Electronic  •  Experimental Electronic »


A loaded term meant to distinguish electronic music of the '90s and later that's equally comfortable on the dancefloor as in the living room, IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) eventually acquired a good deal of negative publicity, not least among the legion of dance producers and fans whose exclusion from the community prompted the question of whether they produced stupid dance music. Born in the late '80s, the sound grew out of a fusion between the hard-edged dance music heard on the main floor at raves and larger club events, and the more downtempo music of the nearby chill-out rooms. DJs like Mixmaster Morris and Dr. Alex Paterson blended Chicago house, softer synth-pop/new wave, and ambient/environmental music, prompting a wave of producers inspired by a variety of sources. (Many DJs and producers were also reacting against the increasingly chart-leaning slant of British dance music during those years, exemplified by novelty hits like "Pump Up the Jam" by Technotronic and "Sesame's Treat" by Smart E's.) Sheffield's Warp Records proved home to the best in the sound -- in fact, the seminal Warp compilation Artificial Intelligence alone introduced listeners worldwide to a half-dozen of the style's most crucial artists: Aphex Twin, the Orb, Plastikman, Autechre, Black Dog Productions, and B12. Other labels -- Rising High, GPR, R&S, Rephlex, Fat Cat, Astralwerks -- released quality IDM as well, though by the mid-'90s much of the electronica produced for headphone consumption had diverged either toward the path of more experimentation or more beat orientation. With no centered, commercial scene to speak of, North America became a far more hospitable clime to IDM, and by the end of the '90s, dozens of solid labels had opened for business, including Drop Beat, Isophlux, Suction, Schematic, and Cytrax. Despite frequent attempts to rename the style (Warp's "electronic listening music" and Aphex Twin's "braindance" were two choices), IDM continued to be the de facto way for fans to describe their occasionally undescribable favorites.