Houghton: Electro Essentials


Electro’s resurgence in recent years is undeniable; the futuristic machine funk and ricocheting 808 grooves have become the soundtrack for a new generation. Fresh labels like CPU, Cultivated Electronics and Brokntoys have brought with them a flurry of young producers who are putting their own spin on a genre that’s conception came years before they were born.

It was Kraftwerk who were the forefathers of electro in the early 1980s, with releases like Computer Love changing the course of music at the time. Other artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Warp 9 and Cybotron were also part of that first wave before the 1990s brought with it the pioneering force that is Drexciya. The Detroit duo; consisting of James Stinson and Gerald Donald released the seminal Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller I in 1992 which many contemporary producers still adduce as a huge inspiration on their own modern creations.

Here some of the genre’s main players, past and present, divulge what electro means to them…

Tell us about the first time you heard electro…

Billy Nasty: When I first heard electro in 1983 I must have been around 14 years old. I remember hearing Kraftwerk’s ‘Tour De France’ at an under 16’s jazz funk disco in South London. I didn’t realise at the time that it was electro, it was only later on when I heard Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force’s ‘Planet Rock’ and Man Parrish’s ‘Hip Hop Be Bop’ that I found out what this amazing music was.

Sync 24: I was 16 and was lent a tape with Drexciya ‘Wave Jumper’, Voice Stealer ‘The All Electric House’ and Mr Velcro Fastner’s early TIE recordings stuff on one side and Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works’ on the other. At the time I was really into Drum and Bass and had never heard this style before. It’s fair to say it was love at first listen.

Radioactive Man: I was probably about six years old; I remember my mum dancing around and singing along to Kraftwerk’s ‘The Model’ in 1978 when it came out. It must have been such an alien sound then to all but also a great hooky pop record.

Kirsti (Null + Void): I didn’t even know what it was called but it was in the early 2000s. I started buying records and going outside of my university town to see Mat Carter, Neville Watson and guests like Billy Nasty and Radioactive Man play at Checkpoint Charlies.

Carl Finlow: The first time I heard electro must have been in the early 1990’s when I was living in Leeds. I had started to work with local DJs in the city, notably Ralph Lawson, Huugy and Daz Quayle. Both Huggy and Daz were some of the first people to play things like Drexciya and Cybotron to me.

What is it about the genre that appeals to you?

Billy Nasty: What l liked at the time and grew to love, was its futuristic sound, robotic vocoder vocals and fat banging 808 grooves. It sounded like nothing I had ever heard before and the best thing about it is that it still sounds like it’s the future over 35 years later.

Sync 24: I like the robotic grooves, snappy beats and general sonics of the sounds. It’s also a genre with lots scope and shades. From deep and ethereal to straight 808 jackin’ club bangers.

Radioactive Man: It’s the funk, I think those snappy rhythms were from funk drumming. It’s the classic one at the end of the four when the kick comes straight after the snare to give it the snappy, flicky, funky vibe. Couple that with futuristic sounds, maybe some vocals and of course the 808 boom and hey presto!

Kirsti (Null + Void): I just always liked that off-kilter beat and the spacey feeling to it. It has a kind of inherent funk.

Carl Finlow: Electro is musical Sci-Fi to me and this is the greatest part of its appeal. I’ve always loved and been fascinated with space, technology and future concepts, especially the way we as humans are shaping our existence through these things. Electro seems to be the perfect reflection of this, going all the way back to Kraftwerk and the whole Man Machine/Computer World preoccupation.

How does it make you feel?

Billy Nasty: It makes me feel like I’m in another time, another place or world and it makes me want to dance. I’m extremely happy that it seems like it’s finally getting the recognition it always deserved. Obviously there were die hard fans for decades who always loved it but now it seems a new younger generation have embraced it, which is fantastic.

Sync 24: Happy 🙂

Radioactive Man: Like a robot who’s taken robot speed and acid and flown back from the future in a bathtub full of robot speed and landed on a dancefloor with Model 500 doing a live set.

Kirsti (Null + Void): It satisfies my mind, I find it more stimulating than most straight up beats.

Carl Finlow: It gives me a seemingly unending playground of ways of working. Even down to the fundamental rhythms used. It’s not straight 4×4 kicks drums so immediately there is a flexibility to the space in which to write. The futuristic nature of the sound palette is also something which I find exciting, searching for new and unusual ways to develop sound, trying to make it seem as though it is coming from the future.

What electro records have been pivotal for you?

Billy Nasty: In the early days I think tracks like Warp 9’s ‘Nunk’ and ‘Light Years Away’, Jonzun Crew’s ‘Pac-Jam’, Grandmaster Flash’s ‘Scorpio’ and The Egyptian Lover ‘Egypt, Egypt’ all had a huge and profound effect on me. Then later around the mid ‘90s, the music and productions of artists like Anthony Rother, Carl Finlow, Mr Velcro Fastener, Radioactive Man, Juan Atkins, Drexciya, Underground Resistance and a lot of the artists on Clone like I-F, Dexter and Alden Tyrell all took it to the next level.

Sync 24: Anthony Rother, Carl Finlow, Drexciya, The Advent – too many to mention. Mat 101’s ‘Level 1’ and my fave record ever – Selway – ‘Millennium Sound’ from ‘Zoids Vol 2’, which I have just been asked to remix. It’s a huge honour so watch this space.

Radioactive Man: First wave: Kraftwerk – Computer Love. Second wave: Hashim – Al Naayfish (The Soul). Third wave: Drexciya – Wavejumper. Fourth wave: Anthony Rother – Red Light District. Fifth wave: Simulant – Optimal Flow.

Kirsti (Null + Void): Paul Blackford’s ‘1991’ on Breakin is probably one that resonates the most. He was firing off lots of upper bpm sounds on his label Militant Science when I was starting to get into the genre more and more. His sound is so raw, yet fast – a good representation of the UK slant on it. Also Alpha 606’s album Afro-Cuban Electronics is a release I’m constantly drawing from.

Carl Finlow: I consider Kraftwerk to be electro as much as Drexciya, both of these have had a huge effect on me so things like Computer World or Drexciya 3 ‘Hydro Cubes’, stuff like that. I would have to include Elecktroids – Elektroworld too on Warp. Gerald Donal and James Stinson were largely responsible for my shift towards writing electro in the mid 90s.

For someone who isn’t familiar with electro, what track is the best introduction to the genre?

Billy Nasty: Cybotron’s ‘Clear’ is a track I never grow tired of hearing and seeing as it was also written in 1983 that’s such an amazing thing for a record to still sound fresh, futuristic and cutting edge and even today it still devastates a dance floor when dropped. Juan Atkins is most definitely the teacher.

Sync 24: All of the artists mentioned above. And lots of the new labels out now like Frustrated Funk, CPU, Shipwrec, Brokntoys, Mechatronica and my own Cultivated Electronics.

Radioactive Man: Listen to the entire Drexciya back catalogue whilst flying through space with the robot in the bathtub. You must face the power of the black wave of Lardossa before you become a Drexciyan Wavejumper.

Kirsti (Null + Void): You have to go down the Drexciya route with Wavejumper. There is no other way. Pay respect to the group that really gave birth to everything that’s followed since. Though I also have a high regard for the UK crew who mashed up rave into it; so to represent that I’d go with Dexorcist – ‘Fear Teacher’.

Carl Finlow: It would be rude not to give my own music a bit of a plug here. I’ve been making electro for over 20 years now and I’ve really built up a big catalogue of releases ranging from very melodic to pretty tough 4am dancefloor style. One nice album I self-released on Bandcamp a few years ago covers lots of ground over 16 tracks and it’s called The Lure of Perfection, that would be a good introduction. It’s hard to pin down though as there is now a huge amount of really outstanding electro. Labels like CPU and Cultivated Electronics have been really pushing the genre forward. There has never been a better time to get into electro!

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