Electro (music)

Electro (music)
Stylistic origins disco
Hip hop
Cultural origins Early 1980s, USA (New York & Detroit)
Typical instruments Synthesizer (keytar), drum machine, vocoder, sampler
Mainstream popularity Early to mid 1980s with a minor revival in the late 1990s
Derivative forms Miami bassFunk cariocaFreestyleTechnoBreakbeat
Electro hop, Electro funk, Electro boogie
Fusion genres

Electro (short for either electro-funk or electro-boogie)[1][2] is a genre of electronic dance music directly influenced by the use of TR-808 drum machines,[3] Moog keytar synthesizers and funk sampling.[4][5] Records in the genre typically feature drum machines and heavy electronic sounding deprived of vocals in general, although if present, they are delivered in a deadpan manner, often through an electronic distortion such as vocoding. This is the main distinction of electro from previously prominent late-1970s genres such as disco and boogie, in which electronic sound was only part of the instrumentation rather than basis of the whole song.


Definition and characteristics

From its origins, the definition of the electro sound is the use of drum machines as the rhythmic base of a track; however as the style has evolved, and with the advent of computer usage in electronic music, the use of drum machines has become less and less practical and widespread. Electro drum patterns tend to be electronic emulations of breakbeats, with a syncopated kick drum, and usually a snare or clap accenting the downbeat. The difference between electro drumbeats and breakbeats (or breaks) is that electro tends to be more mechanical, while breakbeats tend to have more of a human-like feel, like that of a live drummer. The definition however is somewhat ambiguous in nature due to the various use of the term.[6]

Staccato, percussive drumbeats tend to dominate electro; with beats once mostly provided by the Roland TR-808 drum machine, the advent of computers in electronic music has outdated this old school method and are now used by the majority of electro producers the world over. The TR-808, created in 1980, has an immediately recognizable sound, and through the use of samples remains somewhat popular in electro and other genres to the present day. Other electro instrumentation is generally all-electronic, favoring analog synthesis, bass lines, sequenced or arpeggiated synthetic riffs, and atonal sound effects all created with synthesizers. Heavy use of effects such as reverbs, delays, chorus or phasers along with eerie synthetic ensemble strings or pad sounds emphasize the common science fiction or futuristic theme of the lyrics and/or music. “Light Years Away” (1982) by Warp 9, a “sci-fi tale of alien visitation” written and produced by Lotti Golden and Richard Scher, exemplifies this style of electro. [7]

Most electro is instrumental, but a common element is vocals processed through a vocoder. Additionally, speech synthesis may be used to create robotic or mechanical lyrical content. Some earlier electro features rapping, but that lyrical style has become less popular in the genre from the 1990s onward.

About electro-funk origins, Greg Wilson claims:

It was all about stretching the boundaries that had begun to stifle black music, and its influences lay not only with German technopop wizards Kraftwerk, the acknowledged forefathers of pure electro, plus British futurist acts like the Human League and Gary Numan, but also with a number of pioneering black musicians. Major artists like Miles Davis, Sly Stone, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, legendary producer Norman Whitfield and, of course, George Clinton and his P Funk brigade, would all play their part in shaping this new sound via their innovative use of electronic instruments during the 70’s (and as early as the late 60’s in Miles Davis’s case).[1]


Afrika Bambaataa (left) in 2004

Following the decline of disco music in the late 1970s, various funk artists such as Zapp & Roger began experimenting with talk boxes and the use of heavier, more distinctive beats. Electro eventually emerged as a fusion of different styles, including 1970s funk and disco combined with German and Japanese electropop, in addition to influences from the futurism of Alvin Toffler, martial arts films, and video game music. The genre's immediate forebearers included Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO), and Gary Numan.[8] An important precursor to the genre was Cat Stevens' "Was Dog a Doughnut" in 1977.[9]

In 1980, YMO was the first band to utilize the TR-808 programmable drum machine.[10][11] That same year, YMO member Ryuichi Sakamoto released "Riot in Lagos", which is regarded as an early example of electro music,[12][13] and is credited for having anticipated the beats and sounds of electro.[9] The song's influence can be seen in the work of later pioneering electro artists such as Afrika Bambaataa[9] and Mantronix.[13]

In 1982, Bronx based producer Afrika Bambaataa released the seminal track "Planet Rock", which contained elements of Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" (from the album of the same name) and "Numbers" (from Kraftwerk's 1981 Computer World album),[2] as well as Yellow Magic Orchestra songs such as "Riot in Lagos" (from Sakamoto's 1980 album B-2 Unit).[9][14] "Planet Rock" is widely regarded as a turning point in the electro genre.[15]

In 1983, Hashim created the influential electro funk tune "Al-Naafiysh (The Soul)" which became Cutting Record's first release in November 1983.[16] At the time Hashim was influenced by Man Parrish's "Hip Hop, Be Bop", Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science" and Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock".[17] "Al-Nafyish" was later included in Playgroup's compilation album Kings of Electro (2007), alongside other electro classics such as Sakamoto's "Riot in Lagos".[18] Also in 1983, Herbie Hancock, in collaboration with Grand Mixer D.ST, released the hit single "Rockit".

Bambaataa and groups like Planet Patrol, Jonzun Crew, Mantronix, Newcleus and Juan Atkins' Detroit-based group Cybotron went on to influence the genres of Detroit techno, ghettotech, breakbeat, drum and bass and electroclash. Early producers in the electro genre (notably Arthur Baker,[19] John Robie and Shep Pettibone) featured prominently in the Latin Freestyle (or simply "Freestyle") movement. By the late 1980s, the genre had parted from its initial funk influences. Baker and Pettibone enjoyed robust careers well into the house era, and both eluded the "genre trap" to successfully produce mainstream artists.[20]

Contemporary electro

Although the early 1980s were electro's heyday in the mainstream, it enjoyed renewed popularity in the late 1990s with artists such as Anthony Rother and DJs such as Dave Clarke, and has made yet another comeback for a third wave of popularity in 2009. The continued interest in electro, though influenced to a great degree by Florida, Detroit, Miami, Los Angeles and New York styles, has primarily taken hold in Florida and Europe with electro club nights becoming commonplace again. The scene still manages to support hundreds of electro labels, from the disco electro of Clone Records, to the old school b-boy styles of Breakin’ Records and Dominance Electricity, to the electrofunk of Citinite, and to harder more modern styles of electro of labels like Bass Frequency Productions and Nu Illusion Music.

New branches of electro have risen over the last couple of years. Florida has pioneered the "Electrocore" sound, started in the late 90's by artists like Jackal & Hyde and Dynamix II and carried on to this day. Skweee is a genre which developed in Nordic countries such as Sweden and Finland, hence its first name "Scandinavian Funk". The outlets and artists of Skweee are still mostly limited to the Nordic countries.


Juan Atkins performing as Model 500 in 2007


  1. ^ a b "Electro-Funk > WHAT DID IT ALL MEAN ?". Greg Wilson on electrofunkroots.co.uk. http://www.electrofunkroots.co.uk/articles/what.html. Retrieved 2009-12-23. 
  2. ^ a b Rap meets Techno, with a short history of Electro. Globaldarkness.com. Retrieved on 2011-07-18.
  3. ^ Gavin Weale (2001) The Future Sound Of Electro. Electroempire.com
  4. ^ Electro itself is a musical style blending "funk & synthesizers with elements of hip-hop", according to Dent, Susie (2003). The Language Report. p. 43 
  5. ^ Sean 'P-Ski' P (1995) Electro – What Does It Mean?. Electroempire.com
  6. ^ Electro-Funk : What Did It All Mean?. Electrofunkroots.co.uk. Retrieved on 2011-07-18.
  7. ^ Toop, David (2000). Rap Attack 3: African Rap To Global Hip Hop. (Expanded Third Edition) Serpent's Tail, London N4 2BT p. 150 ISBN 1-85242-627-6.
  8. ^ "Electro". Allmusic. http://www.allmusic.com/explore/essay/electro-t689. Retrieved 2011-05-25. 
  9. ^ a b c d David Toop (March 1996), "A-Z Of Electro", The Wire (145), http://www.thewire.co.uk/articles/210/, retrieved 2011-05-29 
  10. ^ Mickey Hess (2007), Icons of hip hop: an encyclopedia of the movement, music, and culture, Volume 1, ABC-CLIO, p. 75, ISBN 0313339031, http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=LldOLnIQ66cC&pg=PA69, retrieved 2011-05-29 
  11. ^ Jason Anderson (November 28, 2008). "Slaves to the rhythm: Kanye West is the latest to pay tribute to a classic drum machine". CBC News. http://www.cbc.ca/news/arts/music/story/2008/11/27/f-history-of-the-808.html. Retrieved 2011-05-29. 
  12. ^ Broughton, Frank (2007). La historia del DJ / The DJ's Story, Volume 2. Ediciones Robinbook. p. 121. ISBN 8496222799. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=1GMxP6mpRdgC&pg=PA121. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  13. ^ a b "Kurtis Mantronik Interview", Hip Hop Storage, July 2002, http://www.cheebadesign.com/legends/articleX.html, retrieved 2011-05-25 
  14. ^ William Eric Perkins (1996), Droppin' science: critical essays on rap music and hip hop culture, Temple University Press, p. 12, ISBN 1566393620, http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=zGC_ZNOrKDwC&pg=PA12, retrieved 2011-05-26 
  15. ^ Sicko, D., Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk, Billboard Books, 1999 (ISBN 978-0823084289), p. 73.
  16. ^ Kellman, A. (2007). Hashim Biography. All Media Guide. Retrieved September 6, 2007, from [1]
  17. ^ Electro Empire. (2000). Hashim interview. ElectroEmpire Articles. Retrieved on September 5, 2007. from [2]
  18. ^ Kings of Electro at Allmusic
  19. ^ When The Planet Rocked. Electrofunkroots.co.uk. Retrieved on 2011-07-18.
  20. ^ Miami Gets Put On the Musical Map. Electroempire.com

External links

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