. ^ Mickey Hess (2007), Icons of hip hop: an encyclopedia of the movement, music, and culture, Volume 1,  
  19. ^ Jason Anderson (November 28, 2008). "Slaves to the rhythm: Kanye West is the latest to pay tribute to a classic drum machine".  
  20. ^ Broughton, Frank (2007). La historia del DJ / The DJ's Story, Volume 2. Ediciones Robinbook. p. 121.  
  21. ^ a b "Kurtis Mantronik Interview", Hip Hop Storage, July 2002, retrieved 2011-05-25 
  22. ^ a b c David Toop (March 1996), "A-Z Of Electro",  
  23. ^ William Eric Perkins (1996), Droppin' science: critical essays on rap music and hip hop culture,  
  24. ^ Sicko, D., Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk, Billboard Books, 1999 (ISBN 978-0823084289), p. 73.
  25. ^ Kellman, A. (2007). Hashim Biography. All Media Guide. Retrieved September 6, 2007, from [1]
  26. ^ Electro Empire. (2000). Hashim interview. ElectroEmpire Articles. Retrieved on September 5, 2007. from [2]
  27. ^ Kings of Electro at AllMusic
  28. ^ When The Planet Rocked. Retrieved on 2011-07-18.
  29. ^ King, SB (2003).  
  30. ^  
  31. ^ "Electro". Retrieved October 4, 2014. Despite its successes (documented in full on Rhino's four-disc Electric Funk set), the style was quickly eclipsed by the mid-'80s rise of hip-hop music built around samples (often from rock records) rather than musical synthesizers. 
  32. ^ Miami Gets Put On the Musical Map.
  33. ^ D. Lynskey (22 March 2002). "Out with the old, in with the older". Archived from the original on 16 February 2011. 
  34. ^ The Electroclash Mix by Larry Tee | Music Review | Entertainment Weekly
  35. ^ "Music Definitions - House music : styles". DJ Cyclopedia. 3345. Electro house : Sometimes resembles tech house, but often influenced by the 'electro' sound of the early 1980's, aka breakdancing music, via samples or just synthesizer usage. 
  36. ^ "Electro House". Tumblr. Retrieved 12 June 2012. It was in the early 2000s when a big movement of electroclash being mixed with synthpop. Meanwhile, tech house was also becoming more known and gaining some serious buzz. When the two were combined that is when Electro House came to be the way it is now. ... 'Satisfaction' was one of those songs that people would have stuck in their head for days. This song still continues to receive a lot of attention even now. It won world wide rewards as well as make Benny Benassi the father of Electro House. 
  37. ^ music2electro. "Electro House of Style Music". HubPages. Many people want to find out exactly where did this style of music emerge from. There isn't any factual evidence to prove anything. As with most music history, it isn't certain. ... It is noted that about ten years ago there was a large revolutionary time in electro music being mixed with pop. At the same time tech house was gaining popularity. When the two were mixed that is when Electro House came to be the way it is now. 
  38. ^ "Electro versus "electro" (electro house/pop/clash)".  

External links

  • Electro Funk: What Did It All Mean?
  • Rap meets Techno, with a short history of Electro
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