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IDM for the Uninitiated February 10, 2008

Posted by olywood in art & science.
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7 comments

Idm has always been a somewhat jarring and off putting name for a genre of music.
If you know what it means already then the acronym needs no introduction, if you don’t then get ready to guffaw like you’ve never done before. This seemingly innocuous phrase actually stands for ‘intelligent dance music’. Yes as oxymorons go it really pushes the boat out doesn’t it.
And its not just you who’s wincing either, you’d be hard pushed to find an avid fan or causal listener alike who doesn’t cringe a little inside every time they’re reminded of the fact that they’ve taken it upon themselves to listen to a genre of music that, with an apparently straight face, goes around calling itself ‘idm’.
It’s the genre that never existed, Triphop’s spiritual brother. But even the masters of eclecticism need a musical refuge; a place to collaborate, lick old wounds, plan the next offensive.
Yes on the face of it a three letter acronym is a pretty amorphous concept to hang your musical ambitions on, but in an industry where a musician without a movement is like a malcontent without a mob, you cant afford to go it alone.

Despite the relative obscurity of the brand, Idm has been around longer than you think too. It’s never easy pinpointing the exact beginning of any genre of course, but the generally referenced milestones you’ll need to know are; Warp’s artificial intelligent vol.1, Afx’s Analogue Bubblebath series & Selected Ambient Works 85-92 and Autechre’s Amber LP.
On the face of it a pretty disparate selection of records, but its their shared aversion to repetition and loose way with musical structure that prevents them from being just another list of unrelated albums.
Which isn’t to imply that Idm is all rule book burning and tokenistic subversion. Polyrhythmic experimentation might just be a fancy expression for playing out of time, but in Idm there often is a method to the seemingly chaotic madness, meaningful patterns to be found in the random glitches and collapsing waveforms.

Either way the ongoing murmurings of ‘pretentious anti-music’ ‘unlistenable sophistry’ still seem inordinately hard to shake off.
Surprising since Idm has always tethered itself to quite a strict set of musical rules, even if it does stray from its musical moorings its strength has always been in knowing when to return back to shore.
Infact it’s this carefuly balanced synergy between spontaneity and conformity which has in many ways made Idm the natural successor to Jazz. Modern Bebop for the socially invisible yet economically prominent home-listener market.
By doggedly raising the point “who said electronic music had to be danceable anyway?” to an unlikely mix of past-their-sell-by-date ravers and bookish young fogeys, Idm has done the close to impossible; carved its self out a cosy niche in an industry in which scraps of territory are regularly defended & attacked as sweeping plots of land.

The industry is of course a far less certain a place than it was ten years ago, times have changed, things have shifted.
Fortunately the Idm community seems to have survived the shakes and tremors of the ‘Internet revolution’ relatively bump-free.
Not just a case of catching the wind at the right time, artists and label owners within the scene were snapping into position and gearing up for the big change while most genres had barely even noticed that the paradigm was already shifting beneath them.
Amidst stuffy vinyl-bores & ardent purists attempting to boycott Internet downloads on an ever sliding back-heel, Idm has been a veritable model of progression in comparison.
Even going as far as to team up with ‘scurge of the music industry’ p2p program Soulseek – releasing music and promoting artists through their main website. If you cant beat them join them.

But while Idm has often placed itself at the front of the queue for new technological innovations and in most instances benefited, the latest serving of technological innovation has arguably placed Idm at the back of the creative line this time round.
With easy access to plugins such as dbglitch & livecut, Idm producers can now achieve those Afx glitches and Squarepusher stutters with next to no effort, turning music production into more of a creative indulgence than a creative struggle.

However in typical early bird fashion the Idm fraternity have responded to the artistic quandary just in time. Inter- genre cross synthesis is where it’s at now – the Dubstep osmosis of Boxcutter, the country ‘n’ glitch of Nik Jade, the multi-genre pilfery of Luke Vibert.
Cross pollination encouragingly seems to be working in both directions as well, channeling the spirit of Idm through marshal amps and fender telecasters, a new generation of bands weaned on electronica has emerged. Bringing Postrock to an ever growing audience of Edm defectors and baggage free young fans.
Together with the current trend of mixing & matching Idm with its nearest musical cousins, Postrock seems to add further confirmation to Idm’s sustainably potent life force. Just like the infinitely recyclable punk ethos that came before it, Idm has shown that it carries with it an implicit philosophy, an unspoken set of rituals that exists far beyond the music.
More of a transferable concept than a musical discipline, its not a case of where Idm is going, it’s a case of where its going to turn up next.

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