Turntablism along Electronic Music History

It’s the 21st century and computers are taking over almost everything, as
they can make decisions and do things much faster than people. Of course,
music industry is not the exception, as people have been using technology
to express their musical ideas, tell stories and transmit emotions in
meaningful ways for decades. Many of today’s popular artists use
computers to record, produce and create compositions. Because of this, we
have all had an encounter with electronic music at some point, we’ve
enjoyed it at a party and some of us even listen to it on a regular basis,
whether it is to help us concentrate or be more energetic.

The beginnings of Electronic Music

Computer music and electronic music are not as young as we may think,
although the concept of it brings an idea of high and sophisticated
technology to mind.

The genre holds a deep and rich history through time, having its roots at the
middle of the 18th century, with electro-acoustic instrumentation, more
precisely the Denis d’or, which was a one-off keyboard instrument
developed in 1753 that had the ability to imitate the sounds of wind and
string instruments, and the Clavecin électrique, an instrument built in 1759
that used electricity to create musical sound aided by a static electrical
charge to vibrate metal bells. These instruments were constructed almost a
century before the phonautograph, the earliest known device for sound
recording, that, at the same time, ​was invented 20 years before Thomas
Edison invented the phonograph. The phonautograph recorded sound and
made sound waves visible on paper. Before that, sound had been invisible and temporary since the beginning of time.

Shortly afterward the phonograph, the idea of the phonautograph was adapted into a disc music player and the gramophone was born in 1887, along with vinyl records, which were a huge uproar in the early 19th century. The record was a disk, about twice the size of what we know today as a CD, and it would be placed on top of the gramophone. Then, a needle would be placed on top of it and move across the disk, creating sound vibrations that were amplified through a speaker.

Later, in 1930, the turntable was developed.

Turntables through time

The turntable has taken music into a whole new journey full of ups and
downs for over the last 60 years; it has been used as a musical instrument
since the 1940s and 1950s, when experimental composers began sampling
and creating music entirely produced by this device, allowing a new genre of
sound, artistic skill and culture emerge in the music history.

Nevertheless, its success was not that evident at the beginning, but it made
a huge progress in the 1970s. The emergence of a new music genre, hip hop,
allowed the use of turntables to become a modern art. People called ‘Disk
Jockeys’, also referred to as ‘DJs’ or turntablists, were performers and
musical artists who used the turntables to play multiple songs at parties and
concerts, manipulating the sound and creating original compositions.

For many hip hop connoisseurs, DJs Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and
Afrika Bambaataa are the ​predecessor​s of turntablism. Through practice
they ​acquire​d an ​astounding ability to find precise points in a song by
dropping the needle on a record and developed extremely high levels of
hand eye coordination.

Kool Herc is widely recognised for developing the ‘break-beat’, a technique
that extends the song’s climax indefinitely. Inspired by Herc, Bambaataa
expanded awareness of break-beat deejaying through his famous street
parties. Then, it was the Grand Wizard Theodore, an ​apprentice of
Grandmaster Flash, who created ‘scratching’, the sound made when the
record is rubbed back and forth.

Early DJs used scratches and break bats to go along rap and hip hop lyrics.
However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the term ‘turntablism’ became a
concept, an event that marked a significant evolution in the role of the disk
jockey (DJ), which had been evolving for two decades.

During the 1990s, DJs began to manifest what they could really create as
artists and a range of new scratches were born, inventing more
sophisticated turntable techniques. DJs Spinbad, Cash Money and Jazzy Jeff
transformed turntablism by inventing the ‘Transformer scratch’. After that
came the Beat Juggling, which is perhaps the most important development
of the decade in terms of turntablism and electronic music, as it effectively
evolved manipulating and reinventing existing tracks to composing music.

The Art of Turntablism

Turntablism is described today as the art of manipulating and modifying an
original reproduced audio source, in order to create new music, sound
effects, mixes and other sounds and beats, using as the main musical
instrument the dish or turntable. This instrument is completed mainly with
the use of vinyl records and crossfader equipped DJ mixers, computers,
control interfaces, effect units, and other similar implements​.

In terms of DJ culture, turntablism is said to express and represent
creativity at its maximum splendor, since turntablists manage to not only
keep record samples in endless loops, but also to move the records with
their hand to cue the stylus to exact points on them, and touch or move the
platter to stop, slow down, speed up, spin backwards, or move back and
forth (also known as the “scratching” effect, a key part of hip hop music),
all while mixing, shifting and manipulating the sounds to suit the mood and
obtain the reaction they are looking for.

Still today, turntables and vinyl records are the basic equipment of DJs in
clubs and music festivals. It owes its popularity and probably salvation
mainly to hip hop culture, being ​one of the longest lasting technologies still
popular nowadays. No matter how many technologies attempt to replace it,
like the cassette tape, then the CD, then the MP3, DJs are still playing with
their vinyl tracks on their turntables, as records bring a particular type of
atmosphere which people find pleasing​.
A large number of turntablists around the world keep innovating to
establish their own signature styles, with artists rediscovering themselves
to be the fastest, most creative players of their instrument.
Turntablism continues to evolve, and electronic music is still considered
one of the achievements of the twentieth century in music history, as using
electronic media contributed tremendously to develop the possibilities of
making new, creative music and affected musical evolution in many
different ways.

6 French Indie Electronic bands ​worth adding to your go-to Playlist

If you enjoy the melody and simplicity of Indie Pop and the sonic
experimentation of Electronic sounds, here are some Indietronic groups
worth checking out, all of them sharing their roots from France, a country
very well known for their great, deep-rooted culture of local music, but also
for having great French pop artists and DJ’s who are recognized outside
their country’s borders.

Teenage Bad Girl

The Parisian electronic band, supported and playlisted since the beginning
of their short career by electronic music influencers such as Mylo, Chloé
Thévenin, Justice, Yuksek, and many others, consists of Guillaume Manbell
and Greg Kazubski. They mix beats and vocals connecting house and
electronic genres, employing the aggressive analogue synth lines and
percussions they have remained a staple of the French electro wave for,
although with a low profile.
Interestingly they have a unusual background story, as both members met
on Soulseek, the famous file-sharing network mostly used to exchange
music; they both shared a strong interest for punk rock and electronic
sounds. “We both played in punk-rock bands with friends, making music
when we should have been studying.” says Manbell.
It is said by the passionates about electronic music that they are a genetic
mix of Daft Punk, Aphex Twin & The Stooges. Their latest album, Backwash,
was released back in 2011, and it is the result of a project “more based on
ideas”, in words of the duo.

Birdy Nam Nam

French quartet Birdy Nam Nam h​as ​implemented mixtures of different
genres since the beginning of the band; they make content entirely out of
their turntables and have presented a mix of jazz, funk, and downtempo
sound. In addition, they often experiment with hip-hop bases and plenty of
electronic elements.
For that reason, it would be difficult to catalog them within a single genre,
but their style can ​essentially be defined as Indie, Electronics, French
Indietronica, Filter House and Turntablism.
Since their formation in 2001 their goal has always been to prove that the
possibilities the turntable can offer as a real musical instrument to create
new rhythms are unlimited. They have won several awards during their
career, such as the 2002 DMC World DJ Team Championship before and the
Electronic or Dance revelation of the year at Victoires de la Musique, an
annual French award ceremony that recognizes the best musical artists.
Dance or Die is the name of their last album, released in 2016, which shows
a noticeable evolution in their tracks. Their style of turntablism combined
with abstract hip-hop that was one remarkable is a little less present on this
album, as heavy motorized electro beats designed for performing live take
over to keep the crowd out of their seats and dancing.

Acid Arab

Formed by Guido Minisky and Hervé Carvalho in 2012, and later on
expanded while creating their debut album ‘Musique de France’ to include
Pierrot Casanova and Nicolas Borne, Acid Arab is influenced by a set of
Eastern sounds and
Arabic melodies, which offer a wide range of
percussions, strings and melodic instruments, embraced by the genres of
house and techno. In their own words, the project first started “as a concept,
then a Facebook group, then a party, then (almost) a genre, then it was us.”
After their first album, that features some guest vocalists and
instrumentalists, including Rizan Said, Jawad El Garrouge and keyboard
player Kenzi Bourras (who was at first their keyboardist for live sets and
then fully incorporated into the band), Acid Arab have been performing at
over 260 shows clubs and festivals worldwide.

The Piroeuttes

Starting from a very techno-pop base of the 80s and embracing the sounds
of late ’70s synth-pop, as well as elements of retro wave, R&B and hip hop
genres, the duo is enjoying increasing popularity around the world since the
release of their first album.
The Pirouettes consists of Leo Bear Creek and Vickie Chérie, a couple from
Annecy in France. They were formed in 2011 and have released 2 EPs and 2
full length albums, their latest one being “Monopolis” from 2018.
They are really independents as they manage to get everything related to
marketing, promotion and distribution done by themselves: they have their
own label, and Vickie is the one in charge of the whole visual aspect of the
band, including covers, the graphic design of the albums and some of the
music videos.

“Basically, our style is based on the French variety of the 70s and 80s. Our
first EPs were more referenced, and they had a strong 80’s sound. Today, I
believe (I hope) that we have really achieved the modern sound that is our
own: the sound of The Pirouettes”, Leo stated during an interview with
France.fr.

Camp Claude

Three visionary minds, four countries, and one common desire to reinvent
and inspire through unique sounds.
Camp Claude was born in 2013 in Paris, with American-French Diane
Sagnier at the microphone, and the work of talented composers, the
Englishman Mike Giffts and the Swede Léo Hellden, both members of the
group Tristesse contemporaine.
They usually define their style as ‘Sky Wave’, a middle point between a
creative fusion of rock and pop, and electronic music. Their melodies have
definitely a touch of fineness and nostalgia, a delicate mix of sounds and
sensations that awakens serenity with the combination of smooth rhythms
and vocals.

C2C

The four men behind C2C (also known as Coups2Cross) are as well members
of the ​scratch music​ movement, ​turntablism​. The crew was born in 1998 in
the city of ​Nantes​, with Atom and pFeL from Beat Torrent and ​20Syl​ and
Greem from ​Hocus Pocus​.
Each member of the group uses his turntable as an instrument in order to
recreate percussions, bass guitars, or simulating trumpets and similar brass
instruments.

In 2013, C2C’s album ‘Tetra’ obtained four trophies out of four nominations
during the annual French award ceremony Victoires de la Musique,
including ‘Best New Artist’, ‘Best Music Video’, and ‘Best Live Show’. They
are also winners of the 2013 ​European Border Breakers Awards​, which
recognises the success of emerging European artists who get to reach
audiences out of their own countries​.

Our Brains on Electronic Music

Music is such a big part of our lives and the ways listening to it affect us, our
mood and behaviour are fantastic. Listening to music doesn’t only brings us
joy and pleasure, but it can help us pay a little more attention, get more
creative and even improve our productivity and memory. It also strengthens
our bonds with other people by helping us understand each other’s feelings.

What happens to our body when we listen to music?

We all have many common interests, but when it comes to music, the
difference between our preferences become noticeable almost immediately.
However, when trying to understand what happens in our brain when we
listen to certain type of rhythms and sounds, an emotional connection is
more important and relevant than our taste in music.

When a song is playing, the limbic system, which is the part of the brain
involved in our behavioural and emotional responses, shows much more
activity than usual. Also, recent studies have shown dramatic effects on the
amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus, and other regions of the cortex of
the brain that are associated to emotion. The cortex of the brain processes
the tone, pitch and volume of the music in the auditory cortex, then sends
this information to other parts of the brain. When it gets to the amygdala,
the integrative center for emotions, motivation and emotional behavior, the
brain releases dopamine, a chemical messenger between neurons strongly
related to reward, pleasure and motivation.

Therefore, music and certain sounds have a significant effect on our moods, memories, emotions, thoughts and movements.

But what about electronic music specifically?

When we take part in a conversation about electronic music, it is still very
common to hear that “it has no emotion because it’s made on a computer
and not with real instruments”.

Electronic music is usually generated through certain electronic devices,
such as the synthesizer or sampler and can be conceived entirely from the
sounds and melodies that these machines produce.
However, it can also be composed from other sound resources, such as
recordings of natural sounds picked up by microphones that are then edited
into a permanent form, or songs that have already been recorded and
finished by an artist, which are modified through the application of this
technology, resulting in a new creation that will maintain the lyrics and
sounds of the original.

So, except for live electronic music, which refers to real-time generation
and manipulation of traditional electronic sound-generating devices and
computers, electronic music is only played back through loudspeakers,
either by itself or accompanied by actual musical instruments.

Just as any instrument is played, a computer can be programmed to create a melody or recreate a sound that evokes and stimulates the emotion that the user desires, and this doesn’t mean it is any easier to produce a good piece of this kind of music using this technology rather than an actual instrument.

Creating melody, harmony and rhythm with these techniques takes a great amount of knowledge, hard work and ear training before a track can even sound remotely professional. In addition to that, trying to connect or express emotions and feelings that
truly excite or bring something to the person who is listening to it requires a lot of skill and experience.

Why do we choose electronic music?

Musical tastes can be influenced by factors such as culture and life
experiences, but our preferences in music mostly reveal our inner thoughts
and emotions, given that music satisfies three important psychological
needs. Scientific studies reveal that people listen to music so they can
improve their efficiency and performance on certain tasks, encourage
intrinsic motivation and cognitive development, and influence their own
emotional states to achieve a desired mood.

First, we must consider that ‘electronic’ is a very wide term that includes a
lot of genres of electronic music. Taking into account that many subgenres
of it exist, electronic music can affect how our brain works in several ways.

Not all electronic music is the same. As in every music genre, some
subgenres can make you want to dance with extreme energy and others have
more of a deep and emotional feeling to it. Whether you like techno, house,
minimal, dubstep, psychedelic trance, ambient, Electronic Dance Music
(also known as EDM), IDM (a version of EDM but with a slower tempo,
quieter sounds and more complex rhythms) or any other genre.

Ambient house, downtempo and chillout can facilitate concentration with
the aid of repetitive patterns and mellow mid-tempo rhythms that are
gentle, discreet and stimulating. Some of these mid-tempo electronic tracks
are free from vocals, which help calming the senses and ease the mind.

Genres like dubstep, trance, and EDM are known for repeating melodic
phrases, and a musical structure that creates tension. Tracks often
culminate in peaks and drops, building up a climax that is both sensory and
exciting. DJs manipulate tension and release in the mix between songs,
managing to heighten the peak emotional moments in the melody, which
intensity depends on the length of anticipation during the build up.

Other elements can be considered, such as rhythm and danceability, timbral
complexity and unconventionality. Research shows a clear relationship
between rhythms in the brain and rhythms in music, which is for sure a
factor in the enjoyment of this genre, since most electronic music is built
around a very strong rhythmic essence and loop-based sequencing
compositions. Moreover, nearly all of electronic music is very much
functional on a dance floor. Repetitive rhythms with various shifting
musical layers make us track pulse, tempo and rhythm, and we move in
response, mostly when done with a group.

Overall, every good music has a similar effect on all brains, as we naturally
respond positively to rhythm, melody and harmony, no matter the genre,
instrumentation or composition. Music develops deep and intense feelings,
engages your emotions and produces pleasure and delight, and electronic
music is no exception. Even though it is still ‘electronic’, a real
instrument-like feeling remains in its sounds, something that disarms the
stereotype that electronic music has no power to stimulate strong emotions
within us.

Although some variations of this genre seem to be very popular amongst
music enthusiasts right now, others will surely perish in a few years.
Electronic music, however, will live much longer and will keep on
developing some of the most refined and recognized artists in music
history