The history of dance music

Back when I was 20 I was deep into the underground dance music scene down south, doing events and DJing nonstop. I wrote an article that was published (ie printed, there was no blogging back then) in a small magazine called The File which I randomly came across via this site  (a massive internet archive). A sucker for nostalgia, I thought it would be interesting to post it to my blog fourteen years later.

Published in The File, Vol. 9, March 1999
By Kathleen Walker


Electronic dance music and its partner, the DJ, have undergone many changes since their emergence in 1969. Beginning with the invention of the Technic sp-10 direct drive turntable dance music was able to reach broader audiences. It began with Sound systems in Jamaica which became the first mobile form of promoting the music. Lead by producers Prince Buster and Voice of the People, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Edward “Bunny” Lee as well as King Tubby, for the first time the world was hearing dub music, the stepping stones for reggae and later, dancehall. Around the same time, Kool Herc, thought of as the first hip-hop DJ, created the actual term by “hip hoppin” from one turntable to the next. By using an audio mixer and two identical records, he would chant over the instrumental or percussion sections in the songs, then meld the breaks together in order to keep up the pace of the performance.

The 70’s witnessed the largest leap for dance music and its DJ. Early on in the decade Giorgio Morodor created the first pro-synthesizer electronic disco music. Then in 1971 the first electronic band, Kraftwerk was born. Soon after, Trobbing Gristle was the first to introduce industrial music. In the mid 70’s Hip-hop DJs in New York experimented with the strength of the motor in the new and improved Technic SL-1200. They began extending play by cutting back in forth between the same two records and later uncovered the “spinback” technique which created the ubiquitous scratching sound. In ’79 Juan Atkins brought the world electro. Soon after Africa Bambatta’s electro song “Planet Rock” which sampled Kraftwerk became the first top 40 hit of its kind.

Ten years later while spinning records in a Chicago club/warehouse, DJ Frankie Knuckles coined the term, “house” music. The industry exploded with the improvement of Roland drum machines, samplers, computers and software. In 1989 Acid House became so popular, promoters in the United Kingdom pumped thousands of dollars into mega-raves, gatherings of thousands of young people who danced until the sun rose the next morning.

A few years down the road in the early 90’s producers within the U.K. underground rave scene took another breed of dance music called Breakbeat Techno or “Hardcore” and sped up the breakbeats to 200 beats per minute. They imported “ragga” vocal samples from the Caribbean as heavy basslines. This was the beginning of jungle music, referred to as drum & bass which became yet another mind bending form of electronic music, which led to dubstep, the first electronic music genre to truly break into the mainstream (sorry, Lady Gaga’s euro trance style of production does not count).

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