By Kat Bein
So, you want to collect electronic music, but you don’t know where to start? Electronic music is a wild and untamed genre. It’s the voice of experimentation and unbridled ecstasy. It’s a frontier of sound and technology. It’s the crossroads at which disco, funk, hip-hop and pop combine. Of course you’re a little confused. There are a million roads to take and myriad great minds to explore.
As you take the first steps on your journey to dance, we recommend these 10 influential landmark albums. They span decades and styles, though each one will inform your understanding of electronic music while unlocking the door to a host of other exciting acts. Plus, they’ll all make you look really cool to those in the know. Enjoy these classics — modern and otherwise — and happy hunting.
Daft Punk – Discovery (2001)
There may be no more influential dance music album in modern memory. This sample-heavy bedroom production lives up to its name. It is very disco inspired, while also incorporating moments of shredding metal and ’80s ballads – all the things that were considered too cheesy to touch in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Released in 2001, Daft Punk rewrote the rules of what pop and dance music could be, inspiring a generation of producers who would go on to be the faces and minds of the mid-’00s dance music explosion. Every track was set to animation in the mini-film Interstellar 5555, also a must-see.
Moby – Play (1999)
When Moby released Play, he thought it was destined to be his final album. His last record was a flop, his life was in a downward spiral, and this 18-track collection of aggressive and emotionally vulnerable sample-heavy compositions was his last stab at musical expression. It went on to become his opus, selling more than two million copies and becoming the first album to see every track licensed for commercial purposes. An avid activist, Moby gave most of that money to charitable organizations, some of which worked directly against the corporate interests of some companies that licensed his songs. Soulful and enlightening, Play remains an integral voice in the history of electronic dance.
DJ Shadow – Endtroducing… (1996)
This debut album birthed not only DJ Shadow’s career but a whole genre of hip-hop-influenced lo-fi electronic beat making. Comprised almost entirely of samples ripped from vinyl recordings, Endtroducing… sets an instrumental mood of languid urbanism, showcasing the finesse of a master turntablist, boss DJ battler and style selector. It has the rich warmth of a sonic hug, jumping from ecstatic energy to cool, laid-back grooves. It doesn’t take much imagination to hear how it continues to shape the beat-making landscape.
Smack My Bitch Up was more than just a genre-defining moment; it was a cultural shock to the system. Its controversial music video started conversations across the world, but anyone who bought the full LP walked away with a new concept of what electronic music could be. Half rock album, half beat machine, The Prodigy set fire to the dance floor with ballsy breakbeats and raw punk rock attitude. It has sold well more than 10 million units since its release in 1997. It was awarded by Guinness World Records as the fastest-selling UK album in history. It continues to be name-dropped by modern producers as a turning point in their musical minds.
Another landmark achievement from 1997, this sophomore LP from The Chemical Brothers expanded the electronic dance frontier into a more dynamic sound than previously thought possible. It’s been named one of the greatest albums of all time by a number of publications. One listen to its frenetic 11 tracks will leave you sweaty and smiling. Hip-hop, funk, electro, breakbeats, and collected noise blend together in an experimental web of audacious danceability. It defined an era of dance exploration and took the ’90s straight into the future while honoring electronic’s past. It stands the test of time in a big way, still sitting strong at the top of the genre’s achievements.
No one sounds like Aphex Twin, though many have tried. His spurting, cinematic rhythms run the gamut from bleeding-heart beautiful to harrowingly haunting. This so-called self-titled LP, after the artist’s birth name, is a watershed milestone in a career of exclusively visionary work. A master of complexity and ambient mood, James composed the entire 10-track album on a Macintosh computer. It’s fast-paced, at times unstable and a total mind-warp of a listen. Dive deep into its heavenly discordance and find a wellspring of inspiration where so many have before.
Justice – † (2007)
Truly an album that started a revolution, Justice’s † is another oft-cited source of inspiration for any producer who found fame after its 2007 release. The French duo, students and proteges of Daft Punk, once said they’d set out to make an “opera-disco” album, though it reeks just as much of prog rock and metal. D.A.N.C.E. is a timeless modern classic, and also a fun song about pop icon Michael Jackson. Stress is a psycho thriller soundtrack unlike anything dance music had yet seen. It went on to be the bedrock of what’s now called “bloghouse,” and the whole hipster dance-punk movement of the mid-’00s, clearing a path for better or worse for the American dance music explosion which gave us acts like Skrillex and Porter Robinson, as well as the newly-coined term “EDM.”
An estimated 3,500 samples make up this landmark album from one of the rarest voices in electronic music. It’s presented in the style of a mix, with tracks bleeding in and out of one another for a seamless presentation that never quits or slows. It’s a journey around the world, with tropical soundtracks and wild west frontiers. This Avalanches LP is cheeky and entertaining — a must-listen for any student of the genre, and dare we say the most fun record on this list.
Björk – Homogenic (1997)
One last gemstone from 1997, Björk underwent a mind-melting transformation on her third solo album. Her throaty wails over stark electronic beats and emotive, pensive strings shocks the system with the icy cold romance of her native Iceland, to which it pays artistic tribute. It marks the first of a body of works in collaboration with Mark Bell. Tracks Hunter and All Is Full of Love are iconic representations of Björk’s career and the time. It’s dynamic in shades of blue, white and gray, rich with lyrical and sonic storytelling that begs re-listening again and again.