The 50 Best IDM Albums of All Time
In a fascinating new Pitchfork feature, Simon Reynolds - author of the techno rave history Energy Flash - compiles the 50 best Intelligent Dance Music albums of all time. From Squarepusher and Speedy J to Autechre, Aphex Twin and Flying Lotus, this IDM list is a must-listen for any fan of the more ambient and experimental sides of dance music.This article originally appeared on Pitchfork
Graphic by Jessica Viscius
From Aphex Twin to Squarepusher to Flying Lotus, here are the braindance greats
PARTY IN MY MIND: THE ENDLESS HALF-LIVES OF IDM
At the outset, it needs to be said that “Intelligent Dance Music” is—ironically—kind of a stupid name. By this point, possibly even the folks who coined the term back in 1993—members of an online mailing list mainly consisting of Aphex Twin obsessives—have misgivings about it.
For as a guiding concept, IDM raises way more issues than it settles. What exactly is “intelligence” as manifested in music? Is it an inherent property of certain genres, or more about a mode of listening to any and all music? After all, it’s possible to listen to and write about “stupid” forms of music with scintillating intellect. Equally, millions listen to “smart” sounds like jazz or classical in a mentally inert way, using it as a background ambience of sophistication or uplifting loftiness. Right from the start, IDM was freighted with some problematic assumptions. The equation of complexity with cleverness, for instance—what you might call the prog fallacy. And the notion that abandoning the functional, party-igniting aspect of dance somehow liberated the music and the listener: a privileging of head over body that reinforced biases ingrained from over 2,000 years of Western civilization, from Plato through St. Paul and Descartes to more recent cyber-utopians who dream of abandoning the “meat” and becoming pure spirit.
And yet, and yet... Dubious as the banner was (and is), under that aegis, some of the most fabulous electronic music of our era came into being. You could even dance to some of it! And while its peak has long since passed, IDM’s half-lives echo on around us still, often in the unlikeliest of places: avant-R&B tunes like Travis Scott’s “Goosebumps,” tracks like “Real Friends” on The Life of Pablo, even moments on “The Young Pope” soundtrack.
You could say that the prehistory of IDM was the ambient chill-out fad of the first years of the ’90s, along with certain ethereal and poignant tracks made by Detroit producers like Carl Craig. But really, it all kicks off in 1992 with Warp’s first Artificial Intelligence compilation and its attendant concept of “electronic listening music,” along with that same year’s Aphex Twin album Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (released on Apollo, the ambient imprint of R&S Records)...