Dance Music History – First electronic sounds, via Disco, House, Dance to current developments

For my PhD thesis, I have analysed Dance music history briefly, from the beginning of electronically produced sounds, via the early genres of Dance music (Disco, House, Techno, EBM), the boom in the 1990 and current developments. This article gives an overview of this genre history. Feel free to have a read!

Today electronic dance music includes a large variety of music styles. The origin of the electronic music begins with the first experiments of electronic musical instruments, which created sounds electronically or electro-mechanically. There were some electro-mechanical musical experiments in the 19th century, which were invented next to the development of the telephone technology, in which “the fundamental and symmetrical pair of electroacoustic inventions, the microphone and the loudspeaker” (Emmerson 2007, p. xiv, para.3), were introduced. The first ‘synthesizer’ was built at the end of the 19th century by Thaddeus Cahill (Glodek 2005). In 1897, he registered his Telharmonium alias Dynamophone, an “electrically based sound-generation system” (Manning 2004, p. 3, para.2), which was presented to the public in 1906. Before the advent of synthesizers as musical instruments in music productions, electronic sounds were mainly created and used in experimental studios, such as those of Karlheinz Stockhausen or Pierre Schaeffer (‘Musique Concrète’) from the 1950s (Meyer 1998; Brewster and Broughton 2006).

The German Krautrock band Kraftwerk is widely discussed as pioneer and influencer of using electronic music instruments in music, and has therefore had a large impact on electronic music (Meyer 1998; Richard and Kruger 1998; Seago 2004; Bussy 2005; Brewster and Broughton 2006; Colombo 2010; Moorefield 2010). Kraftwerk was one of the first artists, who included synthesizers in their music and only used electronic sounds in their songs since the 1970s (Meyer 1998; Moorefield 2010). Electronic music instruments and electronic music production devices became more popular in music production, which led to the evolution of new genres.


Disco had been the first dance music culture, based on electronic productions. Highly successful for a short amount of time in the late 1970s, Disco pioneered dance and club culture, and opened the way for other new club music scenes. Genres such as Synth-Pop, New Wave, High NRG, Hiphop, Electronic Body Music, Garage, or House and Techno appeared in the (club) music culture of the 1980s (Meyer 1998; McLeod 2001; Brewster and Broughton 2006).

House, Techno and Electronic Body Music

In the 1980s, named after the Chicago based club ‘Warehouse’, House music was born in night clubs in Chicago, where DJs remixed Disco songs with new musical elements. Detroit and New York also had their club cultures, where electronic music evolved as Techno music in Detroit and US Garage in New York. In the USA, House music could not reach a much wider audience than the underground club scene in the cities mentioned above. However, House music delighted the British audience in Ibiza at the famous club Amnesia, which was responsible for the introduction of House music to European and in the first place British clubbers. Exploited albums and compilations consolidated the terms House (‘The House Sound of Chicago’) and Techno (‘Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit’). In the UK, House and especially the British sub-genre Acid House were associated with the consumption of drugs such ecstasy, which was both curse and blessing, because on the one hand clubbers were able to experience the music more intense under the influence of drugs, but on the other hand the scene regularly faced problems with law and police (Meyer 1998; McLeod 2001; Brewster and Broughton 2006; Colombo 2010). As well in the Germany, club music culture evolved at the same time. In the 1980s, ‘Electronic Body Music’ (EBM) had developed as early club culture, before House and Techno arrived in Germany. German DJs, event organisers and consequently clubbers established the term ‘Techno’ as a general name for electronic dance music in the 1980s and 1990s (Meyer 1998; Brewster and Broughton 2006; Rietveld 2009).

Diversification and Boom since the 1990s

At the beginning of the 1990s, Hardcore music and the ‘opposite’ music style Trance evolved in Germany, the UK, Netherlands, and Belgium as new subgenres of electronic dance music. Many more genres and subgenres of electronic dance music were added to the club culture during the 1990s and 2000s which further diversified the club culture (McLeod 2001; Brewster and Broughton 2006; Colombo 2010).

The 1990s experienced a boom of electronic music (Hesmondhalgh 1997; Renner 2004). Started as an underground music scene with illegal raves and a lot of drug consumption by its audience, electronic music evolved to a popular genre in its numerous subgenres. ‘Commercialised’ forms of Dance music – e.g. Eurodance, Happy Hardcore, Vocal Trance, Eurotrance, House or Dance-Pop – gained and still gain mainstream success. Raves (e.g. Mayday, Sensation White, (Trance) Energy), festivals (e.g. Creamfields, Nature One, Global Gathering, Electric Daisy Carnival, Ultra Music Festival), and parades (e.g. Loveparade) attract large audiences until today, next to numerous club events around the world. Furthermore, the popularity of DJs in the scene grew, which led the scene to focus on hypes and also hyped the DJ fees with consequences for the music scene in the 2000s (Brewster and Broughton 2006; DJMag 2011).

‘Dance Recession’ in the 2000s

The boom of Dance music in the 1990s and popular DJs gaining a superstar status in the scene caused that the DJ fees and, consequently, the club entrance fees increased strongly. This new stardom culture was contrary to the usually anonymous club culture (Hesmondhalgh 1998), which may imply credibility problems for those artists, who gained mainstream popularity. Additionally to that, Dance music in the 2000s could not attract the new youth generation, as it had done in the 1990s. These and other reasons led in the UK to the closure and crisis of so-called ‘superclubs’ such as Cream and Gatecrasher; and of music magazines such as Muzik, Ministry and Mixmag. In 2005, the BritAwards cancelled the Dance music category (Brewster and Broughton 2006; DJMag 2011). Germany’s Dance music culture had to cope with the decreasing support of music parades such as Loveparade, Reincarnation Move, or G-Move; and dwindling presence in television and radio channels (Stemmer 2003; Da Cruz 2010). In 2006, the German pendant to the BritAwards, the ECHO, stopped the awarding in the Dance music category (Technobase 2007).

Resurrection of Dance Music in the 2010s

Since the late 2000s, Dance music experienced a resurrection in popular music, as House music artists such as David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia or Avicii got very popular and Black/RnB artists changed their style towards Dance music (Riegg 2009).

In 2010, Dance music in Germany achieved the highest market share since 2005 and an increasing amount of young consumers between 10 and 19 years (BVMI 2011a; BVMI 2011b). Due to this development, the ECHO will be awarded in the category ‘Club/Dance’ for the first time in 2012 since its cancellation in 2006 (Welt Online 2012).

Dance music in the UK also has got into the spotlight of popular music in the recent years. Corner (2012) reported a statement of UK artist DJ Fresh, who topped the UK single charts twice, that the BritAwards should consider reactivating the Dance music category to “reflect what is happening in the current scene, especially as the genre has become increasingly popular over the past few years” (Corner 2012).

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