Every Breaking Wave: Electronica – “Aphex Twin, Orbital, Leftfield, Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers brought electronica to the charts and to dinner”


You know how it goes – you’re in the pub talking about your new favorite number, when a friend asks you if you already know the grindcore scene that marked the era. It’s fair to say that musical genres have come and gone at a breakneck pace since the arrival of Hot Press, but some have had far more resistance than others. We take a look at a selection of the most essential movements of the past 45 years and hear from some of the key participants along the way…

The history of electronic music is often tied to Kraftwerk, whose masterpiece Trans-Europe Express was released in 1977 – the same year Hot Press announced itself to the world – as main movers (of course , electronica arguably goes back much further – Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop composed the theme for Doctor Who in 1963, for example).

However, it was in the 90s that electronic music really became mainstream. Harnessing the energy of acid house and re-contextualizing the ambient soundscapes of Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream, artists such as Aphex Twin, Orbital, Leftfield, Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers have taken electronica to the charts and dinner – and on the front pages.

It was the era of the “super club” and the first festivals dedicated to dance. And critics and audiences began to take the genre seriously, as highlighted by Mercury Music Prize nominations for artists such as Leftfield and Roni Size and Reprazent, who walked away with the gong in 1997 for New Forms.

Electronica, jungle, rave and trip hop made it into the top 10. David Bowie was making jungle albums. U2 was working with Massive Attack producer Nellee Hooper. Portishead had put the “Bristol sound” on the map. And Hot Press slapped Belfast polymath David Holmes on the cover.

David Holmes

But then, just as grunge was followed by the atrocity of nu-metal, the explosion of innovative electronic music in the late 90s had the unintended consequence of giving birth to Big Beat. Or, as it was called at the time, “dance music for people who don’t like dance music.”

Big Beat finally spat in the early 2000s. In doing so, the cultural center of gravity shifted back to rock and scruffy upstarts such as The Strokes and The Libertines (neo-punk anyone?). Far from the spotlight, electronic music continues its metamorphosis. “Nu-gaze” married blissful beeps and bang-in-the-face euphoria and produced classic records such as Ulrich Schnauss’ A Strangely Isolated Place. And the power of electronica as a live medium was explained by Daft Punk’s record-breaking Alive tour, which included a stop in Marlay Park, Dublin in August 2006.

Daft Punk were the chrome lords of everything they watched over. Alas, their legacy was not entirely positive and in their wake was born the EDM scene which – to coin a phrase – was electronica for people who were totally indifferent to electronica.

Right now, EDM is happily gone AWOL. In its place, a new generation of artists have revived that original spirit of the 1990s. We were reminded of this by Bicep from Belfast, whose masterful 2021 LP Isles drew inspiration from the achievements of Leftfield, The Orb and Orbital, but at the same time was illuminated by a thoroughly modern spirit of adventure and a desire to weave something new from familiar materials. . The music of the future was, once again, connected with the present.

Paul Hartnoll from Orbital:

“We used to have lots of free DIY parties in the little town where I lived. You would do it in the woods or in a squat house or that sort of thing. And they were pretty much raves before anyone called them raves.

Read the full article Every Breaking Wave in Hot Press’s 45th anniversary issue, available now:


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