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Intelligent Dance Music: The 3-Word Genre You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Most people are familiar with the incredibly popular music genre EDM; electronic dance music. Thousands flock to massives and festivals that show off the range of talent and sub-genres in EDM. One such genre is a lot more obscure, but has been around since the early 1990’s. Known as IDM, or intelligent dance music, it’s one of the first experimental genres to pioneer electronic music.

IDM came out of the internet on 1993-era message boards. It became a place for people to discuss dance music that wasn’t mean’t for dancing: low frequencies, strange tones, and unheard experimental sounds. More often than not, this kind of music was atmospheric and introspective. These message boards saw people admiring pioneering works by  the likes of Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Autechre and μ-Ziq.

Participation in the community wasn’t easy; Google didn’t exist. Unlike our easy browsing modern days, those interested had to subscribe to a mailing list using the early internet. As a result, the community remained online and communicated through messaging. At the same time, the sounds of house, garage, and techno were easily found in clubs and early raves.

Was it really intelligent music?

The name IDM has been criticized by journalists as American-centric, awkward, and disparaging. Ultimately the mailing list established it, even though it’s a bit awkward. As a genre, it evolved as an answer to rave culture and was driven by proliferation of music making software. The acronym became used so often that it finally stuck, but not before criticism from it’s own fans.

Message board users questioned the title intelligent dance music in a post titled “Can Dumb People Enjoy IDM Too?” A user named Barry Sanders questioned if the purpose of IDM was for giving “self-presumed intellectuals something to discuss.” Another user noted in this case “intelligent” was a reference to Warp’s Artificial Intelligence series, two compilation albums that spearheaded the genre.

Where does IDM stand now?

The niche and nearly forgotten music style still exists today. Most notably is the recent performance by The Orb at last year’s Shambhala Music Festival. Modern message boards and music circles still discuss the artists of old and where the genre is heading. Original definers of the techno movement like The Black Dog are even releasing new albums and EPs in 2018.

From Spotify playlists to YouTube channels, IDM is still here because the fan culture wants it to. It’s a genre that captured the minds and ears of many, and thus earned respect in music history. Those looking to kick back, study, or get lost in thought might get something out of a more atmospheric vibe. If you’re in the mood for an introspective, low-tempo and experimental kind of music, IDM might be what you’re looking for.

What do you think of IDM? Would you kick back to some softer electronic music or would you stick to up-tempo genres? Let us know in the comments!

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