|Stylistic origins:||House, Techno, Electronic art music, Musique concrete, Experimental music, Rock music|
|Cultural origins:||early-1990s, United Kingdom, United States|
|Typical instruments:||Synthesizer – Drum machine – Sequencer – Keyboard – Sampler (traditional instrumentation such as guitar, bass, drums often featured more regularly than other electronic genres)|
|Mainstream popularity:||Large, especially from 1996 onwards|
|Big beat – Bitpop – Chip – Downtempo – Glitch – IDM – Nu jazz – Post-rock – Trip hop|
|Electronic musical instrument – Computer music – Record labels – Notable artists and DJs|
Electronica is a rather ambiguous term that covers a wide range of electronic or electronic-influenced music. The term has been defined by some to mean modern electronic music that is not necessarily designed for the dance-floor, but rather for home listening. The origins of the term are murky, although it appears to have been coined by British music paper Melody Maker in the mid-1990s, originally to describe the electronic rock band Republica. The term subsequently gained a life of its own, and became popular in the United States as a means of referring to the then-novel mainstream success of electronic dance music. Prior to the adoption of "electronica" as a blanket term for more experimental dance music, terms such as electronic listening music, braindance and intelligent dance music (IDM) were common.
In the mid-1990s electronica began to be used by MTV and major record labels to describe mainstream electronic dance music made by such artists as Chemical Brothers (who had previously been described as big beat) and The Prodigy, although even at this stage it was not a particularly incisive term. It is currently used to describe a wide variety of musical acts and styles, linked by a penchant for overtly electronic production; a range which includes commercial chart acts such as Goldfrapp and Daniel Bedingfield, glitchy experimental artists such as Autechre and Boards of Canada, to dub-oriented downtempo, downbeat, and trip-hop.
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With the explosive growth of sequencing, sampling and synthesis technology in the early 1990s, it became possible for a wider number of musicians to produce electronic music. With the advent of computer sequencers, relatively cheap computer-based recording systems and software synthesis in the late 1990s, it became possible for any home computer user to become a musician, and hence the rise in the number of "bedroom techno" acts, often consisting of a single person.
Artists that would later become commercially successfully under the "electronica" banner such as Fatboy Slim, the Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, and Underworld began to record in this early 1990s period. Underworld with its 1994 dubnobasswithmyheadman released arguably one of the defining records of the early electronica period with a blend of club beats, wedded to song writing and subtle vocals and guitar work. A focus on "songs", a fusion of styles and a combination of traditional and electronic instruments often sets apart musicians working in "electronica"-styles over more straight-ahead styles of house, techno and trance. This genre is also noted for far higher production values then others, featuring more layers, more original samples and fewer "presets", and more complex rhythm programming.
The more experimental Autechre and Aphex Twin around this time were releasing early records in the "intelligent techno" or so-called intelligent dance music (IDM) style, while other Bristol-based musicians such as Tricky, Massive Attack and Portishead were experimenting with the fusion of electronic textures with hip-hop, R&B rhythms to form what became known as trip-hop. Later extensions to the trip hop aesthetic around 1997 came from the highly influential Vienna-based duo of Kruder & Dorfmeister, whose blunted, dubbed-out, slowed beats became the blueprint for the new style of downtempo. Rock musicians were also not slow to pick up on the trends in electronic music, and by the mid-1990s so-called "post-rock" bands such as Stereolab and Tortoise incorporating electronic textures into their music.
Growing commercial interest
Around the mid-1990s with the success of the big beat-sound exemplified by the Chemical Brothers in the United States (due in part to the attention from mainstream artists like Madonna), music of this period began to be produced with a much higher budget, production values, and with more layers than most dance music before or after (since it was backed by major record labels and MTV as the "next big thing").
By the late 1990s artists like Moby were pop stars in their own right, releasing albums and performing regularly (sometimes in stadium-sized arenas, such had the popularity of electronic dance music grown). In fact, the status as the next big thing turned out to be shortlived, and some argued that this period exemplifies the notion of record labels and MTV attempting to force a trend upon an audience. During this period, MTV aired shows about the rave lifestyle, started purely electronic music shows such as AMP, and featured many electronica artists. However, the popularity of electronica was never sustained in the United States.
In the United States and other countries like Australia, electronica (and the other attendant dance music genres) remains popular, although largely underground, while in Europe, and in particular the UK, it has arguably become the dominant form of popular music.