Back to the debate – are these “electronic” artists.

It’s gone in circles. In fact practically since this blog began three and a half years ago we set out to try to expand the discussion.

As a fan of all forms of electronic music this blogger wanted to talk about as wide a palette as possible, from whispery ambient to pur laine synth pop to hard industrial. And in that mix are those bands who exude an electronic ethos but may use drums, or may even use guitars (were it not for O.M.D. we would say one should draw the line at bass…), and when we called Metric or Bat for Lashes or Polly Scattergood albums among the best electronic albums in their year, some took umbrage. So it is that every now and then we hear a band that becomes a favourite and has a distinct sound, in many cases borrowing a cup of sugar from the electronic movement and we can’t help but think, how would the purists label this?

This is top of mind right now with a new Metric album on the horizon (and we are most excited, though it should be said that tremendous new single  “Youth Without Youth” is decidedly anything but electronic), and we cant help but wonder what we’re going to get from the talented Canadians this time around. In the meantime, three bands (because it seems we always do things in threes here at Softsynth HQ) we’re loving right now are not obviously electronic bands but what are they exactly?We missed the Sleigh Bells party when it first kicked into gear, and it was in fact a series of photos of the band in Vanity Fair shortly before the release of their second album – or more specifically photos of the lovely Alexis Krauss that caught this bloggers eye and imagination (so predictable, would say Mrs. Softsynth. We would plead guilty.). Now, this band is all about the guitar. They are more Kills than the Kills. Heavy, distorted guitar rules the roost. No one would mistake this band for anything but a stright ahead rock outfit. And yet…and yet. Listen to either Sleigh Bells album. There’s something else going on in there. Tons of drum and sound loops littered everywhere. Listen to “Kids” and there’s boatloads of samples and effects. It’s two-thirds of the song “Run the Heart” before a guitar makes an appearance, while Krauss is surrounded by synth effects until that time. “Rachel” has no performed guitar at all. The band is more about creating the largest wall of sound possible using whatever instrumentation that gets them there. And it makes for exciting listening.

When The Big Pink first emerged, in the days prior to even having an album in-market, they were sold as something of an electronic act. Their Wikipedia page opens with “The Big Pink is an English electronic rock duo…” And yet to listen to either of their albums and that’s not at all apparent. In fact on this very blog there was once a debate as to whether this band could make any kind of claim to the label, and since the initial unveiling few seem prepared to call them electronic. And yet…and yet. When one listens to the incomparable “Velvet” what does one hear first but the throbbing electronic sequence or the programmed drums? Their fantastic new album Future This is a seamless blend of guitar, electronics and general noise (see: the title track, or “77”, or “1313”…). It’s neither one thing or another. But it’s still wonderful for all that.

Our old friends Garbage are due with a new album in a matter of weeks. This was a huge, influential band for this blogger during their heyday in the 90s. When Martin Gore of Depeche Mode did a remix for one of their early singles we went seeking the album out expecting a new electronic wonder, but while we sure didn’t find that, we did find a wonderful new favourite band. Their output was of mixed quality but the one-two-three punch of “#1 Crush” from the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack, then the incomparable Version 2.0 and Beautiful Garbage stands as among this guy’s all-time favourites. And listen to our favourite Garbage song, “Sleep Together” and point us to a more powerful electronic song. That period was defined by their use of electronics and their mix of guitar rock and sound experimentation was what made them great (it was by largely abandoning that balance that doomed their Bleed Like Me album). Baited breath to see what the new one sounds like.

So are we arguing that any of these bands are “electronic bands”? Not in the slightest, but each illustrate perfectly the challenge in defining what makes a band an “electronic” one. Depending on where one drops that needle it can net a very different result. These bands are or have been exciting ones precisely because they are hard to define, and because fans of very different styles of music can hear something meaningful in their output. There’s something awfully cool in that.

Or maybe this is all moot and was just an excuse to carve out some space on an electronic music blog to talk about some bands we’re really into right now, genre be damned…? Who’s really to say…

Watch: The Big Pink – Velvet



One Response to “Back to the debate – are these “electronic” artists.”

  1. Great article, thanks for posting it!

    Regarding Garbage’s new album, I can say it’s clearly a step forward after Beautiful Garbage & Bleed Like Me (note: I like BLM). You’ll find here a lot of electronic music elements. There are even purely electronic songs.

    Overall I think it’s a fantastic album. It’s their third best after Garbage & Version 2.0.

    PS: there’s a free download on itunes USA for the first song on “Not Your Kind of People”, the super-catchy “Automatic Systematic Habit”. I don’t know if it’s available on Canada yet.

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