Music is always here for us, whatever our mood, whenever the time. It can soundtrack a blissful, lazy Sunday. It can reach an arm around our shoulders on a blue morning. It can even scream alongside us in the night.
We used to twist the radio dial until a song sputtered out, made our bodies ape it. Today, the likes of Spotify will do the hard work for us; cobbling together like-minded tracks so we can pick a playlist, something that excites us and makes us move when we need it most often.
Then, on these platforms, most electronic music is automatically bundled into the “weekend” playlist. After all, it’s just dancefloor fodder, right? It doesn’t have the depth to sympathise with, or bring to the surface, any real sensations? It doesn’t provoke thought. It’s made for clubs, festivals. It’s background noise to mask the hiss of fresh bottles on a pre-drink death wish.
Sadly, there’s still a wide consensus that electronic music is one-dimensional in its intentions and lacking ambition or ability to be anything more than a vehicle for unified palm-raising. This defines the electronic genre for many. But there are so many records that evoke and inspire complex emotions sitting right there in the catalogue alongside the hair-raising club anthems.
In the 90’s, a thorny sub-genre known as Intelligent Dance Music emerged on the electronic scene . . . seemingly an attempt to differentiate more experimental artists from those who produced tracks exclusively for the party crowd. It’s still a label used today, but IDM remains widely ostracised within the industry – especially by the artists who inspired it.
This is partly because the term slices into a genre that prides itself on inclusivity, dividing it, but also because it adds credence to the one-eyed theory that certain tracks are too superior to fall under the electronic banner.
Sure, electronic music can power a party when called upon; whirling around wild-eyed tents, sweat-soaked brows, gaudy sunglasses, dusted pills and small piles of white powder on door keys. But it’s also a genre that runs the gamut of human emotion – capable of conjuring responses beyond ecstasy.
Electronic music is not just for dancing. The following records show another side – a deeper one.
FEAR – Blawan – His, He, She & She (EP)
If most of us want to be scared, we go to a horror movie, board a rollercoaster, or wander through a dodgy bus station on Halloween. Music isn’t ordinarily the first port of call.
But if you do want to be scared out of your wits by an audio composition, throw on Blawan’s His, He, She & She EP.
Even without the eerie, carefully-arranged smiling faces staring out from faded photographs on the album art cover (the tormentor’s souvenirs?) and the track names that make you gulp, His, He, She & She has all the haunting acoustic qualities to chill you to the bone.
Growling, distorted vocals and blood-curdling screams ghosting between a warbling bassline punctuate the album’s opener ‘Why They Hide Bodies Under My Garage?’, leading into a swirl of psychotic symbols and menacing soundbites spewed up on ‘His Daughters’, ‘His Money’ and ‘And Both His Sons’.
It’s a horror flick packed inside an electronic EP. And it’s terrifying.
For more electrohorror, see:
Gesloten Cirkel – Submit X - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYPpprVMmOE
Nkisi – Dark Noise - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oU7GhA4Ft_g
Lorn – Ghosst - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzzrzGyKo6g
Plastikman – Ping Pong - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wJHvOaJdi0
DELIRIUM – Benoit & Sergio – ‘Walk & Talk’
Across electronic music, there have been both candid forays into drug use (Marshall Jefferson’s ‘Mushrooms’ springs to mind) as well as thinly veiled allusions (notably The Shamen’s ‘Ebeneezer Goode’).
But what goes up, must come down – and attempts to re-seize that initial euphoria are invariably futile. This sensation of despair and delirium is captured in Benoit & Sergio’s ‘Walk & Talk’; an electronic piece that paints a vivid picture of someone who’s chased a high, hit the tipping point, and tumbled into addiction.
Propped up by a funky bassline, ‘Walk & Talk’ wanders into woozy territory when a despondent robotic voice comes whooshing through to lament his “baby” being hooked on ketamine.
Like the girl it describes (“She doesn’t wash her hair, doesn’t wash her clothes”), the track is a million miles from rational thought; fuzzy, confused, vertiginous – and strangely palpable.
For more feverish electronic music, try:
Winx – Don’t Laugh - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWaZhnwdTio
Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise If You Can See - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-_c0o8LAaM
DJ Koze – XTC - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FJ2SX2K_74
Guy Gerber & P Diddy – Terminal K - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ztjasTROrY
JOY/SADNESS – Aphex Twin – ‘Avril 14th’
‘Avril 14th’ is a song that summons a flood of sensation. An electronic lullaby that’s both beautiful and haunting, Aphex Twin recorded this piece on a Yamaha Disklavier – something of a crossbreed between a DJ keyboard and grand piano.
Played across the world at weddings, funerals and dinner parties (with a remastered version produced for the closing credits sequence to Chris Morris’ ‘Four Lions’), ‘Avril 14th’ curiously elicits different reactions in different people. Happiness, sadness, hope, regret, joy, contentment.
It’s a track so fluid in feeling, it can even spark some sensations you can’t quite seem to grasp . . .
For more bittersweet electronic music, see:
Massive Attack – Teardrop - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7K72X4eo_s
DJ Shadow – Blood On The Motorway - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5OGk9N8Y5s
Deadmau5 – Bleed - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMEEtwRiCsk
Matthew Herbert - It's Only (DJ Koze remix) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fSS36Xve4k
LOVE – Daft Punk – ‘Something About Us’
If you’ve ever found yourself curled up in the living room ravaged by heartbreak – looking like a cliché that could be dropped right into a romantic movie montage – you might not want your friends to keep reassuring you that things will get better.
You already know it’ll all be fine again in time. For now, you just want someone – something – to sympathise with how you currently feel.
That’s where Daft Punk’s ‘Something About Us’ comes in; an impeccable example of electronic music’s capability to convey – and sympathise with – the sickness of love’s nadir.
A standout track on the classic Discovery album, ‘Something About Us’ sees the French production duo’s trademark computerised voice gripped by heartache as gentle synth strokes express yearning in a way that words never could.
For more electronic tugs on the heart, listen to:
Daft Punk – Digital Love - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOngRDVtEQI
Moodymann – Lyk U Used 2 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_trFeBXW5c
Röyksopp - Only This Moment - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90GR25U8qtc
Chemical Brothers – Swoon - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LH9W4EMx1Zs
REFLECTION – Burial – ‘Dog Shelter’
The entire Burial album Untrue is brimming with sensation, but there’s something particularly special about ‘Dog Shelter’ – a track that soothes and stimulates with rich, evocative, ambient sonority.
Composed with something like the faint crackle of fireworks on bonfire night, ephemeral rattling bells, and the repurposed remnants of Gregorian temple chants, ‘Dog Shelter’ is the ideal accompaniment for a pensive mind.
Turn it on. Close your eyes. And remember.
For more electronic reflection, explore:
Laurel Halo – Raw Silk Uncut Wood - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzkC3Jrbf5s
Guy Gerber – Claire – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMHdRKFvkE4
Burial & Four Tet – Moth – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxhhN4dN2JY
Isolée – Allowance - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUyCiEZEYJI
ANGER – Gesaffelstein – ‘OPR’
When anger swells, there’s nothing more cathartic than stuffing your headphones in your ears, cranking the volume, and administering music to the brain.
The electronic genre might be best associated with bliss, but it’s equally adept at wading into deep, dark, almost grungy territory and temporarily taking you to someplace far away, where rage is of no consequence.
Take Gesaffelstein’s ‘OPR’. Bursting into life with blaring klaxons and a grumbling bassline, it builds and builds before exploding into a surge of sound and falling back in on itself.
A track tailor-made for temple-rubbing, room-stomping, and (eventually) an almighty sigh of relief, ‘OPR’ mirrors a cerebral battle with boiling hot rage. It might just provide the outlet you need to cleanse your mind of any poisonous ire after a particularly shitty day.
For more electronic rage relief, pump out:
Aphex Twin – Come To Daddy - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUmNmpGnKp4
Surgeon - Fixed Action Pattern – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5anYn-ifQBc
DJ Adam X - House Of Horror – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcYMhQMpDPQ
Takaaki Itoh – We Are The Attack - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGBH5WusbyM