Losing our innocence

22 03 2011

Electronic music is a mere pup when lined up against other forms of western popular music.

For decades it seemed electronic music just wasn’t considered kosher by the general public, often being likened to the sound of a vacuum clearer set to blow.  To many people it still brings on this knee jerk reaction.  Soundtracks for films such as Blade Runner, Forbidden Planet, The Day The Earth Stood Still, and A Clockwork Orange would often slip past them unnoticed however.

Back in the 70s acts like Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schultz, Vangelis, and Tomita were trailblazing the great movement of progressive electronic albums becoming a standard addition to Mr. and Mr. Joe Taxpayer’s front room stereo cabinet.  This movement perhaps represented the greatest period for electronic music as an art form which millions of people accepted and invested in, providing that all important inspiration for those young innocent ears who would become the new age, synth pop performers and producers of the 1980s.  You ask anyone between the ages of 30 and 40 who currently makes electronic music where they got their inspiration, they will respond with something along the lines of, “I used to listen to Man Machine on my dad’s stereo with my headphones on every night.  I knew from the first time I heard it I wanted to make music which sounded like that”.

Electronic music from the mid 80s onwards fragmented beyond the New Romanticism of Ultravox and the Synth Pop of Depeche Mode, into the veritable smorgasbord of derivative genres that became the world of dance music.  The so called death of dance music in the 90s following the cosure of so many clubs, super clubs and even the removal of the best dance act award from the Brit Awards, showed that over commercialization and dumbing down had taken its toll.  The spontaneity and unrestrained nature of electronic music had been lost in the mainstream, replaced by the 4-to-the-floor mindless pumping of a drum machine and Esoniq synths.  A few acts and labels continued to fly the flag such as Orbital, Warp Records and Wall of Sound, however sales of Orbital’s InSides or Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children failed to shift in sufficient numbers to make their respective artists  household names.

Back in those heady days when Krafterk were being robots and Jean Michel Jarre was flicking his dark Gallic hair, electronic music was approached with the ears of a child.  No preconceptions, no cultural baggage, no conventions on instrumentation or arrangement.  The sound made during this period had an inventive and original approach to the creation of electronic music which, oddly enough perhaps, resulted in albums the public were more than happy to accept, buy and enjoy.  Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra and Vangelis’ China enjoyed commercial success, not only because they presented electronic music in contemporary pop or rock song context, but because they offered something different and exciting.  People often forget that in the 1970s the future was still bright and offered a route out of post war austerity and economic stagnation.  Today we worry more about just how we are going to survive in the future, let alone when we’ll be flying around in glass cars or having robot servants.  This optimism encapsulated by this new form of music has now all but gone.  Our innocence has been lost.

The never ending derivatives from what started out in the late 60s with a few teenagers messing with synthesizers has almost returned with electronic music seemingly returning to an underground form of music.  Synthetic sound has obviously permeated RnB and pop a huge degree and I am not in dispute with this, but stylistically and musically they cannot be classed as forms of electronic music.  They are RnB and pop which use electronic sounds.  Artists like Apparat, Ulrich Schnauss and SBTRKT would have seen far greater commercial success had they been releasing records in the 70s.  The great democratization of music creation with a single laptop with a smattering of cheap or free software tools being all you need has led to so much more electronic music being made by more people, but any significant commercial success in the medium has long since faded.

By Nino Auricchio
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