As a part-time DJ and avid lover of EDM, I get many questions asking, “what is progressive house?” Many tend to refer to it as just “techno,” “fist pumping in the air,” or “crazy, bass beats with some high pitched vocals,” while others see it as an annoying build-up to a heavy drop that is meant to shatter ear drums. But what many people don’t realize is how deep and important of a question it really is. When trying to discover what progressive house is, what it encompasses, and when it all began, many seem to dance around the true definition. I’ve heard statements being thrown around of it being a new phenomena, but many don’t know that this genre actually began much earlier, so in order to understand progressive house, one has to take it back to the beginning.
In 1977, a producer by the name of Giorgio Moroder coupled with vocalist Donna Summer to create “I Feel Love,” a huge hit in the dance scene. It didn’t use any traditional instruments like drums and guitars, but instead used analog synths. By 1988, House music in the UK and Germany had exploded in the long established warehouse party subculture. The same year, the Balearic party vibe associated with the Ibizan scene hit London when dj’s Danny Rampling and Paul Oakenfold opened the nightclubs Shoom and Spectrum, respectively. Both clubs became increasingly popular, and it was during this rise that the emergence of MDMA as a party drug started to gain prominence. These MDMA-fueled party goers wouldn’t end their night at closing hours, so they sought warehouse after-hours parties that ran all night. Within a year, up to 10,000 people at a time were attending the first set of organized mass parties, labelled as raves.
Initially, electronic dance music was not widely accepted as in Europe, labelled as “electronica” during the mid to late 1990s. Electronic producers like The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, and Underworld has been associated with this “American electronica revolution”. Despite some interest in the new genre, American house and techno producers went abroad to Europe to establish their careers.
By the mid-2000s, a number of factors led to an increased interest for dance music. Daft Punk’s performance at the 2006 Coachella Festival is considered to be a tipping point for EDM, the kids who began listening to them were seen as a parallel to the generation of the rock kids. In 2009, French House producer David Guetta began to gain mainstream dominance after his track "When Love Takes Over" with Kelly Rowland became very popular. Electric Daisy Carnival, placing an emphasis on visual experiences, fashion (“kandi ravers”), and the DJs themselves (who began attaining celebrity statuses) helped the rise of the phenomena. Websites such as YouTube and SoundCloud were other factors that accelerated the boom of electronic dance music.
The term “electronic dance music” was used in America as early as 1985, although it wasn’t used as an umbrella term until the late 1990s when “Dance” charts began. Just as rock has numerous sub-genres often defined by BPM (beats per minute), rhythm, instrumentation, etc., the broadest categories of EDM include house, techno, trance, hardstyle, drum & bass, dubstep, progressive, and electro. With the rise in popularity, there are many artists who incorporate two sub-genres into one. For example, Knife Party incorporates a beautiful mix of tech house and dubstep to create a sound that astonishes the senses. Many other artists incorporate the aspect of progressive music to their tracks to take you on a roller coaster, whether intense or calm. On top of that, there’s different categories of a sub-genre; Dutch House, French House and Deep House are among the top.
The official recognition of progressive house was in England in 1992 when a journalist by the name of Dom Phillips discovered what he described as, “A new breed of hard but tuneful, banging but thoughtful, uplifting and trancey British house that, while most at home with the trendier Balearic crowd, is just as capable of entrancing up a rave crowd. Once again, it’s possible to go out and hear mad but melodic music that makes you want to dance. Progressive House we’ll call it. It’s simple, it’s funky, it’s driving, and it could only be British”.
Since then, progressive had made a boom in the industry; it was exactly what appealed to ravers: starting off slow and building up to a drop that would hit you right in the feels. Unfortunately, the popularity enticed many artists to incorporate progressive sounds into their own music, essentially blurring the lines and making it almost unrecognizable. The stigma associated with progressive house can be related to the youth attending raves not to respect and watch the artists, but to listen to the synths and hi hats and bass while doped up on crazy amounts of drugs. Many don’t know the beginnings of a genre because they either don’t care, or never thought to look it up.
Progressive house as heard today is not actually true progressive house. Beatport's umbrella-labelled songs coupled with major festivals like Electric Daisy and Ultra playing the “mainstream” songs has altered what it truly is. You are more likely to find an authentic prog house song in the indie dance and techno section. So how do we find true prog house? Dig deep, and focus on underground tracks, not what you hear on the radio or in night clubs. These 5 minute tracks that begin with a bang and have a crazy drop were created to keep the crowd Interested. Essentially these tracks should last for about double the time, building layer upon layer, befitting the true meaning of progressive.
The beauty about EDM is the diversity, how it appeals to almost every taste and every mood and occasion. Moreover, this genre has developed over decades, and will continue to change and grow as more and more begin to listen to it. Change is evident, but the problem arises when producers are intentionally creating songs to increase revenue. When tracks are made to listen to over and over, with a lack of appreciation for the actual music itself. True progressive house is available and just as beautiful as other genres, one just has to put in effort to look for it.
Cover photo: Western Gazette
Written by Taya-Maria El-Asmar