When you think of EDM right now, some of the first people to come to mind might be European DJs like Tiësto, David Guetta, Hardwell, and Armin van Buuren. DJs from all over continental Europe have played a major role in shaping many EDM subgenres, and remain a dominant force in the world of dance music today. How did European genres become so dominant in EDM? To find out, we need to go back to Germany in the late 1960s.
The Rise of the Synthesizer
In 1967, a German musician named Edgar Froese founded the group Tangerine Dream. Their groundbreaking second album, Alpha Centauri (1970) was a merging of space rock and electronic music that relied heavily on the sounds of keyboards and synthesizers. That same year in Düsseldorf, the band Kraftwerk was founded as an experimental rock band. By 1974, their sound had changed to embrace synthesizers and drum machines.
Kraftwerk’s albums Autobahn (1974), Trans-Europe Express (1977), and The Man-Machine (1978), as well as Tangerine Dream albums like Alpha Centauri (1970) and Phaedra (1974) became important influences for a number of early American house and techno pioneers, and laid the foundations for the rise of electronic music all over the world.
The rise of these European electronic music pioneers paralleled in some ways the rise of disco in the United States, but while disco would eventually take over the mainstream American dance scene, electronic music in Europe stayed decidedly experimental and avant-garde, despite the popularity of many of the pioneering bands in this genre.
Of course, that doesn’t mean disco had no impact at all in Europe. It was, after all, Italian producer Giorgio Moroder who helped Donna Summer record “I Feel Love,” the first electro-disco song to be released in the US.
By the late 1970s, as disco was on the decline in the US, the genre was experiencing a renaissance of sorts in Europe led by groups like ABBA and Boney M. Soon, American disco artists like Donna Summer and the Village People, experiencing resistance in the US, would make the move to Europe to capitalize on the popularity of the Euro disco scene.
The disco craze would eventually die out in Europe as well, and by the 1980s and ‘90s, dance music fans in Europe were looking for new sounds to listen to. Enter artists like Klaus Schulze and Paul van Dyk and the development of Trance music, a highly melodic EDM subgenre based around relatively quick tempos (usually between 125 and 150BPM). Trance in its early days became known for its long build-ups and explosive climaxes, as well as the hypnotizing or “trance” like feel that the music provokes in its listeners.
Early trance music led to the development of a number of EDM subgenres we know today like acid trance, progressive trance, uplifting trance, and hard trance. By the early 2000s, Dutch DJs like Tiësto and Armin van Buuren had become dominant figures in this genre and helped bring European trance into the mainstream EDM culture.
Today, the European EDM scene continues to be dominated by trance music, and European DJs have also been at the forefront of other recent EDM subgenres like tropical house and future house. With the world as connected as it is now, only time will tell what developments in the world of EDM will arise from Europe in the years to come.
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