A history of Electronica music

Electronica music has a history reaching all the way back to 1897, when the first electronic musical instrument was built, the "Teleharmonium," as big as a railroad boxcar. The Theremin, well known to Star Trek fans, was developed in 1920; the Moog synthesizer (popularized by Walter/Wendy Carlos) and the Mellotron (used in the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever") were both invented around 1961.

However, the name 'Electronica' was not used until the early 1990s. From 1981 on, Chicago's house music, Detroit's techno sound, and the acid-house music found in the UK, all using faster-than-human electronically-generated rhythms and electronically-altered samples of other music and of vocals, were the forebears of electronica.

All three of those types were intended as dance music for clubs, but electronica rapidly went beyond that intention. Some forms are meant for "active" listening (i.e., in the foreground), others, for passive background listening. Admittedly, there are also some forms of electronica meant for dancing. Other names for these types include ambient, downtempo, techno, trip-hop, and rave. One way to recognize electronica is to note an artist's many "remixes" of the original song.

Two well-known bands of the 1980s were instrumental in bringing about the dawn of electronica: New Order, and Depeche Mode. Many modern electronica artists have cited these two bands as both their first and their major influences.

The Rave sessions of the 1990s, beginning in Europe with the Acid-House parties of Ibizia, and the Psychedelic Trance festivals of Goa, spread world-wide, and brought electronica to the forefront of youth culture. One more reason for the birth of electronica was the movement of technological advancement in music from specialized studios into the general music industry, with new devices such as drum machines, music sequencers, and digital audio computer workstations becoming available to all. The devices also became easier to use, obviating the need to have trained sound engineers. The use of personal computers throughout the music culture allowed even more use of 'loops" and "samples" of any and every sound.

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In the mid-1990s, the music industry began using the term "electronica' to describe the creations of various musical artists, including Orbital, Prodigy, Goldfrapp, Aphex Twin, and Autechre. Madonna began using electronica in her albums, most notably in 1998's "Ray of Light." Icelandic musician Björk has always used electronica, as can be heard in her 1995 album "Post" and her 1997 album "Homogenic." Other musicians and bands not initially known as electronica artists in the 1990s (but became known as such later) include The Crystal Method, Underworld, Faithless, Daft Punk, Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers, and Moby.

Moby is perhaps the one artist who has done the most to bring electronica into the mainstream of music, though mostly in Europe. Other popular rock bands of the 1990s also made use of electronica in their albums:
- U2's "Achtung Baby" (1991), "Zooropa" (1993), and "Pop" (1997)
- Radiohead's "OK Computer" (1997)
- R.E.M.'s "Up" (1998)
- The Smashing Pumpkins' "Adore" (1998)
- Blur's "13" (1999)
- Oasis's "Standing on the Shoulder of Giants" (2000)

Hip-hop, from its birth in the 1980s, had always embraced electronic sounds -- Outkast and Kanye West are the best current examples of hip-hip electronica.

In the early 2000s, global multi-cultural influences began to play a part in electronica -- musicians and DJs from such places as Brazil and Vietnam brought new musical traditions into electronica performances that were presented in New York City and London. By 2002, bands like Interpol and The Killers added a harder edge to electronica, combining mono synthesizer breaks and punk beats with electronically crafted sounds.

From 2005 on, electronica has become more a styling to be added to a band's music, rather than a classification of music a band might play. Sampling of vocals have become auto-tuned, and synthesized screams are the norm rather than the exception. Television commercials have even embraced electronica, making these sounds the theme of certain youth-branded products, such as video games and gaming systems.

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