Intelligent dance music

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Intelligent dance music (IDM) refers to a style of experimental electronic music with an emphasis on unconventional sequencing and processing. Notable IDM artists include Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Autechre, Boards of Canada and Venetian Snares.

The term IDM may have originated from the creation of an electronic mailing list called the IDM list in August 1993, originally intended for discussion of Rephlex Records. Thus the actual musical definition of the genre evolved as the artists it originally described evolved (a similar thing happened with apocalyptic folk). The term subsequently gained a life of its own, and became popular around the world as a means of referring to the then-novel mainstream success of certain kinds of experimental electronic dance music. Prior to the adoption of "intelligent dance music" as a blanket term for this music, terms such as electronic listening music, intelligent techno, listening techno, art techno, and experimental techno were common. Rephlex poked fun at this pigeonholing of music by coining the word "braindance" as a parody. The use of the term is somewhat contentious, owing to the inherent assumption that all non "IDM" electronic music is then "unintelligent".

At present, IDM is not any one genre in particular, but rather an umbrella term for a variety of genres of which the main unifying idea is a desire to make music derived from any of those many genres (such as drum and bass, ambient, house, glitch, hip hop, UK garage), and even jazz which deviates from the standard template for that genre through an experimental and/or novel approach.


IDM refers to a style of experimental electronic music with an emphasis on unconventional sequencing and processing which sets it apart from traditional dancefloor techno and house. Some IDM is influenced by earlier styles; for example, the music of B12, Kirk DeGiorgio, and others incorporates elements of jazz. Other influences include musique concrète and avant-garde classical composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis; and early hip hoppers like Mantronix.

The initials IDM appeared in music magazines during the genre's first wave in 19921993, but the term caught on with the formation of the IDM electronic mailing list in August 1993. Initially, the discussion list focused on the music of Richard D. James (Aphex Twin) and the Rephlex Records label, as well as various forms of electronic dub by artists such as The Orb, Richard H. Kirk, and Future Sound of London. In fact, any form of new, percussive electronic music that was not easy to categorize as pure house, trance, electro or techno was fair game for discussion; it was not unusual for artists such as System 7, William Orbit, Sabres of Paradise, Orbital, Plastikman and Björk to take equal footing as IDM alongside Autechre, Atom Heart, and LFO.

In the mid-1990s, the definition of IDM solidified and narrowed, especially after the 1994 release of Warp's second Artificial Intelligence compilation, which featured various postings from the mailing list incorporated into the typographic artwork in the sleeve notes. IDM became increasingly identified with the quirky, experimental brands of electronic music produced by Warp Records artists such as Polygon Window (an alias of Richard D. James), Autechre, LFO, B12, Seefeel and Black Dog Productions. Lesser-known artists on the Likemind label and Kirk Degiorgio's A.R.T. and Op-Art labels, including Degiorgio himself under various names (As One, Future/Past, Esoterik), Steve Pickton (Stasis), and Nurmad Jusat (Nuron) also took the label of IDM. The music of other artists, however, such as Björk and Future Sound of London, continued to be upheld as IDM as well. The majority of IDM's pioneers during this era were based in Great Britain, but a few artists, such as Sun Electric from Berlin, hailed from other countries.

Spread of IDM

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, as the genre began to mature, its definition expanded again, with artists and labels from around the globe pushing electronic 'listening music' in new directions. Notable influences at the beginning of this period include the music of Boards of Canada, the Skam Records label, and artists using software synthesis, a technology that had recently become possible to use on ordinary personal computers.

In particular, during this period, IDM production greatly increased in the United States. One of the more notable hubs of activity was Miami, Florida, with labels like Schematic, Merck Records, and The Beta Bodega Coalition sprouting up and releasing material by artists such as Phoenecia, Dino Felipe, Machinedrum, and Proem. Another burgeoning scene was the Chicago/Milwaukee area, with labels such as Addict, Chocolate Industries, Hefty, and Zod supporting artists like Doormouse and Emotional Joystick.

The influence of IDM has even infiltrated the rock scene. In particular, Radiohead named Aphex Twin and Warp Records as influences. Much of the post-rock scene owes an obvious debt to the innovations of IDM as well.

A branch of IDM based mostly on the influence of Warp Records began in about 1999, mostly centered around internet forums dedicated to the genre. The widespread popularity of Warp artists resulted in a subgenre of IDM which is highly derivative of artists such as Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Plaid, and Autechre.

Criticisms of the name

The term "intelligent dance music" is often criticized for grouping other music genres while not being a specific description of the music genre itself. Whether or not intelligence or dancing are involved, or whether everybody else's music is not intelligent is irrelevant as the name is now in common usage. IDM as a genre name is criticized because it wasn't created by the artists whose work it named, and those artists may not particularly want their work associated with their genre name peers.

The IDM genre name is a third party creation by the high volume IDM mailing list and some British music magazines printed around 1991, and the genre name was apparently more memorable than other competing phrases. It is not surprising that fans and music journalists named the style as intelligent, as artists such as Aphex Twin and Autechre's press releases painted the artists as having genius level abilities and intelligence, with one Aphex Twin press release comparing a young Aphex Twin to the legendary Joe Meek!

Detractors of the phrase have occasionally used the term "dolphin music" as a disparaging alternative to "intelligent".

Otto Von Schirach ironically aided the replication of the "IDM" meme in 2003 by mockingly shouting "IDM" repeatedly on the first track of the EP compilation album "Chopped Zombie Fungus".

In a September, 1997 interview, Aphex Twin commented on the 'Intelligent Dance Music' label: "I just think it's really funny to have terms like that. It's basically saying 'this is intelligent and everything else is stupid.' It's really nasty to everyone else's music. (laughs) It makes me laugh, things like that. I don't use names. I just say that I like something or I don't."

Sound production in IDM

Early IDM was produced in much the same way as other forms of electronic music at the time, using hardware drum machines and rackmounted equipment. The advent of the MIDI musical intrument protocol in the mid-1980s gave IDM musicians the power to easily control their hardware. Since the late 1990s, however, IDM has been primarily produced on computers, using advanced sequencing and synthesis software such as Cubase, Reaktor, Logic Pro and Max/MSP. The limited number of music production software suites popular among modern IDM musicians has led to the widespread use of certain trademark audio effects (though purists might argue that an artist failing to explore and create new sounds in their music is contradictory to the 'ethos' of the genre). One such example is digital distortion (also called "bit reduction"), a technique in which the artist manipulates the sampling rate and bit depth of the playback. Amateur IDM artists may often work with software such as Fruityloops, because of its budget price and ease of use. This introduced clichés of imitating Warp Records artists. [1]

Live IDM performances are commonly played entirely on laptop computers, using software like Ableton Live or programming languages like Max. "Groove boxes" such as the Roland MC-909 are used as well. The amount of pre-sequenced and pre-recorded material versus real-time production generally varies from one performance to the next. In many cases, live performance is a combination of the two.

Notable IDM artists

Many mainstream rock artists have experimented with IDM influences. Björk worked with Mark Bell of LFO and Matmos on Homogenic and Vespertine, respectively. Radiohead began toying with electronics on OK Computer and has continued to draw from the genre, especially on Kid A.

See also

External links

Streaming audio





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