Electro-music glossary

I like music, so I think from time to time — say, Sundays — I might include links to whatever tunage is playing on repeat. I dig all types of electronic music, from heavy industrial and dark electro to bouncy techno to lilting synthpop and back again. While living in South Dakota doesn’t give me much chance to go out clubbing (shocking, I’m sure), I can still enjoy the music! Welcome to square zero.

But now we need a new kind of music, because we’re in a new kind of society. We work in scrap yards and factories with conveyor belts, just doing repetitive, noisy jobs with the frequencies of all these machines and technology around us. We’re in this industrial place, this industrial area… It’s industrial music.

–Genisis P-Orridge

Rant radio: My source for the best of Industrial on the Internet [ web ]
Digital gunfire: Industrial strength aural assault [ web ]
Digitally Imported Radio: Electronic dance music [ web ]
Pandora Internet Radio: Build your own internet radio! [ web ]
SDX Own radio: Synth, EBM, industrial and C-64 [ web ]
This is corrosion: Dark electric music and propaganda [ web ]
Radio Free Positron: Online radio for positron artists [ web ]
Tormented radio: Darker electro, techno, and gothic [ web ]

Glossary of genres

The music of the dark underground encompasses many different styles. Most of the music I subscribe to goes under the very broad labels of “industrial” or “gothic” or “electronic”, but as these sounds continue to evolve and progress, these terms become increasingly meaningless… or at least far too general to truly define the nuances of a particular band’s or song’s sound.

Of course, there is always a problem labeling any artistic endeavor; when done well, no two things are ever exactly the same. However, labels provide a valuable grammar within which to compare two things for someone who is unfamiliar with one of them. To this end, here is a comprehensive list of the genres of music that make up the dark underground. The list consists of definitions and descriptions of these various styles of music, but also gives a couple of seminal tracks from each style.

Hopefully, this list will give you a starting point from which to expand your music investigations. While these may be of little help at the local record store, where everything is lumped into general categories anyway, they will hopefully make comparing bands and buying from online sources easier.

* This genre list is getting woefully out of date, but it is one lasting legacy of the late, great Club Luminal in San Diego, California.

ambient coldwave darkwave deathrock downtempo e.b.m. electro endzeit e.b.m. ethereal gothic gothrock i.d.m. industrial neoclassical neofolk powernoize synthpop techno technopop trance triphop

Ambient

Ambient music is, as its name suggests, music for setting a mood. Gentle melodies and sonic atmospheres create a lulling, hypnotic experience. Ambient music contains little to no percussion and is almost always created with gentle synths and “found” sounds, like rain, people talking in the background, birdcalls, etc. often, ambient music refutes traditional song structures in favor of open-ended atmospheres that serve more as backdrops than songs.

Within the scope of ambient, you may also find dark ambient, which explores darker, more morbid themes and moods, and noise ambient, which is characterized by its harsher, more grating sonic atmospheres.

e.g. ALIO DIE global construction, METAMATICS evening star, STEVE ROACH midnight loom, DRYFT cell weight.

Coldwave

Also known as crossover. Angry music for angry people. Coldwave is the blending [crossing-over] of heavy metal and EBM. Coldwave artists usually begin with a traditional electronic EBM palette and overlay heavily-distorted guitars for a super-aggressive sound. The beats are usually intense, vocals are usually distorted, and the guitars are processed into chunky percussive weapons.

e.g. ACUMEN gun lover, KMFDM light, NUMB blood, SKINNY PUPPY tin omen.

Darkwave

Darkwave is gothic music brought into the electronic realm: melancholy melodies and depressive beats. Many of these bands mix in triphop elements and operatic vocals. There is also often a strong neoclassical tinge to the instrumentation. This is definitely electronic music, but it often has an organic and emotional feel. German band Deine Lakaien is widely considered to be the father of this movement. According to them, they achieved their sound by mixing post-punk/new wave with elements of German opera and medieval music.

Gothic and darkwave can have very similar sounds and many bands and songs can be argued to represent either genre. The primary distinction is that gothic artists use primarily or entirely organic “traditional” instruments, whereas darkwave artists use primarily or entirely synths, samplers, and sequencers.

e.g. PROJECT PITCHFORK the longing, DIE FORM cantique, DEINE LAKAIEN reincarnation, ATTRITION acid tongue.

Deathrock

Before gothic was gothic, there was a movement in the punk scene (most notably in LA and England) that blended vicious punk rock with elements of horror and decadence. These pre-goths were called deathrockers because of their pale makeup and fascination with the macabre. Deathrock is primarily based on the standard guitar-bass-drums-vocals combo, often with synthesizers added as backing instruments. Lyrics and themes are often horror-based and a definite current of drama and pain runs through the music.

e.g. CHRISTIAN DEATH romeo’s distress, SPECIMEN kiss kiss bang bang, VIRGIN PRUNES baby turns blue, ALIEN SEX FIEND ignore the machine.

Downtempo

Downtempo is the slow, melancholy side of techno. The beats are deliberate and mesmerizing, and the music is synthetic and layered. Downtempo is often more uplifting than depressing, but it can contain a very dark beauty that makes it a viable part of the dark underground.

e.g. L.S.G. concatenation, HUMATE 3.3, INTERNAL deliverance, LAMB gorecki.

E.B.M.

EBM (or Electronic Body Music) is the dance music of the industrial genre, and it has become a mainstay of gothic/industrial clubs — one that is always changing and mutating to keep up with the times. In the ’80s, seminal EBM bands such as Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb took the cold, harsh sounds of industrial music and added dance beats, creating “electronic body music”. EBM is usually characterized by un- or minimally-treated vocals, hard dance beats, and aggressive synths. Throbbing bass lines play an important part in making the beats feel more “dance-y.”

In the mid-to-late 90s, bands such as abscess, majestic, and fortification 55 brought a cinematic melodic sensibility to EBM, blending in a healthy dose of darkwave to create epic ebm. Other bands such as :Wumpscut: pioneered a marsher variant known as endzeit ebm. More recently, many EBM acts have been incorporating techno and trance elements, creating the more upbeat technopop.

e.g. FRONT 242 headhunter, ZERO DEFECTS duracell, COVENANT theremin [club mix], FORTIFICATION 55 and tomorrow atlantis.

Electro

Also known as elektro. Originally, electro referred to a blending of hip-hop and techno, a style of music used for break dancing. At this juncture, it was also called electrorock (think Afrika Bambaataa!). Early EBM bands like Front 242 were associated with this type of music. Both EBM and electro acts were using a (usually) purely electronic palette to create music that had dance beats, but had vocal and song structures associated with rock or rap. In the gothic/industrial arena, electro has come to define a dark sound related to both EBM and darkwave. It is generally darker and more gothic-themed than ebm, and the beats tend to be less dancey and more straightforward (more like rock than techno beats).

Recently, a number of artists such as Andrea Parker and Anthony Rother have begun to recapture the traditional sound of electro, taking the palettes of sounds that early electro artists used in the 80s and bringing them up-to-date, a movement known as retro electro.

e.g. TERMINAL CHOICE totes fleisch, HAUJOBB eye over you, I, PARASITE piety, DIARY OF DREAMS butterfly:dance!, ANDREA PARKER in two minds.

Endzeit E.B.M.

Endzeit (German for end-of-time, which is why this genre is also referred to as apocalyptic EBM) EBM is the harshest of electronic body music. It is unknown whether the term originated with him, but Rudy Ratzinger refers to his own band :Wumpscut: as endzeit EBM. This genre is characterized by distorted/treated vocals, distorted beats, and harsh, driving synths. Melodies and themes are often spooky, cold, and chilling, played out on organ-like synths or reedy bells. Endzeit ebm is less dance floor-friendly than EBM in the traditional “dance beat” sense, but has been known to pack the floor with the more aggro of rivetheads.

e.g. :WUMPSCUT: soylent green, SUICIDE COMMANDO save me, AMGOD fire [remix], LEAETHER STRIP strap me down.

Ethereal

Ethereal music is characterized by lush, haunting female vocals that float over a wash of synths and pads, or occasionally delayed and echoing clean guitars. It usually contains minimal or no percussion. Ethereal shares its hypnotic “backdrop” quality with ambient but usually follows more explicit song structures and focuses more on female voices. Ethereal also shares a lot of its character with darkwave, but it is definitely less dance floor-friendly, and it emphasizes beauty over darkness. A variant of ethereal called etherbliss or shoegazer follows the ethereal formula, but adds pop elements, such as percussion and playful jangly guitars.

Projekt is probably the label best known for promoting and publishing ethereal; British label 4ad was famous in the early 80s and 90s for promoting and publishing etherbliss.

e.g. BLACK TAPE FOR A BLUE GIRL the flow of our spirit, LOVE SPIRALS DOWNWARDS delta, WENCH sidonia, COCTEAU TWINS wax and wane.

Gothic

Gothic music runs the gamut from haunting and melancholy (dark, swirling music that often touches on ethereal and classical sensibilities) to raucous and harsh (a rebellious expression of pain). Much like deathrock, gothic music reflects a dramatic sense of the dark and macabre, but it does so in a less boisterous and lewd manner. Gothic artists also often experiment with instrumentation and themes from times past, relating them to the current day.

Gothic and darkwave can have very similar sounds and many bands and songs can be argued to represent either genre. The primary distinction is that gothic artists use primarily or entirely organic “traditional” instruments, whereas darkwave artists use primarily or entirely synths, samplers, and sequencers.

e.g. DEAD CAN DANCE de profundis, BAUHAUS the passion of lovers, HUMAN DRAMA sad i cry, DEATH IN JUNE heaven street.

Gothrock

This is rock gone gothic. Guitars and bass are prominent, but often drums are replaced by drum machines, and backing keyboards play a more prominent role. Just like deathrock was a decadent and macabre permutation of punk, gothic rock is a “gothification” of rock. Vocals are usually deep and dramatic; themes are depressing and often intensely personal. The wildness of four-on-the-floor rock mixes with the dark and the delicate.

e.g. SISTERS OF MERCY logic, IKON black roses, ROSETTA STONE adrenaline, MALAISE sudden hours.

I.D.M.

IDM (or Intelligent Dance Music) is a complex genre, epitomized by oscillating synths and choppy downtempo beats. This is the mellow side of techno, beautiful and hypnotic, with an experimental edge. IDM runs the gamut from soft, warm almost organic sounding tracks, to the fierce variety known as broken beat, which is characterized by severely chopped-up beats and sequences that ignore or subvert the traditional rules of music.

e.g. AROVANE eleventh!, PLAID rakimou, BOARDS OF CANADA hi scores, FUNKSTORUNG grammy winners.

Industrial

Industrial has become an overarching name for the whole gamut of dark electronic music. In many ways, EBM, powernoize, and other genres listed here do have a base in industrial (the use of machine sounds, factory noises, and whirring synths that evoke these cold, mechanical elements hearkens to early experimental industrial), they are only peripherally related to industrial music as it was originally conceived.

Industrial music is based largely in political and social commentary, particularly in discussion of man’s place in a mechanized age. Early industrial artists were extremely experimental, using a combination of early electronic instruments, traditional instruments, and found sounds. They used tape loops, destroyed buildings, and beat on things to create sounds that disturbed and evoked thought. Industrial music is not usually dance-oriented – much of it is closer to performance art than anything else. Generally, it is Monte Cazzazza who is credited with the term industrial music: it comes from his record label Industrial Records and his description of the music on that label as “industrial music for industrial people.”

e.g. EINSTUERZENDE NEUBATEN zns, THROBBING GRISTLE hamburger lady, KRAFTWERK it’s more fun to compute, CABARET VOLTAIRE except nothing.

Neoclassical

Neoclassical music brings traditional classical, baroque, and medieval music into the modern age. Some bands choose to be absolutely faithful to the instruments and arrangements used in the period they to evoke, where others use modern tools, like sequencers and synths, to add a degree of “neo-” to the classical music they emulate. Tony Wakeford’s label Tursa is a big promoter of neoclassical bands.

e.g. GAE BOLG AND THE CHURCH OF FAND montsegur, QNTAL ad mortem festinamus, TOR LUNDVAL the falling snow, L’ORCHESTRE NOIR those that whisper.

Neofolk

Also known as apocalyptic folk or apofolk. Much like neoclassical, neofolk takes a form of traditional music and updates it. Neofolk takes the acoustic guitars, traditional instruments, and minimal arrangements of folk, and adds a modern, often dark twist. Many neofolk artists add minimal synths and other minimal electronic elements, modernizing the music without losing the sparse feel of traditional folk.

e.g. DEATH IN JUNE rose clouds of holocaust, SOL INVICTUS europa calling, CURRENT 93 a song for douglas after he’s dead, ORDO EQUITUM SOLIS playing with the fire.

Powernoize

Powernoize takes harsh, experimental noise manipulations and marries them with fearsome endzeit EBM beats. In powernoize, the rule is distortion, distortion, distortion. Beats, synths, and even found sounds are distorted, filtered, and processed. Vocals are rare, but when they do exist, they are distorted as well. Powernoize is the harshest, loudest, and most aggressive of the genres profiled here.

e.g. IMMINENT STARVATION even stars, P.A.L gelobnis, CONVERTER conqueror, HYPNOSKULL machine is coming down.

Synthpop

Just as the name suggests, synthpop is pop music created entirely with synthesizers. Synthpop features punchy beats and clean synths, paired with romantic (usually male) vocals. Depeche Mode is the recognized source of inspiration for most current synthpop bands, while others find their muse in O.M.D, Erasure, and Duran Duran. Synthpop can be melancholy or upbeat and fun, but the smooth vocal delivery and crisp synths remain constant.

e.g. MESH you didn’t want me, WOLFSHEIM sparrows and the nightingales, IRIS annie, would i lie to you, DE/VISION blue moon.

Techno

Techno is both an overarching name for electronic dance music in general, and a more specific title for a genre characterized by hard, fast beats, and acid synths. Vocals are rare, but samples are plentiful. Techno is not specifically dark in nature, so, as a whole, it is not a common part of the gothic/industrial music scene. However, not only have a lot of industrial bands been deeply influenced by techno, but certain techno tracks have found indelible places in the play lists of many industrial-oriented clubs.

And then there is dark techno: the “gothification” of techno. These artists take traditional techno beats and song structures and twist them into something more macabre. The synth lines are generally less trippy and upbeat and have a more sinister edge than in traditional techno, while the percussion is often distorted. Dark techno usually contains few to no vocals. Recently, a lot of powernoize bands have been courting the dance floor by moving toward this sound.

e.g. UNDERWORLD cowgirl, EON spice, NOISEX 1920.00 (i’m on rotation), ANDREA PARKER melodious thunk.

Technopop

Technopop is an emerging genre that has quickly become a favorite in gothic/industrial clubs across the world. It embraces the driving synths of EBM, the lush vocals of synthpop, and the pounding percussion of techno and trance. This mix engenders a sound that is upbeat and dance floor-friendly while still retaining a dark or melancholy edge. Covenant is widely recognized as one of the first bands to explore the line between EBM and synthpop, while Apoptygma Berzerk has been a consistent leader in popularizing the technopop sound.

e.g. APOPTYGMA BERZERK eclipse, COVENANT dead stars, FICTIONAL blue lights, VNV NATION legion.

Trance

Trance is a variant of techno characterized by clean beats, beautiful hypnotic synths, and soaring melodies. It is generally more melodic and epic than straight techno and often consists of a refrain, an ambient “break,” and then a tension-filled build-up back to a more intense version of the refrain. Vocals are somewhat more common than in techno and, when they exist at all, are usually female.

Subgenres include progressive trance (intense builds and fast-paced melodic synths) and epic trance (sweeping, cinematic synths and pads). Many EBM and technopop bands (most notably Apoptygma Berzerk) have culled a lot of their percussion and melodies from trance.

e.g. PUSH universal nation, BINARY FINARY 1999, LUZON the baguio track, NARKOTIC blue.

Triphop

Triphop is a languorous flow with sparse beats and cinematic instrumentation — it is slower than slow, lazy and fluid in character. Triphop is based on hip hop beats and showcases smoky female vocals and mellow rap vocals. Also common is the use of samples and vinyl sounds. Portishead, a seminal triphop band, actually cuts many of their samples and loops to record before mixing them in to the final piece. This gives the sounds a warm character and makes the trademark pops and snaps of the vinyl noticeable.

e.g. PORTISHEAD all mine, MASSIVE ATTACK teardrop, THE NEW YORK ROOM the thistle in the kiss, HUNGRY LUCY alfred.

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