IDM on eMusic

This is probably my favorite kind of electronic music, and while eMusic is no longer the embarrassment of riches it once was in any section, I think IDM is still faring relatively well.  The number of remaining labels may not be high, but their quality still is, IMO.  Since there might be some overlap with the downtempo stuff, I’ll try listing concurrently.  I go back and forth on whether I miss Warp or Ninja Tune more, and if labels ever start returning, both would be tops on my list for longshot hopes (with Planet Mu and Rephlex not far behind, at least for IDM if not the whole site).

Did Aphex Twin and Plaid (The Black Dog) invent this, or did they just get lumped together into it by listeners?

The tempo might well be fast on a lot of these, but there’s usually just too much going on, including elements of noise or otherwise dissonance, in this style for one actually to shake a leg.  Most often, the subtleties are best appreciated with a pair of headphones, and while I prefer a catchy melody, it’s by no means guaranteed in the glitchier stuff.  Abrasiveness is decidedly not a bad thing, at least not in small doses.

When the tempo’s slower, or at least not fast, a stricter adherence to electronic strictures (few or no organic instruments, as with someone like Solenoid) might keep something as IDM rather than downtempo/chillout, methinks.  IDM should also be at least a little experimental, whereas mellower electronica in downtempo/chillout is decidedly against rocking anyone’s boat.  

I’d also include artists here like Metamatics, B12 (both still on the site), Beige, and While (both not), which actively cultivate a sound that one not interested in subtleties might call boring, though in a very different (and much better IMO) way than oonce techno built around a generic 4/4 beat.  The very idea of dancing to any of those is pretty intriguing, and a hip-hop MC trying to be edgy might well try to rap over much of it, but both of those rather miss the point, I think.  

Correct me if I’m wrong about any of this, and I’d love to discuss finer points of description in addition to specific examples. 

The abundance of titles just listed under “Electronic/Electronica” makes sorting a very difficult but necessary task.  I think broken beat belongs here.  I’m a bit torn about whether to include “drill & bass” in here or wait to group it with drum & bass/jungle later.  I think Datach’i and the stable of Zod Records would fit better here, but I’m less sure about something like Spongebob Squarewave (whose label Off Me Nut is the only one still on the site and maybe less intelligent than I initially thought).

Labels I recommend (probably not exclusively IDM):    Bastard Boogie Tunes/Союз Мьюзик; Civil Music; Collective Resonance; Igloo Pop; Minority Records s.r.o.; Moller; Off Me Nut; Skam; 030303; 

OK labels with at least a few titles worth trying:  Agatone; Ambidextrous; Dement3d; dingn\dents; Eves; EXABYTE; Geometrik; Golden Mist; Hydrogen Dukebox; ID Spectral; Intellegenix; Maeg Music; More Than Human; Nice & Nasty; Not Applicable; What Now Becomes; Xtraplex;  

When IDM gets “bad,” I have a hard time distinguishing it from generic techno.  Unlike general techno, I can at least name a few IDM artists I just don’t really like or find overrated, such as Ekoplekz, Nuearz, Disjecta,   See the techno labels in the lower third of my label list for examples, and feel free to tell me where the intelligence has eluded me.

Going back to origins, it’s also my impression that high quality techno of the early 1990s was also just retroactively called IDM after the distinction came into focus.

I’d be interested not only in suggestions for labels I’ve missed and correction of my mistaken beliefs but also what everyone’s all time IDM favorites are.

Ten fine IDM albums 

1. “Inflatable Hope” - Cylob (2015).  Always nice to find Rephlex stalwarts branching out onto other labels that are still on eMusic (see also Global Goon), and at 99 cents this is great value for very stark but not overly aggressive IDM.  Quite like the 1990s never ended. 

2. “Mega City Industry” - iTal tEK (2014).  Before or while breaking out on Planet Mu (“Hollowed” is one of my favorites from the last decade), I’m grateful for this and another EP on Civil Music to soften the loss. 

3. “Flight” - Haav (2019).   Ice cold and dark 99-cent EP also dabbles in illbient and plays with water a lot.  A lower temperature in sound than even title #10, though overall not quite as interesting.  Only a few tracks have any beat at all, and even then there are stretches without to give listeners the shivers.

4. “Pequeños Ejercicios De Supremacía Abstracta” - Prototipo (2017).  Over the course of trying to find all the labels with significant catalogs remaining, whenever something popped up that’s not in English in a genre like IDM I already love, I get inordinately excited.  Their 99-cent EP is fine, too, but this really gives them space to experiment and make one ponder what a Latin artist can offer the subgenre.  

5. “Not a Number” - Quadratschulz (2019).  Clearly and deeply derivative of The Black Dog’s very early and most recent albums, but on a list like this that’s not a bad thing.  On the dancier side of retro and could use some variation in the beat, but for a half an hour of brand new IDM at 99 cents, I can’t ask for more.  The closing track is a pretty kooky Kraftwerk riff.

6. “Cinemetry” - Benighter (2017).  With a still overwhelming number of labels to sort through, I rarely bother with “independent” bands and artists self-releasing material by themselves, but this one did enough to catch my eye and then ears in sampling.  A bit like Felix Laband in the way disparate loops are assembled seemingly at random, if less catchily.  There’s enough variety and manipulation to keep things interesting, in any case.

7. “Phreatic Surface” - Metome (2013).  Vocals chopped to incomprehensible bits, washes of broad synths, and a dancier beat than most here combine for a fine 99-cent EP.  Snare rushes and a general feeling of being wound up tightly and then unfurling abound.

8. “Vapor Wet” - Duanger (2017).  Similar to #7 for incorporating moans and vocals to fit its suggestive album art, this one’s shorter and apparently from Taiwan, with obviously Chinese elements like traditional percussion, but otherwise it could be the other half of a split LP.

9. “Lax” - Lackluster (2019).  I prefer the albums from the turn of the century, but this is still a worthwhile addition to the discography, and anything new on the site needs to be highlighted.  Neither as melodious as previous works nor especially harsh, differences between tracks on this short release still sound like an artist being unsure what paths to pursue, but it’s more clearly IDM than 2014’s “Moments,” which illustrates the difference between IDM and downtempo electronica within the same artist’s output.

10. “Totally Cold” - Oscify (2018).  Possibly the official DJ for the hip-hop on the Are You Serious label, this fully instrumental album is an amazing bargain at 99 cents and showcases chopped up sounds and beats associated with the bigger names in glitchy electronica.  There’s melody to spare among the brokenness, including an interesting experiment on “Web Wobble Womp Womp” to use guitars as the foundation for a whole lot of knob twiddling.  The best news for those who like this one is that there’s 20+ more Oscify titles to choose from.

This list was fairly accessible, but there’s also a wealth of more experimental (read:  dissonant, noisy, tuneless or devoid of melody) stuff still on the site, some of it labeled as IDM.  I’ll get to it in a future list.

On other lists but still fine and on the site:  “Plastic Orchestra” - Global Goon (2012); “Utrecht” - EOD (2010); “Hate in My Heart” - Dntel (2018); “Yokai” - Breek (2018); “Wandering” - Yosi Horikawa (2012); “Blue Sky On Mars” - Jonny Faith (2011); “Parergon” - Will Dutta with Plaid (2012).  One Luke Vibert EP still remains, but I haven’t heard it yet.


  • More obscure IDM...

    In approximate order of how much I like them…

    1. “574” - Tethys (2014). For sheer variety but also coherence between tracks, I haven’t heard a lot of albums lately that can compare w/ Tethys. Some find a groove and work it to its logical conclusion, almost all are somewhat experimental and challenging, and several are close to ambient in atmosphere or industrial in dystopian drive. It turns dronescapes into headphone music, basically, making the seasoned IDM listener pay attention to unpredictable details again. Serious devotees may find Tethys highly unconventional, and that’s the point. I’m still holding out hope that one of the full-length albums can achieve the brilliance of the “Antelizan” EP, but that may be too high a peak to sustain. The closing track comes closest.

    2. “Will-O’-the-Wisp EP” - Squeaky Lobster (2010). Two long tracks that initially and briefly suggest they’ll work more in the vein of sample-heavy downtempo before blowing up w/ an almost dubstep bassline and shifting rhythms, turntables, and something like a kitchen sink’s worth of sounds compacted into singularly aggressive strokes. Not sure why this is only a two-track EP on eMusic while the Bandcamp album separates them into five different and shorter ones, but this packs a heck of a 49-cent wallop. Fans of “Bombay the Hard Way” and Malorix will enjoy the second track.

    3. “From Rotting Fantasylands” - Nero’s Day at Disneyland (2009). By far the most abrasive and glitchy entry here, none of it would work if not tightly attached to melody, which makes interspersing with noise interesting rather than intolerable. Plenty of folks will disagree, but I think letting out aggression with geeky electronics is a worthwhile challenge for every musician.

    4. “Broadcasting” - Ton Mise (2018). Right out of the gate, a sparkling barrage of synths and drums that seem to tumble down and decay the instant they leave the speakers. The other tracks are a cool jumble of angular thumps and buzzes with a lingering undercurrent sometimes rising to the surface, then random brass-sounding pops. All too brief, but fascinating while it lasts. (no longer on eMusic, but there’s still one full album)

    5. Hard as Snails” - Octavcat (2009). A fine, simply melodic substitute for those who can’t wait for a new Plaid album or those unsatisfied with their departure from the sounds circa the “Double Figure” album (a fair description of myself on both counts). Octavcat uses a few more vocal samples than Plaid, including one incongruously laden w/ F-bombs here, but overall this is right in the RIYL sweet spot of sounding similar and barely skirting derivative. I’d say the best tracks are frontloaded, and there is some filler to get up to a reasonable length for an IDM album.

    6. “Rurbanite” - Focalist (2017). A great 99-cent EP of nearly half an hour focused more on rhythm than melody but without going full glitch, broken beat, or anything but easily digestible and highly enjoyable. Tracks have a feeling of real progression to them, and that’s too often missing in other IDM, IMO. The sounds incorporated include what seem to be heavily distorted vocals as well as a variety of beeps, synth sweeps, and generally the kinds of things you’d imagine coming from a carefully calibrated science fiction laboratory full of both analog and digital contraptions angling for a futile integration of their incompatible systems.

    7. “Homemade Dust Collector” - Yuta Inoue (2014). Japanese electronica generally strikes me as novel but rarely classic, and this album is no exception. It’s relatively quiet, playful, and less busy than most IDM. Melodic and rhythmic complexity, not to mention tempo, aren’t as high as much else here, but sometimes simple pleasures are the best. Go too far in the direction of simplicity, though, and you end up with generic hip-hop beats that feel incomplete w/out an MC. In the 21st century, some might criticize electronic music in which the loops are individually identifiable and mostly stable (layering in and out rather than manipulating them much), but these are often delightfully off-kilter and unpredictable. Similarly, occasional female vocals here (i.e. on “Digital Sacchuzai”) aren’t prominent in the mix, so comparisons to u-ziq’s work with Kazumi and others that might approach a level of pop vocals are a good place to start but don’t go very far in describing this album’s overall sound. Light and twinkly is fine by me as a change of pace from aggressive knob-twiddling.

    8. “Galaxy Gust” - FAH (2012). Comparisons to Apex Twin must at once be the laziest and most inaccurate in the world of IDM, but I really do hear it in the frenetic, playful melodies and rhythms on this EP. It’s a great bargain, too. B12 is another comparison that might be more apt, but I doubt that would get anyone’s attention. The 9-minute title track pretty much runs the gamut and is a clear highlight of subtly shifting rhythms, manipulated loops, and possibly styles entirely. As a whole, this would fit right in on Planet-u or Rephlex.

    9. “Cornbrail Acid 2.5” - Beatwife (2015). An expensive album that does at least clock in over an hour in length, I had unreasonable and largely unmet expectations that this would approximate something like the old-school Rephlex sound, or a longer version of the EP (which I think I actually prefer) after this list on Bandcamp. The best tracks make it worthwhile with fast paced beeping melodies, but some also grate when taken in one sitting. Searching for this guy on Bandcamp is pretty difficult. I got the runaround from a Russian label to Love Love, and I couldn’t find this exact album (only I & II).

    10. “Box of Swords” - Herron (2019). The bassline on this short album or long EP feels like it could go drum & bass or even dubstep at any moment, but the electronic clicking and clacking around it keeps it IDM, imo. The beat is usually singular and plodding rather than plural and broken or glitchy. This is not your father’s electronic headphone music, distinct from anything on this list (yet I’m sure more than 90% of average listeners would be unable to tell the difference and be dismissive) or much else I’ve heard. Some of the sounds, including what may be vocals distorted beyond recognition as such, would fit right in industrial music. Don’t expect melody, and you may find this cool or at least intriguing, especially for just 99 cents.

    11. “Wolk” - Virlyn (2014). For 99 cents and 20 minutes, they barely have enough to set an IDM footprint in the shifting sands of this EP, but I find it rewards repeat listens. Being relatively quiet, downtempo, and atmospheric also is refreshing and means not having to be “in the mood” to be bombarded by bleeps and cut-up rhythms at breakneck tempos. The prevailing calmness and innocent noodling strongly remind me of simpler days in the 90s, in a good, nostalgic way. Not everything has to be an arms race to develop the most tortured snare rushes and drum loops.

    12. “Nahoko” - Andrew Abboushi (2017). Mostly quite abstract and like a soundscape with echoing female and male vocals for the opening track, then angelically sustained on the second. What elevates this 99-cent EP is the evocative 3-minute “The Blade” likely pictured with “The Girl” preceding it on the album art (the two tracks may as well be one longer one as the former leads into the latter w/out blending with a slow-building guitar that eventually becomes electronic, then shifts to a simple piano loop). He has other releases on Bandcamp on a NYP basis also worthwhile.

    13. “Harmless Chaos” - Terminal 11 (2018). A perfectly fine, if somewhat short example of IDM (long tracks but only six of them). The title and near-random artist name suggest that they know this is no longer revolutionary, groundbreaking material, but that shouldn’t stop one from enjoying it. Kinda like Beige, The Beige Oscillator, While, or Metamatics to my ears. Tightly wound but not abrasive (“This Malleable Rage” does come close), though somehow that seems almost a negative compared to how Aphex Twin works noise and by-all-definitions irritating sounds into his tracks. Favoring longer tones for its melodies, such as they are. Well worth $2.49.

    Bandcamp Only: “Ronaldsey" - Beatwife (2019). A short album at NYP and a little softer, more melodic than the album above.

    Rather than reposting repeatedly, here’s my lists of what’s left on eMusic:

    & by my evaluation

    & by genre

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