To the newcomer, the vast array of electronic genres out there must seem pretty pointless. I'd disagree, as there are certainly big differences, and it's certainly convenient to split them up according to style and philosophy. It's a very naive thing to simply believe that "it all sounds the same!" - only the commercial crap they play on the radio sounds the same. It should only be used as a guide, obviously, as barriers can lead to stagnation. One of the best aspects of electronic music is its ability to mangle boundaries with its unstoppable desire to experiment...

Here are the divisions that are most commonly used. You may of course make up your own...:

Dark Ambient
Found sound
New Age
Chillout / Lounge (or Lounge-core) / Downtempo
Drum N Bass
Atmospheric Drum n Bass / Experimental Drum n Bass / Intelligent Drum n Bass
Drill 'n' bass
Dub (or Dub Reggae)
Musique Concrete
House Garage
UK Garage
US Garage
Happy Hardcore
Acid House
Deep House
Hard House
Prog House
Tech House
Handbag House
IDM (Intelligent Dance Music)
EBM (Electronic Body Music)
Industrial Gothic
Industrial Metal
Industrial Dance
Detroit Techno
Hardcore Techno
Minimalist Techno
Hard Trance
Prog Trance
Psychedelic Trance
Trip Hop

Some notes are worth making about all this, and rather than mess up the above list, I'll do it here.

Bigbeat is now pretty dead. It seemed to start and end with Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers. It seemed to last from the mid-nineties to just before 2000. I suppose it just did all it could do - most of the artists have either moved on or stopped producing music. Apparently, according to MKB, Bigbeat's NOT dead, but is now referred to as "funky breaks". I think I preferred the name "Bigbeat".

The whole term "chillout" raises my hackles. You can get compilations that are such blatantly nightmarish concepts as "Best Classical/Celtic/Jazz Chillout Album Ever" that it makes me want to cry. There are some great people making downtempo music, such as the excellent Nightmares On Wax, that it should certainly not be abandoned prematurely. It's been despoiled by the whole bland-coffee-bar-music notion. Ignore this evil twin! The good stuff is still out there! MoWax and Ninjatune are still labels that are flying the flag.... The term comes from the KLF's 1990 ambient album "Chillout" and from the recovery rooms in clubs for those who need to get their heads together with the help of soothing and mellow sounds.

Drum N Bass is great, IMHO, although many people don't like it. The complex poly-rhythms are sometimes too complex for some people who want a more 4/4 beat. Over its longish history, originating in jungle, it has grown and evolved. It has become in turns dark, experimental, ambient and more and more complex. Fans will often talk of "break beat science", and they're not half wrong at times. Drill 'n' bass is a term used by two sub genres: one is a very loud, fast and hard version of Drum N Bass borrowing from the experimental, metal and noise genres. The undisputed giants of this form of drill 'n' bass are Alec Empire and his band Atari Teenage Riot. They're very angry, and have a record label, Digital Hardcore, for other such angry bands. The term drill 'n' bass is also used for the output of Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, Kid 606 or similar artists. This second set are basically fully paid up members of the IDM gang, and used arrhytmic polyrhytms and cut-up messed up beats in a distinctly un-4/4 beat, kind of like the fucked-up brother of D'n'B's break beats. Except this time they're completely broken.

Electronica is a fairly horrid term that has become fixed in the lexicon. It's a word, I think American in origin, that has been devised by a rock-orientated press to deal with what they see as "electronic bands". It is worth keeping in the list, though, as being such a bland name allows it to be used as a catch all term for electronic music. As such, it is a term that is used nowadays for slightly more leftfield artists, although of course if they get too distinctive is would be best to forget naming them "electronic" and use a more appropriate - and less nauseating - term. The mainstream press now deals with the notion of electronic music/dance music just fine, but the term’s stuck.

IDM began around the early to mid-nineties, and is typified by the output of the excellent Warp label, from Sheffield in England. This term, a bit snotty sounding to be honest, comes from Warp's Artificial Intelligence compilations. Most of the stuff coming out now uses non-repetitive beats, and so it's no real use to dance to. This has not stopped people trying, and it's great fun to watch them. More for beard stroking than boogieing down to. IDM tends to be a blurred classification, and many examples of IDM artists, such as Autechre may produce work that could be classed as minimalist techno or ambient. It can also frequently borrow the polyrhythms of drum n bass or hip-hop.

Industrial is much abused as a term. I have heard people label "anything with guitars and clanging noises" as being Industrial. This is a similar situation to the whole chillout thing. For me, there's little real Industrial being made after the 80's. Bands on the real fringe of music, such as Throbbing Gristle and SPK are the originators and definers of this music, IMHO, and it was Throbbing Gristle that set up Industrial Records, the record label that gave birth to the genre’s name. Interestingly, a lot of the early bands didn’t use guitars much, but were more into sound manipulation. Rock music and metal have since incorporated electronic sounds, but this doesn't make it really related. Only the truly experimental music of the insanely nihilistic and bizarre Industrial of the first generation or two deserves the label - it is more about the ideology than the sounds per se. Marilyn Manson is not Industrial. At all. He ripped off Skinny Puppy most for of his act. I seem to be quite opinionated about this, and I have no idea why...

Rave is the term that describes the mid to late 80's illegal music gatherings that happened in the UK. Drove the police and government nuts, and led to the creation of the Criminal Justice Act, which had a specific clause banning gatherings based around music typified by repetative beats. Of course, lots of artists such as Orbital then went on to make tracks that had arrhythmic beats just to be all clever. The term's used in the US, it seems, but it's dead as a dodo here in the UK. It was used as a catch all term, the same as techno, at the start of the intrusion of dance music into the mainstream.

Techno is a strange beast, as it's often used (misused?) as a catch all term I'd be a lot more conservative, to be honest, and limit it to the more pared down and repetitive sounds of people like Jeff Mills and those on the Tresor label. StrawberryFrog Has (quite correctly pointed out) that different people will have different interpretations of what exactly Techno is. It can either be a purist definition that adheres to a specific sound - like Jeff Mills' work - or just be a term for electronic music in its entirety.

Trip-hop, typified by DJ Shadow (US), Portishead and Massive Attack (both UK) is mainly a British thing, growing the most in the Bristol area. There's a school of thought that it's just British hip-hop, and there's a valid point in there. Seemingly more leftfield than what you may think hip-hop normally is, and usually more instrumental than lyrical. Possibly this label only has relevance to mid to late 90's music, and what was trip-hop has become more often placed alongside breakbeat, ambient, hip-hop or chillout.

Please msg me if you have any additions to this guide - suggestions are very welcome!

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