Electronic Music Definitions -- Making sense of the fastest growing musical genre Pt. 1

Qlimax 2008 at Gelredome in Arnheim. View from...
  Are you one of the many who just can't seem to keep up with the incredibly fast evolution of electronic music? Or simply wonder from time to time what people are talking about when they mention terms like psytrance or dubstep, jungle & drum n' bass, chillout or downtempo, and all the myriad forms of house music, or any other semi-obscure type of electronic music that you might not have heard of? Well I will attempt to break it down for you to make some sense of this ever-expanding genre.  I have been a musician for more than 20 years and have followed electronic music almost religiously.  As someone who is interested in the creation of electronic music as well as it's propagation, I am very passionate about it -- and would like to share some of my thoughts and experiences based on the many different genres of electronic music.

   Just in case you might not be aware of how many genres there are in this vast class, have a look at Wikipedia's list of electronic music genres. It is mind-blowing to think that there could be this many classifications for what once was simply considered techno, trance, or house music.  They have obscure genres listed such as Raggacore, Techstep, Psybient, and Darkside Jungle as well as a massive amount of genres that most have never come close to hearing -- except in some dark basement in an underground club somewhere deep inside the walls of urbanity.  For the more obscure ones -- I will cover those in future posts as they are of great interest to me.  What I will do for now is cover the main genres that have been established in the Electronic Music scene for quite a while.

     Starting with some of the more common genres, I will break them down into a basic definition of the style as well it's typical bpm (beats-per-minute) range.
1. House Music - Originating in Chicago in the early '80s, and one of the oldest forms of electronic dance music (with the exception of disco) -- which has established itself as a staple in the international club scene -- is House music.  House music has remained the most popular form of dance music which has evolved into a global scene with DJ's who have achieved the titles like 'Superstar DJ', attaining a status that few rockstars are even able to reach. The typical BPM range for house music is 118-135 BPM. This is not a hard and fast rule though and the House tempo can be manipulated by the DJ to create more of an up or downtempo feel. It is known for it's steady 'four-on-the-floor' beat structure, meaning that there is a steady bass kick drum beat that originated with disco, and which most people think of when they mention the word 'techno'. Depending on the style of House Music being played, it can have elements of world music or funk, and can be with or without vocals. Sometimes it is full of synth lines and bass lines, and sometimes it is stripped down to it's most basic elements. House music has seen an evolution over quite a few years and can be broken down into sub-genres such as --

(Click link for Wikipedia definitions of the sub-genres)

- Acid House (one house music's first forms)
- Chicago House
- Tech House
- Deep House
- Progressive House
- Tribal House
- Hard House
- Minimal House

2. Trance Music - Trance Music is a combination of different elements of certain styles of music which include House, Techno, Industrial, Chillout, Pop, Ambient, and Film music to name a few. It is more melodic than Techno and often the beats are a bit harder and faster than we find with most House Music. Trance is characterized by rhythmic patterns that build until they reach a climax and then sustain that climax until the rhythm drops off and returns to another steadily building pattern. Trance is mainly divided into 2-3 categories in my opinion.  There is pop trance, which is very catchy and has a bubblegum pop sort of feel with predictable buildups and almost cheesy vocal or synth lines. Then there is what I would call global (I think I most associate it with the record label Global Underground which brought the Progressive Trance movement to the forefront) or Progressive Trance. This type of Trance is very similar to some forms of House Music and is often interwoven with styles of House or Techno to provide constant sets of high-energy dance music. It often has sparse vocals as well as a fairly industrial type of sound.  Lastly, Psytrance -- which has seen a massive following grow over the past 10-20 years. Psytrance (most often referred to as Psychedelic Trance or Goa) is often quite fast and has elements of hypnotic world rhythms and uptempo synth lines.  It has a large following of artists, musicians, yogis, dancers, seekers and travelers, as well as cyber-hippies and new-age spiritualists who dedicate themselves to this movement with somewhat of a religious fervor.

Other styles of Trance Music worth mentioning are --

- Balearic Trance
- Euro Trance
- Hard Trance
- Psybient
- Psybreaks
- Psyprog

3. Breakbeat - Characterized by it's use of syncopation and polyrhythms, breakbeat is a style that evolved in the late 70's and early 80's in the hip-hop community as a way to keep up with the evolution of hip-hop dance styles which later evolved into what we now know as breakdancing.  DJ's like Kool Herc and Afrika Bambataa developed techniques of sustaining the 'break' of a song (the part of the song where the percussionist or soloist is allowed to perform unaccompanied) by use of turntables to keep it going indefinitely. Essentially the 'break' is the funkiest part of the song (at first mainly breaks from Jazz and funk tracks were used until the style evolved) where it breaks down and allows the dancer to go wild. Breakbeat music has evolved to form some of the biggest names in electronic music -- mostly from the Big Beat sub genre -- names such as Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, and The Crystal Method. Some popular forms in the evolution of the Breakbeat style are -

Original Breakbeatz^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

- Big Beat
- Nu Skool Breaks
- Psybreaks

Topics to be discussed in the near future:

4. Drum and Bass
5. Electronica
6. Downtempo
7. Ambient
8. UK Garage