Standing in a nearly empty 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., during the sound check for a 1987 Pop Will Eat Itself show, I watched in awe as the trio of scruffy Brits instructed a man in a booth to add more sampled handclaps to the hit song "There Is No Love Between Us Anymore," a pastiche of hijacked riffs and electronic beats. Later I interviewed the band and inquired about its odd name. In a barely decipherable brogue, one member told me, "With all the samples and sounds available to musicians because of modern technology, eventually someone will create the perfect song, and that'll be all: Pop will eat itself." At the time, I didn't quite understand what the fuck he was talking about, but his prediction has come true, albeit not in the way he probably meant. Instead, alternative rock ate itself. At least that's the easy answer to why the record industry is in a slump, and why the music world in general seems to be in a creative funk. Having declared modern rock dying if not dead, trendspotters are banking on electronic music as the next genre to make the jump from alternative to mainstream. Already, MTV has chipped out a space in its rotation for artists like the Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy. Major labels are scurrying to sign acts from the United States and Great Britain to ensure that they'll have guys with banks of keyboards, samplers and turntables on their roster when the Nirvana of electronic music emerges. Despite the fact that Spin editor Charles Aaron appeared on Today last week to discuss the theory that "electronica," as he calls it, will be to the second half of the decade what grunge was to the first, some insiders grumble that the pulsating blips, beeps and grooves of this dance-oriented music is just a reincarnation of disco.While it's not entirely plausible that a majority of rock fans will abandon the legions of Dishwallas and Everclears in favor of Orbital and Aphex Twin, the popularity of raves and the technological culture spurred by the Internet suggest that the time is right for electronic music. Far from destroying pop, the samples, wires and loops may just expand its realm. Electronic music isn't new. Depending on who you ask, it descends from '80s house music parties in Detroit or London's subsequent (some say coexistent) techno/rave scene. Many of the artists currently garnering commercial interest have been active since the late 1980s. As an example of how little a gap existed between electronic music being ignored and adored, consider the Prodigy. Its song "Firestarter" was released in 1995 to little fanfare on the independent English label Mute, then became a major hit in the waning days of 1996, sparking a bidding war among the majors. The Astralwerks label gave its own interpretation of the genre's evolution in a manifesto accompanying the 1996 compilation Werks Like A 12". The text explains that the Prodigy and the Orb were among the first to break out of London's nascent electronic dance music scene. Then, according to the document, "The energy and excitement of the raves that had been going on for a few years in the U.K. finally reached the U.S. and everyone wanted to know more about what was going on at these parties and in the music scene. The result was a small but rabid community of music fans who attended the parties every week and bought whatever music was available.It has since grown into something bigger than any of us ever expected, with underground records being played on radio, videos being shown on MTV and numerous raves in every major metropolitan area every weekend drawing in excess of 5,000 people." It has grown in other ways, too. Now, artists as diverse as Tricky, Aphex Twin, Underworld, Goldie, Brian Eno and Bjork (who has a new album of re-mixes on the way) all crowd under the electronic music umbrella. As it catches on, other loosely related genres outside the rock idiom, such as dub and ambient, will likely benefit. And DJs with names like Spooky, Shadow and Krush may translate their critical praise into popular success. Unless another guitar band figures out a way to reinvent rock, these are some of the artists you'll be hearing the most from in '97.SIDEBAR: Recent & Recommended:Various artists, Wipeout XL (Astralwerks): Features the cream of the current electronic dance music crop: Future Sound of London, the Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Photek, Prodigy, Orbital and more.Various artists, Logical Progression (ffrr): Assembled by respected DJ L.T.J. Bukem, this two-CD set runs the electronic gamut, from techno to trip-hop to drum 'n' bass.Chemical Brothers, Setting Sun EP (Astralwerks): Oasis' Noel Gallagher lends his Beatles-esque vocals to the crossover hit title song.Microstoria, snd (Thrill Jockey): A collaboration between Markus Popp of the experimental duo Oval and Jan St. Werner of the techno band Mouse on Mars, Microstoria employs digital technology to sculpt ambient soundscapes.Various artists, Incursions in Illbient (Asphodel): So named because it mixes ambient with dub to an often unsettling effect, the illbient sub-genre originated among New York DJs. This collection features Sub Dub, DJ Spooky and Byzar.Also Noteworthy: Drain, Offspeed and in There (Trance Syndicate): Electronic dub from Butthole Surfer King Coffey's side project.Underworld, Second Toughest in the Infants (Wax Trax/TVT): One of the best known electronic dance music acts.DJ Vadim, USSR Repertoire (Ninja Tune): Sultry trip-hop for Bolsheviks.Twilight Circus, Other Worlds of Dub (M): Dub with international overtones.bt, ima (Perfecto/Kinetic/Reprise): Electronic double-CD; one song features Tori Amos.Spacetime Continuum, Emit Ecaps (Astralwerks): From revered San Francisco electronic artist Jonah Sharp.Ben Neill, Tryptical (Antilles): Neill mixes his trumpet playing with electronics and DJs on his debut.On the Way:Aphex Twin, Richard D. James (Elektra): Superb ambient electronica from one of the genre's stars. Out in January.Coldcut, Back By No Demand (Ninja Tune): Stellar sounds from two talented, inventive London DJs. Out in early '97.Grace, If I Could Fly (Perfecto/Kinetic/Reprise): Seductive British dance music. Out in March.