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Are These The Most Important Electronic Records Of The 21st Century?

One of our electronic music contributors takes us on a brief guide through some of the most important electronic records of the 21st Century.

The rise and popularity of electronic music in the 20th century has been overwhelming, and finely documented on all levels. From Kraftwerk and ‘Krautrock’ in the late 60s and 70s, the inescapable 80s synth-pop boom, to when people started truly experimenting and realising its more challenging capabilities in the 90s with the larger usage of sampling and forward thinking production techniques, with IDM musicians like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, even to the Bristolian birth of trip-hop. Not only that but who can forget the early 90s acid rave movement, as well as the mid / late 90s club explosion?!

But since the turn of the millennium (bar a few major releases), electronic music hasn’t had its most important releases looked over. So what better time to it when exactly halfway through the second decade? There have plenty of moments in the last few years where electronic music has truly changed, or turned itself inside out – for better or for worse. This is my brief list compiled of the most important records since the year 2000; looking at the influence it had on other artists within the electronic genre, how it influenced artists outside the electronic genre, and its effect on pop culture.

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Disclosure – Settle

Disclosure‘s debut album marked a changing point in British electronic music. As this is the most recent on the list you can still see its influence occurring now. The charts have slowly begun to fill with imitators trying to latch on (no pun intended) to their distinct sound of 90s house music that has an extremely soulful and human edge to it. All you have to do is look at the charts from last year to see it; ‘Hideaway’ was one of the biggest hits of the year and the most blatant of imitators pretty much going for the exact same style of beats and over the top singing. Settle also made the folks across the pond in the US pay a lot more attention to British house music and pop music in general.

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The Avalanches – Since I Left You

DJ Shadow showed the world the possibilities in a sample with Endtroducing…. but The Avalanches took it a whole new level at the turn of the millennium. The duo claim that this record uses more than 3500 samples from other people’s records while others say they know of 900+. The Avalanches took sampling to a whole new level showing the world that you can create entire worlds of psychedelic beauty through being inspired by other people’s music in the most literal of ways. From the moment this album was released it stands as the leading argument against anyone who has anything against sampling.

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Justice – † (Cross)

It’s no coincidence that a giant cross graced the cover of French dance duo Justice’s debut album – for many it marked a revival of sorts for dance music. Where Daft Punk’s album Human After All had failed two years earlier, Justice succeeded. They managed to successfully combine hard rock traits into electronic music. Not only that but they combined classical music, disco, and excerpts of horror movie soundtracks to create the most melodramatic but encapsulating electronic dance music of the mid-2000s. For many this was a moment to start paying attention to dance music in the mainstream once again instead of just writing it all off as cheap thrills.

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Burial – Untrue

While acts like Justice were getting attention in the mainstream, UK producer Burial was conjuring his own storm in the underground. While other UK dubstep acts were heading towards making the most cold and calculated music they could, Burial decided to go in the opposite direction. By going back to dubstep’s experimental garage and 2-step roots, and fusing heartbreaking female vocals often taken from video games, Burial made a more personal album than any other dubstep album before or since. Burial’s impact on the electronic underground movement is immeasurable, with him constantly being cited as an inspiration by many up and coming producers (and even some of the other artists in this list). Additionally in the long run, he also managed to bring dubstep to a wider audience.

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Skrillex – Bangarang’ EP

If Burial is one of the modern godfathers of Dubstep then Skrillex is responsible for taking his blueprints and turning them on their head. After Bangarang was released and was a commercial smash nothing was ever the same for dubstep. Skrillex brought in elements of metal music into the genre with it becoming a lot more aggressive, special effects heavy and drop-centric – moving it away from the focus on content and sub-bass. Many have coined this sub-genre of traditional dubstep as ‘Brostep’ and have since used it as a way to describe the genre derogatively. Whatever way you look at it you can’t fault Skrillex’s ambition.

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Calvin Harris – 18 Months

Whether you love him or loathe him, there’s no denying that Calvin Harris‘ third album truly made EDM larger than ever. The album took over the world and holds the record for the most singles to get into the UK top 10 from with a whopping nine singles. Not only that but the vocal sound of EDM truly got massive after the release of this album with it seeming like anyone and everyone were searching for guest vocalists to throw on their tracks to give it that emotive sound that Harris had on his.

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James Blake – Overgrown

James Blake has been labelled a ‘Post-Dubstep’ act – a strange label considering how many people outside of that genre he’s influenced with just this album. In the recent surge of artists who have voices beyond their years, James Blake has been one of the few artists to truly do something inventive with it. Influenced as much by Stevie Wonder and D’Angelo as he is Burial he has opened the doors for many other experimental RnB influenced acts like FKA Twigs, SBTRKT and London Grammar to burst into the mainstream.

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Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion 

It took a long time for psychedelic act Animal Collective to burst into the mainstream after releasing many albums that were highly praised in the underground. But when they did, they did it spectacularly. Merriweather Post Pavilion is Animal Collective’s most accessible and fantastic record; a record that created worlds of electronic beauty and passion; a record that stands as a landmark for modern psychedelic music and is still a beloved record to this day. Even though at times it sounds like The Beach Boys falling into an acid fuelled dream, members of the band cite that Fleetwood Mac and Burial (once again) were influences for the album.

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Bjork – Vespertine

Obviously Bjork’s entire career has been one classic after another, but Vespertine is the most important one she’s released this side of the year 2000 based on content alone. The way in which Bjork sings so explicitly about her sexual endeavours with her partner over the top of delicate electronic beats on this album carved the way for artists like FKA Twigs to do something similar later down the road. If Lorde wasn’t at least partially inspired by the vocal delivery Bjork brought on this album, then who knows what did inspire her to sing in that slightly twisted way. This may not be everyone’s favourite of hers but in terms of its impact on female singers in the 21st century, it’s pretty huge.

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LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver

In LCD Soundsystem‘s short and sweet career they showed the hard to please indie kids that it’s okay to like dance music and that dance music isn’t just cheap thrills, but can be incredibly inventive and fun at the same time. James Murphy and co showed the world how great dance-punk can be, flirting with both synthesisers and ‘real’ instrumentation to create moments of beauty and moments of pure fun. Years down the line it’s inspired bands like Arcade Fire who actually used James Murphy as a producer on their last album to make Reflektor which both borrows from dance music while staying incredibly emotive.

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Death Grips – The Money Store

To pick a single Death Grips release as their most important is almost as hard as picking a most important Beatles record (not saying that they are as important as The Beatles); it’s better to look at Death Grips’ catalogue as a whole. But generally when people talk of Death Grips, it’s to do with The Money Store – they’re most accessible and ground-breaking album yet. These guys are kings of the underground fusing harsh, electronic industrial noise with hip-hop to create something genius. The influence of this band is already being heard in the mainstream, Kanye West’s Yeezus was a testament to that; underground acts like Ho99o9 are certainly inspired; even last year’s Run The Jewels 2 was partially inspired by the beats that Death Grips produce.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6XKgvKZy10

Radiohead – Kid A 

The jump in between albums stylistically on Radiohead‘s first three records were big enough, but in anticipation to Radiohead’s follow-up to their classic album OK Computer no one could have guessed how far they would jump. For a modern band to top the charts around the world with Kid A with release no singles or use any marketing is remarkable, especially when you consider what it sounds like. Kid A had Radiohead completely dropping their guitars and fully embracing the electronic sounds they had flirted with before. They infused Jazz, drum machines, keyboards, strings, brass, and an Ondes Martenot to create a truly challenging yet engaging album. This album marked the transitional period from the 90s into the new millennium like no other – the millennium of the internet. This was an album filled with visions of commercialism, the constant feeding from the media, paranoia and terror. It painted an ugly picture of what was to come in the 2000s and it scarily got a lot of it right. There’s a reason Radiohead’s most important album is known as their best.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjC7dctw7LU

Daft Punk – Discovery

After Daft Punk redefined dance music in the 90s with their album Homework – shifting everyone’s focus onto French house music, they set out to change it again with Discovery and succeeded. After being inspired by the music they were brought up with like Funk and Rock, they decided to pay homage to it by making an album that ‘said to the electronic kids that it was okay to like rock music‘. The world was obsessed with using samples so Daft Punk decided to mess with them a bit and make use of ‘samples’ that weren’t samples at all but were live recordings made to sound like samples. The use of autotune was also seen in a negative way at the time but Daft Punk showed us that it’s simply a tool to be used into the bigger picture, much like the synthesiser or the electric guitar. Unlike what they did on their latest album Random Access Memories which paid a lot more of a direct homage to their roots, Discovery paid homage to it by taking it and turning it on its head completely to the point where it was something new all together – a grander, more danceable homage.

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