Electronic music is now ubiquitous, from mainstream pop hits to the furthest reaches of the avant-garde. The future, a long time coming, finally arrived. But how did we get here?…
August 8, 2018 | by James Stone
Stubbs’ new book charts the history of electronic music from early avant-garde forms of Futurism and musique concrète to present-day innovators of house and techno. To celebrate the publication of the book we asked musicians, authors and members of the Faber Social team to pick three tracks they would include on their electronic music playlist. Featuring Bobby Gillespie, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Simon Reynolds, Jon Savage and many more. Enjoy bending your ears around their choices.
Cosey Fanni Tutti, Throbbing Gristle; Chris & Cosey
Delia Derbyshire – ‘Pot Au Feu’ (1968)
Delia’s musical achievements have gone largely unacknowledged until recently. Just listening to this track demonstrates how innovative she was. It sounds so contemporary.
Kraftwerk – ‘The Robots’ (1978)
I’m lucky that when I hear this I can remember the impact it had when it was first released. It was so fresh, clean, precise and unapologetically ‘technical’, just like they were when I saw them perform it at Tate Modern in 2013. The best live show I’d seen in years.
Mika Vainio – ‘Helium’ (1997)
This is one of the more gentle pieces by Mika it’s entirely immersive, the way the rhythms unfold illustrate his mastery of the intuitive composition of sounds. It’s so hypnotic I can see him sat there totally transfixed in the creative moment.
Stephen Mallinder, Cabaret Voltaire
Edgar Varese – ‘Poème électronique’ (1958)
This piece was created in collaboration with Le Corbusier for the Brussels World Fair in 1958. The architect had designed the Phillips Pavillion for the fair, and asked Varese to compose, what he called a ‘poem in a bottle’. It was accompanied by a black & white film and is very much a musique concrète piece using reel-to-reel tapes, electronic drones and voices. Sound Art anyone?
Tonto’s Expanding Headband – ‘Timewhys’ (1971)
TONTO actually stands for ‘The Original New Timbral Orchestra’ which was the first ever polyphonic analogue synthesizer. It was built, and developed from Moog modular systems by Malcolm Cecil who teamed up with another English producer, Robert Margouleff, and became more renowned for creating the electronic sound of Stevie Wonder on Talking Book and Innervisions. They made a couple of album, this is from their first release Zero Time. Electronic music started to find its groove.
Laurie Spiegel – ‘Drums’ (1975)
The role of women in the story of electronic music is fundamental. Early pioneers Daphne Oram, Delia Derbyshire and Bebe Baron were responsible for shaping the whole idea of groundbreaking experimental electronic composition. Born in the US, and part of the New York electronic scene, Laurie Spiegel studied in the UK, and though not as well known as some other artists, she is from the same period. This track is taken from the Obsolete Systems collection and sounds totally fresh.
David Keenan, author of This Is Memorial Device and For The Good Times
Coil – ‘Going Up’ (2005)
Electricity reanimates the dead as Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson combines raw live recordings of bandmate and partner John Balance’s final live performance with an emotionally wrought re-working of the theme to Are You Being Served? A profoundly affecting work of electronic alchemy that has to be heard to be believed.
Pita – ‘Get Out’ (1999)
Does for laptop and electronics what Are You Experienced? did for the electric guitar. Totally euphoric.
Vybz Kartel – ‘Chain’ (2015)
Bashment energy meets almost Stooges-esque Raw Power-isms and punishing electronics on this incredible track: ‘slavery done long time my youth/but me love jewellery so me still a-wear chain’. Wow.
Trevor Jackson, DJ/Producer
Giorgio Moroder – ‘Chase’ (1978)
Wayne Smith – ‘Under Me Sleng Teng’ (1986)
Man Parrish – ‘Hip Hop Be Bop’ (1982)
, Publisher, Faber Social
The Who – ‘Baba O’Riley’ (1971)
Because it represents perhaps the first time a synth was used to such glorious effect in a rock opera context.
Terry Riley – ‘A Rainbow in Curved Air’ (1969)
Because it has everything going on.
Sabres of Paradise – ‘Smokebelch II’ (1993)
Because Andrew Weatherall opened the doors for me, and furnished the rooms.
Simon Reynolds, author of Rip it up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984; Energy Flash: a Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture
Kraftwerk – ‘Neon Lights’ (1978)
In love with the modern world, the eyes of Kraftwerk see the shimmering cityscape as electric heaven.
Orbital – ‘Chime’ (1990)
The twinkling tinkling techno tune playing – performed live at Progeny in Brixton by the brothers Hartnoll – during my rave conversion experience.
Migos – ‘T-Shirt’ (2017)
Vocal alchemy via Auto-Tune, turning profane tales of fast lane life into a holy trance, a choral weave of glistening rap, ecstatic ad libs, and a wordless backing ripple of Gregorian gurgles and droning moans.
Bobby Gillespie, Primal Scream; Jesus and Mary Chain
Ron Grainer & Delia Derbyshire – ‘Dr Who Theme’ (1963)
Psychedelic time traveller horror fantasy outer space sounds that blew my five-year-old mind – still mind-blowingly beautiful and strangely warped.
Chicory Tip – ‘Son of My Father’ (1972)
The first ‘electronic’ pop song I ever heard though I didn’t know it was ‘electronic’ I just dug the cool sound of the riff as a wee schoolboy whenever I heard it on the radio.
Donna Summer –‘I Feel Love’ (1977)
I bought this and ‘Pretty Vacant’ on the same day in the summer of 1977. Good times.
James Stone, Marketing Campaigns Assistant
William Basinski – ‘Disintegration Loops 6 (D|p 6)’ (2002)
The Disintegration Loops by William Basinski guided me through many a library session when I was studying at university. The tracks came about when the composer was attempting to transfer some tapes to digital. He noticed that the tracks were falling apart during the process and built a whole series using this effect. ‘(D|p 6)’ is one of my personal favourites but you can’t go wrong with any of them.
Grimes – ‘Oblivion’ (2012)
This is just a bit of a banger and I usually find a place for it when I’m putting together my playlists. The combination of the bass synth hook and Claire Boucher’s vocals makes for an awesome listening experience.
Oneohtrix Point Never – ‘Boring Angel’ (2013)
Oneohtrix Point Never is a genius with his production, I love the way he manipulates sound. The video for this track is also worth a watch – made solely of emojis. It’s pretty deep.
Jon Savage, author of England’s Dreaming and 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded
Terry Riley – ‘Poppy No-good and the Phantom Band’ (1969)
Donna Summer – ‘I Feel Love’ (1977)
Gas Rausch – Rausch (2018)
Ruth O`Loughlin, Paperbacks Manager
Autechre – ‘Arch Carrier’ (1998)
Autechre’s music is always interesting, whether it’s a hugely complex, disorientating piece with erratic time signatures (always fun to watch people trying to dance to these when they play live), or heart-tweakingly gorgeous (‘VLetrmx’ from the album Garbage), or just 4/4, squelchy, twitchy, brilliantly-produced tracks, perfect for headphones, like ‘Arch Carrier’, one of my favourites. They never fail to be inspiring, and their recent run of live shows for NTS Radio shows just how innovative they continue to be.
Aphex Twin – ‘Acrid Avid Jam Shred’ (1995)
Aphex Twin was the first electronic artist I really got into as a 16-year-old growing up in rural Lincolnshire in 1992. He’s truly a one-off, and has inspired so many musicians in the last 25 years. Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is the album I go back to most frequently, but this track from his 1995 album I Care Because You Do is just beautiful and one that shows how creative, moving and awe-inspiring electronic music can be.
Throbbing Gristle – ‘Distant Dreams (Part Two)’ (1981)
Released as a B-side to the single ‘Adrenalin’ in 1980, ‘Distant Dreams (Part Two)’ is Throbbing Gristle at their most palatable and gives a glimpse of the electronic music Chris & Cosey would go on to make after TG. Such a stunning but ominous record.
Chris Frantz, Talking Heads
Hot Butter – ‘Popcorn’ (1972)
Because it’s so infectiously entertaining but it might drive you crazy.
Kraftwerk – ‘Autobahn’ (1974)
Because you can listen to it all day and all night and still not get enough.
The Normal – ‘Warm Leatherette’ (1978)
Because it was the Mudd Club’s national anthem and is somehow debauched and enlightened at the same time.
Robin Rimbaud, Scanner
Virgin Prunes – ‘Red Nettle’ (1986)
Quite unlike anything else in the catalogue from the Irish post-punk band. I first listened to this on a portable cassette player on the C81 tape from the NME music paper outside a classroom at school when it came out. Remarkably simple, with soft tones moving from speaker to speaker, it continues to hypnotise me to this day.
Carl Stone – ‘Banteay Srey’ (1992)
An astonishingly rich, organic and beautiful piece of music by the pioneering American composer, as soothing undulations settle beneath a warm ambience, all constrained within an elegant structure and frame. Taking a sample of a Burundi child’s song, then stretching it and re-contextualising it with a music bed is something that apparently came to the composer in a dream and it certainly maintains that feeling of reverie and vision.
Robert Ashley – ‘Automatic Writing’ (1979)
A quiet and mysterious recording, as if overhearing voices through the wall of a cheap hotel. Once heard it can never be forgotten and for me arguably one of the most important pieces of ambient recording ever made.
Zarina Rimbaud-Kadirbaks, Lady Modular
The Art of Noise – ‘Moments in Love’ (1984)
Although I was a massive Michael Jackson fan when this song came out – I was only 8 years old – it made a huge impact on me at the time. It actually still conjures up very strong emotions with me whenever I hear it. It is such an embracive and comforting piece of music to me, like being enfolded in a warm duvet, simply pure bliss.
Demdike Stare – ‘Erosion of Mediocrity’ (2012)
Demdike Stare are one of my biggest inspirations. Every time I listen to this track I am captivated by its hypnotic driving energy and pulse, giving it a very cinematic character. It has a sense of urgency, as if anticipating the arrival of an unknown malignant entity.
Wrangler – ‘Theme from Wrangler’ (2014)
This opening track from their debut album has a very graceful and agile feel to it. The sound is minimal yet steadily builds up – the vocals do not come in until well after two minutes, allowing the song to expand and bloom.