Electronic music may seem like a very recent phenomenon but in fact bands have been dabbling with the fun bleeps and distorted tones that electronics can bring to instruments for decades. Thanks to the rise of leftfield sounds in the 70s due to a change in the cultural mindset (and no doubt thanks to an abundance of drug use), musicians were into exploring the radically different sounds that could be created from adding new instruments or configuring the ones in their line up. With new keyboards being designed and the modern synthesiser being birthed, electronica was brought to listeners by a host of bands with very differing sounds. Much of this was experimentation as people simply hadn’t heard many of the techniques and sounds used to craft these new soundscapes and square waves, thus some of the work may seem simple by todays standards, yet it was the original influence of musicians today. Here are some standout albums that helped craft modern day pop and rock music.
Neu – Neu! 1971
The debut album by Krautrockers Neu really laid down some groundwork for both the post-rock movement and the early adopters of electronics. With some lengthy metallic drones mixed with rock riffs and psychadelic guitar wobbles, the album now sounds like a staple of 70s rock. There is a great change of pace here with pacing bass, and slow dreamy breakdowns that make for a real audio adventure.
Kraftwerk – Die Mensch-Maschine 1978
It’s true the German’s were really pushing the boundaries of the electronics and their innovations continue to today. This album which translates to ‘The Man Machine’ in English was a breakthrough and has since been described as “New wave electro-pop” by website Allmusic. With a mix of very new and digitised science fiction sounds like those in the track ‘The Robot’ the band were clearly unafraid of creating the next level of synthetic sound. Conversely their recognisable hit, ‘The Model’ has a pop sound that is as on point as it is sardonic. Kraftwerk remain an influential part of pop music, notably pop giant Coldplay used the melody from the bands track ‘Computer Talk’ in their song ‘Talk’.
Jean Michel Jarre – Oxygene 1976
From the very opening you can hear the swelling pads that have been replicated over and over again to create atmosphere and ambiguity in both pop and rock songs ever since. The abundance of analog equipment used by this master of electronics is fascinating and the sounds that come from them are impeccable. A truly overwhelming experience that is as dark as it is captivating, no doubt a huge influence on any producer who uses old school synths.
Cluster – Cluster 1971
This album heavily influenced the subgenre of rock that would eventually become known as industrial. Its clear to see where the name comes from as the repetitive noises here sound like they are being formed by machines on a production line, while the reverb makes the whole thing appear to have been recorded in a huge factory. The whole thing is quite jarring and icy, with a soundscape that formulates a barren yet hostile planet. Its wildly experimental, especially for the time but bands like Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails and indeed today’s Trap-backed pop music wouldn’t sound the same without innovators like these.