Electro (music)

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For other dance music styles abbreviated as "electro", see electroclash and electro house.
For other uses, see Electro (disambiguation).

Electro (short for either electro-funk, or electro-boogie)[1][2] is a genre of electronic dance music directly influenced by the use of TR-808 drum machines,[3] and funk sampling.[4][5] 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.

Definition and characteristics[edit]

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.[6]

sample of "Planet Rock", originally released in 1982 by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force

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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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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,[10] 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,[11] while its synth lines and sound effects are informed by computer games, video and cartoons, "born of a science-fiction revival." [10]

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.[12] 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-funk origins, Greg Wilson claims:

It was all about stretching the boundaries that had begun to stifle black music, and its influences lay not only with German technopop wizards Kraftwerk, the acknowledged forefathers of pure electro, plus British futurist acts like the Human League and Gary Numan, but also with a number of pioneering black musicians. Major artists like Miles Davis, Sly Stone, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, legendary producer Norman Whitfield and, of course, George Clinton and his P Funk brigade, would all play their part in shaping this new sound via their innovative use of electronic instruments during the 70’s (and as early as the late 60’s in Miles Davis’s case).

History[edit]

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. Electro eventually emerged as a fusion of different styles, including funk and disco 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).[13]

In 1980, YMO was the first band to utilize the TR-808 programmable drum machine.[14][15] That same year, YMO member Ryuichi Sakamoto released "Riot in Lagos", which is regarded as an early example of electro music,[16][17] and is credited for having anticipated the beats and sounds of electro.[18] The song's influence can be seen in the work of later pioneering electro artists such as Afrika Bambaataa[18] and Mantronix.[17]

In 1982, Bronx based producer Afrika Bambaataa released the seminal track "Planet Rock", which contained elements of Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" (from the album of the same name) and "Numbers" (from Kraftwerk's 1981 Computer World album),[2] as well as Yellow Magic Orchestra songs such as "Riot in Lagos" (from Sakamoto's 1980 album B-2 Unit).[18][19] "Planet Rock" is widely regarded as a turning point in the electro genre, "like a light being switched on." [10][20] Another groundbreaking record, released that year, Nunk by Warp 9 utilized "imagery drawn from computer games, video, cartoons, sci-fi and hip hop slanguage." [10] That same year, although remaining unreleased, a pre-Def Jam Russell Simmons produced Bruce Haack's proto hip-hop single "Party Machine" at a studio in Philadelphia. 1982, proved a prolific year in electro with releases by artists including Planet Patrol, Warp 9, Man Parrish, George Clinton (Computer Games), Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Tyrone Brunson, The Jonzun Crew and Whodini.[10]

Sample of Hashim's "Al-Naafiysh (The Soul)" (1983), an influential electro track.

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In 1983, Hashim created the influential electro funk tune "Al-Naafiysh (The Soul)" which became Cutting Record's first release in November 1983.[21] 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".[22] "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".[23] 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,[24] 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.[10] 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.[25] Kurtis Mantronik's electro-soul productions for Joyce Sims presaged new jack swing's combination of hip hop and soul elements.[26]

By the late 1980s, the genre had parted from its initial funk influences. Baker, Pettibone, Golden and Scher enjoyed robust careers well into the house era, eluding the "genre trap" to successfully produce mainstream artists.[27]

Contemporary electro[edit]

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.

Artists[edit]

Juan Atkins performing as Model 500 in 2007

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Electro-Funk > WHAT DID IT ALL MEAN ?". Greg Wilson on electrofunkroots.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-12-23. 
  2. ^ a b Rap meets Techno, with a short history of Electro. Globaldarkness.com. Retrieved on 2011-07-18.
  3. ^ Gavin Weale (2001) The Future Sound Of Electro. Electroempire.com
  4. ^ Electro itself is a musical style blending "funk & synthesizers with elements of hip-hop", according to Dent, Susie (2003). The Language Report. p. 43. 
  5. ^ Sean 'P-Ski' P (1995) Electro – What Does It Mean?. Electroempire.com
  6. ^ Electro-Funk : What Did It All Mean?. Electrofunkroots.co.uk. Retrieved on 2011-07-18.
  7. ^ 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. ISBN 0-8195-6309-9. 
  8. ^ Harvey, Steven "The Perfect Beat" The Face Magazine, October, 1983
  9. ^ Peter Wells (2004), A Beginner's Guide to Digital Video, AVA Books, p. 18, ISBN 2-88479-037-3, retrieved 2011-05-20 
  10. ^ a b c d e f Toop, p. 148
  11. ^ IMDb
  12. ^ "Scifi Street Sounds"
  13. ^ "Electro". Allmusic. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  14. ^ Mickey Hess (2007), Icons of hip hop: an encyclopedia of the movement, music, and culture, Volume 1, ABC-CLIO, p. 75, ISBN 0-313-33903-1, retrieved 2011-05-29 
  15. ^ Jason Anderson (November 28, 2008). "Slaves to the rhythm: Kanye West is the latest to pay tribute to a classic drum machine". CBC News. Retrieved 2011-05-29. 
  16. ^ Broughton, Frank (2007). La historia del DJ / The DJ's Story, Volume 2. Ediciones Robinbook. p. 121. ISBN 84-96222-79-9. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  17. ^ a b "Kurtis Mantronik Interview", Hip Hop Storage, July 2002, retrieved 2011-05-25 
  18. ^ a b c David Toop (March 1996), "A-Z Of Electro", The Wire (145), retrieved 2011-05-29 
  19. ^ William Eric Perkins (1996), Droppin' science: critical essays on rap music and hip hop culture, Temple University Press, p. 12, ISBN 1-56639-362-0, retrieved 2011-05-26 
  20. ^ Sicko, D., Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk, Billboard Books, 1999 (ISBN 978-0823084289), p. 73.
  21. ^ Kellman, A. (2007). Hashim Biography. All Media Guide. Retrieved September 6, 2007, from [1]
  22. ^ Electro Empire. (2000). Hashim interview. ElectroEmpire Articles. Retrieved on September 5, 2007. from [2]
  23. ^ Kings of Electro at AllMusic
  24. ^ When The Planet Rocked. Electrofunkroots.co.uk. Retrieved on 2011-07-18.
  25. ^ King, SB (2003). The Fader (16-17): 188. 
  26. ^ Shapiro, Peter (2005). The Rough Guide to Hip-Hop (2nd ed.). Rough Guides. p. 2005. ISBN 1843532638. 
  27. ^ Miami Gets Put On the Musical Map. Electroempire.com

External links[edit]