A lot of the music I’ve been listening to lately has tended to be of the electronic variety. I find it suits the summer so well. Sometimes I think I could listen to it for days on end, and yet I’m certain I could live to be one-hundred without reconciling the cognitive dissonance that occurs whenever I talk or think in any depth about electronic music.
“What kind of music do you like?” “Uh, I like the one with the twangy things… the name escapes me.” “Oh, you mean guitar music?” “Yeah, that’s the stuff!” “Oh cool, I like the kind where they have words set to notes.” “Singing music?” “Yeah!”
Electronic music’ How two artists who use completely different textures, rhythms, melodies, production and harmonic approaches could be thrust under the same umbrella term is beyond me. Apparently Calvin Harris and Brian Eno are basically the same artist. Who knew?
I suppose ultimately it’s probably best not to pull at this sort of thread; genre labels are often extremely loose, poorly-defined and arguably stupid enough as it is. You might as well embrace it. To that end, electronic music can, in my opinion, be divided into two broadly inclusive types: EDM (or electronic dance music for the uninitiated) and ambient music. If you’ve read this column before, maybe you can see where this is heading. I’m going to be talking about IDM – yet another good example of the idiocy of genre labelling. IDM is essentially a pairing of ambient and dance music. It strives to be that which is just as suited to the dancefloor as it is to late-night driving or isolated listening.
So what does IDM, the initialism which signifies this admittedly ambitious style, stand for? It stands for (prepare yourself) intelligent dance music. There are plenty of genres out there which are mired in pretentiousness, but IDM might be the first one to bear infinite pseudo-intellectualism by its name alone. Some of the genre’s key figureheads, such as Aphex Twin and μ-Ziq, have decried the description. People familiar with the term generally criticise the implication that other forms of electronic dance music are unintelligent, whilst others have pointed out that IDM is often neither intelligent nor actually danceable.
Have I sold you on it yet?
In all fairness, once you get past the name, it’s a fascinating stylistic development to behold, even when it’s not particularly good. Aphex Twin’s compelling beat fragments are as energetic as they are unnerving, whilst Caribou intersperses deep house with less conventional elements, like harsh noise and pitch-shifted melodies. One almost gets the sense that some artists are deliberately testing how harsh, industrial and utterly undanceable they can make their music and still witness it being referred to as IDM (I’m looking at you, Autechre).
At its core, it’s a great concept. Fusions operate on the idea that both original elements have excellent components to them, and as such, they seek to combine the best of both worlds to create something greater. Like art and progressive rock sought to do for hard rock, IDM seeks to elevate dance music to a higher plane of intellectual validity and experimentalism (there’s that pretentiousness again). I think it does some of the music snobs a favour too. Every would-be intellectual wading through the discographies of the most critically-acclaimed experimental electronic artists is really just someone who’s seriously missing out on the infectious energy of some good, old-fashioned, unadorned dance music.
Recommended Listening Aphex Twin – Minipops 67 Maribou State – Wallflower Three Trapped Tigers – Tekkers Flying Lotus – Do The Astral Plane Caribou – Our Love The Algorithm – will_smith Kiasmos – Swayed Radiohead – Idioteque Jamie xx – The Rest Is Noise