Can't Tell the Difference Between Witch House and Nu Disco? Welcome to Electronic Dance Music 101
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Maxim Blinkov
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Eddie Amador’s 1997 dancefloor classic “House Music” proudly and repeatedly declares, “Not everyone understands house music: it’s a spiritual thing, a body thing, a soul thing.”
And with that, the beat chugs on, relentless as a locomotive.
But are you on board? Have you been misunderstanding house music since 1997? Since even before that? Maybe you’re like my roommate who, when asked about Dubstep, replies, “Dubstep? Oh I love them!”
If this is you, it may be time to clear the air of misunderstandings and gain some perspective on the ever-changing landscape of electronic dance music.
I, too, was once a novice thumbing through crates of vinyl, trying to make heads or tails of it all. Fortunately for me, there were record stores in those days—the kind that occupy physical space and not just cyberspace—and invariably those stores had the sort of knowledgeable staff who knew exactly which records to pull off the shelf when you came in asking for “something that sounds like the color green.”
These days, thanks to the convenience of mp3s, there’s a lot more music coming out…which means more music to sort through, and not all of it up to the standards of the tracks that previously had to earn the right to be pressed to vinyl. And of course, actual record stores have long since closed up shop and moved online. Beatport (the major hub of dance music shopping on the Internet) tries to make up for this with countless DJ top pick lists, artist profiles and genre countdowns, but it all ends up being a major research project nonetheless.
Which is why I’m here: to share a little of my EDM knowledge, gained from years spinning behind those DJ decks, both internationally and at the local warehouse. What follows is a travel guide to exploration in 11 EDM genres—some of which didn’t even exist when I was first camping out at the legendary Satellite Records store in New York, holding the latest St. Germain in one hand and Chris Liberator in the other. EDM wasn’t even an acronym back then! But house music was house music, and techno was techno, just as it is today. It could be that Eddie Amador is correct in stating that not everyone understands house music, but by the end of this article, I think you’ll at least be able to understand it just a little bit better.
House: Born and raised in Chicago, house music features a kick-snare-kick-snare or kick-clap-kick-clap pattern that accents the off beats—beats 2 and 4 of the “four-on-the-floor”—as opposed to techno, which tends to pound away straight across. House music tempos usually fall somewhere between 120 and 130 bpm (beats per minute) and the rhythm has a feel-good bounce to it.
There are countless unique subdivisions of house, ranging from Latin to deep house to tribal. Some tracks are thick with live instrumentation, giving a nod to funk or disco. Other tracks are minimal and electronic, closer to techno, though even the records that have been heavily influenced by disco have a synth bassline and programmed drums—attributes that put house music in the category of EDM, unlike traditional disco. Vocal house lends itself to powerful anthems, showing the disco ancestry, though there are also plenty of purely instrumental house tracks. Overall, house is about rhythm, body and soul.
Artists: Frankie Knuckles, Lil Louis, Todd Terry, Roger Sanchez, Miguel Migs, Masters at Work, Junior Vasquez, Francois K, Felix da Housecat, Erick Morillo, Duck Sauce/Armand Van Helden, Derrick Carter, DJ Sneak, Danny Tenaglia, Dimitri from Paris, Deep Dish, Bob Sinclar.