Dance Music 101: An Online Reading Course

Ongoing documentation of the learning in public goin' on 'round here:  My first semester of THUMP University! This introductory course seeks to give students a foundation in a handful of the most important electronic dance music genres, broadly defined, with special attention paid to the key personalities, recordings, and clubs that helped shape and popularize them. Our readings will cover the key electronic-dance movements, from early-80s electro to the present, including three noncontinuous weeks apiece on house and techno. Focusing on genres early in your coursework will afford you a widescreen view of dance music's many overlapping narratives, rhetorical strategies, and musical shifts, in addition to its roots in marginalized communities and continuing conversation with technological innovation.

Ed. note: this is an intensive course, with some weeks featuring up to 20 readings. These will vary greatly in length, and because THUMP University is an online school, all of the assigned reading will be freely available to read online (though not always via phone or tablet; a few older pieces come via Google Books or similar interfaces).  

Week One — Electro

Bangs, Lester, "Kraftwerkfeature" (Creem, 1975; reprinted by Spin, 1998)

Brewster, Bill and Frank Broughton, "Arthur Baker" (DJ History, January 25, 1999)

Joe, Radcliffe, "Roland Bows Interface System" (Billboard, February 19, 1983, p. 45)

Leete, Norm, "Fairlight Computer" (Sound on Sound, April 1999)

Host, Vivian, "Freestyle: An Oral History" (Red Bull Music Academy, September 21, 2015)

McCollum, Brian, "Electronic Pioneer Kraftwerk Returns to Detroit" (Detroit Free Press, June 10, 1998)

Aaron, Charles, review of I-f's "Theme from PACK" from "Singles" (Spin, October 1999)

Paoletta, Michael, "Nü-Electro Sound Emerges" (Billboard, July 27, 2002, p. 1 & 66-67)

Banham, Tom, "Erol Alkan: You Can Go Your Own Way" (Mixmag, February 10, 2014)

Janson, Gerd, "Busy P" (interview-lecture for Red Bull Music Academy, London, 2010)


    • How did Kraftwerk's working process differ from that of other pop and rock groups making music in the mid-70s?
    • How did Kraftwerk impact the early hip-hop scene?
    • What was Kraftwerk's impact on modern music generally, and electronic music particularly?
    • How did electro affect hip-hop, pop, and electronic dance music?
    • How did the electro sound phase out of hip-hop and migrate to other forms of music?
    • How did the popular understanding of the term "electro" differ in 1982, 1998, 2002, and 2008? Specifically, how did the music, audiences, and context change from one time period to the next?
    • Since the term "electro" applies to a hip-hop context (cf. Bambaataa) as well as a nostalgic one (cf. I-f), an overtly campy one (cf. Fischerspooner), and a more rock-DJ-oriented one (cf. Alkan), when people say "electro," how do we know which "electro" they mean?

    * * *

    Week Two — Chicago house

    Cheeseman, Phil, "The History of House" (DJ Mag, April 22-May 5, 1993)

    Arnold, Jacob, "The Warehouse: The Place House Music Got Its Name" (Resident Advisor, May 16, 2012)

    "Chairman" Mao, Jeff, "Frankie Knuckles" (Red Bull Music Academy interview-lecture, Madrid, 2011)

    Thomas, Andy, "House of Revolution" (Wax Poetics #45, winter 2011)

    Garratt, Sheryl, "Sample and Hold: The House Sound of Chicago" (The Face, September 1986)

    Walters, Barry, "Burning Down the House" (Spin, November 1986, p. 60-64)

    Mirani, Czarina, "Steve Silk Hurley Interview" (5 Magazine, March 2006)

    Janson, Gerd, "Ron Trent" (Red Bull Music Academy interview-lecture, Toronto, 2007)

    Matthew, Terry, "Tommie Sunshine: The 5 Magazine Interview" (5 Magazine,August 2012)

    Bradshaw, Melissa, "Caffeine Funk: An Interview With Cajmere" (The Quietus, November 7, 2012)

    Galil, Leor, "The Return of Dance Mania Records" (Chicago Reader, May 23, 2013)

    Bortot, Davide, "DJ Spinn and DJ Rashad" (interview-lecture for Red Bull Music Academy, Madrid, 2011)

    What does the term "house" suggest about the musical movement's role as a sanctuary for its first (black, queer, Chicago) audiences?

    What role did radio DJ mix shows play in Chicago's early-eighties dance scenes, particularly after the so-called "death" of disco at the turn of the decade?

    What role did Frankie Knuckles play in the formation of the Chicago house sound?

    What were the differences between early Chicago house and the disco movement that preceded it?

    What are the key, foundational Chicago house recordings? What made them influential?

    What did the exploitative recording deals signed by many Chicago house's producers in the 80s say about the music industry's attitude toward the music?

    What are some differences between Chicago house's first wave in the 80s, and its second wave in the 90s?

    How did ghetto house (cf. Dance Mania) emerge out of house music, and what role did it play in the formation of footwork (cf. Spinn & Rashad)?

    Week Three — Detroit techno

    Gillen, Brendan M, Red Bull Music Academy lecture (Cape Town, 2003)

    Zlatopolsky, Ashley, "A Spin on Frequency: A History of Dance Music Radio in Detroit" (Red Bull Music Academy, November 25, 2014)

    Bean, Dan, "Juan Atkins Interview" (Bleep43, October 4, 2009)—part onepart two

    Schmidt, Torsten, "Derrick May" (Red Bull Music Academy interview, Melbourne, 2006)

    Lee, Iara, "Kevin Saunderson" (Perfect Sound Forever, April 1997)

    Cox, Thomas, "Talking Shit with Shake, Pt. 1" (Infinite State Machine, August 20, 2007)

    Battaglia, Andy, "Interview: Carl Craig" (The A.V. Club, June 17, 2008)

    Audio: Heidi (host), "The Story of Richie Hawtin," (episode of BBC Radio 1's Stories, aired July 30, 2012)

    Walmsley, Derek, "Jeff Mills interview" (Wire blog, 2009)

    Fisher, Mark, "Mike Banks Interview" (Wire blog, November 2007)

    Van Veen, Tobias, "Underground Resistance vs. Sony/BMG" (Discorder, April 2000)

    Rubin, Mike, "A Tale of Two Cities" (Spin, October 1998, p. 104ff)

    What did you know about Detroit before reading these pieces? How have your impressions of the place changed since?

    What role did Detroit's industrial history play in the formation of Detroit techno?

    What role did Detroit radio have in the rise of Detroit techno?

    How did the politics of Detroit's post-1967 de-urbanization—and the subsequent rise of Black Power and black consciousness movements in the city—work their way into Detroit techno?

    How did Detroit techno producers' experiences with the record industry in the 80s compare to those of Chicago house producers?

    What are the key, foundational Detroit techno recordings? What made them influential?

    What were some key differences between early Detroit techno (80s, early 90s) and the European "rave anthems" that adapted its methodology and aesthetics?

    How did Underground Resistance's live up to their own name in the ways in which they maneuvered within the music industry, particularly with regard to Sony/BMG's appropriation of "Jaguar"?

    Week Four — American and global house music

    The Sun (UK tabloid), five features and cartoons on acid house (1988), taken from "Acid House—BAN THIS SICK FILTH," via KRS-Dan's Flickr archive

    Titmus, Stephen, "Boys Own: A History" (Resident Advisor, January 12, 2010)

    Sutherland, Steve, "New York Story" (Melody Maker, August 4, 1990)

    Daly, Steven and Jonathan Bernstein, "Singles: Magic Bus UK" (Spin, September 1990)

    Cauty, Jimmy and Bill Drummond, "The Manual by the KLF" (Fresh on the Net, 1988)

    Broughton, Frank, "Todd Terry" (DJ History, May 21, 1996)

    Tantum, Bruce, "'Tears': An Oral History" (XLR8R, April 23, 2015)

    Janson, Gerd, "Masters at Work (2013)" (Red Bull Music Academy interview/lecture, NYC, 2013)

    Romano, Tricia, "The Heart of Body & Soul" (Village Voice, August 29, 2006)

    Matthew, Terry,"Sunshine Jones: The 5 Magazine Interview" (5 Magazine, February 2008)

    Ivers, Brandon, "A Touching Display" (XLR8R #111, October 2007, p. 50-53)

    Burns, Todd L., "Theo Parrish: Unusual Suspect" (Resident Advisor, April 29, 2008)

    What are some challenges that DJs and promoters of house music faced as the music spread beyond Chicago and into other cities and territories?

    What sorts of resistance did house music meet with outside Chicago from audiences? Venues? The law?

    As house music spread beyond Chicago, how did its core audience evolve?

    What role did London play in the global spread of house music?

    How did tabloid coverage of raves in England help to fuel the rise of the underground party scene?

    What were some key social and political factors leading to the rise of house in New York, and how did that city's version of the sound differ from Chicago's?

    How did the "French touch" version of house music differ from earlier and contemporaneous Chicago styles?

    What are some other important global and local variants on the Chicago house template?

    Week Five — American and global techno: the 80s and 90s

    B., Andy, "New York Hardcore Innovator Frankie Bones" (Massive #10, July-August 1995, p. 9-12)

    Denk, Felix and Sven von Thulen, "Der Klang Der Familie: Berlin, Techno and the Fall of the Wall" (book excerpt; Pitchfork, November 11, 2014)

    Manning, James, "Dusted Down: Revisiting 'The Wipe' by Teste" (Juno Plus, July 21, 2014)

    Blashill, Pat, "Loud, Fast, and Out of Control" (Spin, August 1999)

    Philp, Ray, "Nightclubbing: Edinburgh's Pure" (Red Bull Music Academy, January 7, 2014)

    Waltz, Alexis, "Nightclubbing: Berlin's Ostgut" (Red Bull Music Academy, September 24, 2013)

    Offline reading (extra credit): Paul Hockenos, "Zero Hour: The First Days of New Berlin" (Boston Review, November 4, 2014; the teaser is available online)

    What role did New York's clubs play in the city's rave scene?

    How did the early 90s NYC club and rave scenes mirror that of earlier eras, e.g. disco? How did they differ?

    How did pop-friendly versions of mid-90s techno like Moby's differ from the more DJ-oriented music of the time?

    What distinguishes hardcore techno from other strains of the form? Similarly, how does the hardcore audience tend to differ from a more typical clubbing crowd?

    What does "pure" tend to mean in the context of techno, both in and out of Detroit?

    Week Six — Drum & bass

    Reynolds, Simon, The Hardcore Continuum, #1-6 (Wire, 1992-97)

    Schmidt, Torsten, "A Guy Called Gerald" (Red Bull Music Academy lecture, London 2010)

    Fintoni, Laurent, "Nightclubbing: Fabio & Grooverider's Rage" (Red Bull Music Academy, July 21, 2015)

    Constantinides, Alex, "Micky Finn" (DJ Mag, October 21-November 3, 1993) [scroll down]

    Toop, David, "Genre Defies Labels" (Billboard, October 29, 1994, p. 1 & 24-25)

    Haslett, Tim, review of M-Beat feat. General Levy's "Incredible" (CMJ New Music Monthly, March 1995, p. 48)

    Burns, Todd L., "Nightclubbing: Metalheadz" (Red Bull Music Academy Magazine, February 4, 2013)

    Raymer, Miles, "Happy Hardcore: A Tribute to the Oft-Derided Genre" (Red Bull Music Academy, August 11, 2015)

    Williams, Alexandra, "It is Size That Counts as Roni Wins Mercury prize" (The Independent, August 29, 1997; please note that Size's album is actually titled New Forms)

    Romano, Tricia, "Rock Steady" (Village Voice, May 23, 2000)

    What role did pirate radio play in the dissemination of drum & bass in London?

    What were the musical elements that drum & bass synthesized, and in which ways did it alter them?

    Beyond music, what role has hip-hop played in the overall culture of drum & bass?

    What does "dark" tend to denote in drum & bass, musically, attitudinally, and culturally?

    What were some factors that limited drum & bass's commercial viability, both in the UK and beyond?

    Week Seven — Trance

    Reynolds, Simon, "Trance Versus Jungle" (The Wire, late 1993)

    Mothersole, Dave, "Unveiling the Secret: The Roots of Trance" (Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2012)

    Crouch, John et al, "Miles' 'Children' Gives Birth to European Craze" (Billboard, May 4, 1996, p. 11 & 17)

    Romano, Tricia, "Move Over, Britney" (Village Voice, January 25, 2000)

    St. John, Graham, "Neotrance and the Psychedelic Festival" (Dancecult Vol. 1, No. 1, 2009)

    What role, historically, has spirituality played in dance music and its culture?

    How would you describe the psychic state that "trance" derived its name from?

    What were the sonic properties of early trance that led to it being labeled as such, as opposed to simply "techno"?

    What role did the Roland TB-303 Bassline, aka "the acid machine," play in the emergence of trance, in particular Goa or psy-trance?

    What are some ways Goa or psy-trance differ from more commercial variants of the sound, e.g. Sasha & Digweed in the 90s?

    Why does trance seem to work so well—or at least to attract so many people—in a festival setting?

    How does a figure like Goa Gil fit into the cliché of the "DJ as guru"?

    Week Eight — "Chill out," ambient, IDM

    Anniss, Matt, "Ambient House: The Story of Chill-Out, 1989-95" (Red Bull Music Academy, February 17, 2016)

    Phillips, Dom, "When Techno Came of Age" (Mixmag, 1992)

    Simpson, Dave, "Bleep of Faith" (The Guardian, April 16, 2009)

    Savage, Jon, "Machine Soul" (Village Voice's "Rock & Roll Quarterly" insert, summer 1993)

    FACT staff, "The 50 Best Aphex twin Tracks" (FACT Magazine, October 9, 2013)

    Blanning, Lisa, "Interview: Squarepusher" (Red Bull Music Academy, August 8, 2012)

    Ramsay, Ben, "Tools, Techniques & Composition: Bridging Acousmatic and IDM" (eContact! #14.4: TES 2001: 5th Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium, May 2013)

    What are the links between pre-disco electronic music and post-disco dance culture?

    Which musical and ideological stereotypes were the early progenitors of both post-rave ambient and IDM reacting against?

    What sort of rhetoric do post-rave ambient and IDM artists (in interviews, et al.) tend to employ?

    What was Warp Records' importance to both ambient music and IDM?

    What purpose did the "chill-out room" serve in early rave culture?

    What place, if any, does modern-day ambient or IDM have within dance culture?

    Week Nine — Breaks (big beat, trip-hop, downtempo)

    Pemberton, Andy, "Trip Hop" (Mixmag, June 1994)

    Morpurgo, Joseph, "Panic, Panic, Panic: The Ninja Tune story" (FACT Magazine, May 8, 2012)

    Kakaire, Christine, Ninja Tune XX (Resident Advisor, October 12, 2010)

    McLean, Craig, "Portishead: Back on the Beat" (The Telegraph, April 12, 2008)

    Ferguson, Jason and Bao Le-Huu, "Dance Dance Revolution" (Orlando Weekly, July 3, 2013)

    Aaron, Charles, "Drums and Wires" (Spin, October 1996)

    Ewing, Tom, the Chemical Brothers - "Setting Sun" (Popular, January 15, 2014)

    Reighley, Kurt B., "Prodigy: We Didn't Start the Fire" (CMJ New Music Monthly, September 1997, p. 20-25)

    Harris, Damian, "Big Beat: Creating a Dancefloor Monster" (The Guardian, April 8, 2008)

    What role did various breaks styles play in bridging hip-hop with dance culture in the 90s?

    How important was it for labels such as Ninja Tune and Mo' Wax to be visually as well as aurally identifiable? How did that branding overlap with that of hip-hop's in the 90s?

    What does the fact many breaks styles took root in Britain rather than America say about the UK's relationship with hip-hop specifically, and black American music generally?

    How did the big beat and trip-hop music U.S. record labels sold to fans as "electronica" differ from the house and techno music those labels had championed in the past? Why were these labels more successful in selling electronica?

    Ideologically speaking, how did the crate-digging connoisseurs who largely created breaks records tend to differ from the mainstream audiences who consumed those records?

    Week Ten — American and Global Techno: the 2000s

    Burns, Todd L., "fabric: An Oral History" (Resident Advisor, October 9, 2009)

    Plagenhoef, Scott, "Kompakt 10" (Pitchfork, August 10, 2009)

    Sherburne, Philip, "Finding a New Genre at MUTEK" (Neumu, June 7, 2002)

    Sherburne, Philip, "The Month in Techno: Whither Minimal?" (Pitchfork, May 24, 2006)

    MacDonald, Cameron, "Far From Home" (XLR8R #101, October 2006, p. 56-59)

    Rapp, Tobias, "Saturday at Berghain" (Resident Advisor, October 21, 2009)

    Van Veen, Tobias C., Speaking in Code (Dancecult Vol. 2, No. 1, 2011)

    Gonsher, Aaron, CNTRL: Beyond EDM in New York (Resident Advisor, November 3, 2012)

    What were some of the social factors, particularly in the U.S. and Germany, that led to the rise of minimal techno in the 2000s?

    How did the rise of the freelance economy, particularly in tech, help enable Berlin to become a primary hub for dance music in the 2000s?

    What are some differences, musical and otherwise, between the Berlin techno scene of the 90s and that of the 2000s?

    What, if any, is the difference between Berghain's strict door policy and Studio 54's velvet rope?

    How and why did the term "raving" shift into "clubbing" during the 2000s?

    Week Eleven — Dubstep

    Martin, Lauren, "The VICE Oral History of Dubstep" (Vice, June 23, 2015)

    Earp, Matt, "Low End Theory: Dubstep Merchants" (XLR8R#100, September 2006, p. 66-70)

    Fisher, Mark F, "Burial Unedited Transcript" (The Wire, December 2012; conducted 2007)

    Carnes, Richard, "Label of the Month: Hessle Audio" (Resident Advisor, January 12, 2009)

    Shields, Colin, "Breaking Through: Untold" (Resident Advisor, October 19, 2009)

    Muggs, Joe, "Is Skrillex the Most Hated Man in Dubstep?" (The Guardian, September 28, 2011)

    Weiss, Jeff, "Low End Theory Anniversary: The Story of the Influential Party From Those Who Created It" and "More Low End Theory Oral History From Those Who Helped Build It" (L.A. Weekly, November 3 & 4, 2011)

    Offline reading (extra credit): Blanning, Lisa, "Can't Stop the Rush" (The Wire, August 2011, p. 36-39): Cover feature on Zomby.

    What role has bass played throughout dance-music history?

    What about East London's cultural makeup fostered its role as an incubator of dubstep?

    What is dubstep's connection with Jamaican music and hip-hop?

    What are the key differences between Burial and Skrillex—both musically and in terms of presentation—and what can they tell us, broadly, about the UK and US's respective approaches to dubstep?

    What are some musical distinctions between the more populist of dubstep (e.g. Skrillex) and more experimental, "post-dubstep" sounds (e.g. Untold)?

    What are some musical and ideological similarities between "post-dubstep" and the ambient and IDM that we studied during Week 8?

    Week Twelve — EDM

    Carey, Jean, "Behind the Curtain" (Miami New Times, March 17, 2005)

    Vontz, Andrew, "Daft Punk" (Spin, December 2007, p. 66-68)

    Sherburne, Philip S, "The New Rave Generation" (Spin, October 2011)

    Reynolds, Simon, "How Rave Music Conquered America" (The Guardian, August 2, 2012)

    Ryce, Andrew, "Real Trap Shit?" (Resident Advisor, November 1, 2012)

    Stern, Marlow, "Meet Baauer, the Man Behind the Harlem Shake" (The Daily Beast, February 18, 2013)

    Dayal, Geeta, "Daft Punk's Random Access Memories" (Slate, May 21, 2013)

    Romero, Dennis, "How Pasquale Rotella Built His Rave Empire" (L.A. Weekly, September 12, 2013)

    Julious, Britt, "Lollapalooza Confirms It: EDM Is Over" (Chicago, August 6, 2015)

    In which respects did EDM represent a culmination of house, techno, and other related styles?

    In which respects did EDM represent the antithesis of those styles, both musically and culturally?

    What roles have Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Miami, in particular, played in EDM's rise?

    What are some key differences between a "rave" and a "dance festival"?

    What role has Daft Punk played in the rise of EDM?