The History of EDM in 11 Songs

A Long Time Ago at a Rave Far, Far Away...

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EDM has no Big Bang. The genre—if you can even call it that—emerged from disco, Kraftwerk, and the ingenuity of kids who had spent too much time programming electronics. But house music started in Chicago, where Frankie Knuckles began D.J.ing in 1977; and techno began in Detroit, where Derrick May taught his friends Juan Atkins and Kevin Sanderson how to D.J.. So, why 1983? It was then that May traveled down to Chicago, met Knuckles, and sold him his first drum machine, a Roland 909.

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British people loved it. While Middle America was rocking to Whitesnake and wondering whatever happened to disco, the U.K. was inaugurating its second Summer of Love. EDM—or "rave," or "acid"—was the soundtrack. The best parties weren't even in the city: instead of going to the club, kids would circle London's M25 "Orbital" motorway, then find a field in which to rave. Cops would then descend, and the cycle of life would start anew.

The origins of PLUR (a popular phrase in the EDM world—it stands for Peace Love Unity Respect) are even mistier than EDM's. Was it Moses who brought down those four letters for the Israelites? Either way, the acronym was popularized by Frankie Bones, a D.J. legendary for his NYC "Storm Raves," and his brother Adam X, who spray painted "PEACE LOVE UNITY" on a subway car on July 4th, 1990. America has never been greater.

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EDM, now called "electronica," began its first U.S. boom. MTV premiered Amp, a long-forgotten, all-EDM show, and the Prodigy's "Firestarter" cracked the Top 40.

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Things continued to grow. Moby debuted "Honey," the first single off Play; Madonna raved with "Ray of Light"; and Fatboy Slim released "The Rockafeller Skank," a song that could only have been improved by a music video featuring Christopher Walken dancing on the ceiling. (Thank goodness, then, for director Spike Jonze, who would enlist Walken for his video for "Weapon of Choice," a single off the D.J.'s next album.)

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Woodstock '99. What could go wrong? EDM even had its own tent, where artists like the Chemical Brothers could compete with the rock stars. There were no winners here. Few festivals have ever been less PLUR, and by 2002, Eminem could yell, "Nobody listens to techno!" and be more right than wrong.

Well, only in the United States. In Europe, the cosmic billow of trance music had been growing in popularity since the early '90s. And when the Olympics returned to Athens, Tiësto, Trance's biggest star, kicked things off with 90-minute opening ceremony set. In the stands, George H. W. Bush seemed to enjoy what he was hearing.

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Daft Punk had been turning EDM upside down, then downside up again, ever since they brought "Da Funk" in 1995. In 2006 they did it once more with their set at Coachella, mashing up their catalog from inside a pyramid that combined ancient Egypt with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. EDM was cool again, and a new generation of D.J.s learned how to put on a show.

So began the era of EDM mega-festivals. Swedish House Mafia were kings. The trio premiered their song "One" at Miami's Ultra, and over the next few years, would play it at headlining sets everywhere from Electric Daisy Carnival (attendance: 230,000) to Belgium's Tomorrowland (attendance: 180,000). Could the bubble get any bigger?

Avicii wagered yes. Three years later, again at Ultra, the D.J. moved forward by looking back, taking the stage backed by, of all things, a bluegrass band. Many rolled their eyes, but the song they played, "Wake Me Up," would go on to reach number one in five continents.

Dubstep reversed house's flight path, starting underground in British clubs before going pop—to everyone's surprise and some people's dismay—in the U.S. of A. Skrillex, formerly the front man of a screamo band, dynamited tracks with explosive breakdowns that combined robotic, industrial noise with the clang of an old radiator after the first frost of the season. But by 2015, he, too, was ready for his redemption. "Where Are Ü Now," his collaboration with Justin Bieber and Diplo, became the biggest song in the world. Everybody was dancing.

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