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In retrospect, it’s unsurprising that electronic music had such a surge in popularity in the late 90s. Grunge was on its way out, the Oasis Vs Blur wars were over and rock styles had been watered down beyond recognition in the form of nu metal and teeny-bop pop punk.
The likes of Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy, and The Chemical Brothers were this generation’s rock stars. By the time governments were trying to crack down on illegal raves and the 90s acid culture, electronic music had already taken over the world.
Like rock music once did, the genre developed because of the range on the menu. Here are five distinct artists who made a mark for entirely different reasons.
Essential Album: ‘Music Has the Right to Children’ (1998)
Just relax and enjoy this pleasant adventure // Here you are, secure and protected // In this, your special place // Letting my voice flow into your mind…
Scottish duo, Boards of Canada, spearheaded a movement that critics called IDM, which pretentiously stood for ‘Intelligent Dance Music.’ Perhaps unsurprisingly, you couldn’t actually dance to much of it.
More importantly, though, they developed the dreamy techno experimentations of Aphex Twin into a unique and highly influential style of its own. Using samples, eerie loops, and obscure synth sounds, they created beautifully nostalgic albums that sounded nothing like anything ever heard before.
They never received much mainstream exposure, shunning interviews and advertising to enforce their mysterious image. Judging by the surreal timelessness of their music, it’s probably better that way.
Essential Album: ‘Xpander EP’ (1999)
While some DJs sought to thrill listeners with heavy breakbeats and aggressive hooks, others preferred to take them on a journey. As house music progressed and trance began to move beyond the European continent, clubbers became increasingly attracted to more euphoric track structures.
Welsh producer, Sasha, arguably perfected this formula in the late 90s, counteracting relentless rhythms with more spacious textures. His ‘epic’ sound was characteristic of EDM of the time, which emphasised atmosphere over brevity.
Many people remember him for his work with fellow producer, John Digweed, who he continues to occasionally tour with, but a solo track, ‘Xpander’, was his most revolutionary moment (see the incredible clip below).
Essential Album: ‘Behind the Sun’ (2000)
Bigger, listen to us // Swimming in saltwater // Open my eyes, saltwater rain…
Only in the late 90s could you sample Moya Brennan (Enya’s sister in Clannad) wailing in Irish gaelic and turn it into a club hit that charted in multiple countries. Yet, for a brief time, trance was a global phenomenon.
It was all about creating soaring soundscapes that made you feel like you were floating in mid-air. Chicane did this better than most, utilising dreamy vocalists, boundless reverb and exhilarating crescendos.
His music was the perfect soundtrack to an Ibiza sunset, only shifting in mood or tempo at a gradual pace. Granted, he did also craft a number one single with Bryan Adams but we won’t dwell on that.
Essential Album: ‘Timeless’ (1995)
Inner City Pressure, Inner City Life // Inner City Pressure Taking Over Me, But I Won’t Let Go…
Even if you don’t think you know Goldie, you probably do. The gold-toothed drum and bass producer has been on Celebrity Big Brother, acted in a James Bond movie and even has an MBE.
Musically speaking, he should be remembered as a pioneer. Emerging from the UK jungle scene, he practically reinvented the genre on his debut ‘Timeless’. Obviously, he used basslines and breakbeats like the best of them, but it was the string samples and female soul vocals that made his sound otherworldly.
Some of his tracks were a tad too long – in fact, the extended version of his first single was 21 minutes. Still, if you were part of England’s vibrant night-time scene in the 90s, I doubt you’d have cared too much.
Essential Album: ‘Dark and Long’ (1997)
At Tottenham Court Road // I just come out of the Ship // Talking to the most blonde I ever met // Shouting lager, lager, lager, lager…
If you grew up in the 1990s, the chances are that nothing will evoke greater nostalgia than hearing Underworld’s Born Slippy (.NUXX) in the film ‘Trainspotting’. You’d think a primitive rhythm and drunken vocals would give you a headache but it remains an abiding representation of 90s rave culture.
Underworld had more in their locker, however. From hard-hitting techno LPs (‘Second Toughest in the Infants’) to trance one-offs (‘Dark and Long’) to their progressive later work (‘Beaucoup Fish’), nobody was inventive or as technically advanced at the time.
Whether they were making music that was experimental or accessible, there was always a degree of emotion and power involved. Ultimately, that’s what old-school clubbers and pill-heads protest they remember over everything else.
There’s a reason the late 90s is remembered as so important for electronic music: it was no longer considered a talentless movement of disc jockeys and button-pushers but an advanced form with plenty of potential.
Whether you grew up on garage, house, trance, techno, IDM, big beat or a hundred other variations, the important thing was the music made you move.
Why not list your favourites in the comments below?