The 10 Albums That Changed Dance Music

Words by: Peter Adkins
Posted: 13/9/12 7:41

Let’s make something absolutely clear: the thing about lists is that they are utterly and inherently fallible. They are subjective where they should be objective, divisive where they should be unifying and outrageous where they should be understated. And it is only with those rather grandiose and self-justifying prerequisites that I present to you ‘The 10 Albums That Changed Dance Music’.

By no means definitive or exhaustive, it is a chronological countdown of the ten albums that have forged the most influence and inspiration. Albums that have sparked new genres, new ways of thinking about dance-music or brought certain niche sound to a whole new audience. Side-stepping a few obvious candidates who appear in every list (Daft Punk’s Discovery) and keep proceedings purely within the dance-music sphere (hence no Radiohead or LCD Soundsystem), we present you with ten albums that altered the course of dance-music forever.

Kraftwerk : Radio-activity Kraftwerk - Radio-activity
Label: Kling Klang / EMI
Release Date: October 1975

Whilst plaudits are often piled upon Kraftwerk’s breakthrough album Autobahn or later albums such as The Man Machine, it is Radio-activity that was arguably Kraftwerk’s defining moment. Offering a more stripped back and minimal sound than previous albums (the opening track simply consists of the clicks of a Geiger-counter), it was a pioneering example of just how much could be done with very little.

Enthused with bleak melodies, weird samples, discomforting interludes and paranoid synth compositions, the record also had a clear social message. It was a foreshadowing of where techno would develop not just sonically and aesthetically, but politically.
Grace Jones: Nightclubbing Grace Jones - Nightclubbing
Label: Island Records
Release Date: 11th May 1981

One of the ‘80s most enduring sleeper-hits, Nightclubbing was arguably ‘real’ disco’s first commercial and critical crossover success story. Bringing her funk-slapped and sharp social commentary to the masses, she paved the way for further acceptance of disco’s queer and minority roots in the mainstream, and turned on a whole generation of music lovers to the credible side of the genre in the process.

A mixture of covers of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Bill Withers, as well as her own tracks, it captured the ephemeral qualities of NYC in the late ‘70s / early ‘80s in a way that proceeding producers have tried (and failed) to capture.
Jeff Mills - Waveform Transmission Volume 1 Jeff Mills - Waveform Transmission Volume 1
Label: Tresor
Release Date: 01st June 1992

Not the first techno album, or even the first proper techno album to be released on Tresor (that was Mill’s collaborative effort X-101), Waveform Transmission Volume 1 was the first album to show the expansive potential of a techno album.

Utilising the techno sounds of the early ‘90s, Mill’s conceptual approach to the recording process allowed the album to surpass the usual functionary limits of a techno record and transcend the genre’s generally pre-conscribed ‘club music’ functionality, whilst not abandoning its central tenets.

Whilst Robert Hood’s Nighttime World or Plastikman’s Sheet One would make similar cultural leaps for techno, it was arguably Mill’s 1992 debut that paved the way.
Underworld – Dubnobasswithmyheadman Underworld – Dubnobasswithmyheadman
Label: Junior Boy’s Own
Release Date: 24th January 1994

If you trace Underworld’s thirty year path from insipid synth-rockers to programming the music at the recent London Olympics, Dubnobasswithmyheadman sticks out like a jagged tooth. It was the moment where everything changed. Yet, its significance surpasses the band’s own chronology.

Building on the early infusion of techno and house music emerging from the British underground, Underworld showed how far the sound could be pushed; how hooky, accessible and un-difficult a techno-album could be. In its appropriation of guitars, its melodic loops and beat-poet like lyrics it proved to be the first all-out techno album that fans of rock, indie and pop could listen to and, most importantly, instantly enjoy.
Leftfield – Leftism Leftfield – Leftism
Label: Hard Hands / Columbia
Release Date: 30th January 1995

1995 would prove to be a vintage year for British electronic music, with Portishead, The Chemical Brothers and Goldie all releasing debut albums that would send shockwaves into the mainstream perception of club culture and dance music. Although, it was the earliest debut album of the year that would be the most epoch defining within the boundaries of dance music.

Leftfield, who had been producing and touring since 1990, released their debut album with little fanfare at the start of the year. By the end of the year the duo were picking up nominations for some of the biggest music awards in the industry. Fusing dub sensibilities with prevalent basslines, world-music flourishes and deftly-picked elements of house music, you can trace their influences in everything from the tribal house boom of the late ‘90s to the dub-electro crossover still prevalent in urban music.
Aphex Twin – Richard D James Album Aphex Twin – Richard D James Album
Label: Warp
Release Date: 04th November 1996

Pure electronic genius” was how Pitchfork described Aphex Twin’s fourth album. And like most works of genius, it was the album’s forging of entirely new soundscapes that merited its acclaim. Blending his characteristic ambience, noise and industrial techno with the sounds of jungle and acid, the ten track LP would be a definitive work of the sprawling and numerous sub-genres that sprang forth from rave and techno in the mid ‘90s.

And unlike the other albums on this list, Richard D James Album was so incredibly idiosyncratic that it spawned little to no imitators in its wake. Instead it opened the door to the possibilities of how dance-music could be conceptualised, and provided one of the milestone records in the formation of electronic music as we know it today.
Felix Da Housecat - Kittenz And Thee Glitz Felix Da Housecat - Kittenz And Thee Glitz
Label: City Rockers
Release Date: 09th July 2001

Whilst Felix Stalling Jnr’s career both pre-dates and transcends the ‘electro-clash’ tag, it is almost certainly defined by it.  A truly pans-global record, Kittenz And Thee Glitz saw the Chicagoan producer borrow the talents of some of France’s biggest electro stars (Miss Kittin, The Hacker), to forge an abrasive, take-no-prisoners sound that proved a biting antidote to the malaise of generic house music in the early ‘00s.

And whilst the electro-clash sound itself was soon to be decried as tired and worn-out, the album’s long-lasting merit lies in it encapsulation of a moment frozen in history. It was the moment when dance music was presented as something dangerous again, something that refused to conform. Without this record the crossover boom that repeatedly reinvigorated dance-music throughout the ‘00s, from Justice to The Knife, would never have happened.
Modeselektor – Hello Mom! Modeselektor – Hello Mom!
Label: Bpitch Control
Release Date: 11th October 2005

The German wave of the early ‘00s provided a whole host of labels, such as Kompakt and Get Physical, putting out innovative house and techno albums. But it was Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary’s debut album Hello Mom! that would be the most epoch defining – as much from their approach to composing the tracks as from the finished product.

A high-octane proliferation of their mother country’s techno, British hardcore and North American hip-hop, the duo not only constructed an album that captured the excitement of European dance-music at that moment, but created a brand new genre in the process: Eurocrunk. What’s more it is a record that has grown in significance with retrospect: you can trace contemporary house and techno music’s adoption of bass-heavy elements back to that autumn and a very special debut album.
Burial – Untrue Burial – Untrue
Label: Hyperdub
Release Date: 05th November 2007

It wouldn’t be too unfair to say that it wasn’t until Burial’s second album Untrue that people beyond the tightly-knit dubstep communities began to twig to the potentials of the sound. An ethereal voyage through the anonymous Burial’s blurred and often bleak vision of London, the record espoused the poetic capability of the sound, its use of ambience and unsettling samples offering a glimpse of a creative mind as yet unmatched by any of his contemporaries.

And whilst it was the more rambunctious end of dubstep that eventually blew up in the mainstream, it was Burial, and more specifically this album, that has been repeatedly turned to in order to re-capture the magic of the genre’s pre-commercial era. The fact that Burial hasn’t recorded a follow up and that still very little is known about William Bevan, has meant that, almost half a decade later, this is an album where the sense of palpable enigma that set it apart still lingers.
Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise
Label: Circus Company
Release Date: 11th January 2011

In October 2010 Jaar, who was still at college studying Comparative Literature, released a 12” featuring a track entitled Don’t Believe The Hype. The advice fell on deaf ears, in the weeks preceding his album hitting the shops anticipation was beyond rife. Jaar’s position at the forefront of the slow-mo house revolution going on NYC and beyond, his debut represented the accumulation of three years of releasing records and remixes that had become collectors items almost as soon as they had been pressed.

And whilst a small handful of critics felt the LP didn’t live up to the speculation, it presented house music with another epoch-defining album, a strong and idiosyncratic documentation of where dance-music was headed, and a reaffirmation of dance music’s ability to transcend scenes, genres and tastes. Arriving in the second year of a new decade, its force as a cultural milestone is still being felt in albums arriving today.

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