[sic] Magazine

The Ten Most Influential Electronic Records of the Decade… So Far

How does one measure the influence of a thing?

Is it something that reaches the widest audience? Or is it something that reaches the “right” audience?

How about something that is widely imitated by others? Or maybe something inimitable that acts as inspiration for others?

The simple answer is that it is objectively impossible. One can only assess the available data one has accrued through limited experience, and make an educated estimation based upon it. Therefore any list of influential things is at least partially subjective, and this list of the ten most influential electronic music records of the 2010s is no different. All that matters is that the music was heard by a large enough amount of people to be reasonably considered, and that elements from it can be heard in the music of others (and obviously, that the sound does indeed trace back to that record, and that it itself isn’t just an imitation of another work, which, due to the evolutionary nature of art, is often difficult to ascertain).

This decade is now old enough to make a rough approximation of the amount of influence an artwork unleashed within it has had on the musical landscape, even if for the more recent releases we are still in the eye of the storm and the dust has yet to settle enough to make an accurate judgement. (Obviously, when speaking in absolutes, the starting point for a decade is pretty arbitrary considering that it is entirely in relation to a point in time when some guy who claimed to have been the son of a god was purported to have been born; it’s just convenient in this instance, as I can confidently nominate exactly ten records released since 2010 that seem more influential than others.) Yet the task of how to measure the influence a record has had on the culture as a whole is nigh on impossible. To me some people appear as giants, yet to another they are but midgets on the horizon, and that is the conundrum at hand.

My way of solving this is to simply write about what I know, and accept that my knowledge may be lacking in certain areas.

For example, EDM is undoubtedly a major force in the music world, with the pop charts in most countries exhibiting evidence of this phenomenon. Yet for the life of me I couldn’t identify a sole album that can be regarded as some kind of nexus within the genre (considering how vague a genre definition “EDM” is, that really says something). Sure you can point at big producers like David Guetta, Diplo, Skrillex, Calvin Harris, Avicii, deadmau5, Axwell etc. and say these are the defining artists within the genre, but fuck me if I could name an album by one of them. Maybe it’s the nature of the genre, or even modern listening preferences in general; all big singles, with no real need for albums due to the surgence of streaming services. Maybe the album really is on the way out (although Adele begs to differ on that point). Whatever the reason, I can’t find a way to measure the influence of something that has had virtually no impact on myself, so rather than try to imagine influence from the position of every listener (an everyman, as it were), I’m better off just using my experiences and my instinct to gather ten records that feel influential, and also have the added benefit of being familiar enough to me to enable some decent discourse.

However, before I get to records from this decade, I’ll have a very brief look at electronic music history as a whole in order to establish my position on what makes a record influential, and also present a select few of the records (or opuses in older instances) that I can identify as being influential in some regard. I could go on in more detail here but; a) there are plenty of better written, more detailed sources that can act as music history primers for the uninitiated; b) the purpose of this piece of writing is to highlight modern works; and c) I can’t be arsed doing tonnes of extra research.

The earliest electronic works that can be classed as definitively influential date from the 1950s and are almost exclusively avant-garde “art music”. Prior to 1950, it’s both difficult to classify any works as truly “electronic”, and also to appreciate them as anything more than experiments made in an attempt to map the scope and limits of the new possibilities allowed by the technology. Works like John Cage‘s Williams Mix, Edgard Varèse‘s Poème électronique, Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry‘s Symphonie pour un homme seul, or any of Karlheinz Stockhausen‘s early works were unquestionably influential to the successive generation of electronic musicians, but they were still stuck in the classical template of being what can only be described as “no fun”. I mean like play-that-stuff-in-a-public-space-and-it-will-drive-people-up-the-wall levels of “no fun”. No, it wouldn’t be until the 60s that electronic music started to find its groove.

Joe Meek‘s “Telstar” was probably the first use of electronics to have a major impact upon the general public, closely followed by Delia Derbyshire‘s Doctor Who theme, but neither of these are albums, nor are they indicative of wider musical trends, they are just intriguing outliers. I’ll have to give Raymond Scott some credit for his Soothing Sounds for Baby, which really was a huge leap from the noisy, atonal work coming out of Darmstadt and the like, although its influence is probably more pronounced in hindsight than what was present at the time. Walter (Wendy) Carlos‘s Switched-On Bach is more tangibly influential in that it not only helped to establish the Moog synthesizer as a viable tool for musicians outside of the avant-garde, but it was also a commercial success, leading to increased exposure for the nascent instrument in general. However, I may be biased by the album being a personal favourite, but Terry Riley‘s A Rainbow in Curved Air must be one of the most influential electronic records to come out of that early “foot-finding” phase of electronic music, as not only did it influence what would become minimalism, ambient, new-age and prog rock, but it seeped indirectly into the mainstream through The Who‘s “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.

Moving into the 70s, albums that can be clearly identified as influential begin to pop up left, right and centre. Anything put out by Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno, Jean Michel Jarre and Yellow Magic Orchestra (or anything even obliquely related to any of these artists) can be classed as immensely influential to the development of all the genres under the umbrella term of “electronic music”. By the late 70s there was also the shift towards the dancefloor, firstly thanks to producers like Giorgio Moroder who “electrified” the disco sound, and then by artists like Patrick Cowley and Bobby Orlando helping to define the sound of gay clubs, and bringing that hi-NRG style to the attention of more high profile producers who had the means to work with established commercial artists.

By the 80s there are too many seminal electronic records to list. The synthpop sound had exploded, with numerous albums of note coming out of the Sheffield scene alone. Hip-hop was burgeoning in America, and although I won’t include any hip-hop records in my list as it has more of a focus on the rapping and lyrics, it is in essence as electronic as musique concrete, both genres being defined by sampling and the appropriation of sounds. More blatantly inspired by this concept of “audio piracy” was John Oswald, whose Plunderphonics record challenged the notion of artistic ownership and sonic copyright, and is a spiritual ancestor to several of the works in my list below.

As for the dance scene, even though the 80s was a fruitful period for its evolution and expansion, it remains difficult to pinpoint many full-lengths that can be deemed as influential as individual tracks. Charanjit Singh‘s Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat sounds lightyears ahead of its time, but it was only really “discovered” many years after its creation, and as such can’t be considered as influential as, say, Phuture‘s Acid Tracks, or any number of later singles and EPs. Cybotron‘s Enter, however, can reasonably be construed as having a major impact on both electro and techno, and also several albums released later in the decade like 808 State‘s Ninety, Fingers Inc.‘s Another Side and Ten City‘s Foundation were to some extent important, even if the singles were infinitely more crucial to the development of the sound of future artists.

However, once the 90s rolled around, the album became the format of choice for the new breed of IDM artists, with Aphex Twin‘s Selected Ambient Works 85-92 being a clear pinnacle of the style. Even in the more underground, chaotic worlds of jungle, hardcore and techno, definitive albums were being released consistently, be it Goldie‘s Timeless, The Prodigy‘s Music for the Jilted Generation or even a mix CD like Jeff MillsMix-Up Vol. 2 Live at the Liquid Room. Later in the decade, with the rise of “superstar” DJs like Fatboy Slim and Sasha, dance albums became very much the norm with The Chemical Brother‘s Dig Your Own Hole and Daft Punk‘s Homework being amongst the many standouts from that time. (Aptly enough, Daft Punk’s next album Discovery was possibly the single most influential electronic album of the 2000s, with it perfectly intersecting the line between being a cohesive concept album and simply being a collection of fun, killer dance tunes.)

Maybe it’s down to my listening habits during the mid- to late-2000s period, but there doesn’t seem to be as many massively influential electronic records from this period as the preceding decade. I remember Dizzee Rascal‘s Boy in Da Corner having a huge bearing on the burgeoning grime scene, and Burial‘s first two albums were equally revered in the dubstep world, but there seems to have been a move back towards single tracks by the end of the decade, likely due to the digitalisation of the medium and the growth of illegal downloads. Sure, I could name loads of seminal artists that came to virtually define a particular sound, and I could even name lots of albums I greatly enjoy, but when it comes to albums that feel particularly influential or important to future artists, nothing jumps immediately out at me (at a push, maybe Flying LotusLos Angeles, The Knife‘s Silent Shout, J Dilla‘s Donuts, and possibly Ricardo VillalobosAlcachofa due to the hegemony of the minimal sound by the end of the decade). Maybe it was because the technology hadn’t moved on as much since the millennium as the leaps made during the preceding five decades, or maybe it was due to the resurgence of guitar music midway through the decade, or maybe it’s just my skewed perception, but whatever the case, electronic records seemed somehow less revolutionary in the noughties.

I suppose a lot if it comes down to deciding what exactly is an “electronic” record, especially in an age when lots of musical styles utilise electronics to some degree, and also determining whether an album was heard by enough people to be taken into consideration, which is just complete guesswork beyond huge charting hits. (How do you compare something like William Basinki‘s The Disintegration Loops to, say, Lady Gaga‘s The Fame? They are at complete opposite ends of the “electronic” spectrum, to the point where it seems absurd to group them together in any way.)

Again, it might just be me (I was heavy into all-sorts of musical styles at that point in my life, with most of it pre-1990s, and quite a bit even pre-1890s), so take this view with a large pinch of salt.

And so we arrive at the year 2010 and the beginning of my period of examination. However, before I jump into the list, I’ll just state explicitly that I tried my utmost to not simply opt for my favourite electronic records from this time frame, but instead to try to gauge a records effect on subsequent artists. Hence some of my recent favourites had to be sacrificed in order to accommodate several records that I am not as keen on, as they just felt more influential for one reason or another. That means no We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, no Galaxy Garden, no Nozinja Lodge, no The Colours of Life, and there wasn’t even room for possibly my favourite album of all time in R Plus Seven (although OPN is of course represented under another guise, and if I was using personal preference alone as the main criteria for selection, half the list could have been made by Lopatin).

In other cases I haven’t included an album simply because I don’t think it could be classed an “electronic” record; Kanye West‘s Yeezus being a prime example, as although it is chock full of co-producers from the electronic music world, it clearly remains more of a hip-hop record. Similarly, most contemporary pop music is essentially “electronic” in construction, and it becomes a case of deciding whether a work is electropop or electropop. (A very subjective and essentially impossible judgement to make.) For example, Yasutaka Nakata‘s work with Perfume and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is all entirely electronic, yet undeniably pop, so it would be completely inaccurate to describe it as one and not the other. I tend to err on the side of inclusivity on these matters, but in the case of this list it didn’t really matter, as I already had ten electronic records firmly in mind without fretting over semantic trivialities.

For some records it’s a matter of there not having been enough time elapsed since the release to make a clear appraisal of its influence, which also explains the predominance of albums issued toward the onset of the decade. Arca‘s Xen or FKA TwigsLP1, for example, seem to have had some exertion of influence upon subsequent artists, but it’s both hard to gauge the extent of this effect, and also whether these albums were actually the source of influence or if they themselves were an extension of a larger influencing body; just how a star’s immense gravitational field holds sway over its orbiting planets, yet it itself is subject to the influence of unseen black holes, or the sum total gravitational force of the galaxy as a whole.

There is also the issue that I touched upon earlier, namely that the traditional album format simply isn’t as crucial a method of musical presentation and distribution as it once was, and as such, many recent musical scenes and styles have no need to release a fully-realised, self-standing objet d’art. There are numerous modern genres like nightcore/NXC, ballroom/vogue, Jersey/Baltimore club, moombahton, gqom, dembow etc. that don’t really have a definitive representation of the style in an album format. These styles simply don’t need one, and in many cases the sound doesn’t even have a definitive name. The music that labels/collectives like NON, NAAFI, Classical Trax, The Astral Plane (to name but a few) promote can’t be grouped under any single banner, but is rather a hybrid of various indeterminate “club” genres, and as such is difficult to trace back to any sole root of influence. Maybe a unifying focal point will eventually emerge out of the melting pot, or maybe it won’t, and the sound will remain amorphous and protean until it gives way to a new sound; whatever happens, there will always be someone influencing others and continuing the evolutionary progression of art.

However, as the means of disseminating music has become so decentralised and diverse over the last decade, there is less scope for any single artist or artwork to have as much influence as in previous eras. The amount of music available to the listener is greater now than at any point in history, and with so much wealth to choose from, the chances of a single work being heard by a majority of people lessen. Whereas once virtually everyone of a certain age would own a copy of the latest Led Zeppelin LP or know the lyrics to the current Michael Jackson hit, nowadays people can go without even (consciously) hearing the most recent song by media behemoths like Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez simply by not tuning into pop radio or watching music video channels. Sure, the established routes of cultural transmission still retain their power to quite a large degree, but the freedom of choice lies very much at the feet of the individual, with once tiny niches being convertible into accommadable homes without any feeling of loss or isolation.

Awash in a humongous sea of sounds, the possibility of a single wave finding a tympanic membrane to oscillate has become minuscule, with even the once great tsunamis not carrying the same devastating impact as in times gone by. Of course, from out of the spume a powerful tide can emerge, but it is less a result of a solitary wave, and more a change in the tide, an aggregation of numerous tiny ripples manifest into a colossal body of motion. Yet there must be one or two ripples on the water that are more conspicuous than their neighbours, and that is what this article is all about; trying to pinpoint those subtle movements on the surface that can be seen to have grown into something bigger, something more, something important.

Anyway, that’s enough scene-setting.

So here we go then:

The 10
(in chronological order)



Chuck PersonEccojams Vol. 1 (August 2010)

Vapourwave was important.

Forget punk, vapourwave is the ultimate representation of the do-it-yourself ethos. Everyone with a DAW, a basic audio editing program, or even a tape machine with a variable speed setting could make a vapourwave track. Hell, even I tried my hand at it back when it first became a thing (back before I realised the subject material was often better when not fucked about with, or at least fucked about with by someone more skilled than I am at fucking about with things).

True, it may just be a descendant of Oswald’s plunderphonics made by kids with a yearning for nostalgia and a fetishisation of 80s/90s (Japanese) culture, but dammit, it felt like it was important at the time. And this record is basically the blueprint for all that was to follow.

The thing is, Chuck Person (a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never; a.k.a. Daniel Lopatin) is a musical genius, and even when he goes for a musical shit and nothing comes out, his strained farts contain more musicality and innovation than most electronic producers most explosive diarrhoea. And that’s what this record is, a beautiful fart that wafted out of the bog of the internet.

Lopatin took a diet that included Toto, Chris De Burgh, JoJo, Ian Van Dahl, Phil Collins and Fleetwood Mac, digested it in his stomach into fragmentary phrases, slowed the tempo down in his small intestine (pitching everything down in the process), before his large intestine arranged and looped the samples (adding some effects along the way), and finally the results were squeezed through the tight aperture of his anus and floated out into the ears of attentive music nerds the world over.

What, you mean I can just take any old “schlock” and mess around with it to create something as cool as this?” Well, yes and no.

Part of the reason for this record’s importance is it’s timing; namely, that it was among the first to make a semi-ironic-semi-sincere refraction of “uncool” music from the past without descending into overly conceptual or academic territory. It felt as much an homage as it did a piss-take; a heartfelt paean to the gods of MOR.

Listening back to it now, it has lost some of its sheen due to the sheer amount of copycat efforts that have been pumped out in the past five years, but nevertheless it still has its moments of pure, uncynical beauty (“be real, it doesn’t matter anyway, you know it’s just a little too late” is still haunting; so too “there’s nobody here”).

More than anything, the influence this record holds shows how important the roles of novelty and eccentricity play in providing a beacon for other artists to swim towards. It came along at the perfect time, when a generation of young artists were looking back towards an idealised past for a way to move forward, and subsequent releases within the genre only helped to cement its place as a source of inspiration. (It’s influence is further exhibited by the fact that this style of vapourwave is still often referred to as “eccojams”.)



Bangs & Works Vol. 1 (December 2010)

In his book Genesis of a Music, Harry Partch divides music into two categories; the Corporeal and the Abstract. Now, whilst I don’t agree with the exact method of his classification, I do side with him on the point that music that is inherently corporeal is “stronger” than that which is not. By that I mean music that is intrinsically tied to the human body has an element that is represented in all of us, and as such is more universal and therefore more powerful. A melody that is enjoyable to sing, or a beat that is enjoyable to dance to, has a more direct impact upon the mind of the listener, even if the appraisal of it’s quality remains entirely subjective.

However, according to Partch’s criteria, footwork would most definitely be classed as Abstract music, as the meaning of the words (lyrics) in the music are mostly irrelevant to their meaning. In other words, the music doesn’t try to convey a story or relay a message, it just provides an accompaniment for dance; an impetus for movement. This is where I disagree with Partch’s reductionism, as surely no kind of music whose primary purpose is to inspire motion of the body can be described as anything other than Corporeal. Yet, it is also patently Abstract in many ways (as is most music, to be fair), so I situate it as somewhere in-between these two concepts; an abstract representation of a corporeal desire.

Like most people outside of Chicago, this Planet Mu compilation gave me my first proper exposure to the genre. Listening back to it now, with ears accustomed by six years of awareness to the style, it still sounds raw with energy, like a blast of electronic fury, and although to myself it may have lost a lot of that shock of the new it once contained, to the uninitiated ear this is still a lethal weapon.

Honestly, at first I remember thinking this was musical dog shit created by people with very little skill and talent, both musically and with regards to production and the use of technology, but once I realised the purpose of the music, all the pieces began to fall into place.

At the time of its release I wasn’t dancing at all, and I was at the height of my guitar, bass and piano playing, as well as regularly and meticulously analysing reams of works by the past masters, so my musical snobbery was very acute when concerned with essentially unimportant stuff like technical proficiency and compositional ability, but as I got more and more into dancing and took time to understand the scene behind the music, it slowly began to click with me. The music was a vehicle for the footworkers; the high BPM and disjointed, syncopated rhythms were all essential to enabling the dance to flourish in the way its exponents wanted it to. It still took me a while to get past the incredibly repetitive vocals, chopped into mindless snippets of nonsensical speech, but once you understand that the vocals are mostly decoration, a way of adding differentiation and ornamentation to the underlying rhythms, then it all makes sense. The beat is king, and everything else is subject to its whim.

Apart from this compilation being many people’s introduction to the style, just looking at the featured artists is like a who’s who in the scene. DJ Rashad, RP Boo, Traxman, DJ Spinn are (or were in Rashad’s case) leading figures in the dominating Teklife collective that have been at the forefront of the genre pretty much since its inception (and evolution), and producers like DJ Roc, DJ Nate and DJ Diamond all put out very early influential albums on Planet Mu too.

Basically, what I’m saying is that this compilation was, and still is, possibly the best introduction to the genre one could hope for. Of course, some of the more recent footwork releases are more polished and professional, and thanks to the growth of the style to places like Europe, Japan, South America etc. the sound palette is more varied, with some producers (Jlin, for example) garnering acclaim from all corners of the music sphere, but this record was the huge turning point for the genre, and to borrow Harry Partch’s book title, it sounds like the genesis of a music.



Cliff MartinezDrive OST (September 2011)

World meet synthwave. Synthwave meet the world.

Although far from the first synthwave record, this soundtrack was the first to gather a number of those electronic 80s enthusiasts in one place and present them to a mainstream audience via the iconic accompanying film. (Cliff Martinez’s name may be on the cover, but this soundtracks influence owes much more to the handful of synth-heavy artists that are also used as non-diagetic emotional backing, than to Martinez’s unobtrusive, ambient score.)

At the end of the 00s there was already a groundswell in appreciation for retro synth sounds, with for the first time not only the expensive analogue timbres being revered, but also the long maligned digital sounds that dominated the 80s returning to the fold of acceptability. Kavinsky, College and Chromatics had all released work along these retro lines for several years prior to the filming of Drive, which obviously Nicolas Winding Refn had caught wind of and saw their potential as mood-setters for the noirish world of his film.

When music is utilised in tandem with a visual medium it will inevitably reach a wider audience than it would in isolation, and when that medium is such a commercially and critically successful a film as Drive, with rising stars like Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan in the lead roles, then its exposure will obviously be greatly magnified. Blackboard Jungle had a similar effect for rock and roll in the 50s, just like The Sting did with ragtime music (particularly Scott Joplin‘s work) in the 70s, or Swingers with (funnily enough) swing music in the 90s. Once something enters into that mainstream vortex of information, then it’s just a matter of time before fledgling artists take note, a swathe of new music surfaces and the scene expands to a new level.

I have to admit that initially I thought synthwave may go the way of other faddy genres like chillwave, witch house and seapunk, and fizzle away back to a small hardcore contingent of fans, but every time I check on it it seems to be in rude health, with the label NewReroWave being almost a byword for the genre, and seemingly putting out as much stuff as ever.

The Drive OST didn’t invent a style, but it did function as a unifying force for a disparate number of artists working with a specific region of retro-focussed electronic music, and acted as an amplifier to propel that style towards a brighter future; a conduit toward prosperity.



RustieGlass Swords (October 2011)

From the moment I heard that Seinfeld-esque synth bass on “Hover Traps” I knew I was going to like this record.

I didn’t fall in love with it at first, it being too outside of my then taste, what with it’s fizzing synths and bouncy rhythms, all sunshine and neon. However, there was always something innately intriguing about it. It was indefinable; prog guitars alongside garage drums; trance synth washes underneath rave melodies; videogame effects over dubstep bass; a cornucopia of decadent delights.

It did however have one thing in common with a lot of music from this decade: it was looking to the past to create a new future. All the sounds are sourced from particular aspects of past genres, be they from the 80s, 90s or 00s, and are combined to make a distinctly contemporary total. This follows on from genres like nu-disco and French house (not to mention in the rock realm, the preceding decades post-punk revival), and taps into that same spirit of mining the past for treasures in order to craft a fresh sound. Many modern genres follow this pattern and it seems to be a defining facet of modern art.

Pop will eat itself.

Be it fashion or film, there is a noticeable tendency in art of recent years to try to reinvigorate past tropes by infusing them with the possibilities allowed by modern technology. Nothing feels completely new anymore, just a fresh take on the same old (well, at least in the mainstream). That may just be the effect of age, but I think it has more to do with a reliance on the advancement of technology to spur change. The process of digitalisation has completely altered the landscape for artists, with many things being possible with just a standard laptop nowadays. However, in terms of music, there hasn’t been a major technological leap beyond making things simpler and more accessible for many years. (Sure, there are incremental improvements made every year, but nothing seismic in magnitude, which is pretty much in line with how music developed throughout history up until the electrically accelerated boom of the 20th century. So maybe it’s more a minor return to normality after a period of expansion, rather than a stagnation or regression.)

Modes, staff notation, polyphony, the seven-white-five-black keyboard, counterpoint, diatonic harmony, twelve-tone equal temperament, concert pitch, chromaticism, atonality, the wax cylinder, the microphone, the gramophone, the amplifier, microtonality, the turntable, magnetic tape, the synthesizer, the sampler, the drum machine, the sequencer, MIDI, the digital audio workstation. All these innovations and inventions influenced the music that followed their promulgation, and the advantages and disadvantages of each discovery became defining characteristics of any subsequently formed genres. Now the computer can do everything (until the next huge technological leap is made, that is), and it is only musicality that separates the wheat from the chaff. (As an aside, notice also the shift down the ages from ideas and theories influencing musical progression to it being primarily technologically driven. Atonality seems to have been the cut-off point for theoretical development becoming completely embraced by the mainstream, with all new methods of harmonic organisation thereafter being confined to the arcane realm of the avant-garde.)

On Glass Swords Rustie used all available technology to craft a unique piece of art that is inherently of its time, despite being an amalgam of a multitude of different styles. This heterogeneous approach can be seen in the work of many current producers, thus attesting to either the lasting influence of this record, or this record’s concordance with the pervading aesthetic of our times; eclecticism, or polystylism.

Whatever the case, it remains an identifiable landmark among the constantly shifting cultural debris, and for that it deserves recognition.



James FerraroFar Side Virtual (October 2011)

As someone who was already a huge fan of James Ferraro at the time of this release, this one really came out of the blue. I loved his dreamy, lo-fi explorations, always full of grit and noise as well as having a mysteriously meditative quality to them, and then he put out this record, and I just didn’t get it at all.

It sounded like someone took half-finished background music from a Windows 95 tech demo and overlaid random MIDI interludes and sound effects over the top. It was extreme cheese.

However, something about it kept drawing me back. It was unbelievable in its uniqueness. It was both modern and ancient (well, if the 90s can be called that), well written and haphazardly put together; too unpolished to have been created by some trained video game composer, yet too precise in vision to have been cobbled together by some kid in GarageBand. It was both underground and mainstream; a real dichotomy of detail.

If we consider at the time the renewed interest in analogue technology, be it the repopularisation of vinyl records and cassette tapes, or the muso’s fixation with modular synthesizers and analogue drum machines, for Ferraro to run diametrically counter to that burgeoning sentiment and release a mega-digital celebration of a myriad of much-maligned timbres was a stroke of genius. It instantly made the record conspicuous among its contemporaries, as well as forged a clear division in Ferraro’s oeuvre: pre-FSV and post-FSV. (I am aware the Condo Pets EP that preceded this album shares a similar aesthetic, but it simply didn’t have the same impact, and was more like a prelude for things to come.)

A lot of discussion around the album at the time of its release was focused around the concept, and what it was trying to say, but I think that does a disservice to the music. Forget any notion of irony or satire, take away any ulterior, conceptual aspect to the music and just listen with impartial ears, and it stands up as a beautiful record. Even listening in 2016 I still rate it among the very best works to come out of the vapourwave bubble; a true masterpiece. (Obviously, all appraisals of music are entirely subjective, but fuck it, I can’t think of anything else to say about it that isn’t just poncy bollocks.)

But more than just being a favourite of mine, it provided another element to vapourwave’s puzzle; the yin to Eccojam‘s yang. These two records contain all the DNA that is inherited by anything claiming to be vapourwave. The summation of both these aspects was realised by a separate artist who I’ll get to shortly, but for now I’ll just say that the staff of The Wire were right to award this the Album of the Year award in 2011, and that it remains Ferraro’s magnum opus in my eyes (and ears). (Sushi and Cold are both worth checking out though, and demonstrate the artistic growth of this virtual enfant terrible.)


Floral Shoppe

Macintosh PlusFloral Shoppe (December 2011)

If Daniel Lopatin is the Father, and James Ferraro is the Son, then Vektroid (a.k.a. Macintosh Plus; a.k.a. Ramona Andra Xavier) is definitely the Holy Ghost of vapourwave.

Although she has released many albums under numerous monikers, this one stands head and shoulders above them all, not necessarily in terms of quality, but in terms of influence and the service it did in promoting the nascent genre beyond its ultra-niche original community. (In case you’re interested my personal favourite of hers is 情報デスクVIRTUAL’s 札幌コンテンポラリー.

Eccojams and Far Side Virtual were like eccentric one-offs, not tied to any scene or representative of anything other than their creator’s quirky pleasures, but Floral Shoppe was linked to a body of work that had a definite, realised aesthetic. Once the blogosphere and music journalists picked up on this it was only a matter of time before a concrete genre would be formed, with Vektroid at the very heart of it.

I think it’s fair to say that this album marked the point where people were asked to make a choice on vapourwave: jump on the bandwaggon or decry it as a mangy horse. Thankfully, many people hopped up on to that carriage and some cool stuff came out of it (as well as a lot of derivative tripe, but that’s the nature of the beast I suppose).

This album also further demonstrates how little artistic influence is related to musical ability. Floral Shoppe is by no stretch of the imagination a complex work, it is rather a simple idea executed as well as it needed to be in order to be readily communicable to others. One needn’t be a musician to understand what the artist was doing, and that only enhanced its influence. It was truly anti-elitist, giving hope to even the most tone-deaf of artists that if they have a clear vision and the knack of anticipating the Zeitgeist, they too can craft something that means something to someone; something important.

If anything its extramusical elements were its most defining features; to be precise, the cover art. The use of Japanese characters; the juxtaposition of the classical and the kitsch; the allusion to the exotic; the channeling of 80s design choices. All these became set-in-stone signifiers of the vapourwave aesthetic, and are possibly the true legacy of this record.


Jam City

Jam CityClassical Curves (May 2012)

When this album came out it sounded like the future, and four years later it still sounds like the future.

The sounds coming out of the Night Slugs camp had been helping to define the club and bass scene since 2010, but it was lacking a definitive full-length that encapsulated everything the label stood for (no disrespect to Egyptrixx, who had already put out a quality album on the label). Then in May of 2012 Jam City (a.k.a. Jack Latham) came along and plucked one of the great LPs out of the aether and sent it out into the world for public consumption.

It’s hard to pinpoint why the record is so influential, but I think it may be because like Glass Swords (it sounds nothing like that album, mind), it takes inspiration from such a wide range of places, yet somehow manages to be like nothing else. Jam City formulated all the constituent components in such a way as to obliquely hint at various genres whilst birthing a beast unto itself.

In so doing it meant that the results could be incorporated by other artists into a variety of different genres, be it the resurgent grime sound, the underground techno scene, or even the hi-fi ambience of more experimental producers. It wouldn’t be true to say it spawned a legion of imitations, but one can definitely hear the sonic fingerprints of its handiwork in much of the general “club” sound found across the board today in a number of different scenes.

Classical Curves is essentially a filter. It takes the white light of the sum total of all electronic music that preceded it, removes any spectral frequency that is incongruent with the desired minimalistic aesthetic, and emits a pure, tightly-focussed laser beam that can be refracted into various patterns through the prisms of successive artists. Its sound is so idiosyncratic as to be clearly identifiable, yet at the same time, is versatile enough to be incorporated into the work of others without sticking out like a sore thumb.

This is why this record is so influential. Its impact isn’t limited to only one genre. It is a well that can be drawn from by anyone without its waters tainting the ground it is sprinkled upon. Its aesthetic, be it the timbres or the rhythms, can be borrowed into a range of diverse styles without intrinsically altering the essence of the receptive host.

This balance between distinguishability and a metamorphic, chameleonic quality is what makes the record so powerful. Well, that, and the fact it fucking bangs.



Saint PepsiHit Vibes (May 2013)

By 2013 it was clear that the vapourwave phenomenon was becoming stale. Like other genres that seemingly sprung up out of nowhere and expanded rapidly (punk, grunge, acid house, trap etc.), after the initial couple of years of experimentation and abundance of creativity, the well of ideas begins to run dry. It’s at this point the true innovators appear and find a way to tweak the formula to both resuscitate the style, and more importantly, mutate it into its subsequent form.

Enter Saint Pepsi (a.k.a. Skylar Spence; a.k.a. Ryan DeRobertis) with his genre re-defining work, Hit Vibes.

Saint Pepsi already had several proper vapourwave releases under his belt prior to this album (some of which I remember enjoying greatly), but it wasn’t until he got the bright idea of instead of deforming the original songs by slowing them down into treacly pools of goo, actually leaving a strong, danceable beat intact, thus allowing the tracks to work in a more straightforward way as simply fun dance-pop. By using more funk, R&B and disco as sources for samples (instead of the more usual suspects of smooth jazz, new age, AOR pop and muzak), the resulting sound also found itself with an apt new name: future funk.

On a technical level, future funk is not really any more difficult to make than vapourwave or any other kind of chopped-and-screwed plunderphonic-based style, but by simply changing the minor details of treating the tracks in a more dance-friendly manner, the atmosphere is totally transformed. Whereas vapourwave could be fun and fancy-free, future funk naturally was just that.

This album was one of the first to expand the genre in a way that felt true to the ideals of vapourwave, whilst allowing it to explore a different direction, and without the outcome sounding like an entirely separate entity altogether (even if a lot of the ensuing future funk oeuvre was just a modern take on French house, or people simply running Japanese disco or “city pop” tracks through some filters and other effects). It’s nothing mind-blowingly revolutionary, just a subtle paradigm shift that opened up some new (or old might be more accurate) avenues of exploration.

Although later releases like マクロス Macross 82-99‘s Sailorwave would further establish the overall aesthetic and iconography associated with the style (especially the obsession with anime), Hit Vibes was important as it displayed a (relatively) high profile vapourwave producer making a distinct breakaway from the hazy ambience at the core of the genre’s past, and striving towards an upbeat, funky future.



DisclosureSettle (May 2013)

This is the most difficult record to include in this list, simply because I don’t really care much for it, but that can be dismissed as personal taste, and is greatly negated by the huge popularity the album garnered. It managed to find itself situated in a spot where some of its songs could get played on Radio 1 during the day, whilst at the same time some underground DJ would rinse them in a club. The Lawrence brothers found a way of straddling both worlds, and also helped to bring about a revival of that deep house/garage sound among more commercial musical outlets.

I could talk to people I knew who had little interest in music, and if I brought up any of the other artists in this list they wouldn’t have a scooby about them, yet if I mentioned Disclosure they would not only have invariably heard of them, but also nearly always liked them and this album. (In fact, it seemed the less deeply someone was into music, the more they would dig this album; like a kind of inverse relationship.)

More relevantly though, this album undoubtedly sold more than all the other records on this list combined (by about a hundredfold to boot), and whilst the other records were extremely influential to a few, this album was slightly influential to many. It appealed to lots of kids because Disclosure were themselves still kids, so had that invaluable first-hand understanding of what the demographic that dominates the pop charts wants.

At the time of Settle‘s release Guy and Howard were still very young (22 and 19, respectively), so were very much the age of their core audience, meaning they were essentially writing for themselves. In other words, if they dug something, then chances are the British youth as a whole would too. They were in the enviable position of being of a similar mindset to their audience, whilst already harbouring the musical acumen and artistic prowess of their seniors in the industry; a cogent commercial combination.

The Lawrence brothers read the cultural terrain like expert trackers pursuing prized prey, processing the knowledge they had accrued from touring and DJing from a young age into a snare for trapping the youth Zeitgeist.

It clearly isn’t an amazingly innovative record, nor is it particularly unique-sounding, but it does fall into the same mould as other albums on this list in that it uses the past as raw material for crafting a distinctly modern sound. If I listen to Settle in five or ten years it will sound unmistakably of its time, despite the fact that it shares so many qualities found in old house and garage records. Not only is it of 2013, it is 2013.

Of course, sounding like many of their contemporaries isn’t necessarily a point in favour of its influence, but when this album appears as the brightest star in its particular musical galaxy, its easy to single it out as being the most crucial to the structure of that system, or even use it as a reference point to which all the smaller stars can be located. Its gravity holds the neighbouring celestial bodies in place and dictates how the constellation will be shaped in the future. It was, and still is, a pole star for a generation of musical astronavigators.



SOPHIEBipp / Elle (June 2013)

Okay, so this clearly isn’t an album, but its influence is so monumental that I felt it needed including regardless.

This release signalled a tide change within underground electronic music. Cuteness was no longer confined to Oriental pop music, but was instead free to be embraced by even “serious” bedroom producers without them being required to present it ironically for credibility. Kawaii became cool.

Although released on Numbers, this was a PC Music release if there ever was one. It galvanised the “bubblegum bass” movement and showed the way forward for many a budding young artist. But more than that, “Bipp” was simply a really fun and involving tune. It’s catchy and upbeat, exactly what pop music should be.

Now in 2016, SOPHIE (a.k.a. Samuel Long) and PC Music have finally hit the big time, with many of the members working with certified A-listers, and tracks even getting played on mainstream pop radio. (It’s strange that Danny L Harle‘s “Broken Flowers” is now getting airplay on commercial stations, a full three years after its initial release, but I suppose that’s what signing a deal with Columbia does for your playlist clout.) The journey that began in earnest with this record is now essentially complete; the hype train has reached its terminus.

The word “hype” tends to harbour negative connotations, but I think in this instance it is a commendable attribute. PC Music crafted their “essence” as much as they did their music or their image, and rode the generated hype like Koonsian surfers on a PR tsunami, reacting to every tumultuous crest with a nonchalant dip of the shoulder, and even using the frothing torrent of snobbish riptide to further propel their boards towards their populist goals.

The music industry has never just been about the music, with the personalities and egos of the artists being as important to their success as what they churn out in the studio or display on stage. Now more than ever, in an age where musicians can communicate directly with their fans through social media, the intangible aura that an artist exudes is paramount to carving out a niche and separating themselves from the thronging mass. SOPHIE and PC Music have constructed an aesthetic around their art that somehow speaks to the tastes of a specific group of people, just like the key vapourwave artists or the synthwave pioneers did. Its as much about the manufacture of microcultures and the management of mythos as it is about the making of music.

You could draw parallels to any number of artistic movements from the past and observe the importance of an aesthetic. Be it the Romantic virtuosos of Liszt and Paganini, or the bebop titans of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, every facet of their being was subject to the scrutiny of their fans and acolytes, from the way they dressed and their haircuts, to the drugs they used and the lingo they spoke with. PC Music were always well aware of this aspect of the business, and played it much like Paganini did his fiddle, generating publicity and drawing in neophytes with every fresh stroke of the bow. As for SOPHIE, this was the record where he truly refined his own personal aesthetic, and he has remained faithful to it ever since.

Therefore, this record is not only influential because of the music it holds, but because it is a representation of how an idea can grow and develop, touching the hearts and minds of other people, and inspiring a generation of young pretentious wankers to be more than just that, to be young pretentious wankers who make fun music and know how to have a good time, and find true love, and overcome the odds, and change the world, and fight the power, and be a real human being, and stick it to the man, and destroy the patriarchy, and be all they can be, and get the girl, and find themselves, and realise their potential, and beat the system, and conquer their demons, and learn the value of life, and right their past wrongs, and become one with the universe, and break down the walls, and avenge their father, and become America’s sweetheart, and have the best summer of their lives, and become the One, and feel something real, and fulfil their destiny, and atone for their sins, and uncover the truth, and dare to dream, and paint the town red, and save the Earth, and remember where they came from, and rescue the princess, and find Mr. Right, and live happily ever after, and discover the true meaning of Christmas, and to never, ever, under any circumstance, no matter what, feed the Mogwai after midnight.


The Ten Most Influential Record Labels of the Decade… So Far

(Only labels whose debut release was put out in this decade)

Night Slugs
PC Music
Beer on the Rug
Hippos in Tanks
Blackest Ever Black
Death Waltz

Original artwork ‘Binary System’ by Luke Bradley