Styles & Forms | Electro | Electronic

Electro is currently enjoying a huge renaissance, but, despite the current hype and mainstream acceptance of the music, it has always enjoyed a strong cult following. This is due to the music’s many different strands and its constant need for reinvention.

At its most basic level, electro differentiates itself from house and techno by the fact that it doesn’t use a continuous 4/4 kick drum. Employing off-beat drums, as well as focusing more on rhythm elements like bass and percussion, DJ Dave Clarke neatly defines electro as being ‘held together by left-field spirit and no 4/4 beat programming’.

Kraftwerk’s Role

Although electro wasn’t solely a product of the 1970s band Kraftwerk’s pioneering synthesized sound, the German act’s importance cannot be overestimated. By the early 1980s, Kraftwerk had influenced synth pop and new romantic acts like Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, Visage, The Human League, Heaven 17, John Foxx and Ultravox as well as maverick talents like ‘19’ producer Paul Hardcastle, Gary Numan, Vince Clarke, Thomas Dolby, Trevor Horn and Art Of Noise.

While 1980s synth pop is playing an important role in the current electro revival, US producer Juan Atkins took inspiration from Kraftwerk’s rigid beat structures and Futurist sense of dislocation as well as from Afrika Bambaataa’s early 1980s fusion of the synth riffs of the Düsseldorf quartet’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ and the hip hop beats on ‘Planet Rock’, to kick start Detroit’s electro movement.

Detroit Electro

In particular, Juan Atkins’ Cybotron and Model 500 projects as well as seminal acts like Underground Resistance, Aux 88 and Drexciya, were all influenced by Kraftwerk, but developed their own distinctive styles.

Not only was Atkins the first producer to coin the term ‘techno’ for his sci-fi obsessed dance floor material, he also put out tracks like ‘Clear’ and ‘Alleys Of Your Mind’ as Cybotron, setting Detroit’s influential electro scene in motion and realising the Futurist agenda Kraftwerk hinted at. This electro funk sound was also realised by Keith Tucker’s Aux 88 act, which released a number of seminal works before disbanding during the late-1990s.

Electro’s sci-fi themes were also furthered by militant techno/electro act Underground Resistance, whose leader, ‘Mad’ Mike Banks wears a balaclava and refuses to be photographed. The collective’s exploration of deep techno and dance floor friendly electro funk was, and still is, riddled with outer-space references.

Meanwhile, mysterious act Drexciya turned electro’s space fixation inside out, documenting the mythology of the lost city of Atlantis and the concept of an ‘inner space’ on textured resonating releases like ‘Deep Sea Dweller’, ‘Aquatic Invasion’, ‘The Journey Home’ and ‘Bubble Metropolis’. Like its techno sound, Detroit’s electro innovations laid down a blueprint for others to follow.

Varied Strands

It would be too simplistic, however, to credit Kraftwerk and Detroit for being solely responsible for the vast contemporary electro scene, as throughout the 1970s and 1980s less well known acts also played a role. Funk bands...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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