Y’all know I have a soft spot for electro.
What IS electro? Well, let’s just sample wikipedia and find out:
Classic (1980s) electro drum patterns tend to be electronic emulations of breakbeats, with a syncopated kick drum, and usually a snare or clap accenting the backbeat. The difference between electro drumbeats and breakbeats (or breaks) is that electro tends to be more mechanical, while breakbeats tend to have more of a human-like feel, like that of a live drummer.
The Roland TR-808 drum machine hit the market in 1980, defining early electro with its immediately recognizable sound. Staccato, percussive drumbeats tended to dominate electro, almost exclusively provided by the TR-808. As an inexpensive way of producing a drum sound, the TR-808 caught on quickly with the producers of early electro because of the ability of its bass drum to generate extreme low-frequencies. This aspect of the Roland TR-808 was especially appealing to producers who would test drive their tracks in nightclubs (like NYC’s Funhouse), where the bass drum sound was essential for a record’s success. Its unique percussion sounds like handclaps, open and closed high-hat, clave and cowbell became integral to the electro sound. The Roland TR-808 has attained iconic status, eventually being used on more hits than any other drum machine. Through the use of samples, the Roland TR-808 remains popular in electro and other genres to the present day.
Another way to think of it is this:
electro : rap :: new wave : punk
Maybe that analogy isn’t QUITE perfect, with regards to timelines and such; but what I mean is that these used to be sibling styles that were simultaneously symbiotic and somewhat antagonistic.
On the new wave/electro side of the equation, you have a fascination with technology, futurism, surface and artifice; on the punk/rap side, a looking backward, an obsession with authenticity and deprecation of artifice.
(“Nunk” = “New Wave Funk”)
Warp 9 – Nunk
A little old-school Egyptian Lover:
Egyptian Lover – Egypt, Egypt
Nobody REALLY forgot about Dre; but they may well have forgotten about The Arabian Prince, a contemporary of the Egyptian Lover, and founding member of N.W.A.
I wonder if Dre would like to forget about this little number?:
Arabian Prince and The Sheiks- Innovative Life (ft. Dr Dre)
In a weird way, Arabian Prince’s departure from N.W.A. – and the harder gangster style that N.W.A. was instrumental in popularizing – provides a neat little microcosm of the way electro, an integral part of hip-hop culture in the 1980’s, got largely pushed out of hip-hop by the end of the decade.
Arabian Prince – Take You Home Girl
Electro was maybe viewed as too pop-friendly.
Laid Back – White Horse
Perhaps not coincidentally, electro also featured far more female vocalists than would be common in where rap would go for a long, long time.
Arabian Prince produced this hit:
JJ Fad – Supersonic
And there’s this classic:
Roxanne Shanté – “Roxanne’s Revenge”
I KNOW you know this one:
Newcleus – Jam On It
Another oldie but goodie:
Mantronix – Bassline
You might remember this one from a cameo in Shaun of the Dead (“It’s not hip-hop, it’s electro. Prick.”):
Man Parrish – Hip Hop, Be Bop (Don’t Stop)
Or the bomb that started it all:
Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force- Planet Rock
Except wait, here’s what REALLY started it all (well, this one, and “Numbers” which “Rock” also nicks):
Kraftwerk – Trans Europe Express
From its Dusseldorf-via-NYC origins, electro spread in all directions. L.A., as noted above with the Lover and the Prince, went with a decadent Lothario angle.
Miami bumped up the bass:
MC ADE – Bass Rock Express
And when the train rolled into Detroit, it would become a building block of techno:
Model 500 – Night Drive (Thru Babylon)
Cybotron – Clear
But enough semi-obscure crate-digging. Electro was also the backbone of an astounding amount of radio pop/club dance hits, all throughout the 1980s.
Chaka Khan – I Feel For You
Why, even the jazzbos wanted in:
Herbie Hancock – Rockit
And the film composers:
Harold Faltermeyer – Axel F
This was a huge hit in 1983:
Shannon – Let the Music Play
Its production was extremely influential. So much so that 4 years later, people were still scoring hits with variants on it:
Taylor Dayne – Tell It To My Heart
Robots were reporting to the dance floor when Daft Punk were still in metal baby bonnets:
Midnight Star – Freak-A-Zoid
There may be no parking on the dance floor, but there WILL be a confab in the women’s restroom:
Klymaxx – Meeting in the Ladies’ Room
Speaking of “Klymaxx”:
Expose – Point Of No Return
Yes, as we know from Donna Summer in 1975, multiple times:
Nu Shooz – Point Of No Return
In England, electro would be one component in the rhythmic stew that would eventually produce futuristic paranoiac Bristol soul, the so-called “trip-hop” of Tricky and Massive Attack (Cherry and Massive Attack collaborated on each others’ early records).
Neneh Cherry – Buffalo Stance
And every so often, there’s a revival of the style. Here’s a few examples (Dopplereffekt is also worth checking out, though NSFW):
Elecktroids – Future Tone
Drexciya – Hydro Theory
Here’s delightful throwback to classic 80’s electro sounds, and features The Lover himself:
DyE ft. Egyptian Lover – She’s Bad [Video NSFW]
If y’all need me, I’ll be over here, doin’ The Robot.