On IDM

We left you hanging last week — you are probably wondering how to break into “experimental” music, but you don’t know where to start, right? There’s abstract jazz, musique concrete, noise, drone, free improv… what is one to do?

Get your feet wet with a quasi-experimental genre first. IDM (intelligent dance music), is a good place to start. IDM fuses experimentation with semi-regular beats and some traditional melodic sensibility, while retaining some of the strangeness true to experimental music and giving it a distinctly electronic flavor. Some experimental guys will no doubt turn up their noses at beats, but it’s worth a look.

The obvious place to start is with the release that gave IDM its name — the Artificial Intelligence compilation (Warp Records, 1992). This is required listening for anyone wishing to get into the genre; it’s where IDM started, and though the music has become more varied and “experimental” since then, this album still holds up.

Where to go next depends on where you’re coming from. This style has a lot of influences, and many artists mix “traditional” IDM with hallmarks of other sounds. Squarepusher uses jazz bass and drums (try Ultravisitor); Prefuse 73 (who played on campus recently) creates complex hip-hop beats (try Extinguished: Outtakes); Venetian Snares created a mix of breaks and classical samples for Rossz Csillag Allat Született (he even plays violin on some tracks). People familiar with “mainstream” electronic might try mid-period Orbital (like In Sides), which, while not traditionally considered IDM, is going in the same direction. True experimental lovers unimpressed by these straightforward albums might find some solace in Autechre, who have been abstract since the mid-’90s (try Confield).

No intro to IDM would be complete without a mention of Aphex Twin (Richard D. James). As the creator of the genre (which he is, in essence, because of his early work), its best-known practitioner (due to music videos in the late ’90s), and one of the most eccentric artists around (he drives a surplus tank), Aphex Twin is a legend in his own time. Try Come To Daddy, a short but flawless intro to all of his many styles.

Hopefully, you now have a sense of experimental music. If you’re into it, there’s much more to explore — try other labels, for example: Skam, Rephlex, Planet Mu, Tigerbeat6, Schematic, Merck, Fatcat, Clear… you might find a new love for music.