Electronic music is a popular music genre. The first electronic instrument was the theremin, named after its inventor, the Russian Leon Theremin. Its first unit was made in 1928, and was widely commercially available by the 1930’s, along with ondes Martenot and trautoniums. Avant-garde composers used these devices in their music a lot. The first musical piece with a score that was produced with electronic instruments only was recorded in 1953 in Germany by Karlheinz Stockhausen.
In the 1940’s in France, composers started to experiment with so-called “musique concrète”, in which they remixed pre-recorded samples of other music with electronic tools to create new compositions. In the 1960’s Jamaica, a very similar practice utilized by dancehall DJ’s created what became known as dub music.
However, electronic music didn’t become a mainstream hit in the West for a long time. In the 1960’s, electric guitars played a huge role in rock & roll, then rock music. In the 1970’s, the emerging hip hop music’s artists started to use turntables as instruments. And in the 1980’s, synthesizers became prominent in pop music.
What we know as electronic music as a genre today only rose to prominence in the 1990’s in the US, through such artists’ works as The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim. In the meantime in Europe, house music became very popular, which eventually made its way to America - at first, to the nightclubs of Chicago, Illinois.
Electronic music can very much vary in style and musicality. The main defining factor is that the instrumental is produced digitally, and that the instrumental is more prominent on the track than vocals, if there is any. Typically, electronic music producers use softwares like Ableton Live, Logic Pro or FL Studio to create their hits. While the instrumental is created with software, those programs intentionally mimic physical instruments, most commonly keyboards and drums. Another encompassing characteristic of the many types of electronic subgenres is that they are typically intended to be played in nightclubs to dancing crowds.
Most popular electronic music today tends to feature repetitive rhythmic elements, and a synthesized backing track. EDM music is usually faster than other popular genres, such as pop, and even rock. An average electronic single runs at between 120 and 140 beats per minute. However, there are outlying subgenres on both ends of this spectrum. Ambient electronic music is slower, while dubstep is faster. Most EDM songs are written in minor keys.
Vocals play a lot less of a role in electronic music than in other popular genres. They can be just as repetitive as the rhythmic elements, at times being just one line repeated over and over again. They are often heavily digitally altered, and there can be long periods in the songs without any vocals. In the 2010's, famous EDM artists started to feature lesser-known, then famous vocalists on their tracks, who sang complex melodies with meaningful lyrics (think of Avicii's 2013 song “Hey Brother”). These songs fit more into the mixed genre of electro-pop than into “pure” electronic music.
As we stated above, electronic music can vary a lot in style. There are a whole slew of subgenres that are each enjoyed by large audiences. The most popular of these are techno, disco, house, and the aforementioned dubstep and ambient.
Since the vocals, and by extension, the lyrics play little role in EDM, the themes can be almost anything, from nonsensical words to love songs.
Many of the most famous EDM artists are from Europe.
David Guetta started as a DJ and nightclub owner in Paris, France. Four years passed between the release of his first and second original single in the 1990’s. However, by the early 2010’s, he became an international superstar with hits such as “Play Hard” (2011) featuring Ne-Yo and Akon, “Titanium” (also 2011) featuring Sia, and “Shot Me Down” (2014) featuring Skylar Grey.
The greatest hits in Scottish DJ Calvin Harris’ setlist to date are re "Summer" (2014), "How Deep Is Your Love" feat. The Disciples (2015), and "This is What You Came For" feat. Rihanna (2016). DJ Tiësto from the Netherlands is from the older generation, having rose to prominence in the early 2000’s. The Italian Gabry Ponte came even before him, his big break was with the EDM group Eiffel 65 and their 1998 international megahit “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”.
Skrillex from California, United States is perhaps the best known dubstep DJ in the world. Deadmau5 from Canada is instantly recognizable for wearing his signature metal mouse mask at his live performances.