Welcome to my complete guide to EDM genres.
I love Electronic Dance Music, well, not all of it, but for the most part, I’m a fan.
Before we get into this list of EDM genres, let’s clear up exactly what EDM even is.
Some people seem to think it’s simply pop music that has been produced entirely with production software, rather than actual instruments.
That’s not right!
Others seem to think it’s just big-room house…or even that EDM is a genre in itself!
Neither of those are right either.
So what is EDM?
Electronic Dance Music – My Definition, My Definition is This…
That sub-title above is going to look real lame if you don’t remember this track:
Still lame? Okay then, let’s move on.
There’s no need to over complicate this, because it’s dead simple.
Electronic Dance Music (EDM) is any music produced electronically for people to dance to.
And that’s it!
EDM Music Genres
I haven’t put this list of music genres together in order of personal preferences and favourites.
It’s simply in good old-fashioned alphabetical order.
There doesn’t tend to be much structure, or rhythm, to ambient music.
Ambient music ebbs and flows without any apparent definite direction.
It’s all about creating an atmosphere of calm and tranquility with electronically produced tonal textures.
It was the music producer Brian Eno who first used the term ‘ambient music’ to describe the style of music he was creating at the time.
And the world seemed to like that name, so it stuck.
Maybe you have more in common with Meghan Trainor that you currently realise.
If you are all about that bass, then bass music is going to be your thing, for sure.
Bass music is an EDM genre that strips away most of the high-ends and vocals from other EDM.
It’s definitely not the easiest EDM genre to describe. Probably because it’s kind of like a parasite.
Seeing as I’m struggling to explain this one. let me hand it over to UK producer Ben Hall, for a far more eloquent description than I can manage:
“I suppose you could see it as an umbrella term to cover lots of different forms of dance music all being held together – and this might seem very obvious – by the predominance of bass“.
Is this a genre? Or is it just a genre for a genres sake?
I mean, I love it, but I don’t know if it is has the required characteristics of a genre.
But everyone else seems to think it does have, so let’s just roll with it.
Coming out of the early 2010’s with a bombastic, electro-house style, it immediately lent itself to the peak-time DJ slots at big dance music events.
Some of the biggest names in the game like to produce and play big-room, such as Martin Garrix, Nicky Romero, Swedish House Mafia, Sander Van Doorn, to name just a tiny handful.
Sampled drum breaks, usually from soul and funk tracks, pitched to a higher BPM to make them more danceable, that’s what this genre is all about.
Breakbeat is often called just ‘breaks’ and the sample is always taken from a small section of a track where only the drums are featuring.
Quite a lot of house and techno producers regularly crossover into producing breaks as well.
It is often the case that songs which fall into the breaks genre, also fall into other EDM genres.
Here’s a great example of a track that crosses the EDM genres with brilliant ease:
One of the best music videos ever made, but aside from that…
…the drum break sample for ‘Breathe’ by The Prodigy was taken from ‘Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed’ by Thin Lizzy.
Of course the sample has been both sped-up and phattened-up, but if you have a listen you’ll easily identify it right at the very start of the Thin Lizzy source track:
Should disco be on a list of EDM genres?
Most disco music produced in the ’70s did of course feature electronically produced elements, but also a fair number of other instruments not usually found anywhere near an EDM production studio.
So why is disco here?
Because when disco gave birth to house music, it was to be forever entwined with the electronic dance music of the future.
I’m not certain that downtempo should be on this list.
I may end up taking it off…we’ll see.
Sure, it’s produced entirely with electronic production equipment, but is it danceable?
But that said, downtempo is more danceable than ambient music, and I’ve already put ambient on my list.
Anyway, when it comes as good as the brilliant ‘Teardrop’ by Massive Attack, I’m thinking it has to stay:
Drum & Bass
Usually abbreviated to just DnB, drum and bass came out of the UK’s breakbeat and rave scenes of the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Fast broken-beat drums and heavy bass create the aggressive sound that the genre has become known for.
Tending to come in with BPM’s in the 160+ range, listening to DnB can be pretty intense.
Dubstep is a unique genre of club EDM, first developed as an amalgamation of genres including 2-step, dub, and especially UK garage.
The dubstep style is defined by wobble bass (the wub), syncopated rhythms, intense driving melodies, deep bass, and a lot of creativity.
The genre was born in South London in the UK, during the period of 1999 to 2002.
Dubstep was born when the syncopated rhythms and intense chaos of 2-step were combined with the funk and style of the reggae-influenced dub.
Electro was originally spawned out of synth-pop, hip-hop, disco and funk.
With a speed of anywhere between 120 and 150 BPM, electro can sometimes be pretty laid-back, and other times pretty manic.
Electro tends to make use of a lot of electronic sounds, and its producers just love to get fully involved with the Roland 808.
Electro is rarely made these days but it heavily influenced the development of other EDM genres, such as electro house…which is equal parts electro and house.
When you try and describe future bass, it it sounds lie it would be totally diabolical.
A combination of trap music and dubstep rhythms, plus some layered synths that can be sometimes happy, and sometimes a little sad sounding.
Future bass has a lot of feeling and it’s great.
Try a little bit of the very talented Mura Masa if you’re not yet convinced:
The term ‘garage’ was first used in the U.S. to describe the style of music being played at the ‘Paradise Garage‘ around the late ’70s and early ’80s.
That sound was very similar to house music, which itself was only just evolving out of disco.
That original garage sound usually had more prominent vocal elements than house music tended to have. Often these vocal elements were quite soulful and sometimes very gospel in nature.
So garage and house were very similar in structure and speed, but a little different when it came to the vocals.
But this all got thrown up in the air when the garage sound of the U.S. came across to the UK.
The sound got chopped-up, time-stretched and pitch-shifted, resulting in a very different feel.
And before you knew what was going on, garage had given rise to speed-garage, and speed-garage had given rise to UK garage.
Grime first evolved out of UK garage, in London, in the very early 2000’s.
UK garage was the primary influence, but not far behind as major drivers of the sound were drum and bass, ragga, hip-hop and dancehall.
Somewhere between 130 and 145 BPM is the usual speed of grime.
Even though there are a few really commercially successful grime artists such as Lethal Bizzle, Kano and Dizzee Rascal, the grime genre has remained largely underground.
Harder, faster, higher-energy, more driven house music.
Usually produced at somewhere between 150 and 170 BPM it is lively stuff.
With its roots in hardcore and gabber, this EDM genre tends to register in at about 150BPM.
Catchy melodies, distorted kicks, it can be great…in the right environment.
Catchy melodies, distorted kicks, it can be terrible…in the wrong environment.
This is a list of EDM genres, not a list of EDM genres and sub-genres.
Trying to cover every genre and sub-genre would be an almost endless task.
House music alone has spawned so many sub-genres.
Deep house, progressive house, electro house, tech house, ambient house, tribal house to name just a few of the more popular ones.
Now we’ve got that all cleared up, let’s talk about house!
Defined by driving rhythms, strong beats, chiming melodic tones, and high, but not too high, intensity.
House music follows a very particular form and structure and was born out of Chicago disco scene in the early 1980’s.
Solid four-to-the-floor beats, deep bass-lines, chiming high hats, intense rhythms, soundscapes, and driving melodies define the house sound.
Here are three house classics, and if you don’t love any of them, you definitely don’t love house music:
I have to say, I’ve come to love a bit of moombahton.
I mean, I love house, and I love reggae, so it kind of makes sense that I would.
Not that moombahton is quite as straightforward as the melding together of only house and reggae, because there’s often a lot of elements from other music genres in there too.
But I guess house and reggae are the foundations.
Not sure whether or not you like moombahton? Give this very cool DJ mix a go:
Techno was developed in the mid-80s.
Known for driving deep bass, continuous rhythms, timbral manipulation, and chord changes.
The genre sprang up because of the advancement of digital instruments, processors, synthesizers and bassline generators.
The production of techno does not focus on melody but rather concentrates on rhythm, repetition, and the full development of musical themes.
Techno originally came out of Germany in the mid-80s and was further refined and popularised in Detroit, USA, in the early ‘90s.
Here’s a little mid-80s techno from the German Grandmaster Sven Väth:
Trance developed from German and British EDM styles, including Techno and New-Age.
It has less form and structure than a lot of other EDM genres, putting more emphasis on intense melodies, strong rhythms, and soundscapes.
Trance music tends to be produced to long track lengths with multiple build-ups and breakdowns, with the intention of evoking intense feelings and emotions.
Trance is good for your brain. Trance makes people feel happier and more energised.
Trance is ace.
Go on, treat yourself to a few minutes of a genuine trance classic:
Oh go on then, have another one:
Trap music was developed from hip-hop in the U.S. specifically Atlanta, Georgia, in the ’90s.
Trap combines elements of hip-hop, electro-house, and dubstep.
It can usually be identified by its triplet beat/flow where three beats are played in the space of two beats.
The production of trap also tends to include layers of synthesizers, as well as often dropping the beat on the offbeat to create a feeling of drama and tension.
Apparently, the daft name comes from Atlanta slang for a drug deal.
A Very Brief History of Electronic Dance Music
If EDM is: “any music produced electronically for people to dance to” then I’m definitely in the camp of those who believe that the first real examples of EDM are to be found in Jamaica, in the ’60s.
At that time, Jamaican artists were using reel-to-reel audio tape recorders to create new music by overlapping tracks.
This new sound became known as ‘dub’ and rose quickly in popularity across the bar and club scenes.
Meanwhile, 1967 to be exact, German band Tangerine Dream where forming, and there musical production was entirely electronic, albeit their earliest tracks might not fall in to the category of being ‘danceable’.
But it wasn’t too, too long before they were joined on the fledgling synth/electro scene by Kraftwerk, and by the mid-1970’s the music being produced by both acts could rightly be described as danceable.
Of course, over in America, the disco sound was morphing into house music thanks to the brilliance of a few talented and visionary DJ’s such as Frankie Knuckles, Marshal Jefferson, Jesse Saunders, amongst others.
In the UK synth-pop bands and artists were popping up all over the place.
The Berlin Blondes, The Human League, Ultravox, Gary Numan are all prime examples of acts producing their music solely with electronic production techniques and equipment.
It’s no big coincidence that these similar occurrences were taking place at similar times in different parts of the world.
The advancement of electronic instruments, drum machines, synthesizers etc. was the only catalyst needed by musical creatives, regardless of where they came from.
But like I said at the start, if we’re looking for one place to pin the badge of honour to, for being the first originators of EDM, it’s got to be Jamaica.
Wrapping it Up!
Nothing more to say really.
I hope you enjoyed reading this list of EDM genres.
Feel free to leave a comment if you have something to add.