What Is EDM…Exactly?

What is EDM?

Is electronic dance music a genre in itself? Or is it an umbrella term for a bunch of other genres?

Personally I think it’s an umbrella term.

EDM is not one style of music only. 

And if EDM was a genre itself, that would mean that house music, techno, trance, dnb, dubstep, are all sub-genres.

And none of those music styles are sub-genres. They are all genres in their own right.

Confused already?

Me too! So let’s dig right in and find out exactly what is EDM? 

what is edm in black text on green and yellow diagonally split background

What Is Electronic Dance Music?

Electronic dance music is any music produced electronically/digitally for people to dance to.

It really is as simple as that!

EDM vs Electronica – What’s the Difference?

It is definitely the case that those who are not particularly into either, will more often than not use the two terms interchangeably.

Let’s figure out exactly where they are different.

Is it correct to say that EDM is always electronica, but electronica is not always EDM?

I think it is!

Let’s take a quick look at the definition of each:

Here’s a definition of electronica:

Music that is produced using electronic instruments and computers”.

Macmillan Dictionary

And the definition of EDM:

Music that is produced electronically/digitally for people to dance to.”

EDM is always produced using electronic instruments and computer software, so it is always electronica.

Electronica is produced using the same type of equipment, but is not always danceable, so it is not always EDM…but it is sometimes.

Characteristics of EDM 

Well, like we’ve mentioned before, EDM is not a genre itself.

And so it’s very hard to pin characteristics to what is simple an umbrella term for a ton of other dance music genres.

But we’ll give it a go anyway, because there does tend to be a few common features to the sound of EDM. 

#1. Rhythmic Pulse

I think it’s fair to say that most EDM shares this characteristic.

The rhythmic pulse is one of the main reasons why EDM is so danceable.

Remove the rhythmic pulse and you’ll find that your high-energy dancing, has turned into you just waving about like a willow tree in a gentle breeze.

#2. High Tempo

Pretty much all EDM comes in with a minimum beats-per-minute (BPM) of somewhere around 120 BPM.

And from there it can go up to about 180 BPM.

It all depends on what genre of EDM your listening/dancing to.

Save to say that EDM tends to mostly be produced in the range of 125 to 150 BPM.

Another primary reason why EDM is danceable.

#3. Inorganic Sound

Probably because it’s been squeezed out of a synthesizer, drum machine, bass-line generator, computer…

…the sound of EDM tends to be fairly inorganic in nature.

You don’t often hear an acoustic guitar being gently strummed on an EDM track.

#4. Use of Vocals

It is true that, on the whole, EDM uses vocals to a much lesser degree than most other styles of music.

It is usually the case the EDM tracks have less vocals, and the vocals they do have, are often repeated samples.

But whilst this is mostly true, there are many exceptions for sure.

Take ‘Faithless‘ for example. Pretty much all of their music would now fall under the banner of EDM:

But like in the example above, many of their tracks have very full vocals by their brilliant lead singer, the late Maxi Jazz. 

#5. Full/Expansive Production

Because of the nature of EDM production, there is a much greater ability to produce a really full sound.

Music production software enables layering, all perfectly beat-matched and pitched, for the creation of the ultimate wall of sound.

5 Examples of EDM

Let’s do away the the definitions and just have a listen to a few well known EDM tunes.

And to be fair, listening to music, rather than endlessly describing it, is always the best way to go.

#1. ‘No Good (Start The Dance)’ by The Prodigy

Let’s start the ball-rolling with a massive EDM track from the mid-1990s.

The Prodigy were masters of crossing genres within the broader EDM landscape, and this classic is great example:

Anyone one to try and pin down exactly what genre this falls under?

Is it breakbeat? Is it hardcore? Is it techno? Is it acid? 

Is it all of the above?

What I do know is that inside this brilliant production you will find samples from ‘You’re No Good for Me’ by Kelly Charles (1987) and ‘Funky Nassau’ by The Beginning of the End

#2. ‘Levels’ by Avicii

Swedish DJ Avicii was on a seriously impressive trajectory until his untimely death in 2018 at the age of just 28.

One of his biggest hits was this progressive house tune ‘Levels’:

There’s a generous helping of a sample from from ‘Something’s Got a Hold on Me’ by Etta James (1962).

#3. ‘Da Funk’ — Daft Punk

I love Daft Punk and this is one of my all-time favourite tunes by them.

Definitely one of the most famous EDM groups of the 2000s.

House tune ‘Da Funk’ sampled ‘Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll’ by Vaughan Mason and Crew.

#4. ‘Bangarang’ by Skrillex

This remains one of Skrillex’s biggest hits:

Energetic dubstep is how I would define this one.

#5. ‘Adagio For Strings’ by Tiësto

‘Adagio For Strings’ was a massive trance hit in 2005.

Voted by Mixmag readers as the second greatest dance record of all time:

I think you have to be very confident of your production ability to start sampling classical music for a trance track.

But then i would imagine that Tiësto kind of new what he was doing by 2005.

5 Well-Known EDM Artists

We’ve got EDM artists coming out of the woodwork all over the place right now.

Here are a few of the currently popular bunch.

I haven’t put them in any order of preference, because I don’t prefer any of them…the music this lot knock out is all a bit too sickly-sweet for my tastes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for letting the light shine in, but if it’s never dark, do you ever properly appreciate it?

#1. Martin Garrix

Martin Garrix is what’s known as a new-age EDM artist.

He has production skills to burn, that’s for sure.

His big break came on the back of his 2013 release ‘Animals.’

Now he’s one of the most recognised names on the EDM scene.

#2. David Guetta

David Guetta is absolutely massive.

The French DJ, songwriter, producer is a veritable box of EDM tricks.

In February 2023, Guetta won Producer of the Year at the BRIT Awards.

#3. Skrillex

Skrillex is an American DJ, singer, producer, songwriter.

So far in his EDM career, he has won 8 Grammy Awards, making him one of the top trophy winning EDM music artists ever.

#4. Calvin Harris

Coming in with an even bigger trophy haul than Skillrex, is Scottish DJ and producer, Calvin Harris.

Having turned out no-end of tracks himself, he’s also produced fort a glittering array of musical talent, including Rihanna and Dua Lipa.

Apparently he’s worth somewhere in the region of $300m, which is a lot of money!

#5. Swedish House Mafia

One of the biggest and most successful acts of modern EDM.

Sebastian Ingrosso, Steve Angello, and Axwell make up the group, each of them EDM artist in their own right.

The 5 Main Genres of EDM

Okay, so this is obviously a little bit open to opinion.

My best guess is that these dance music genres are the current main underlying genres of the EDM umbrella.

What do you think?

#1. House

House music was the first EDM genre to gain mass popularity.

And it still provides the musical structure for most EDM being produced right now.

So yeah, for me, house has got to be considered as one of the primary EDM genres.

#2. Techno

Born in Germany, raised in Detroit, U.S.A.

Techno used to be described as the music of the future, but there are not that many techno producers currently pushing the boundaries.

Currently one of the biggest genres of EDM, but I’m not to sure how long that will continue for. 

#3. Trance

Trance tends to be uplifting and euphoric.

It is a perfect fit for big clubs and festivals.

Usually coming in at around 140 BPM it is still accessible as chart music.

#4. Drum and Bass

Fast, breakbeat-driven rhythms and heavy bass-lines are the sound of DnB.

High-energy and pretty relentless, this popular EDM genre is not for the faint-hearted.

#5. Dubstep

Born in the UK’s South London borough of Croydon, Dubstep has a unique sound.

Just as this EDM genre was beginning to fall in popularity, along came Skillrex to show it some serious production love, and sky-rocket it back to massive popularity.

A Brief History of EDM

The very first seeds of electronic dance music go all the way back to Jamaica in the ’60s.

In that place and at that time, musicians were experimenting with creating new styles of danceable music.

Their experimenting, eventually led them to using reel-to-reel audio tape recorders, to achieve the overlapping of multiple tracks.

This gave rise to what became known as ‘dub’ music.

The melodies, the bass, the vibe, ensured that the new sound became popular in bars and in the music-halls, making it the first, basic form of electronic dance music, preceding disco by a few years.

At a similar time, over in Europe (1967 in Germany, if you’re a stickler for detail), bands such as Tangerine Dream where beginning to produce music entirely electronically…

although you couldn’t yet describe it as danceable just yet.

But the European synth/electro scene was to grow rapidly over the following decade.

Kraftwerk began producing danceable music, and who would ever suggest they weren’t creating their music by by electronic means only?  

In America, the disco sound was itself becoming more and more EDM like.

Italian producer Giorgio Moroder had hooked up with fellow producer Pete Bellotte, and the legendary queen of disco, Donna Summer, who between them turned-out hits such as ‘I Feel Love,’ ‘Love You Baby,’ and ‘Hot Stuff’.

American disco had gone full-bore EDM.

Staying State-side, the next few years would see the sound of disco morphing into house music, due to the brilliance of a few visionary DJ’s such as Frankie Knuckles, Marshal Jefferson, Jesse Saunders, and others.

In the UK synth-pop bands and artists were popping up left-right-and-centre.

Landscape, The Berlin Blondes, The Human League, Ultravox, Gary Numan are all examples of acts producing their music solely with electronic production techniques and equipment.

It’s not a 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, bass-line generators, was the catalyst needed by musical creatives, regardless of where they came from.

Why has ‘Einstein a Go Go’ by British band Landscape been dropped in unannounced?

Because it was Landscape band member Richard James Burgess that first coined the terms ‘electronic dance music’ and ‘EDM’ when they were trying to come up with an easy description of their music style. 

In 1980, their single ‘European Man’ made it official with the back cover reading:

Electronic Dance MusicEDM; computer programmed to perfection for your listening pleasure.

EDM Genres

Here’s a list of the EDM genres I can think of right now.

Feel free to dive over to my EDM Genres Guide if you want a bit more background on each one.

HouseCharacterized by a 4/4 beat and often includes funk or disco influences.
TechnoFocuses on a repetitive 4/4 beat and is generally more minimalist than house.
DubstepKnown for its heavy bass and reverberant drum patterns, often with a tempo around 140 beats per minute.
Drum and Bass (DnB)Features fast breakbeats (160-180 BPM), heavy bass and sub-bass lines, and complex, intricate rhythms.
TranceEmphasizes melody and atmosphere, often building up to a climax or drop.
ElectroA broader genre, known for heavy use of synthesizers, drum machines, and digital instrumentation.
HardcoreKnown for its faster tempos (160 to 200 BPM), distorted kick drums and aggressive themes.
TrapMerges elements of hip hop with EDM, known for its use of synthesized drums and lyrical content.
Progressive HouseCharacterized by its progressive structure, building up throughout a track, often melodic.
Deep HouseA subgenre of house music known for its deeper, smoother, and jazzier sounds.
Future BassKnown for its use of synthesizers, particularly for its distinctive bass and chord structures.
Big Room HouseCharacterized by its anthemic sound, with simplistic melodies, big drops, and a festival vibe.
AmbientFocuses on creating a mood or atmosphere without a focus on rhythm or structured melody.
Chill-outEncompasses various styles focused on relaxation and leisure, often with downtempo beats.
BreakbeatCharacterized by the use of a non-straightened 4/4 drum pattern, often including syncopated beats.
DowntempoSimilar to ambient but with a greater emphasis on beats, a slower BPM than other EDM genres.
GarageKnown for its shuffling hi-hats, syncopated percussion, and pitch-shifted vocal samples.
GrimeA mix of electronic music and hip-hop, known for its hard-hitting lyrics and gritty soundscapes.
MoombahtonA fusion of house music and reggaeton, characterized by a slower tempo and reggaeton-influenced beats.

What Is EDM?..Wrapping it Up!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this delve into EDM.

Go ahead and leave a comment if you have something to add.

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