Electronic music, and music in general, is one of my biggest passions. It took a long time for me to develop my own palette, and along the way I have seen and interacted with many different music scenes within the broader electronic music spectrum. I have come to love the themes an aesthetics in these genres, and have also felt that the music, as a whole, is ultimately it’s own subculture – despite the differences between the various scenes.
Recently, I found an old post from the early nineties on a rave music website which described what the author thought was the six distinguishing features of electronic music
Their list was:
1. Youthfulness, not age.
2. Groove, not just bpm.
3. Techno is Pansexual.
4. Techno is Global.
5. Techno is Cosmic / Spiritual.
6. Hopeful, not escapist.
After spending some time contemplating this list, and taking a look at my own opinions on these genres, I examined this list, modified the definitions, and expanded it a little bit for myself.
1. Technology is ageless
What carries on the tradition of any good music is ultimately the young, but in an umbrella of genres such as this, which focuses on the soundscapes produced with technology, ultimately maintains its youth, and so do those who enjoy it – regardless of age. Furthermore, it is the enthusiasm applied to the often unusual sounds we can make which itself embodies the youthful quality of artists with fancier toys, and the other kids who enjoy them.
2. The groove is intangible
Many different genres are defined by the BPM, the formula, the mood, or the themes incorporated, but the halmark of the best kind of electronic music, whether the beat is repetitive or chaotic, or whether it is noisier or cleaner, is how well it explores the groove. Finding a groove, or grooving to the music, is undefined.
3. Technology is asexual
Technology is androgynous – so is the music. It is not that electronic music is blatently progressive in its view of sex, but rather that the aesthetic is not neccessarily defined in sexual terms, though it can most certainly incoporate it.
4. Electronic music is a buffet
Electronic music freely and broadly samples from various different cultures, attitudes, aesthetics, and ideologies. Though it may often be derivative, or hapharzardly vauge, those musicians and fans who stay true to this philosophy, greatly benefit from it.
5. Technology is magic
The atmospheres and aesthetics explored in electronic music have an ecstatic quality – both for purposes of social engagment, personal transformation, and the exploration of raw human experience. But more than that, the very exploration of these eerie sounds, and their very alien context compared to the breadth of the history of human music, is otherworldly. Whether you are spiritual or not, listening to the music is a mystery to be engaged in.
6. Electronic music is a journey of self-discovery
Though electronic music can be used to abnegate, or let go of inhibition, it’s ultimate purpose is to embrace all experiences, and find the existential meaning they bring to you. And finding what kinds of electronic music you enjoy, with all the immense variety that’s available, is a journey that presents new and interesting challenges everytime you find new beats.
7. Experimental, not arbitrary
Though the use of sampling, synth sounds, drum patterns and effects, can most certainly seem random, their use is rooted in experimentation – not only in the artists who create it, but in the fans who listen to it. One of the best elements of electronic music is that it is so incredibly diverse, and so open to cross-pollination by other genres, other ideas, and other people.
8. Transgressive, not progressive
Though many people who might commonly listen to electronic music have more liberal views on a variety of subjects, the reason why there is so much variety in these genres is because the music itself does not neatly fit into any particular ideology, but rather, focuses on how one can mix and manipulate boundaries, and how we can explore it in different ways.
9. Creativity over accessory
Both when it comes to what gear musicians buy, and the kinds of outfits and accessories the fans wear or use, what you DO with it, and how it expresses who you are is far more important. Though these things don’t have to be rigidly defined, there should be a very real sense of your intentions when you make such decisions.
10. Modulation over emulation
With music production, music fandom, and technology as a whole, ultimately everything is a “patch” applied to something else. Emulation can be valuable – whether you’re creating a track, a look, and idea, or a piece of software, but only at a limited capacity. Modular thinking is much stronger, and more stable, and emulation should never be the entire focus.