With big beats, the huge synths, and vocoders instead of real vocals, electro house took over clubs on both sides of the Atlantic in the 2000s, but since 2010, its popularity has waned.
Some might dismiss electro house’s twilight as just another evolution of dance music. After all, plenty of styles have their heyday and then disappear into the indie or underground spheres. In this case, mainstream audiences move onto something else, big-name producers chance their styles, and lesser-known producers continue it, evolving it or keeping the sounds on the same wavelength.
And in a sense, electro house’s primetime mirrors that of any other subgenre but differs in a few regards. For one, its true origins are ambiguous. The modern sound allegedly originated in the mid-‘90s, with a handful of tracks by Basement Jaxx, while its elements date back to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s emergence of synthpop, particularly the Roland TR-808 percussion patterns and synth lines.
No clear starting point aside, electro house essentially shot to what was the top of the dance music world at the time with Benny Benassi’s “Satisfaction” in 2002 and continued through the ‘00s with tracks from artists like Fedde Le Grand, Crookers, Green Velvet, pre-mainstream Afrojack, Dada Life, Boys Noize, and Justice. Into the 2010s, those at the subgenre’s helm have crossed over to the melodic variety of progressive house or the more aggressive Dirty Dutch style.
Either way, the style in the ‘00s sense rose to popularity in European clubs almost directly after electroclash’s brief time on the charts. According to an account in The Guardian from Bugged Out’s John Burgess, the “steady, seedy” sound was both transitional and reactionary. One, it took the electroclash sounds popular until about 2004 – distortion, shrill, robotic vocals, and a rock-heavy character – and transposed them into a house track. Yet, this version of house contrasted with the smooth, deep sounds: Compared to even the cheesy mainstream stuff at the time, it seemed gritty and bass heavy, and to anything truly underground, it was big, grandiose, and essentially the precursor to progressive house and big room.
However, the distinction between underground and mainstream worlds wasn’t as sharp then as it was now. Big-name producers weren’t tearing up the Billboard 200 with their latest tracks, Tiesto and trance were as mainstream as dance music seemed to go, and the festival scene in the U.S. was relatively low key. Analogous to this, the style existed in a continuum in which its prominent performers, like Boys Noize and Justice above, fluidly moved between the then-burgeoning minimal techno sounds and the thicker, more complex textures of tech house.
As such, electro house’s definitive sounds fit in between both worlds. You’ve got more prominent bass lines, higher-pitched synths, a moderate amount of percussion, vocoders, and the occasional instrumental sample or vocal line. Tracks, as well, are typically between 128 and 135 BPM.
Yet while Fedde Le Grand’s off making generic EDM remixes these days (his take on Michael Jackson’s “Love Never Felt So Good” pulls out every mainstream dance music cliché) and others like Green Velvet are revered in underground circles, electro house’s fluidity and versatility are essentially why the style evaporated in the 2010s.
1. Is It Underground or EDM?
Times change, and 10 years ago, dance music was nearly relegated to clubs. Festivals like Ultra were low key compared to the monstrosity it is today. And likely because of this, electro house could be a style respected enough for the underground world and palatable enough for the mainstream.
Today, instead, “underground” is code for minimalist techno, deep house, and occasionally nu-disco. Mainstream EDM strictly means progressive house, vocal trance, and the “aggressive” flavor of the week, such as dubstep, trap, or hardstyle. Electro house, as a result, isn’t hard enough for the masses wanting to “rage” to brostep, yet is too harsh for listeners looking for a melodic-driven progressive house track or a downtempo deep house oeuvre.
2. Too Similar to Everything Mainstream
If electro house is too mainstream for the modern “underground,” its elements have been absorbed by progressive and big room styles.
StoneyRoads.com points out in an editorial that electro house never evolved, and while that’s the case for many dance music subgenres, this particular style appears pulled apart in more ways than one.
Its classic characteristics – big, aggressive synth lines and heavy bass – have turned into a staple of Dirty Dutch house. At the same time, the minimal vocals and bass lines have been woven into Melbourne Bounce, the Australian big room-meets-underground style that’s gradually been gaining traction since 2012.
Along these points, sub-subgenres took electro house down a few less-mainstream (but not underground) paths. Tongue-in-cheek Complextro beefed up the instrumentation, while trash electro added more dirt into the sound. Moombahton and fidget house adopted the aggressive-but-not-dubstep character that distinguished electro house from all other styles a decade ago.
3. It All Sounds the Same
What afflicts mainstream EDM has infected electro house. Producers keep recycling the same groups of sounds, continue to maintain the same level of grit, and measure out the drops to keep the crowds excited.
It’s said that electro house was the first dance music subgenre to begin incorporating drops – that “element” at the end of a crescendo that essentially tells the audience, “Get excited!” It wasn’t always a staple, of course: prominent classics like “Satisfaction” and “Put Your Hands Up for Detroit” likely now have a plodding quality, with their oscillating, looping bass lines, for modern dance music fans expecting successive rises and falls.
The intricacies and winding, slow-moving structure that once pervaded dance music not driven by a pop music song structure are now gone, and nowhere is it more evident than on the Beatport Top 10 Electro House chart. Mirroring the sentiments stated above, what passes for “electro house” these days borrows liberally from Dirty Dutch and run-of-the-mill big room. DVBBS and Dropgun’s “Pyramids” tries to do mediocre Melbourne House, while MAKJ’s ironically-titled “Generic” aims squared at the jugular of chord-based synth lines that move directly with the beat. As well, Chuckie’s “Bang!” and Quintino and Mercer’s “Genesis” fall directly within the definition of Dirty Dutch, down to the drops and aggressive character.
And in this regards, electro house’s versatility and the enforced rigidity of dance music put the style at a place where it was partially absorbed by the mainstream and no longer relevant enough for independent and underground dance music.
What’s your perspective on electro house’s rise and fall? Was electro house’s time at the top the last time mainstream dance music was any good, or are you glad that it’s gone?