Supersonic wordplay

May 20, 2009 at 12:00 am

Hey, club kiddies, technophiles, pro ravers, gearheads and other electro-fried insiders: this ain't for you. We know you've been techno-babbling about "BPM" and "EBM" in your sleep since at least '95, when you danced all night to Richie Hawtin and John Acquaviva in a field of corn somewhere in southern Ontario.

No, baby. This glossary — an update of a popular outsiders guide to electronic music jargon we ran during the Fuse-in Festival (for more on that, see below) in 2005 — is for the newbies who want to know just what this ridiculously supersonic shit's all about.

Yeah, baby, we wanna demystify and clarify some of the insidery lingo-dingo of that ever-expanding, pulsating genre called electronica. Or is that what it's still called? A few definitions are obvious and literal. The best are, well, totally fucked-up. So clip and read, chill and laugh, and get out on the dance floor. That's the only true way to get the message.


The vertiginous, hypnotic sound most often associated with largely African-American-produced, underground grooves in early 1980s Chicago; it hit the UK and Germany later in the same decade and inspired scenes in Manchester, Frankfurt and Berlin. The signature sound (made using Roland TB 303 synths and 909 drum machines) of Detroit's huge, mostly white suburban wave led by Windsor's Plus 8 label in the early 1990s. Now you know.


Music with no beats, minimal beats, or simply drones and tones. Often accompanied by trippy digital video these days.


If there is a single most important element in electronic music, this is it. If your bones don't rattle, your hair doesn't freeze, your pulse rate doesn't accelerate and make your big ass want to move from side to side, don't call it dance music. Credit the 303 and low-end digital simulators for creating both punishing and beautiful sub-basslines to die for. And you might. Ride this devil with caution.


A Detroit party fave that recombines house, techno, bass, hip hop and electro with inglorious, politically incorrect strip club ambience. Also known as ghetto-tech or ghetto-funk, it's big in Iceland (thanks to Detroit's Aaron-Carl), of all places, France and Belgium, but still sounds best cruising on East Jefferson on your way to a party on Belle Isle.


Beats Per Minute. Boom-boom-boom-kaboom! Over and over and blissfully over again.


Electronic Body Music, mostly associated with heavy, brooding rainy day industrial scenes in Belgium and Holland. Don't worry, moms and dads, nothing like this is booked at this year's festival. Oh, wait, Dethlab is playing at the official pre-party at the Fillmore, thank God!


Pioneered in the early 1980s by Kraftwerk, localized by Juan Atkins in Cybotron and Model 500 a few years later, it became the corkscrewing soundtrack of Detroit's third wave, represented worldwide by Adult., Dopplereffect, Drexciya and Ectomorph.


OK, since we brought it up: What the Detroit Electronic Music Festival morphed into (and out of just as quickly) in 2005. Those were not the days.


A big tent party philosophy of bass-driven dance music coined by London's Soul Jazz label. It mostly refers to forward-thinking dubstep scenes in England, in the EU and a smattering of stateside locations. Strangely, not much of this grimy, polyrhythmic phenomena has penetrated the territorial Detroit techno mind, though hugely influential dubs have been created here by artists like Rod Modell (deepchord, Echospace) and DEMF headliner Mike Huckaby. The only true dubsteppa at this year's festival is Southeast Londoner Benga, though L.A. hip-hop experimentalist Flying Lotus is a born again wobbler, not to be missed.


The sound of Chicago, the heartbeat of New York, the call of the urban diva: a clear influence on Detroit techno and variations on electronic dance music developed in Europe (see Acid). House has its roots in disco: you can hear the syncopated beats and melodies nurtured in the 1970s in almost every track. Detroit house music has its own distinct freaky flavas, as well, personified in the work of Kenny Dixon Jr., Pirahnahead, Diviniti, Theo Parrish and Omar S (none of whom are playing the festival this year, unfortunately). But heads-up: you can do a lot worse than to see Stacey Hale, Rick Wade, Mike Clark, Norm Talley and Delano Smith on the Made in Detroit Stage on Saturday.


A sub-genre of techno and tech-house run amok. It began as an elegant alternative to big bombastic beat music — and turned into the very thing it so despised. But what the hell, when it's good it's good, though largely absent this year as labels like Minus, Kompakt and Traum/Trapez have gone into a deceleration cycle.


Now in it's 10th year, though the fourth one produced, programmed and promoted by Ferndale-based Paxahau. Hear, hear! Take a bow, fellas.


Beats played in 4/4 time, waves of repetitive bliss that sound like they were created 500,000 years from now on another planet. The music can come in wildly different variations, and be remixed into infinity. The music known around the globe simply as "Detroit."


That's you, baby, freaking to the bass vibrations in the big bowl below the Main Stage.