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Over the course of the next decade, EDM pioneers would become the new rock stars, filling stadiums and headlining festivals. ~ Jonathan Rimmer
The 21st century heralded a new dawn for electronic artists. Using computer software to produce music with passion or emotion was no longer considered anathema. When Radiohead made ‘Kid A’ in 2000, for example, people got over their prejudices and hailed it a classic.
Rave music was evolving quickly as well, though. House and techno music were no longer reserved for underground clubbers as artists in the charts began to catch up. Meanwhile, the more atmospheric sounds of trance were enjoying a golden era in Europe.
There are many routes that people took when getting into electronic music. You may have been a diehard EDM junkie or simply a casual admirer. Either way, here are five artists from the early 2000s that are essential.
Essential album: ‘Balance 005’ (2003)
“It’s a long way down // But no one in this crowd // Can stop me hitting the ground // Cause now I’ve got // Nothing to hold the falling.”
While recommending James Holden’s 2003 mix ‘Balance 005’ is slightly cheating as he’s remixing tracks by other producers, it’s important to understand how important this was a skill in itself by the 2000s. The best DJs were no longer just playing other producers’ songs; they were moulding them into something new.
The English producer’s later work would explore a variety of styles, from minimalist techno to more progressive trance music, but his biggest talent was crafting invigorating house sets that were as fascinating as they were thrilling.
For those looking to look at electronic music from all angles, Holden is an ideal starting point because he’s not restricted himself to one medium. Whether you prefer introspective electronica or more danceable cuts, he has you covered.
Essential album: ‘Discovery’ (2001)
“Work it harder, make it better // Do it faster, makes us stronger // More than ever hour after // Our work is never over.”
This might seem like an obvious suggestion given their popularity now, but it’s worth noting that many younger listeners recognise this French house duo because of the hit ‘Get Lucky’ first and foremost. The track has been labelled ‘the sound of the summer’ so many times it’s now practically a meme.
As a recent BBC documentary shows, it can’t be underestimated how far Daft Punk actually revolutionised house music. In 2001 they reached their peak, fusing retro 80s synth pop with funky house beats and vocal samples on the album ‘Discovery’.
The album remains a powerful testament to the fact that music can be experimental and creative but still cause an entire club to dance like crazy. It also inspired an entire wave of French electro house/synthwave producers to take over the charts.
Essential album: ‘As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2’ (2002)
“Everybody wants to be the DJ // Everybody thinks it’s, oh, so easy // You think you belong and you come on strong // I can still tell the right from the wrong.”
Expanding on my point on remixing, mash up also became incredibly popular around this time. The Avalanches and many others built on the sampling work of hip hop producers like DJ Shadow and began mixing separate classic tracks, sometimes with each other and sometimes with pre-set beats.
2 Many DJ’s are the first port of call if you want to go down this route. Why? Because they released seven long-form mixes in their ‘As Heard on Radio Soulwax’ series, breaking new ground and reinventing legendary songs in memorable ways.
Just to really confuse you, 2 Many DJ’s was technically the alias of two members of the Belgian band Soulwax (an entirely different entity). But don’t just assume that they were some kind of novelty: their 2002 ‘Pt. 2’ mix was named album of the year by the New York Times.
Essential album: ‘76’ (2003)
“For each forgotten kiss // For all the memories // For all the times a look // Said all we had to say.”
Though casuals tend to recognise Tiesto more, Dutch producer Armin Van Buuren has been indisputably the king of trance for more than a decade. That title might hold less weight today but at a time when trance dominated the airwaves, it was huge!
He was one of the key spearheads of the popular trance sound: immersive soundscapes, blood pumping crescendos, soprano vocals and synth arpeggios. If you mastered all these traits and featured on one of his ‘A State of Trance’ compilations, you had officially made it.
However, Van Buuren’s own music is frequently overlooked and underrated. His songwriting was simple, punchy and put together meticulously. He laid essential groundwork the popular vocal-based trance style that dominated the charts right into the mid-2000s.
Essential album: ‘Destroy Rock & Roll’ (2004)
“Doctor I’ve got this feeling // Deep inside of me, deep inside of me // I just can’t control my feet // When I hear the beat, when I hear the beat.”
It’s ironic given the title of his debut LP but Scotland’s Mylo was the rock fan’s DJ of choice in the early 2000s. That was for a few reasons: his tracks had infectious vocal hooks, catchy grooves and progressive song structures that were easy to follow. His fusions of 80s funky electro and modern pop-based song structures were also highly inventive and would have been hailed as such if they hadn’t come so hot off the heels of Daft Punk’s ‘Discovery’.
Not that that matters too much – if you like what you hear on ‘Discovery’ then ‘Destroy Rock & Roll’ is the perfect follow up. It’s a glossy, well-produced slice of house music that sums up why the genre enjoyed such popularity at the turn of the century.
It’s difficult to condense electronica into a handful of selections given the wide range of new ground that was explored during the 2000s, but the five acts on this list are fantastic starting points because they lead you down some pretty divergent rabbit holes.
Still, there’s clearly plenty more we could talk about.
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