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A Brief History of Electro.
October 26, 2009 1:40 AM   Subscribe

At the dark end of disco and funk in the early 1980s a DJ and crew known as Afrika Bambaataa had wild, sweaty, drunken sex with the emotionless zombie robot corpse of school-of-Bauhaus German synthpop unit Kraftwerk and an unholy thousand-headed monster rose from the undead to groove across the land. Its name is Electro.

Afrika Bambaataa's Planet Rock and Electro itself helped reinvent dance and club music and popularized and paved the way for a revolution that includes hip-hop, rap, sampling, turntablism, house, Electronic Body Music, techno, breakbeat, trance, Intelligent Dance Music, bass test and basically anything that involves rocking out with turntables, a synth, a sampler and a drum machine from low riders with bass bins to underground house and warehouse parties to industrial dance music to mega raves.

Afrika Bambaataa's Planet Rock was sampled many times itself, continuing the sampling feedback loop for nearly three decades and counting.

Don't Touch That Dial. Have some Juice or Rockberry Jam when Dream Team Is In The House and Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose in Egypt, Egypt as you Rock The World with Velocity, Speed and Force to Boot that Booty because you just Don't Stop The Rock.

Besides Don't Stop the Rock and other well known classics like Hashim's Al-Naafiysh (The Soul) (Side A, B) or Pretty Tony's Fix It In The Mix check out Invasion From The Planet Detroit which features the now famous claustrophobic, dystopian Detroit Techno sound with less break-beat, nearly straight 4/4 or Egyptian Lover's Kinky Nation or Egypt, Egypt (Wicked Mix). Here's the Sleaze Boys original Robocop which was recalled to due to a dispute about the samples.

Man your Cosmic Cars, call up your Security protocols, watch out for Planetary Deterioration and turn on your Dynamix II Bass Generator and Give The DJ A Break.
posted by loquacious (43 comments total) 84 users marked this as a favorite

 
Speaking of unlikely Afrika Bambaataa collaborators, I've long been superfond of the track he did with John Lydon, World Destruction.
posted by Kattullus at 2:13 AM on October 26, 2009 [5 favorites]


I don't believe Afrika Bambaata was sampled in this track, but no discussion of early 80s electro is complete without Newcleus - Jam On It (warning: video contains some insane popping & locking)
posted by askmehow at 2:26 AM on October 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Err, to be clear, I wasn't trying to imply that all the tracks sampled Afrika Bambaata. I was trying to find more - but that "Party People" bit at the start of the Afrika Bambaata's Planet Soul has been sampled a gazillion times.

And I knew I forgot at least one classic electro track, askmehow. I don't know how I forgot Newcleus, but I fully hope and expect others will help fill in the blanks and bring the links.
posted by loquacious at 2:49 AM on October 26, 2009


Awesome! Thanks loquacious.
posted by DLWM at 2:57 AM on October 26, 2009


the thought of bambaata having sex with anyone repels me.
posted by krautland at 3:39 AM on October 26, 2009


The video from Herbie Hancock's Rockit always freaked me out.
posted by not_on_display at 3:57 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


tmm/dr

Too many metaphors/did not read
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:03 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the most satisfying part of being making digital music would be that every track you create gets it's own sub-genre:

"Oh. Mayor Curley? He's the originator of New-New England Hardstyle Ambient. You're not familiar with New-New England Hardstyle Ambient? How unfortunate. Well, it's characterized by a 3/4 beat, around 100 beats per minute and the real signature is a looped recording of pea stones rattling around in an aluminum pot. And fart noises. I think the song that typifies the whole genre is Mayor Curley's "Guns of Needham," because it's the only example."
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:25 AM on October 26, 2009 [10 favorites]


There's also the ever popular Ishkur's Guide To Electronic Music.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:49 AM on October 26, 2009


Mmm... need ham.
posted by Eideteker at 6:03 AM on October 26, 2009


Rhino released a set of four Electro compilations, titled Street Jams:Electric Funk Parts 1-4. It's well worth the investment if any of these tracks brought back happy memories. Two-thirds of the tracks here are available in that set, along with dozens more, and the liner notes are excellent.

I grew up on Electro, adored it, collect the records, and shame myself in front of my friends by adding it into DJ mixes for no apparent reason. I'd always assumed it was an evolutionary dead-end, a path briefly taken and then quickly abandoned in hip hop history. It looks like it's actually better understood as a wave of fashion that passed through a musical scene. Several of electro's pioneers moved on to be mainstream hip hop celebrities, most notably Dr. Dre. Listen to "Juice" by World Class Wreckin' Cru, linked above, and you'll catch a shoutout to all the members of the Cru, including Dre (at 2:46). It makes me happy to think of Death Row-owning, NWA-founding, gang-banging, slow-grooving, G-Funking, Dr. Pepper-shilling Dre remixing the main riff from Cybotron, perhaps while wearing parachute pants and a bad fade.
posted by obruni at 6:06 AM on October 26, 2009


Afrika Bambaataa teams up with Johnny Rotten for the excellent World Destruction.
posted by shothotbot at 6:09 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and thank you, loquacious - the original Planet Rock video you linked to made not just my day, but my week. Excellent post.
posted by obruni at 6:10 AM on October 26, 2009


wikki wikki wikki wikki
posted by snofoam at 6:22 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


A bad ass afrika bambatta song that you may recognize in a minute but has most definitely been forgotten is:

Peace, Unity, Love and Having Fun.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thsy5_Y2tZ8
posted by LouieLoco at 6:44 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, loq, stop listening over my shoulder. Yes, I spent most of Friday listening to Bambaataa. No, that doesn't mean you can bite off my style.
posted by Eideteker at 7:06 AM on October 26, 2009


And of course, when 'the kids' refer to electro now, they're talking about electro house like this.
posted by empath at 7:43 AM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Even worse, empath, is the tendency of indie-rock-bands-that-have-a-keyboard to refer to their style as "electro". Oh the pain.

(nice post!)
posted by runehog at 7:49 AM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


...and lo, it was good.
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 8:03 AM on October 26, 2009


This is a great post! What's fascinating to me (I gave a couple of lectures on this once) is that, if you walk back the influences and connections another couple of steps, you get to really cutting edge composed music: Bambaataa was influenced by Kraftwerk, who were of course influential to lots of folks. Kraftwerk were influenced not only by 60s experimental rock like Zappa, but composers like Stockhausen and American minimalists--I've read an interview where one of the original duo mentions minimalism specifically as an important influence on their (Kraftwerk's) early development of electronica.

So it's actually a chain of influence that goes from experimental 60s composition through to hip hop. Pretty cool stuff.

Thanks for the post, loquacious!
posted by LooseFilter at 8:22 AM on October 26, 2009


Electro rules. One of my college roommates had a bumper sticker that said "it's not hip-hop it's electro motherfucker" and there are guys who party in front of my house that are always rocking the illiest electro all night Friday and Saturday. BREAKDANCE! BOOM, CLAP, BOOM, BOOM CLAP! CUT IT, CUT IT, C-C-C-C-C-C-CUT IT!
posted by fuq at 8:38 AM on October 26, 2009


It's not hip-hop, it's electro (the remix)
posted by filthy light thief at 8:44 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nice post. Whenever I think of electro I think of Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music, where I first encountered it. (I was a bit young for the first generation of electro.)
posted by ropeladder at 9:13 AM on October 26, 2009


Then you have the stuff in between the old stuff and house with dirty basslines like Dopplereffekt and Drexciya.
posted by False Jesii Inc. at 9:28 AM on October 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


no discussion of early 80s electro is complete without Newcleus - Jam On It

No breakfast at my house is complete without me singing this as I offer my kids jam for their toast. I'm either the most awesome dad ever or the absolute worst.
posted by GuyZero at 9:43 AM on October 26, 2009 [8 favorites]


I straight up have to deny the accusation that Kraftwerk were emotionless zombie music - their songs were often brimming with feeling, just in a more simplified (even distilled) fashion. The forlorn hope of an electronic dating service is summed up in the almost bittersweet cheer of "Computer Love" (originally "Computerleibe"), the simple joy and wonder of the technological cities of the modern and future ages are extolled in "Neon Lights", the ominous dread and caution of scientific advances and their human cost is addressed in the classic "Radioactivity".

The motif of being the automaton, performing as programmed for the entertainment of the audience, is a twofold one - are they will-less servants of the people, producing output as demanded, merely operating as society requires - or are they joyful machines, adulated by the masses for their own experiences from the point of view of machines? And they can answer for themselves on this as well, by simply saying "We Are the Robots".
posted by FatherDagon at 10:26 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was amused and intrigued by a video clip of Kraftwerk, with the band all dressed in matching outfits, standing on a turntable or something that set them rotating in place. They all attempted to be as emotionless as possible, but their eyes in notably human ways: they could not blindly scan across whatever was in the background, but their eyes would stick on items in sequence as they rotated. Clearly, they were human.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:40 AM on October 26, 2009


Ecstasy + Electro = Florida Breaks
posted by empath at 10:43 AM on October 26, 2009


Fuck, yeah, loquacious. Excellent. Also glad to see Drexciya name checked up in here.
posted by everichon at 10:57 AM on October 26, 2009


Every time anyone mentions Electro, I get all excited until I find out they're not talking about electro-industrial/dark electro.

Carry on then.
posted by Foosnark at 11:16 AM on October 26, 2009


Foosnark, if you listen to early Skinny Puppy, you can definitely see the connection between one and the other.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:20 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nice post, I'll be digging in these links for a while. Thanks!
posted by chaff at 1:30 PM on October 26, 2009


Also, loq, stop listening over my shoulder. Yes, I spent most of Friday listening to Bambaataa. No, that doesn't mean you can bite off my style.

...bite off your style? Son, don't make me set the wayback machine to 1984. That would be embarrassing. For both of us. Somewhere in there I was spastically break-dancing on a sheet of cardboard to LA's Dream Team, Newcleus and more.
posted by loquacious at 3:04 PM on October 26, 2009


i think you guys need to dance battle to solve this.
posted by empath at 3:13 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I predict someone will get served.
posted by GuyZero at 3:31 PM on October 26, 2009


Gawd, this post makes me wish I could find recordings of Electrifying Mojo, who brought Prince, Kraftwerk and the B-52s together on Detroit radio. One of my coworkers used to have tapes of his stuff, but unfortunately they didn't make it into the big box of tapes I got when he quit…
posted by klangklangston at 3:31 PM on October 26, 2009


This thread is like being in a pub when a tune screams out comes on from a distant retrofuturist past and all intentions of an early night fall by the wayside.

I saw a fantastic documentary on Krautrock on BBC4 the other night and it gave me similar shivers up my spine. If this thread is your bag, you will probably love it.

If you live outside the UK and don't get iPlayer I am sure you could get the doc on thebox.bz if you were so inclined.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 3:53 PM on October 26, 2009


I predict someone will get served.

Good evening, sir and madam. My name is Tone Loq and I'll be your waiter this evening.
posted by loquacious at 5:02 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Roxy, 1982. Afrika Bambaataa was DJing. There was a too-small stage for break battles near the DJ area. One of the guys we came with went up to do his thing, started spinning on his head, and spun right off the edge into a crowd of people who up to that moment had been very impressed with his moves.

Later that night, my best friend spent a couple hours making out with Matt Dillon. His brother and I had a really good, wide-ranging conversation until they came up for air. Good times, man, good times...
posted by ltracey at 6:53 PM on October 26, 2009


i like how electo has the dunt dunt with the chshh cshhh and then the vocoders are all like hueyahaowaow
posted by RTQP at 8:00 PM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


The song that came to mind when I read your comment, RTQP, wasn't an electro song, but ELO's Mr. Blue Sky, which has the dunt dunt, the chshh chshh and then the vocoder all like hueyahaowaow.
posted by Kattullus at 8:10 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


And of course, when 'the kids' refer to electro now, they're talking about electro house like this.

...

Even worse, empath, is the tendency of indie-rock-bands-that-have-a-keyboard to refer to their style as "electro". Oh the pain.


...

Every time anyone mentions Electro, I get all excited until I find out they're not talking about electro-industrial/dark electro.


Well, it evolves, I think. And Electroclash is different from Electro House is different from Electro now is different from Electro then.

From the late '90s: I-F, Space Invaders are Smoking Grass.

And then of course, there is skweee.

I like it all. Well, most of it. I can't do house music.

Ecstasy + Electro = Florida Breaks

See, that sounds like techno to me. Or almost trance/oakenfold. There's not enough funk to be Electro.

Oh, and god bless ELO.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:37 AM on October 27, 2009


There was an electro revival in the mid-nineties that resulted in a few nice tracks from the Jedi Knights (AKA Global Communications*), J Saul Kane's Electron Industries, Underground Resistance and various West Coast breaks artists. I never heard anyone playing any of it, but it is as good as any old school electro that I have heard.

Also, released in 1999, the laid back electro groove of Jackknife Lee 'Bursting off the backbeat'** as remixed by geniuses Pepe Deluxe. There was an electro funk feel that became popular amongst the leftfield artists at the time, which made me very happy!

Taking it back full circle, Zapp and Roger 'More Bounce to the Ounce', sampled by Jedi Knights for their debut (clear vinyl) single 'May the Funk be With You'. Jumping to the end of the first wave, Mantronix 'Who is it?'.

*Tom Middleton is on tour in the US at the moment. Probably not playing electro.

** Terrible video which reminds me, so far no Captain Rock, so let's remedy that! I Just want you to feel the bass, and I just want to take you to outer space! Alright, here's Aleem as well for that Electro 5 feeling.
posted by asok at 5:03 AM on October 28, 2009


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