Intelligent dance music
|Intelligent dance music|
|Stylistic origins||Experimental music, techno, ambient house, electronica, acid house, breakbeat, industrial, hip hop, drum and bass, avant-garde|
|Cultural origins||Early 1990s, United Kingdom and Japan|
|Typical instruments||Synthesizer, drum machine, sequencer, sampler, electronic keyboard, personal computer|
|Glitch – Ambient house – Ambient techno|
|Breakcore – Microhouse – Folktronica – Drill and bass|
Intelligent dance music (commonly IDM) is a genre of electronic music that emerged in the early 1990s. It was originally influenced by developments in underground dance music such as Detroit techno and various breakbeat styles that were emerging in the UK at that time. Stylistically, IDM tended to rely upon individualistic experimentation rather than adhering to musical characteristics associated with specific genres of dance music. The range of post-techno styles to emerge in the early 1990s were described variously as "art techno", "ambient techno", "intelligent techno", and "electronica". In the United States, the latter is often used as a catchall term to describe not only downtempo or downbeat/non-dance electronic music but also electronic dance music (EDM).
The term "IDM" is said to have originated in the United States in 1993 with the formation of the "IDM list", an electronic mailing list originally chartered for the discussion of music by (but not limited to) a number of prominent English artists, especially those appearing on a 1992 Warp Records compilation called Artificial Intelligence.
Usage of the term "intelligent dance music" has been criticised by electronic musicians such as Aphex Twin as derogatory towards other styles and is seen by artists such as Mike Paradinas as being particular to the U.S. In 2014, music critic Sasha Frere-Jones observed that the term "is widely reviled but still commonly used". He regards UK acts Aphex Twin and Autechre as central to the evolution of the genre.
In the late 1980s, riding the wave of the acid house and early rave party scenes, UK-based groups such as The Orb and The KLF produced ambient house, a genre that fused house music (particularly acid house) with ambient music. The term ambient house was often indiscriminately applied to any of that era's electronic dance music regarded as suitable for listening, not just dancing, and the term soon fell out of favor as a plethora of new genre names arose.
A parallel progression occurred in techno music, with artists such as the UK's Aphex Twin and Japan's Tetsu Inoue producing what the press called "ambient techno", combining the melodic & rhythmic elements of dancefloor-oriented techno with elements of ambient and other experimental music. By the early 1990s, the increasingly distinct music associated with this experimentation had gained prominence with releases on a variety of mostly UK-based record labels, including Warp (1989), Black Dog Productions (1989), R&S Records (1989), Carl Craig's Planet E, Rising High Records (1991), Richard James's Rephlex Records (1991), Kirk Degiorgio's Applied Rhythmic Technology (1991), Eevo Lute Muzique (1991), General Production Recordings (1989), Soma Quality Recordings (1991), Peacefrog Records (1991), and Metamorphic Recordings (1992).
Intelligent techno and electronica
In 1992, Warp released Artificial Intelligence, the first album in the Artificial Intelligence series. Subtitled "electronic listening music from Warp", the record was a collection of tracks from artists such as Autechre, B12, The Black Dog, Aphex Twin and The Orb, under various aliases. Steve Beckett, co-owner of Warp, has said the electronic music that the label was releasing then was targeting a post-club, home-listening audience. Following the success of the Artificial Intelligence series, "intelligent techno" became the favored term, although ambient—without a qualifying house or techno suffix, but still referring to a hybrid form—was a common synonym.
In the same period (1992–93), other names were also used, such as "art techno," "armchair techno," and "electronica", but all were attempts to describe an emerging offshoot of electronic dance music that was being enjoyed by the "sedentary and stay at home". At the same time, the UK market was saturated with increasingly frenetic breakbeat and sample-laden hardcore techno records that quickly became formulaic. Rave had become a "dirty word," so as an alternative, it was common for London nightclubs to advertise that they were playing "intelligent" or "pure" techno, appealing to a "discerning" crowd that considered the hardcore sound to be too commercial.
In 1993, a number of new "intelligent techno"/"electronica" record labels emerged, including New Electronica, Mille Plateaux, 100% Pure, and Ferox Records.
The IDM List
In November 1991, the phrase "intelligent techno" appeared on Usenet in reference to Coil's The Snow EP. Off the Internet, the same phrase appeared in both the U.S. & UK music press in late 1992, in reference to Jam & Spoon's Tales from a Danceographic Ocean and the music of The Future Sound of London. Another instance of the phrase appeared on Usenet in April 1993 in reference to The Black Dog's album Bytes. And in July 1993, in his review of an ethno-dance compilation for NME, Ben Willmott replaced techno with dance music, writing "...current 'intelligent' dance music owes much more to Eastern mantra-like repetition and neo-ambient instrumentation than the disco era which preceded the advent of acid and techno."
Wider public use of such terms on the Internet came in August 1993, when Alan Parry announced the existence of a new electronic mailing list for discussion of "intelligent" dance music: the "Intelligent Dance Music list", or "IDM List" for short.
The first message, sent on 1 August 1993, was entitled "Can Dumb People Enjoy IDM, Too?". A reply from the list server's system administrator, Brian Behlendorf, revealed that Parry originally wanted to create a list devoted to discussion of the music on the Rephlex label, but they decided together to expand its charter to include music similar to what was on Rephlex or that was in different genres but which had been made with similar approaches. They picked the word "intelligent" because it had already appeared on Artificial Intelligence and because it connoted being something beyond just music for dancing, while still being open to interpretation.
Artists that appeared in the first discussions on the list included Autechre, Atom Heart, LFO and Rephlex Records artists such as Aphex Twin, µ-ziq and Luke Vibert; plus artists such as The Orb, Richard H. Kirk and The Future Sound of London, and even artists like System 7, William Orbit, Sabres of Paradise, Orbital, Plastikman and Björk. By the end of 1996, Boards of Canada and the Schematic Records label were among the usual topics of discussion, alongside perennial favorites like Aphex Twin and the Warp repertoire.
As of 2015[update], the mailing list is still active.
Artificial Intelligence Vol. 2
Warp's second Artificial Intelligence compilation was released in 1994. The album featured fragments of posts from the IDM mailing list incorporated into typographic artwork by The Designers Republic. Sleeve notes by David Toop acknowledged the genre's multitude of musical and cultural influences and suggested none should be considered more important than any other.
During this period, the electronic music produced by Warp Records artists such as Aphex Twin (an alias of Richard D. James), Autechre, LFO, B12, Seefeel and The Black Dog, gained popularity among electronic music fans, as did music by artists on the Rephlex and Skam labels. Lesser-known artists on the Likemind label and Kirk Degiorgio's A.R.T. and Op-Art labels, including Degiorgio himself under various names (As One, Future/Past and Esoterik), Steve Pickton (Stasis) and Nurmad Jusat (Nuron) also found an audience, along with bigger-name, cross-genre artists like Björk and Future Sound of London.
In the mid-1990s, North American audiences welcomed IDM, and many IDM record labels were founded, including Drop Beat, C418, Isophlux, Suction, Schematic and Cytrax. In Miami, Florida, labels like Schematic, Merck Records, Nophi Recordings and The Beta Bodega Coalition released material by artists such as Phoenecia, Dino Felipe, Machinedrum and Proem. Another burgeoning scene was the Chicago/Milwaukee area, with labels such as Addict, Chocolate Industries, Hefty and Zod supporting artists like Doormouse, TRS-80 and Emotional Joystick. Tigerbeat 6, a San Francisco-based label has released IDM from artists such as Cex, Kid 606 and Kevin Blechdom.
Criticism of the term
British electronic music and techno artists, including Aphex Twin, Cylob, and Mike Paradinas, have criticised the term IDM. Paradinas has stated that the term IDM was only used in North America. Criticism is dominated by the use of the term "intelligent" in the genre name, and also often calls attention to the fact that artists working under this name often produce music that is not easy to dance to.
Allmusic Guide describes the IDM name as
A loaded term meant to distinguish electronic music of the '90s and later that's equally comfortable on the dancefloor as in the living room, IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) eventually acquired a good deal of negative publicity, not least among the legion of dance producers and fans whose exclusion from the community prompted the question of whether they produced stupid dance music.
In a September 1997 interview, Aphex Twin commented on the 'Intelligent Dance Music' label:
I just think it's really funny to have terms like that. It's basically saying 'this is intelligent and everything else is stupid.' It's really nasty to everyone else's music. (laughs) It makes me laugh, things like that. I don't use names. I just say that I like something or I don't.
Aphex Twin's Rephlex records official overarching genre name is Braindance, of which Dave Segal of Stylus Magazine asked whether it was a "snide dig at IDM’s mockworthy Intelligent Dance Music tag?"
Kid 606 has said,
It's a label invented by PR companies who need catchphrases. I like sounds, but hate what people attach to sounds.
I belong to the weblist called "IDM" and occasionally enjoy the discussions there, because I like some of the artists who get lassoed into that category (not to mention that we, occasionally, are lumped into that category too), and because you can occasionally find out about interesting records on that list... Matmos is IDM if that only means "might be talked about on the IDM list"- but I don't endorse that term "intelligent dance music" because it's laughable.
- "IDM". Allmusic. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
- "The electronic listening music of the nineties is a prime example of an art form derived from and stimulated by countless influences. Partisan analyses of this music claim a baffling variety of prime sources (Detroit techno, New York electro + Chicago acid, Eno + Bowie, Cage + Reich, Gary Numan + Tangerine Dream) but this is beside the point. To claim ascendancy of one source over another is to deny the labyrinthine entwinements of culture: rooted in political history + the development of science + technology, yet tilting at the boundaries of society + language." Toop, David, in the Artificial Intelligence II sleeve notes.
- Toop, D. (1995),Ocean of Sound, Serpent's Tail, pp. 215-216. (ISBN 978-1-85242-743-6).
- "…the label ‘IDM’ (for avant-garde, ‘intelligent dance music’) seems to be based more on an association with individualistic experimentation than on a particular set of musical characteristics." Butler, M.J., Unlocking the Groove: Rhythm, Meter, and Musical Design in Electronic Dance Music, Indiana University Press, 2006, (p. 80).
- Post-techno is "Any form of electronica genealogically related to techno but departing from it in one way or another. Akin to 'intelligent techno' or 'intelligent dance music'". Cox C. & Warner D. ed. (2004), Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, London, (p. 414).
- "Art Techno Favorites". Reactor Mega-Magazine (4): 21. December 1992.
- Phillips, Dom. "When Techno Came Of Age". DJhistory.com. Retrieved 6 December 2013. (Reprint of 1992 intelligent techno article from Mixmag)
- "Of all the terms devised for contemporary non-academic electronic music (the sense intended here), 'electronica' is one of the most loaded and controversial. While on the one hand it does seem the most convenient catch-all phrase, under any sort of scrutiny it begins to implode. In its original 1992-93 sense it was largely coterminous with the more explicitly elitist 'intelligent techno', a term used to establish distance from and imply distaste for, all other more dancefloor-oriented types of techno, ignoring the fact that many of its practitioners such as Richard James (Aphex Twin) were as adept at brutal dancefloor tracks as what its detractors present as self-indulgent ambient 'noodling'". Blake, Andrew, Living Through Pop, Routledge, 1999. p 155.
- "the development of IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) is closely entwined with a mailing list established to discuss the work of seminal post-techno producers like Autechre and Aphex Twin; in fact, the name ‘IDM’ originated with the mailing list, but now is routinely applied by reviewers, labels and fans alike." Sherburne, P. (2001:172), Organised Sound (2001), 6 : 171-176 Cambridge University Press, 2002.
- Winfield, Adam (24 November 2007). "Is IDM Dead?". igloo magazine.
…use of the idiom was initiated online with the conception of the IDM mailing list in 1993, which functioned as a forum for discussion on leading IDM artists and Artificial Intelligence. Incidentally, when I questioned Mike Paradinas (µ-Ziq) on his feelings towards the term, he bluntly answered: 'No one uses or used it in UK. Only Americans ever used the term. It was invented by Alan Parry who set up the IDM mailing list'.
- "'No one really listens to IDM over here,' says Mike Paradinas from his home in Worchester, UK. 'You just say stuff like the Aphex Twin, and they might have heard of him.' It's a bold statement for Paradinas, who, along with friends and contemporaries like Richard James (Aphex Twin) and LFO, was one of that genre's defining artists in London's fertile dance music community of the early 1990s." "'No one says IDM in England? No, only on message boards when they're talking to Americans!" Ben Stirling (2003), Junkmedia.org, published 28 July 2003.
- Frere-Jones, Sasha (6 October 2014). "The Pleasure Principle. Aphex Twin smooths out his edges.". The New Yorker.
- "Ambient House". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-11-15.
- Allmusic Guide, Overview of Artificial Intelligence
- …the dance scene was changing and we were hearing B-sides that weren't dance but were interesting and fitted into experimental, progressive rock, so we decided to make the compilation 'Artificial Intelligence', which became a milestone… it felt like we were leading the market rather than it leading us, the music was aimed at home listening rather than clubs and dance floors: people coming home, off their nuts, and having the most interesting part of the night listening to totally tripped out music. The sound fed the scene. Birke S. (2007), "Label Profile: Warp Records", The Independent (UK), Music Magazine (supplement), newspaper article published 2/11/07
- Reynolds, S., (1999). Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture, Routledge, New York, (pp. 180-205)
- Reynolds (1998), p181.
- Google Groups archive of rec.music.industrial, "Coil, The Snow EP"
- Needs, Kris (26 September 1992). "On The Tip: Marching Through Germany's Techno Love Parade". Billboard: 45.
- McCann, Ian (14 November 1992). "Short Circuit: Various: Earth Beat [review]". New Musical Express: 32.
- Google Groups archive of alt.rave, "miniREVIEWS galore (No hardcore please, we're Finnish)" 
- Willmott, Ben (10 July 1993). "Various - Global Sweatbox [review]". New Musical Express: 33.
- [Intelligent Dance Music] "is a forum for the discussion of what has been termed 'intelligent' music – that is, music that moves the mind, not just the body. There is no specific definition of intelligence in music, however, artists that I see as appropriate are FSOL, Orb, Orbital, Richard James (aka Aphex Twin), Black Dog, B12, and various others from Warp's 'Artificial Intelligence' series. Of course, the list is open to all interpretations of intelligent dance music." Quote by Alan Parry in an IDM mailing list announcement posted on alt.rave, dated Aug. 1993
- Google Groups archive of alt.rave, "list announcement: IDM"
- ""Can Dumb People Enjoy IDM, Too?", the first post to the IDM list". Archived from the original on 2007-11-17. Retrieved 2011-01-26.
- ""Re: Can Dumb People Enjoy IDM, Too?" post from Brian Behlendorf to the IDM list". Archived from the original on 2007-11-18. Retrieved 2011-01-26.
- All Music IDM
- Winfield, Adam (24 November 2007). "Is IDM Dead?". igloo magazine.
- IDM page at AllMusic
- Aphex Twin interview, September, 1997
- Rephlexions!: A Braindance Compilation, 20 November 2003, Dave Segal, Stylus Magazine, 
- Kid606 Ultrahang festival
- Ramsay, Ben. "Tools, Techniques and Composition: Bridging Acousmatic and IDM." eContact! 14.4 — TES 2011: Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium / Symposium électroacoustique de Toronto (March 2013). Montréal: CEC.
- Reynolds, S., Energy Flash: a Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture, Pan Macmillan, 1998 [also published in abridged form as Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture, Routledge, New York 1999] (ISBN 978-0-330-35056-3).
- The Intelligent Dance Music Mailing List - list info
- Archive of posts to The IDM Mailing List (1993–2008)
- original list announcement on alt.rave, 8 August 1993
- I.D.M. at DMOZ
- IDMForums Netlabel and discussion forums
- Last.fm group for IDM artist discussion
- Limbik Frequencies 24/7 Intelligent Dance Music Radio Station, no commercials, no dj's
- IDM Playlist on Facebook