A Quick Guide to the Subgenres of Electronic Music

Electronic music is a genre entirely unique to the twentieth century, where we saw the invention of the synthesizer and computers, two instruments that have greatly impacted the music industry and allowed artists an entirely new universe to explore sound-wise. 
 
Though, if you want to get technical, “electronic” music, in the sense of music working off of some type of electricity, dates back even further, to the 19th century.
 
Electronic music, in the sense that we mean (using synths and computers as a base for the sound) is named for the various electronic instruments with which it is created.

Basic Essential Subgenres of Electronic Music

This article will give you a basic understanding of electronic music as well as its subgenres.
 
Electronic music is best known, perhaps, for being utterly danceable.  It also has the unique characteristic of being sonically limitless, since electronic instruments can emulate any sound. You can have electronic classical music, hip hop or techno.
 
 

Downtempo – A Guide to the Great Artists and Their Best Songs and Albums

What is Downtempo Music?

Downtempo is a killer subgenre of electronic music, with little to no vocals and simple beats. It’s laidback like ambient music but has a beat you can groove to, unlike ambient music.

Okay, that is a total lie. At the bottom of the article we have included several of the best downtempo artists and some of them include vocals, but for the sake of this brief introduction to the genre, and to help familiarize you with it, let’s go ahead and say that most downtempo music uses soft vocals for audible texture but not so much to tell a story.

Partygoers, ravers and clubbers will be familiar with this genre, as well as DJs, of course. 

The music is a lot more chill than others in the electronica genre. Seasoned DJs will leave downtempo to the end of the set when the party draws to a close.

downtempo music

This music is also played in side rooms of clubs or designated “take five” areas. The beats are slower and super groovy, perfect for a break from dancing or wrapping up a party.

Most clubgoers, whether they recognize and know downtempo or not, will automatically get the signal from this type of music that it’s late into the night.

If you’ve ever seen Portlandia, the theme song is a prime example of downtempo music with a chill beat that is easy to listen to and very enjoyable. There are some vocals but they’re airy and non-dominant. 

Non-dominance is a good way to define downtempo. It’s got elements of ambient music and serves listeners the same way: it can be enjoyed either as a focal point or be ignored while still providing an atmosphere. It neither overpowers nor disappears. 

It’s a beautiful genre for summer driving.

You will often hear downtempo in lounges.

It’s great for a casual hangout with friends or any time you need to relax.

A bit of history

It all started with the synthesizer. This instrument became more affordable to people in the late 1960s – early 1970’s and so musicians, being the experimental and curious artists they are, ever-searching for the perfect tool for self-expression, fell in love with it. We had the beginnings of ambient music in the 1970s; 

Electronic music really came into huge popularity in the early 1990’s. The club scene brought in all kinds of new genres after the : electronica ruled the soundsystems everywhere because it didn’t require a live band and provided dancing crowds with non-stop movement to inspire their dancing.

It was an obvious new experimentation with the synthesizer, which at the time had only been around for a couple of decades. There was plenty left to explore on that instrument with so many options.

Downtempo is usually played on a synthesizer as well as a drum machine and a few other things.

Electronica is typically faster paced, and so downtempo was created not as an antithesis but simply as an alternative for lounge areas and chill-out rooms at festivals and nightclubs. 

Dancers could go into these rooms and sit for a while, taking a break from the intense energy of the dancefloor and enjoying a drink. 

You’ll notice rather a hypnotizing element to downtempo, the same way electronica brings you in and holds you.

The genre originated on Ibiza, a Mediterranean island, well known for its nightlife and electronic music. Tourists from all over the world come to Ibiza as a destination for this type of holiday.

DJs have always known how to read a crowd (or, they should) and know how to bring up the energy and bring it down. On the island of Ibiza, where they party til sunrise, the DJs start playing downtempo to bring the crowd down after a full night of partying.

Here’s a “Best of Ibiza” chillout downtempo playlist if you want to feel a little bit of that vibe for a while.

Oh, and downtempo is sometimes called trip hop, taking elements from hip hop, drum and bass and ambient music: these are combined altogether over a lower tempo. These days the music also incorporates more melodic instrumentals.

The Artists

Now that we are familiar with the genre, let’s have a listen, shall we?

Here are some of the best downtempo artists out there. Some were around for the advent of the genre and helped shape it; others showed up along the way and furthered the genre’s popularity by keeping it alive. 

Thievery Corporation

Thievery Corporation has been around since 1995. This electronic duo has opened for Paul McCartney and worked with artists such as David Byrne and Wayne Coyne.

They bring an overtly political message with their music and actions, performing at the Operation Ceasefire concert and supporting human rights and the World Food Programme.

Visit the Thievery Corporation official website


Flume

Flume is a young’un, born in 1991 and has been making music since 2004. He has risen to popularity rather fast, having remixed several famous songs by artists like Lorde and selling 40 000 tickets for his first national tour.

He is from Australia and his work incorporates many electronic elements from hip hop to dub. Here is his self-titled debut album. 

Visit Flume’s official website 


Blue Sky Black Death

Another duo on our list, Blue Sky Black Death hails from San Francisco, California. They produce their music with a drum machine, sampler, keyboard, synth and guitar. They’ve been on the scene since 2003.

The phrase “blue sky black death” is a skydiving phrase alluding to beauty and death. They got their start making beats to rap over but soon gave up rapping to pursue producing. Below you can hear their third full-length album, Noir.

 Visit the Blue Sky Black Death Bandcamp page


Kruder & Dorfmeister

Kruder & Dorfmeister get automatic points from us for their G-Stoned cover, which resembles the famous Bookends cover by American duo Simon & Garfunkel.

Peter Kruder & Richard Dorfmeister comprise this Austrian duo and have been making music together since 1993. They got their start playing big festivals and were instantly loved by the audience. They have gone on to tour the world and continue producing music to this day. They’ve also put out their own solo albums and albums under aliases. They have at least 9 studio recorded albums available.

Here is their first album, G-Stoned.

Check out the Kruder and Dorfmeister Facebook page


Samantha James

Samantha James stands out from others on our list for her vocal style. Many downtempo artists are producers and rarely feature vocals in their work. Rather the vocals are presented as a soft ambience over the beat.

Samantha’s singing is incredibly soulful and gives a whole new life to this style of music. Coming from Los Angeles, she became involved with the underground dance scene there as a teenager.

She has been making music of her own since 2007. Her first single, Rise, was an instant hit in 2006 and she has since toured the world with her wonderful blend of electronic and soul music.

She has two full-length albums and has reached #1 on the US dance charts.

Listen to her first album, Rise, here:

Check out Samantha James on Om Records


Helicopter Girl

Helicopter Girl is a Scottish musician and has been active since 1993. She gives downtempo a unique spin incorporating elements from several genres, including dance music, indie pop and jazz.

Helicopter Girl is widely revered for her vocal style and the lyrics offer a listening experience that speaks utter truth. Straight badass. You’ve just got to give a listen and experience this for yourself.

We’ve included a link to her video for Glove Compartment but we also recommend listening to her song Angel City.

Glove Compartment is mysterious and fateful; Angel City is rockier than everything else on this list, but the vocals are cool, calm and sultry, chilling you right out with icy proclamations.

Check out Helicopter Girl on Dharma Records


Portishead

Portishead are one of the better known artists on this list. They remind us of Helicopter Girl a bit – with their infusions of other genres like indie rock laid on top of downtempo – and a bit of sex appeal.

This is music you can throw on for driving or grooving out at home, and works just as well in a lounge setting. Portishead has been around since 1991, taking a brief hiatus from 1999 through 2005. They took up music again after the break.

They’re an English band, well known in this genre because they were one of its pioneers. Despite their dislike for press coverage, their music has been successful internationally.

Even Rolling Stone referred to them as Gothic hip-hop. They’ve been around so long making this kind of music that they have been played in all kinds of underground clubs and gothic scenes.

Visit the Portishead website here

Intro to Intelligent Dance Music (IDM)

Just in case you don’t know what dance music is, we will first explain that, and then describe its subgenre, intelligent dance music.

Dance music, also known as techno, was borne of a generation or two with all this new technology at its fingertips.

In the 1970’s, we had the synthesizer becoming available to more people with its mass production and reduced selling prices, and the subsequent foray into the creation of ambient music.

Then, into the 1980’s, we begin to work with computers as well as influences from 70s acid-inspired music and disco, as well as synthesized beats.

Together, these facilitated the development of dance music: electronic music with repetitive beats that is designed specifically to get people moving. 

Okay. Now we all know what dance music is. It’s music designed to make people move their bodies. But what is intelligent dance music and how does it differ from regular plain old dance music? 

As you may surmise, the genre is rather controversial and has seen a lot of backlash for being derogatory toward other genres, as though it were the only dance genre for smart or superior people. 

Intelligent dance music, also known as IDM, is rather a form of electronic music that first emerged in the early 1990s that was designed more for home enjoyment than nightclubbing or dancing.

 

It formed as a result of experimentation and inspiration from other dance genres such as acid house, techno and ambient music. It is cerebral and rather abstract in its sound. It does not follow traditional song structure at all.

Most people to this day hate the title but enjoy the genre. With this article we will look into some of that controversy and how it got its name in the first place, and then we will provide some examples of artists within the genre so you can taste and see if you are intelligent enough to appreciate it.

Just kidding about that last bit, of course….

Let’s first look at one of the influencers, ambient music. Ambient music was very prominent during the 1970s and 1980s. Toward the end of the 1980s, ambient had combined with house to form ambient house music, which covered any music that was just as enjoyable to simply listen to as it was to dance to. It provided atmosphere while giving just the right amount of tangible energy to the listener.

By the early 1990s this genre had, quite essentially, exploded following the popularity of the rave scene. This genre as we mentioned was targeting an at-home audience. Around this time people were turning their noses up and frowning down upon the word rave.

 

An English record label released a compilation called Artificial Intelligence in 1992, designed for listening at home. Featured on this compilation were Aphex Twin, The Orb and others using aliases. The compilation was wildly successful and as a result, the term “intelligent techno” came to popularity.

Other names were of course used to describe this music including art techno or, most hilariously, armchair techno. No matter the umbrella term, the umbrella was the music enjoyed by people who preferred to stay at home rather than attend a rave to hear this music. This music was so popular in the early 1990s that, even though it began as an underground dance scene, it was now very marketable and mass-produced.

Don’t be confused, though: when we describe the at-home listener, the person may well be motivated to take on a day’s chores or complete an exercise regime. The music is not much like ambient at all; it is very fast with drum and bass. There are elements of ambient in the background but the repetitive beats are far too powerful, I’d say, to be considered ambient.

The phrase “intelligent techno” actually showed up in 1991 on message boards as well as offline, in music press by 1992.

During the same time, around 1992 and 1993, hardcore techno records were rather formulaic and repetitive. Rather than referring to the music as rave music, clubs started advertising the DJ sets as intelligent techno.

This attracted a crowd who was tired of the current hardcore techno that was now very commercialized. So while the “intelligent dance music” name may have been taken from the Artificial Intelligence compilation, it is pretty easy to also assume it catered to a crowd frustrated by the new commercialization of a genre previously enjoyed underground. 

In fact in 1993 a few record labels emerged that were entirely for intelligent techno.

 

The phrase gained popularity on the internet and implied music that was for more than just dancing to. Popular artists – or, should we say, well-known artists – included Aphex Twin, LFO and The Future Sound of London. 

The second Artificial Intelligence compilation was released in 1994 with sleeve notes telling the listener about the many cultural and musical influences on the development of the genre and making sure to declare that none was more important than the other.

Surely, one can’t help notice the irony of the words artificial and intelligence next to each other? We do realize it has everything to do with computers but it is a little funny. On that note, let’s look at the controversy within the genre.

For one, the music is not easy to dance to. It moves quickly and changes speeds often: highly mercurial, somewhat intense.

The name combined with the target market paints a picture of someone at home using thought and engaging intellectually with the music by listening, reflecting.

Some people disagree with all of this and find that, in their own experience with the two genres, plain old dance music is more listenable at home. IDM on the other hand is intense and difficult to follow and not at all calming. In fact some find it unsettling, so it is very interesting that the marketers of the music had a different idea.

The community of dancers who were excluded from the IDM scene and genre asked sarcastically did they then listen to Stupid Dance Music.

What’s even more interesting is to call something dance music and make music within that genre and then declare that also suits sitting at home. Was this intended? Do the dancers have the right to be offended?

The history of music is all very interesting stuff. Like the history of anything, there is much question of loyalty and identity. Even Aphex Twin, one of the best known artists in the genre, rejects the term Intelligent Dance Music, saying that it’s ridiculous to put oneself above another that way, preferring not to use names at all but rather go by how music makes them feel.

aphex-twin-top-gear

The music itself can be confusing and rather disorienting to listen to. It is highly chaotic and robotic, very computer-like in every way. If you can imagine the sound of data being organised in a computing system then you can imagine IDM (don’t worry: we provide some IDM at the end of the article).

Another well-known artist in the genre, Autechre, agrees that IDM is weirder than pop music, but thinks the title Artificial Intelligence was rather a joke and indicated science-fiction references, so the listeners would associate the sounds with space, robots and the like. Autechre also takes issue with the very definition of intelligence and says the artists are just brilliantly talented musicians making really good music.

The scene was really big both in England and Japan, but it seems that the term IDM is mostly used in the United States. Englishmen, for example, may use the term when speaking with Americans but do not really use it much in their own country.

To this day the genre is popular and enjoyed worldwide.

Like with most genres, the founders and those at the forefront are considered classics and, ironically, can sometimes be heard in nightclubs: usually ones that play electronic dance music (EDM) or electronic body music (EBM).

There are even subgenres of IDM including drill and bass, microhouse and breakcore. 

Here are some essential IDM musicians to check out:
Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin is an Irish musician highly revered as one of the most important electronic music artists of all time.

Autechre

Autechre is an electronic duo from the UK. They have been active since 1987.

LFO

This band is from the UK and not to be confused with the American LFO. They have been making music since 1988. LFO stands for low-frequency-oscillator, which is used in electronic music.

Early Ambient Artists and Their Great Albums

May your wishes be granted,

Wendy

The Best Dark Ambient Artists and Albums You Should Know About

 

Ah, you’ve come.

Welcome.

Your nostrils tingle with the scent of misty roses in the hour of the gloaming. Lurking in the trees, stalking the rows of the cemetery, the hunger of a humid night under a full moon in June.

We have gathered for you creators of the perfect visionary soundscapes to accompany you on this journey.

For that is what dark ambient is all about: the journey. There can seem to be no beginning nor an end; there is not a climax. Only the atmosphere. Ambient music is soothing, with few instruments, and sounds with large gaps in between.

The kind of music that plays while you get a massage: music that calms you, relaxes the breathing and frees the mind.

Dark ambient is the atmosphere of a lonely nightmare, soft violence, utter fear. And in facing this fear through listening to the music – through bearing that exact experience – one comes out the other side feeling rather liberated, risen, freed. For in facing fear we conquer it.

Generally speaking, that’s a very important theme to appreciate about dark music: that shared experience between creator and listener, the cause and effect of having put that emotional work into the music and then effecting the same responses in the listener.

One could argue it is a spiritiual experience for through endurance we grow stronger.

Endurance is another big theme in dark ambient music: the notes and beats and frequently repeated, suggesting endurance in both the repetitive, machinelike motion and pain evident in the vocals. But there is always sensuality in this music, for in its ghostly state it feels so very and truly alive.

Dark ambient music is about the experience of feeling while listening. From guttural, deep and quiet vocals just a bit offkey, to muffled horror sounds, there are elements some find disturbing and others find calming.

Personally I find them to be a bit of both, as per that aforementioned liberating experience.

Early Ambient

Ambient music as a genre took root sometime in the 1960s, when synthesizers were becoming more affordable to the average consumer.

It is true that the accessibility of the synthesizer led to an ever-increasing presence of the instrument in music from the 1960s and 70s, but – as with most genres of music and art – the group or artist who invented or began the genre shall forever be argued upon.

The synthesizer opened up endless doors to new sonic possibilities, with its myriad sound effects and capacity for programming and recording. In the late 1960s music took on rather a psychedelic and fantastical sound in the form of prog rock.

Bands like Genesis and King Crimson were experimenting with synthesizers and creating an entirely new atmospheric experience for the listener. The length of songs extended to make room for instrumental parts that sounded otherworldly, ethereal, sometimes downright haunting.

Into the 1980s, synthpop is very popular and mainstream, so following Einstein’s law of universal relativism, we begin to see dark branches splinter off into goth and industrial music, with both sounds and words often containing strong and slow beats, injury to the body, minor chords, haunting sound effects, machinery, heavy emotional content and response from the listener. With every technological advancement, music becomes heavier.

And so, naturally, this led to the experimentation with an exploration of instrumental ambient music to suggest the so called dark themes of confusion, feeling lost, melancholic, haunting, horrifying or mysterious, to name a few.

<Read our more detailed history of Dark Ambient music here>

Here it is: a collection of the names of dark ambient artists you should know about.

  1. Nocturnal Emissions
    https://nocturnalemissions.bandcamp.com/

Nocturnal Emissions has been around since the late 1970s, initially as a sound art project by art student Nigel Ayers and a few other members. He is based in the United Kingdom. 

Since the mid-1980s, it has primarily been Ayers’ solo project. As you go through the bandcamp page, you will notice quite an extensive discography.

The sounds primarily orbit about dark ambient but venture into electro techno stuff, post-industrial and noise music. He avoids the music industry and has rather a big cult following.

Since the early 1990s Nocturnal Emissions contains a lot of sacred, magic and ritual elements.

 

  1. Controlled Bleeding
    https://controlledbleeding.bandcamp.com/

This American band has also been around since the 1970s, but released their first full-length album in 1983. To this day they have released more than 30 full-length albums.

With such a large output, they have of course experimented with progressive rock, metal, classical, sacred music and jazz, all in addition to ambient.

They have received their best critical response to their industrial dance. In this phase they began using lyrics more prominently in the 1990s, as a change from their previously mostly instrumental music.

3. Zoviet France
https://soundcloud.com/zoviet-france

Little is known about the members of Zoviet France, other than their names. The musical group has been around since 1980 and gone through several personnel changes in that time.

Their music incorporates some industrial elements but is altogether out of this world. We link to a rather profoundly disturbing track of theirs: the 20-minute long Shamany Enfluence from the 1988 album Looking at the Ground.

  1. Lustmord
    https://soundcloud.com/lustmord

Lustmord hails from North Wales and has been active since 1980, releasing at least one album each year since. He is a musician as well as a film score composer, known for having worked on The Crow.

His work is exceptionally dark, as he combines all kinds of clips from field recordings in crypts and other such creepy places where death lurks and mixed them into his work.

He is in fact widely recognized as the founder of this genre. One of the elements unique to Lustmord is the expanded bass lines that remind one of the darkest depths of the ocean.

His work is altogether ominous, haunting and calm, with just the right tempered balance of dark and ambient.

  1. Coph Nia
    https://cophnia.bandcamp.com/

Coph Nia is a newer band on the list, having founded in 1999 after the height of industrial music. They come, appropriately, from Gothenbug, Sweden.

The very slow beats in a lot of dark ambient music, combined with the ominous sounds, one is likely to associate with dark ritual and moonlight.

Coph Nia sounds like ritual music and is utterly empowering with spoken, monotone vocal style. Their name comes from a passage from Aleister Crowley.

Their songs contain a lot of western magical themes.

 

  1. Robin Rimbaud AKA Scanner
    https://soundcloud.com/scanner

Another fantastic artist from the United Kingdom. Scanner is the stage name of musician Robin Rimbaud and he has been making music since 1982. He works under this name because he uses cell phones, police scanners, radio and cell phone signals in his works.

These indiscernible hints at human life – and the broken communication – make for rather a profound emotional impact on the listener. In the early 1980s Rimbaud played with a band and released cassette tapes of their recordings. He debuted Scanner in 1992.

In addition to music, he creates artworks, plays classical music and helped develop a natural light and sound alarm clock with Philips Electronics.

He also creates performance and installation art and has been honoured with many awards over the years. Some of his compositions are utterly chilling.

  1. Klaus Wiese

Wiese passed away at the age of 67 in 2009. He was a fantastic multi-instrumenalist who made compositions using Tibetan singing bowls; he is widely known as being a master of those bowls, having created several full-length albums with them. His work is very spacy and meditative, but the slowed notes of the singing bowls add a slightly unnerving seriousness to his work (we mean this in the best way possible).

It is through this mood created his work falls into dark ambient. There are elements of drone presented through an ever-zooming, pulsing lens.

He studied Mysticism in the Far East for many years, the influence of which can certainly be heard in the songs. For example, his entire album Maquam is about the stations of enlightenment within Islamic mysticism.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dmM_uPw2-c&t=807s

What is Dark Ambient Music? History, Characteristics, Artists, and More

Dark ambient music is a sub-genre of ambient music that features dark, sometimes grinding / sometimes soothing, foreboding post-industrial soundscape dirges that speak to themes of isolation, embattlement, guilt, pain, torment, fear, suffering, hatred, shame, betrayal, disassociation, resentment, paranoia, anger, neglect, and…you name it, if it’s on the negative end of the spectrum, it’s probably in there! 

The music also is informed at times by the same occult imagery and themes that occupies darker types of metal, such as the teachings of people like Aleister Crowley (Satanism), as well as various forms of mysticism, religion, and magick.

(cue music)

…but also more positive things like beauty, reflection, exaltation, and dare I say some sort of escape and / or release do at times find their way into dark ambient music – in essence, it is a reflection the human condition itself, in all its terrible majesty. (cue picture that sums up human condition)

That said, calling the genre ostensibly negative and obsessed with evil themes is not a fair or balanced assessment of this music, I do not think.  The reason being is that emotions, even if they are strong or negative, if pushed through, somehow turn into a hard-earned positive, which is, I believe, part of the philosophy of dark ambient music.  Mind you, this is my theory only.  It may in fact be the true essence of darkness with no light at all.  I choose to be cautiously optimistic, however.

The term “dark ambient” was said to be coined by Roger Karmanik (aka Brighter Death Now), Swedish record producer for label Cold Meat Industry, sometime in the 90’s. 

To say that dark ambient is a post-industrial genre, is to suggest that once industrial music was established with bands like Ministry, KMFDM, Coil, Frontline Assembly, Einstürzende Neubauten, Skinny Puppy, in the later 1980’s and early 1990’s, dark ambient was born out of this genre as part reaction, part extension to the genre.  They are definitely of the same ilk, I believe, although I would venture to say they are the flipside of each. 

Industrial music is certainly not ambient because it is too full of sounds and conventional instruments.  Take away the guitars, drums, basses, and synth lines, and add in sounds not native to rock but perhaps more relevant to forms of worship, and this atmosphere of post-industrial is basically the essence of dark ambient, with other elements making their way in.  

Here’s Too Dark Park by Skinny Puppy, which is not at all dark ambient, but definitely a relative, and something I am compelled to place here for reference due to its tangential influence and inherent greatness.

If you were to picture a visual representation, dark ambient music might evoke a yawning void into which one might hurl oneself, and, once inside it, you start to make out shapes in the fog as you are falling into the abyss.   

Often times, dark ambient music seems to create a feeling of dread that just won’t leave you.  But it is not simply creating fear, it is also about facing fear, and almost learning to…admire it?  I’m not sure, but in listening to the music, there is a certain appreciation for the sonic textures found within.  

Despite reaching for the outer limits as it does, and the music being fairly niche, meaning the fanbase isn’t the same as say electropop music, however, the fanbase for this type of music is only growing.

History of Dark Ambient Music

Dark ambient dates back to 1960’s and 70’s, with its gnarled roots planted firmly in a few different musical genres, including ambient music, as well as krautrock, prog rock, free jazz, industrial music (as mentioned), synth pop, and even such concepts as ASMR.  I will qualify these influences shortly.  As in now.

To begin, we must include a band like Popul Vuh, and their album Affenstunde from 1970.  Popul Vuh is a pioneering synth-based band who used both moog synths and ethnic percussion in their music, hence helping to launch an entirely new and uncharted era that would become the sprawlingly diverse ambient genre as a whole.

At a relatively later time, musician Brian Eno (formerly the keyboard player for Roxy Music) started making purely ambient music, starting with Another Green World (1975) and culminating with his famed Ambient 1: Music For Airports (1978). 

Music for Airports I think is largely credited with being the first full-length album of pure ambient sound which seems to leave behind the trappings of progressive rock and actually embodies the spirit of true ambient music, although it is hardly dark in theme. 

Despite not being particularly dark in mood, this album certainly informed what dark ambient would become, with its sprawling soundscapes that never really leads to any climax, but is itself just one long climax (or anti-climax). (cue Ambient 1: Music for Airports)

Many artists in the 1970’s were experimenting with synthesizers, as they were becoming more affordable in price to the average consumer.  Still, it was a select few who knew what synths were worth getting, and could use them effectively to create highly emotional music.

Tangerine Dream, for instance, had mastered the art of the full length synth-based instrumental album long before Eno dabbled in it, being closer to the time of Popul Vuh, and their masterpiece Zeit from 1972 is evidence of this mastery of which I speak. (cue Zeit)

Zeit and much of Tangerine Dream’s work in general is a better stylistic fit for what would later become dark ambient music, but the debate as to who actually spurred the movement will be debated forever, no doubt.  Still, it is interesting to examine who did what and what impact it had.  Another band you might want to check out would be the band Can.

At the same time as synths were becoming a major force in the musical landscape for the first time, progressive rock was beginning to explore much darker themes than had ever been presented previously. 

Bands like King Crimson were experimenting with sounds that were not previously part of popular music’s lexicon, and, not only that, but the arrangements were different – longer, more unsettling, and traversing into territory that confused some but thrilled others. (cue Larks’ Tongue in Aspic Part I)

That said, it was bands like King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and others that were in the process of creating vast soundscapes of raw emotion that were, I think, meaning to express another dimension to human emotion that the typical rock bands of the time were not only not capable of, but other people who may not have had any emotional investment in music up until that time started to take notice.  The outcasts, the geeks, the weirdos, the shunned, etc.  But also, the intelligent, the particular, the discerning, the free-thinking.  

Some of these people would become musicians themselves and create what would become dark ambient,  while others would become lifelong fans.  The only pre-requisite was that you had to be ready to accept new forms of songs, and new emotions set to music.  

With all of these things going on, it wasn’t until until the late 70’s and bands like Throbbing Gristle came along and changed the trajectory of music forever, with their album D.o.A.: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle. (cueD.o.A.: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle)

The Beginning of Dark Ambient

This was the true beginning of a different direction for music – the direction that dark ambient music would eventually come to inhabit and elaborate upon.  With found sounds, un-nameable discordant noises, strange babbling voices, drones, sirens, a genuinely unsettling effect is created that was perhaps more untamed and less pretentious than anything previous.  This album is something you might hear played in an insane asylum, or if someone from an insane asylum was given a recording studio, they might make this.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this album has been used as a backdrop to any kind of mental health documentary.  That said, it is a perennial favourite of mine. 

Around this time, the world was paranoid about many things, including all out nuclear war, and it was finding its way into society via games and movies, with many movies of the day being genuinely terrifying, ie. The Exorcist, The Omen, and then followed by the slasher films.  The world was getting more filled with terror by the second, and much of the music was reflecting that as well.  New and exciting nihilist bands were forming all the time, beneath the surface, just as synth pop and MTV were becoming more mainstream.

Whether The Third And Final Report was the first or the most important album to help define this new sound, it doesn’t matter.  It was certainly a signpost on the road, and an album helped to create a new format for albums which opened the floodgates for both a new type of musician and a new type of fan.  In some ways, this composition by Throbbing Gristle is more sound collage than it is any kind of music, and yet it was presented as music, as accepted as such.  It got the gears turning.  

As mentioned in another article, the tendency for artists to use synthesizers to create popular music splintered off into what would become electropop and synth pop, while some artists went in a darker direction, creating genres that were darker and less mainstream, but still upbeat, such as synthwave

Still others went down an even bleaker path towards what would become industrial music and eventually dark ambient music. (cue Prime Mover by Coph Nia)

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

And so, somewhere between the mid-80’s and today, dark ambient music was born and began to grow and evolve.  In my recollection, ambient music didn’t register (with me at least) until artists like Aphex Twin became famous for his Selected Ambient Works albums.  From there, I became interested in where the genre came from, and the directions that it had been going. 

That was simply my entry point into the ambient genre as a whole, with dark ambient being one highway to drive down after taking many detours through all of the genres I’ve previously mentioned – industrial, ambient, progressive rock –  to arrive at a genre with its own distinct characteristics which does exhibit certain trademarks, but seems as well to have no visible / audible limits.

With dark ambient artists like Oöphoi, Coil, Aghiatrias, CTI, Deutsch Nepal, Hafler Trio, Rapoon, Klaus Wiese, Lustmord, Coph Nia, Nocturnal Emissions, PGR, Thomas Köner, Zoviet France, Lab Report, Akira Yamaoka, Robin Rimbaud, Endura, Controlled Bleeding, Vidna Obmana, Daniel Menche, Lull, Hwyl Nofio, and so many others creating and having had created so many epic and deeply affecting and emotional albums, dark ambient is a rich and vibrant community of artists that exist mostly on an underground level, and yet making some of the most epic music possible.  

To hear some more recent dark ambient music, check out our playlist below…