It feels like 1984 all over again on dancefloors and as electro takes its place at the front of the rave, we select the essential tunes and artists making it happen.
Electro is everywhere in 2017, from festivals like Dekmantel to mix series like Kern via ever more ID requests in Facebook’s fabled The Identification of Music Group. Far from being the preserve of life long electro labels and artists, it has cropped up in the key sets and mixes of DJs like Ben UFO, Call Super, Craig Richards, Special Request and Adam Shelton all year.
Like any, it’s a genre that has grown from a nascent scene into a splintered sound with many different facets. Originally stemming from a combination of eighties New York hip hop and Kraftwork’s machine made rhythms, it has splintered into micro-scenes like electro-funk, Miami bass, electroclash and electro house that all continue to exist in various enclaves around the world.
The predominant electro sound of today, though, seems to have gone back to its roots. We take a broad look at the DJs, artists and labels who are leading electro from the front.
The Source: Kraftwerk
Kraftwerk alone didn’t make electro. But when their music touched down in the U.S., it took on a whole new meaning. Many founding fathers of house and techno even thought the German proto type dance music super group were black, such was the force with which their music embedded itself into the early primordial rave mud of the East Coast nightclub and block party scene, from which hip hop, electro, house and techno would later clamber out of.
Kraftwerk’s mix of machine inspired melodies and robotic funk captivated Detroit, a city that evolved around the sprawling car factories that provided the fertile ground from which electro would later pave the way for labels like Underground Resistance. And it inspired the sincerest form of flattery. Arthur Baker and Africa Bambaata’s 1982 ‘Planet Rock’ ripped off Kraftwerk’s ‘Metal On Metal,’ which Baker later admitted cost them “a lot of money” and became ground zero for house, hip hop and techno in the U.S.
Kraftwerk's 'Metal On Metal' was released in 1977:
Afrika Bambaata & The Soul Sonic Force's 'Planet Rock' was released in 1982:
The Forefathers: Drexcyia
You can't talk about electro without obsessing over the late James Stinson and Gerald Donald’s seminal Drexcyia project. The Detroit duo were conceptual visionaries whose Afro-centric aquatic funk was a soundtrack to an underwater world populated by the offspring of pregnant slaves cast overboard while in transit from Africa. Coloured with elements of techno and centred round the Roland TR-808 and the Arp sequencer, from 1994 onwards they produced three albums and a bunch of EPs that remain cornerstones of the genre to this day. Clone recently and tastefully reissued much of their hugely sought after work across four bumper compilations, while this archived radio broadcast also offers a key overview.
The Contemporary Star: Helena Hauff
It would be fair to say that Helena Hauff is at least partly responsible for the resurgence in interest in electro. As a resident, the German DJ turned producer made Hamburg’s famous Golden Pudel her own. Her sets of electro, new wave and EBM were so thrilling that word soon got out and saw her break out into the wider scene peaking with her 2016 back to back with Ben UFO at Sonar. In 2017, she played a who’s who of dance music’s key events across Europe, Asia and America, from festivals like Dimensions to revered clubs like Berghain. Often heading in many different directions in one set, she can do it all from silky and slinky to ragged and raging.
The Stalwart: Dexter
Dutchman Dexter has been synonymous with electro since his very first record in 2000. His roots as a breakdancer have imbued in him the importance of rhythm, and his sounds are often sharp and dirty and in your face. As well as enduring solo gems like his Intruder EP, he’s often linked with Ostgut Ton’s Steffi, and together the pair run Klakson, itself a fine outlet for fresh slabs of electro that has been recently kicked started after a short hiatus.
The Essential Mix: DJ Stingray 'Kern Vol. 4' (Tresor)
He might have started out as tour DJ for Drexcyia (James Stinson also gifted him the trademark balaclava he is never seen without) but nowadays DJ Stingray is a standalone pillar of electro. His productions for the likes of Naked Lunch and Shipwrec are wet, metallic affairs, but it’s his DJing that is most essential. Playing at a hundred miles an hour and mixing tunes in every few minutes, he knows how to balance things just right and always pulls back, does a quick cut or changes direction before things start to get out of control. For proof, check the blistering mix he recently turned out for Tresor’s Kern series.
The Key 2017 Label: Shipwrec
The Netherlands—and specifically thanks to West Coast and characters like I-F—has long been a hotbed of electro activity. At the forefront since 2010 has been Shipwrec, a label that puts out limited 12”s with handmade art work from a mix of legends (such as DMX Krew) and more new school names like Brooklyn’s SC-164.
The Live Specialist: Radioactive Man
Playing off an array of hardware that one man could barely carry alone, Keith Tenniswood is a live wizard. Formerly one half of Two Lone Swordsmen with Andrew Weatherall—a project which itself laid down some still-essential electro 20 years ago—he used to run his own militant 150bpm plus electro parties, but is now best known for his live shows. Over the course of a fully improvised hour he’ll cook up a flurry of cowbells and snares, lay down brain-frying synth lines and underpin it all with fat, squelchy bass. Moods, grooves and tempos vary effortlessly throughout, and it cannot fail to get you on your toes. Watch below for proof.
The Unsung Hero: Metamatics
Ricardo Villalobos can be indirectly credited for help creating the new buzz around electro. Fabric released a live mix from one of his legendary sessions at the club in aid of their #savefabric campaign which aired on Rinse FM. One killer electro cut at the beginning set the internet alight. The track in question was a remix by UK artist Metamatics aka Lee Norris (who also releases deep Detroit inspired house and techno under the name Norken). Originally recorded by Lee in a day in 1998, the remix became a cult sleeper hit, burrowing its way onto dancefloors like Berlin’s Hopetosse and Paris’ Concrete and winning over other luminaries like Ben UFO over the ensuing months. Reissues of Lee’s classic Metamatics album Neo Ouija from 1998 since then have won over a whole new generation to his sound. Check out his Ibiza Voice interview here.
2017 Electro Mix: Adam Shelton’s Gottwood mix
This mix from the Below and One Records maestro helped light the fire at the start of the year. Wall to wall incendiary electro from a DJ who is fast becoming one of the UK's key selectors.
The One to Watch: Jack Roland
This month, Amsterdam based Jack Roland puts out only his second EP. Entitled ‘The Others,’ it’s five tracks of icy and intergalactic electro with a focus on ethereal harmonies and paddy drums. Earlier in the year, an EP for UN.T.O was darker and more twisted, and both outings suggest he is a star of the future.
The Mystery Track: Corporation Mindfuck ‘M105’
Nothing is known about the artist behind this track, and it is their first ever listed under this alias. That said, given the irresistible trippiness, crispness of the hits and cosmic nature of the melodies, you get the impression it must be someone with plenty of experience under their belt. If not, it’s some debut.
The Radio Show: WERD Electro Show with Mark Turner
Mark Turner was resident at legendary night The Orbit in Morley, near Leeds, back in the Nineties. Formerly an employee of Eastern Bloc Records in Manchester, he’s still an active DJ and a gold mine of electro knowledge. Each month he dips into his bottomless well and serves up two hours of the stuff in all its many forms, old and new, from scenes around the world. It’s a real history lesson that you cannot fail to learn from.
The Soldier: Egyptian Lover
Trends may come and go but the Egyptian Lover has been flying electro’s flag from the start. The Californian producer aka Greg Broussard started out as a DJ in the early 1980s and became a pivotal figure in the early hip hop scene for his role as a member of Uncle Jamm’s Army. The group were a pivotal force in the early West Coast hip hop scene. He’s had plenty of big moments since then, most notably 1984’s ‘Egypt Egypt,’ and his 2017 bomb ‘This That Old School,’ which is the opening track on the fourth instalment of Dekmantel’s ten years anniversary compilation.
Broussard's hip hop outfit Uncle Jamm's Army released 'Yes, Yes, Yes' in 1983:
Egyptian Lover's 2017 track 'This That Old School' on Dekmantel: