Songs Every Dance Music Fan Should Know, Vol. 1

With so much time being spent trying to put people onto what's popping NOW in the electronic music scene, it can be hard for newcomers to understand the roots of the varying genres under the EDM umbrella. Getting upset with today's fans for having no real knowledge of the past four decades of electronic music can be troubling, too. Don't humiliate them, educate them. That's where DAD comes in.

Not Available Lead
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Not Available Lead

With so much time being spent trying to put people onto what's popping NOW in the electronic music scene, it can be hard for newcomers to understand the roots of the varying genres under the EDM umbrella. Getting upset with today's fans for having no real knowledge of the past four decades of electronic music can be troubling, too. Don't humiliate them, educate them. That's where DAD comes in.

We've been fans of electronic music for most of our lives, and always find ourselves listening back to the classics of yesteryear; you should, too. And if you're new, and want to understand some of the key reference points within this vast scene, we're here to help.

This is intended to be a series of tracks that are either classic, representative of different movements within dance music, and/or essential to roudning out your electronic music knowledge. You can't know where you're going unto you know where you've been. This is also only round one; we'll continue to get you androids up to speed so you can turn up to the new bits while getting acquainted with the past.

Donna Summer - "I Feel Love"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: Casablanca

Year: 1977

Why?: It was a sign of things to come

We all know that the disco sound is the backbone of a lot of the dance music scene, right? While disco helped push the "four to the floor" sound to the forefront, a lot of that was made possible by live instrumentation. The Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte-produced "I Feel Love" not only represented the "future" portion of Donna's I Remember Yesterday album, but also helped sow the seeds for the future of electronic music. The track was synthesized from head to toe, and not only sparked a revolution in the disco scene, but is a direct building block to the techno genre.

Kraftwerk - "Trans-Europe Express"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: Capitol

Year: 1977

Why?: Kraftwerk's song about the Trans Europ Express spread it's influence to a number of genres, from hip-hop to dance music

While a song about a trasnit line would be the last place we'd imagine creative influence coming from, there's something about the mechanical funk of Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express," which has been sampled by everyone from Afrika Bambaata to Paul Oakenfold. The legendary Grandmaster Flash said it's a record that "mixes itself," joking that he could drop a needle on the record, go to the bathroom, and not worry about the club slowing down. No need to cut it, and so inspiring.

Frankie Knuckles - "Your Love"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: Trax Records
Year: 1987

Why?: One of the Chicago house scene's most impactful tracks

Of course Frankie Knuckles, who was an integral part in the creation of Chicago's house scene, would have produced one of the genre's most classic anthems. While his version of Jamie Principle's "Your Love" wasn't the first to be released (that distinction goes to Mark "Hot Rod" Trollan's version, which dropped a year earlier), Frankie helped elevate this track outside of the Chicago scene via his Trax release–this tune went global, and for good reason. There were the Italo disco elements in the bassline, the that unforgettable synth line, and the undeniable appeal of the song's hook. Once you hear those chords, you can send many rooms in the world into a frenzy.

Rhythim Is Rhythim - "Strings of Life"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: Transmat

Year: 1987

Why?: This seminal techno track is also one of Derrick May's best-known works

As part of Detroit's Belleville Three, Derrick May will always be seen as one of the architects of the techno scene. It was "Strings of Life" as Rhythim Is Rhythim that took Derrick global; "Strings of Life" struck a chord in Britain at just the right time, pouring gasoline onto the house explosion they were going through at the time. Frankie Knuckles spoke of "the kind of power and energy people got off that record" when they first heard it, and even today you still feel that vibe. It's amazing that a record that encapsulates piano and orchestral samples but has no bassline (or need for one) can still resonate today.


Not Available Interstitial

Label: Warp
Year: 1990

Why?: A spine-tingling track that marked Warp Records' first Top 20 chart entry

That's right, LFO's self-titled single hit #12 in July of 1990, making this barnstormer the first time the provacative electronic imprint ever hit the charts. History has it that the duo produced this monster and handing it off to Nightmares On Wax, who was getting such a great reaction from it in the clubs; there's something about the tune's raw energy, that hypnotic bassline, and playful bleeps that sent many a raver over the moon when this one dropped.

Second Phase - "Mentasm"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: R&S

Year: 1991

Why?: The tune that introduced everyone to the hoover

Well, you may call it the Hoover, or the Mentasm, or the Dominator... it depends on where you first heard that undeniably catchy riff. Second Phase, aka Joey Beltram and Mundo Muzique, dropped "Mentasm" in 1991 on Belgian label R&S, and the riff has been used by everyone: it's shown up in numerous drum & bass tunes, as well as tracks by Steve Aoki, Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance," and music by Rihanna, Rita Ora, and others. That's it, really; sure, it feels like a PROPA RAVE, MATE!, but the lasting quality is that riff. And it still goes off.

Massive Attack - "Unfinished Symphony"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: Wild Bunch

Year: 1991

Why?: A defining moment in the trip-hop scene

While it's hard to take that comment seriously (considering that most of the artists that people called "trip-hop" even used the term), Massive Attack were instrumental in this movement which grew from their scene in Bristol to the world. "Unifnished Symphony" features gorgeous movements from a full orchestra with Shara Nelson pouring her soul out over some hip-hop-influenced club rhythms. This is truly all kinds of worlds colliding to make one of the most beautiful dance tracks ever.

The Future Sound Of London - "Papua New Guinea"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: Jumpin' & Pumpin'

Year: 1992

Why?: It struck an immediate chord with, well, everyone

While possibly the most club-ready tune in The Future Sound Of London's catalog, it's also one of the most instantly recognizable. Usually, you know a tune's good when every DJ and their grandmother is dropping it in their sets–that happened, but "Papua New Guinea" actually been remixed countless times, both legally and on some bootleg shit. It has elements that, even if you've not heard the original before, you've definitely heard referenced in a number of different tracks. It's like a classic film being translated for audiences across the globe to experience; you can't keep quality tracks for one group of music lovers. Truly timeless material.

Robin S. - "Show Me Love"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: Big Beat

Year: 1993

Why?: Definitive diva house

If you want to talk memorable '90s house music, Robin S.' "Show Me Love" might be at the tip-top. It's a perfect track... and surprisingly, it's actually the StoneBridge remix that many of us remember. Whatever the case may be, there are memorable hooks or vocals from that era, but "Show Me Love" is indicative of the soul and heart that resided within the house scene for a while.

Goldie - "Inner City Life"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: FFRR

Year: 1994

Why?: It showed that drum & bass had a soul

Taken from Goldie's life-changing debut album Timeless, "Inner City Life" is actually a portion of the album's first track, a 21-minute opus that encapsulates everything that made Goldie the important figure to drum & bass and electronic music in general. Sure, the breakneck genre was seen as being dark, moody, and brooding, but Goldie saw things differently, and found a way to bring out the warmth and soul to the scene, incorporating jazz, booming diva vocals, and hip-hop swagger to the scene, giving naysayers a new framework to view drum & bass... and longtime fans a reason to say "see, we told you so."

Faithless - "Insomnia"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: Cheeky Records
Year: 1995

Why?: A jam that spoke to ravers in more ways than one

Faithless' "Insomnia" topped the charts in America, Finland, Canada, Switzerland, and Norway, and charted high in Faithless' native UK. And while you could argue that, sure, ravers are insomniacs because they go raving all-night, the undercurrent does lend to the lifestyle, which as we all known can be drenched in drug use, which can keep club-goers awake. The lyrics on this paint a pretty dark picture, but we have a feeling some of you out there understood the feeling early on... of course that's all before that memorable melody creeps in. Oh yeah, you know this tune now, huh? Club–and minds–would explode when this nine-minute track properly dropped.

Underworld - "Born Slippy .NUXX"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: Wax Trax!

Year: 1996

Why?: That time when a critically-acclaimed movie made a slept-on track a bonafide hit

Originally, Underworld's "Born Slippy" was a vocal-less, single-only release that didn't get much notice from the masses. The .NUXX mix, which featured vocals that were said to mimic the internal dialogue of an alcoholic (member Karl Hyde was an alcoholic) and a booming beat, all that was meant to "be a joke," but ended up soundtracking the final scene in Trainspotting, all but forcing the .NUXX mix of "Born Slippy" to be released on its own. Since 1996, this mix was a must for Underworld live shows.

Daft Punk - "Around The World"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: Virgin
Year: 1997

Why?: A simple, yet effective #1 single for this French up

Word is that the only words from "Around the World" (you know, the "around the world" hook) are uttered 144 times on the album version of the song; we're too lost in the funky bassline to even be bothered by that, and apparently we aren't alone in that feeling. For all of the praise Daft Punk gets, their best work is never hyper-complicated: it's all just simple, infectious grooves that make you feel like a kid again.

Alice Deejay - "Better Off Alone"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: Positiva
Year: 1999

Why?: Before they were Dash Berlin, they were charting huge with their "trance-fueled Eurodance" sound

That's right, two-thirds of Dash Berlin (Eelke Kalberg and Sebastiaan Molijn) were the writers behind this 1999 "techno pop" smash. And sure, you're cursing us for getting "Better Off Alone" stuck in your head, but that Eurodance sound was very real, and you have to wonder: if this track stayed as an instrumental (like it initially was), would it have been a worldwide smash? Do you think the instrumental would be better off alone?

Darude - "Sandstorm"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: 16 Inch
Year: 1999

Why?: How many trance songs became worldwide hits thanks to

While Darude was making happy hardcore before he went the trance route, it was "Sandstorm," which was the product of a week's work with a new writing partner, Jaakko "JS16" Salovaara, that catapulted this Finnish producer to stardom. This is one of those earworms that won't let go, for good or ill, but the most interesting fact is that this was around the time that, a website that we imagine many of you might not remember, was servicing MP3 files around the time they really started getting hot. Darude added "Sandstorm" to his page, and that link helped introduce this trance anthem to millions via the world wide web, leading the song to hit #1 in Norway, 200 techno and trance compilations, and over two million in sales. The track has also been used as a rallying cry in sports, been featured on Queer As Folk, as pro-wrestling entrance music, and as a meme. All of this for one week's work on a trance track.

RP Boo - "11-47-99"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: Databass
Year: 2001

Why?: A footwork anthem by one of it's pioneers, even if you didn't realize it

We'd be surprised if you didn't know anything about "11-47-99." It was originally released by Detroit's Databass imprint, but credited to DJ Slugo. Hell, you might've just known it as a footwork song with Godzilla samples. RP Boo wrote the track for Slugo, but had no idea it was making noise. Could that be one of the reasons why it took him so long to start releasing his own material? Who knows. What it did do was lay the groundwork for Chicago's footwork scene, which has birthed the likes of the late DJ Rashad, DJ Spinn, Traxman, DJ Earl, and countless others. You know, the sound that's been receiving loads of love, with labels and producers in the UK, Japan, and all points in between launching their own takes on the sound? Yeah, you can tie them back to RP Boo's work, primarily this "Godzilla track."

Wiley - "Eskimo"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: Wiley Kat
Year: 2002

Why?: An instrumental that helepd pioneer the UK grime sound

When you talk about vets in the UK grime scene, Wiley's name needs to be at the top. If it wasn't for his "Eskimo" instrumental, who knows where the grime scene would've ended up. At the time, Wiley saw his "eskibeat" (a moniker for his sound derived from his nickname, Eskiboy) as a blending of the UK garage scene and hip-hop, as the UK grime scene was definitely hip-hop with a UK twist to it. It's pretty simple, though: "Eskimo" was the forefather to the grime scene, and you can hear interpretations of this monumental beat in today's tracks.

Double 99 - "RIP Groove"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: Ice Cream Records

Year: 2004

Why?: One of the first proper speed garage tracks

Speed garage, a sound that was popularized by DJs like Armand Van Helden, is directly linked to the UK garage scene (which itself was a flip of the garage scene championed by Todd Edwards), but with different drum patterns and added R&B flavor to the vocals. This two-step predecessor had a few tunes that were in contention as being the first of the sound, but there's something about Double 99's Top Cat-featured "RIP Groove" that encapsulates everything that is definitive speed garage.

Tiesto - "Adagio For Strings"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: Magik Muzik

Year: 2005

Why?: This 2005 update of a string orchestral composition from the 1930s helped catapult Tiesto to stardom

Sure, Tiesto's been at it for a while–the Dutch DJ/producer/labelhead/EDM icon has been making music since 1994–but his stock, which started to rise in the early 2000s, felt like it hit a fever pitch with his 2005 update of "Adagio For Strings." This track was a part of his "Parade of the Athletes," which was a live mix he played during the opening ceremony of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, and ended up becoming an unrelenting trance track that certified the "trance king" crown Tiesto once wore.

Digital Mystikz - "Haunted" / "Anti-War Dub"

Not Available Interstitial

Label: DMZ

Year: 2006

Why?: One of the most integral singles on one of the dubstep scene's most influential imprints

Digital Mystikz was a number of things: it was the production duo of Mala and Coki, two of dubstep's most important figures. It was a label, DMZ, that these two operated with Loefah and Sgt. Pokes. It was also one of the premier dubstep nights, back when the scene was truly coming into its own. And while DMZ had already dropped six highly-regarded singles over two years, it feels like the seventh, "Haunted" b/w "Anti-War Dub," nailed the duality of the dubstep scene.

The 12" kicked off with "Haunted," channeling some spooky, intergalactic subs atop crispy drums, becoming one of the most unforgettable dubstep anthems ever. The flipside is for the steppers out there, adding a 4/4 flex to the dubstep scene, bringing the vibes closer to the "dub" side of things. If you truly want a crash course in dubstep, anything DMZ-related is essential, and this single perfectly defines what dubstep was about.

Latest in Music