Many music fans think of the rise of EDM as a purely American phenomenon, but as any well-informed DJ knows, musical movements in the UK, Europe, and Jamaica had as much to do with today’s EDM sounds as the American scene did. That’s not to say, however, that the American electronic music scene of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s wasn’t important in shaping the sound of EDM; in fact, many of the EDM subgenres we hear on the radio and in clubs today came out of Detroit, Chicago, and other major American cities. But before all of that happened, there was one movement that would change American dance music forever: disco.
The Rise and Fall of Disco
In the 1960s, electronic music production was already taking off places like Europe and Jamaica, but American music fans would have to wait until the 1970s before they got a true taste of electronic dance music, thanks to a dance hall known as the discotheque.
During the 1960s, the world of disco was dominated by R&B acts like the Jackson 5 and Sly and the Family stone that relied on more traditional live instrumentation, but by 1970, DJs began to arise as the new dispensers of the disco sound.
By the mid 1970s, DJs at disco clubs weren’t just spinning records, they were also creating their own remixes and adding effects and other sonic manipulations to their sets, much like dub DJs were doing at the same time in Jamaica. Then, in 1977, Donna Summer recorded the hit song “I Feel Love” with the help of Italian producer Giorgio Moroder and British producer Pete Bellotte.
With its synthesizer and drum machine based sound, this became the first electro disco song to take off in the U.S. By the end of the 1970s, producers were playing just as much of a role as DJs in shaping the sound of American electronic dance music.
By this time, however, American popular opinion had started to shift against disco and audiences were looking for new sounds to get them moving on the dancefloor.
Chicago EDM Subgenres
In the aftermath of the disco era, Chicago DJs, most notably one Frankie Knuckles, starting blending electro-disco and funk with hip-hop and European electronic sounds to create what would later become known as the house music scene. This soon led to derivative EDM subgenres like acid house, electro house, progressive house, tech house, and others.
Detroit EDM Subgenres
At the same time, DJs in Detroit like Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May were developing their own brand of post-disco EDM. Although these Detroit artists cited many of the same influences as early Chicago house DJs, the sound that emerged from Detroit was heavier, more hypnotic, and more futuristic sounding than any electronic music that had been produced before. This became the sound of Detroit techno, which was the precursor to the techno sound we know today, as well as other EDM subgenres like ghettotech and minimal techno.
This history only begins to scratch the surface of the rise of EDM in America, and of course there are other important movements like hip-hop that haven’t been taken into account, but that’s a whole other history lesson in itself.
These American EDM subgenres were mainly based around a steady four-on-the-floor kick drum pattern, so if you want to try your hand at exploring some of this music for yourself, it might be a good idea to brush up on your beatmatching skills. As a member of Spin Academy, you get access to our video tutorial series on beatmatching, as well as tons of other videos from pro DJs that will tell you everything you need to know about how to become a great DJ of American, European, Jamaican, or any other type of music that interests you.