Yeah, so what exactly *is* this “electronic music” anyway?

One of the most compelling aspects of writing a blog on a topic as specific as a particular genre of music is the debate that can erupt over a given choice of word, a definition, an inclusion or exclusion from a list, on the part of devoted, perhaps passionate, perhaps utterly nutso fan of said genre. We have seen a lot of that around here lately in either emails to this blogger, comments on the blog itself, or most entertainingly, on message boards of a particular band as fans of that band pick apart our every utterance, for good or ill, about said band. Our traffic quadrupled and stayed there following our best of the decade lists and best of the year list, and we have found our thoughts shared via twitter or on web sites or message boards and many of the questions raised are genuinely fascinating and astute.

The query that has come up a number of times in many different venues is one that seeks to define our genre. One enterprising reader tweeted Polly Scattergood directly to ask if she considered herself aptly-enough to be considered an “electronic artist” for our best of the year list (answer= essentially,  ‘sure’). Some took issue with the likes of Scattergood or Bat for Lashes to be considered electronic, others felt it was wrong to include a band like Radiohead. Some suggested we were too broad in our interpretations, others viewed the genre exclusively through a subgenre like synthpop questioning those artists that were included for other reasons. And as we plowed through this feedback the one question that kept us thinking was “what exactly is electronic music”?

We’ve explored this theme ad nauseum on this blog, especially when we looked at issues like what makes a good live electronic act or when we produce lists and more specifically we addressed the more holistic issue. Worth reading again if you are speculating where we’re coming from with our classifications – we won’t go into our own definition again – read the original post. But to add to said earlier post, which was pretty wide ranging itself, we define it pretty broadly. There are hundreds of subgenres within the electronic family and each in their own way feeds the electronic beast. By the strictest definitions oe could strip away almost every artist that calls themselves electronic leaving only Joy Electric and Thermostatic and their bit pop bretheren.

Is Scattergood electronic? We say yes, the synths are prominent and dictate the overall sound. Is Bat for Lashes electronic? We say yes. The lush electronic orchestration washes over the entire recent album and there is no more dominant instrument save for Natasha Khan’s voice. Is Metric electronic? We say yes. Would they be Metric without Elimy Haine’s keyboards dominating song after song (it’s not guitar hooks one remembers from the best Metric songs), plus, any album with that many programmed drum parts can’t be considered anything but. What about a band like Mobius Band or Electric President? We say yes. While jangly guitars are the most prominent instruments in bands like these the rest of the sound is programmed percussion and keyboards, not to mention ever present sequencer lines. Is Depeche Mode still electronic? Well to see them live you might question, but one listen to their most recent album reminds us that while they may aspire to be rock pretenders more than some would like, they remember who they are in the end.

So to answer the many questions around what we include in the camp – you know it when you hear it, even if we all hear different things when we open our ears to listen.


One Response to “Yeah, so what exactly *is* this “electronic music” anyway?”

  1. pteittinen Says:

    So in other words, Britney Spears, Rihanna, Beyonce, Jay-Z and a hojillion other US artists are also “electronic music”. They use synths and programmed rhythms, after all. Wrt Depeche Mode, they used to be electronic back in the day when their guitars sounded like synths. These days their synths sound like guitars. Having a few synths in the studio does not make a band electronic.

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