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This Month in Electronic Music History, Vol 6: August

the word electronic with genres in background

Since its earliest beginnings, electronic music has been continuously evolving. From the first computers, to pioneering electronic instruments, to the artists that have been around for years (even decades), and even the clubs, festivals, and genres that developed over time, there’s a vast amount of information out there. Let’s take a journey back in time once again, as we go “von deeper” into electronic music history.

Events in History, August 1977: The accidental invention of scratching

It all originally begins in Bronx, New York in the early-to-mid 1970s. Theodore Livingston and his two older brothers, Gene and Cordio, were DJing at parties throughout the Bronx. Theodore, performing under the name Grand Wizard Theodore (now Grand Wizzard Theodore), became musically inclined initially due to his brothers, DJ Mean Gene and Cordio. The brothers would often practice and collaborate with the iconic hip-hop and DJing pioneer, Grandmaster Flash. Soon afterwards, the siblings were working together as the trio The L Brothers (and occasionally The Love Brothers).

Grand Wizard Theodore learned many of his techniques from Grandmaster Flash, as many consider the Grandmaster to be the pioneer of some of the earliest turntable techniques, such as “cutting.” Now known as the term “breaks,” cutting at the time would manually cue duplicate copies of the same record to play the same passage synchronously. As described in an article on turntablism by The Guardian:

“Cutting involves isolating the ‘break’ in funk records – the seconds-long climax where the tune would strip right down to an infectious, danceable clatter of percussion.”

Using the techniques learned from Grandmaster Flash, Grand Wizard Theodore began to experiment with different styles. When Theodore was the age of 12, he suddenly stumbled on to something new. While he was practicing at home, he lowered the volume to hear his mother speaking to him. At the same time, he also stopped the record with his hand. Fascinated with the sound the record made, he began moving it back and forth and delved further into intrigue as the sounds played through his headphones.

“I thought, ‘This really sounded something … interjecting another record with another record.’ As time went by I experimented with it and soon it became scratching.”

After practicing with the experimental sounds, Grand Wizard Theodore took it to the clubs. On August 18, 1977, Grand Wizard Theodore scratched for the first time during a performance at the Sparkle Club. Using the a copy of the Incredible Bongo Band’s Bongo Rock, Theodore added a new element of DJing that would change the game. Also credited with the invention of the needle drop around the same time, he was highly influential to modern turntablism in the 90s. Now, that iconic sound has become a staple of some of our favorite funky and hip-hop tracks today.

Songs in History, August 1994: Orbital releases first titled album

It’s the late 1980s. Brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll grew up with influences from punk and electro, which would later develop their first track Chime. The brothers originally created the track in 1987, and sent it in to Jazzie M’s pioneering house radio show Jackin’ Zone. By 1989, the track became a re-released single, and the duo took on the moniker of Orbital.

After several remix EPs and LPs, Orbital expanded their brand of techno and acid house throughout the UK. They started garnering recognition through their untitled albums in 1991 (Orbital 1) and 1993 (Orbital 2), nicknamed the “Green” album and the “Brown” album, respectively.

By 1994, they began expanding their sound outside the club scene. Their popularity began to grow rapidly throughout the US during that time, after 1993 a national tour with iconic techno artists Moby and Aphex Twin. After a 1994 headlining performance at Glastonbury Festival, Orbital began to see even more success.

Shortly after Glastonbury, Orbital released their first titled LP, Snivilization, on August 23, 1994. The LP talks about the brothers own personal struggles in their youth as their mother struggled with addiction. Viewed as a socio-political concept album, Snivilization also touches on the Criminal Justice Act (similarly to Justice’s album) through the song Are We Here?. The album went on to be Orbital’s biggest hit at the time, reaching #4 on the UK charts. The duo continues to have a successful career, as they have been touring throughout the summer and just released a new single this month, Copenhagen.

Who are some additional turntabilists that we love in the current scene? What are some of your favorite Orbital tracks? Are there any other topics we should delve into in the future? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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