Electro songs, also known as electro-boogie, electro dance or electro funk, is a genre of music that was heavily influenced by funk music and the use of the TR-808 (one of the very first drum machines). An electro songs electronic vocals and sounds, more often than not, are performed in a mechanical, synthetic way, fed through electronically created distortion, or via a vocoder (a device to produce unusual synthesized vocals).
Originally, the drum machines provided the main rhythm of a track, but with the advent of computers, drum machines became redundant. They made way for break beats which sounded more like live drummers. The TR-808 which was made in 1980 has a sound that is instantly recognizable. To this day, it is still used to create electro music.
Synthesizers are used to generate additional electro instrumentation which includes bass lines, analog synthesis, atonal effects, and arpeggiated or sequenced riffs. To achieve suitable sounds for futuristic or science fiction music, effects such as delays, reverbs, phasers and choruses, combined with eerie sounding strings, are used.
Electro is mainly instrumental but if voices are used they are put through a vocoder. Alternatively, a speech synthesis can be used to make mechanical or robotic sounding lyrics. Very early electro featured rapping but, since the 1990s, rapping has faded in popularity with this genre of music.
When disco died in the 1970s, some electro funk artists like Zapp & Roger started to experiment with talk boxes and the use of more distinctive, heavier beats. Afrika Bambaataa, an electro producer from the Bronx, caused quite a stir in 1982 with the release of a track called ‘Planet Rock’. This featured the basics of Kraftwerk’s ‘Numbers’ and the Trans-Europe Express.
Planet Rock truly was the dawning of a new era in electro music and electro songs in general. The electro inspired ‘Al-Naafiysh (The Soul)’ created by Hashim in 1983 was the first release by the Cutting Record company. Hashim was greatly influenced by ‘She Blinded Me With Science’ (Thomas Dolby), ‘Hip Hop, Be Bop’ (Man Parrish) and ‘Planet Rock’. That same year Herbie Hancock collaborated with Grand Mixer D.ST and they produced the epic electro hit ‘Rockit’.
Planet Patrol and groups like Bambaataa, Mantronix, Jonzun Crew, Juan Atkins’ Cybotron, and Newcleus were a great influence on the musical genres of ghettotech, Detroit techno, electroclash, drum and base, and break beat. John Robie, Shep Pettibone and Arthur Baker, all of whom were electro producers, prominently featured in the ‘freestyle’ movement.
In the late 1980s this genre of music divorced itself from its original funk influence. Pettibone and Baker continued to enjoy lucrative careers that extended to the ‘house’ era. But both escaped the ‘genre snare’ to produce successful mainstream artists. So there you have it, the history of electro songs.