Intelligent dance music (IDM) is a style of electronic music originating in the early 1990s, defined by idiosyncratic experimentation rather than specific genre constraints.[3] It emerged from the culture and sound palette of electronic styles such as ambient techno, acid house, Detroit techno and breakbeat;[4][5] it has been regarded as better suited to home listening than dancing.[6][7][8] Prominent artists associated with it include Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher, Boards of Canada, Amon Tobin, Higher Intelligence Agency, Telefon Tel Aviv, μ-Ziq, The Black Dog, The Future Sound of London, Mouse on Mars, Biosphere, Orbital and Luke Vibert.[6][7]

The term "intelligent dance music" was likely inspired by the 1992 Warp compilation Artificial Intelligence and is said to have originated in the US[9][10] in 1993 with the formation of the "IDM list", an electronic mailing list originally chartered for the discussion of English artists appearing on the compilation.[11] The term has been widely criticised and dismissed by most artists associated with it, including Aphex Twin, Autechre, and μ-Ziq. Rephlex Records, a label co-created by Aphex Twin, coined the term "Braindance" as an alternative. In 2014, music critic Sasha Frere-Jones observed that the term "is widely reviled but still commonly used".[12]


Intelligent techno and electronica

See also: Electronica and ambient techno

In the late 1980s, riding the wave of the acid house and early rave party scenes, UK-based groups such as The Orb and The KLF produced ambient house, a genre that fused house music (particularly acid house) with ambient music.[13] By the early 1990s, the increasingly distinct music associated with dance music experimentation had gained prominence with releases on a variety of mostly UK-based record labels, including Warp (1989), Black Dog Productions (1989), R&S Records (1989), Carl Craig's Planet E, Rising High Records (1991), Richard James's Rephlex Records (1991), Kirk Degiorgio's Applied Rhythmic Technology (1991), Eevo Lute Muzique (1991), General Production Recordings (1989), Soma Quality Recordings (1991), Peacefrog Records (1991), and Metamorphic Recordings (1992).

In 1992, Warp released Artificial Intelligence, the first album in the Artificial Intelligence series. Subtitled "electronic listening music from Warp", the record was a collection of tracks from artists such as Autechre, B12, Black Dog Productions, Aphex Twin and The Orb, under various aliases.[14] This would help establish the ambient techno sound of the early 1990s.[15] Steve Beckett, co-owner of Warp, has said the electronic music that the label was releasing then was targeting a post-club, home-listening audience.[16][17] Following the success of the Artificial Intelligence series, "intelligent techno" became the favoured term, although ambient—without a qualifying house or techno suffix, but still referring to a hybrid form—was a common synonym.[17]

In the same period (1992–93), other names were also used, such as "art techno",[18] "armchair techno", and "electronica",[19] but all were attempts to describe an emerging offshoot of electronic dance music that was being enjoyed by the "sedentary and stay at home".[20] At the same time, the UK market was saturated with increasingly frenetic breakbeat and sample-laden hardcore techno records that quickly became formulaic. Rave had become a "dirty word", so as an alternative, it was common for London nightclubs to advertise that they were playing "intelligent" or "pure" techno, appealing to a "discerning" crowd that considered the hardcore sound to be too commercial.[17]

In 1993, a number of new "intelligent techno"/"electronica" record labels emerged, including New Electronica, Mille Plateaux, and Ferox Records.[citation needed]

The IDM List

In November 1991, the phrase "intelligent techno" appeared on Usenet in reference to Coil's The Snow EP.[21] Off the Internet, the same phrase appeared in both the U.S. and UK music press in late 1992, in reference to Jam & Spoon's Tales from a Danceographic Ocean and the music of The Future Sound of London.[22][23] Another instance of the phrase appeared on Usenet in April 1993 in reference to The Black Dog's album Bytes.[24] And in July 1993, in his review of an ethno-dance compilation for NME, Ben Willmott replaced techno with dance music, writing "...current 'intelligent' dance music owes much more to Eastern mantra-like repetition and neo-ambient instrumentation than the disco era which preceded the advent of acid and techno."[25]

Wider public use of such terms on the Internet came in August 1993, when Alan Parry announced the existence of a new electronic mailing list for discussion of "intelligent" dance music: the "Intelligent Dance Music list", or "IDM List" for short.[26][27]

The first message, sent on 1 August 1993, was entitled "Can Dumb People Enjoy IDM, Too?".[28] A reply from the list server's system administrator and founder of Brian Behlendorf, revealed that Parry originally wanted to create a list devoted to discussion of the music on the Rephlex label, but they decided together to expand its charter to include music similar to what was on Rephlex or that was in different genres but which had been made with similar approaches. They picked the word "intelligent" because it had already appeared on Artificial Intelligence and because it connoted being something beyond just music for dancing, while still being open to interpretation.[29]

Autechre, a notable electronic music act associated with IDM.

Artists that appeared in the first discussions on the list included Autechre, Atom Heart, LFO and Rephlex Records artists such as Aphex Twin, μ-ziq and Luke Vibert; plus artists such as The Orb, Richard H. Kirk and The Future Sound of London, and even artists like System 7, William Orbit, Sabres of Paradise, Orbital, Plastikman and Björk. By the end of 1996, Boards of Canada and the Schematic Records label were among the usual topics of discussion, alongside perennial favourites like Aphex Twin and the Warp repertoire.[original research?]

As of 2015, the mailing list is still active.

Artificial Intelligence Vol. 2

Warp's second Artificial Intelligence compilation was released in 1994. The album featured fragments of posts from the IDM mailing list incorporated into typographic artwork by The Designers Republic. Sleeve notes by David Toop acknowledged the genre's multitude of musical and cultural influences and suggested none should be considered more important than any other.[4]

During this period, the electronic music produced by Warp Records artists such as Aphex Twin (an alias of Richard D. James), Autechre, LFO, B12, Seefeel and The Black Dog, gained popularity among electronic music fans, as did music by artists on the Rephlex and Skam labels. Lesser-known artists on the Likemind label and Kirk Degiorgio's A.R.T. and Op-Art labels, including Degiorgio himself under various names (As One, Future/Past and Esoterik), Steve Pickton (Stasis) and Nurmad Jusat (Nuron) also found an audience, along with bigger-name, cross-genre artists like Björk and The Future Sound of London.

IDM worldwide

North American audiences welcomed IDM, and by the early to late 1990s many IDM record labels had been founded, including Drop Beat, Isophlux, Suction, Schematic and Cytrax.[30] In Miami, Florida, labels like Schematic, Merck Records, Nophi Recordings and The Beta Bodega Coalition released material by artists such as Phoenecia, Dino Felipe, Machinedrum and Proem. Another burgeoning scene was the Chicago/Milwaukee area, with labels such as Addict, Chocolate Industries, Hefty and Zod supporting artists like Doormouse, TRS-80, Telefon Tel Aviv and Emotional Joystick. Tigerbeat 6, a San Francisco-based label has released IDM from artists such as Cex, Kid 606 and Kevin Blechdom.

In 2007, Igloo Magazine observed that "IDM as we knew it is a distant memory, with reminders from the big names now depressingly infrequent, however IDM as we now know it is very much alive, albeit in a less influential and popular, but still respectable form", with a third wave of artist having become active around 2004.[31]

In 2018, Fact magazine puts the focus on Miami as a central importer/exporter of IDM in the United States. The talent coming out of Miami included the likes of Richard Devine (Schematic/Warp), Alpha 606, Prefuse-73 (Schematic/Warp), Push Button Objects, Otto von Schirach (Schematic) and many more. In 1993, Romulo Del Castillo and Omar Clemetson (Supersoul) began producing both trip hop and IDM. 2 years later Del Castillo and Josh Kay would later form the duo Soul Oddity, which would eventually release their debut album Tone Capsule on Astralwerks (an EMI subsidiary) in 1996.[32]

Criticism of the term

British electronic music and techno artists, including Aphex Twin, Cylob, and Mike Paradinas (A.K.A. μ-Ziq), have criticised the term IDM. Paradinas has stated that the term IDM was only used in North America. Criticism is dominated by the use of the term "intelligent" in the genre name, and also often calls attention to the fact that artists working under this name often produce music that is not easy to dance to.

AllMusic Guide describes the IDM name as

A loaded term meant to distinguish electronic music of the '90s and later that's equally comfortable on the dancefloor as in the living room, IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) eventually acquired a good deal of negative publicity, not least among the legion of dance producers and fans whose exclusion from the community prompted the question of whether they produced "Stupid" dance music.[33]

In a September 1997 interview, Aphex Twin commented on the 'Intelligent Dance Music' label:

I just think it's really funny to have terms like that. It's basically saying 'this is intelligent and everything else is stupid.' It's really nasty to everyone else's music. (laughs) It makes me laugh, things like that. I don't use names. I just say that I like something or I don't.[34]

Aphex Twin's Rephlex records official overarching genre name is Braindance, of which Dave Segal of Stylus Magazine asked whether it was a "snide dig at IDM's mockworthy Intelligent Dance Music tag?"[35]

Kid 606 has said,

It's a label invented by PR companies who need catchphrases. I like sounds, but hate what people attach to sounds.[36]

Matmos has remarked in Perfect Sound Forever that

I belong to the weblist called "IDM" and occasionally enjoy the discussions there, because I like some of the artists who get lassoed into that category (not to mention that we, occasionally, are lumped into that category too), and because you can occasionally find out about interesting records on that list... Matmos is IDM if that only means "might be talked about on the IDM list"- but I don't endorse that term "intelligent dance music" because it's laughable.[37]

In a 2016 interview with Resident Advisor, Sean Booth of Autechre said that,

All these things about us being "intelligent" and the term "IDM" are just silly. I'm not a particularly intelligent person, me. I'm diligent, I'm pretty hardworking, but I'm not that clever. I ain't got any qualifications, I just pick up stuff that I think is interesting at the time...There was also the "Artificial Intelligence" tag that Warp coined, but to me as a listener that never seemed to be saying "this is more intelligent." It was just a signifier of it being sci-fi music...Thing is, almost all the artists on that first AI compilation are just like us, they were regular kids, they're not intelligent people particularly. Richard [D. James] is a fucking blagger, Richie Hawtin too... I don't know how the fuck he gets away with the things he does![38]

Responding to some of these criticisms, Mike Brown of commented in 2018,

Even in '93 to 4' the word "IDM" wasn't something any of us took seriously. It was just three letters with no particular meaning beyond our little nerdy community's way of referring to whatever music we liked from the fringes of electronic dance music. No one was intending to coin a genre name or to imply the artists and fans were geniuses.[39]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Cardew, Ben (3 July 2017). "Machines of loving grace: how Artificial Intelligence helped techno grow up". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 29 October 2021. Retrieved 1 February 2020.
  2. ^ a b Winfield, Adam (24 November 2007). "Is IDM Dead?". Igloo Magazine. Archived from the original on 1 February 2020. Retrieved 1 February 2020.
  3. ^ "…the label 'IDM' (for avant-garde, 'intelligent dance music') seems to be based more on an association with individualistic experimentation than on a particular set of musical characteristics." Butler, M.J., Unlocking the Groove: Rhythm, Meter, and Musical Design in Electronic Dance Music, Indiana University Press, 2006, (p. 80).
  4. ^ a b "The electronic listening music of the nineties is a prime example of an art form derived from and stimulated by countless influences. Partisan analyses of this music claim a baffling variety of prime sources (Detroit techno, New York electro + Chicago acid, Eno + Bowie, Cage + Reich, Gary Numan + Tangerine Dream) but this is beside the point. To claim ascendancy of one source over another is to deny the labyrinthine entwinements of culture: rooted in political history + the development of science + technology, yet tilting at the boundaries of society + language." Toop, David, in the Artificial Intelligence II sleeve notes Archived 7 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Toop, D. (1995),Ocean of Sound, Serpent's Tail, pp. 215-216. (ISBN 978-1-85242-743-6).
  6. ^ a b Pollard, Vincent. "Translator". Exclaim!. Archived from the original on 20 June 2017. Retrieved 28 April 2017.
  7. ^ a b "IDM". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 23 December 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  8. ^ Hobbes, DJ (26 February 2013). "Clubbers' Decktionary: IDM aka Intelligent Dance Music". The List. Archived from the original on 12 August 2017. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  9. ^ Winfield, Adam (24 November 2007). "Is IDM Dead?". igloo magazine. Archived from the original on 15 December 2014. Retrieved 16 November 2014. …use of the idiom was initiated online with the conception of the IDM mailing list in 1993, which functioned as a forum for discussion on leading IDM artists and Artificial Intelligence. Incidentally, when I questioned Mike Paradinas (μ-Ziq) on his feelings towards the term, he bluntly answered: 'No one uses or used it in UK. Only Americans ever used the term. It was invented by Alan Parry who set up the IDM mailing list'.
  10. ^ "'No one really listens to IDM over here,' says Mike Paradinas from his home in Worchester, UK. 'You just say stuff like the Aphex Twin, and they might have heard of him.' It's a bold statement for Paradinas, who, along with friends and contemporaries like Richard James (Aphex Twin) and LFO, was one of that genre's defining artists in London's fertile dance music community of the early 1990s." "'No one says IDM in England? No, only on message boards when they're talking to Americans!" Ben Stirling (2003), Archived 24 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine, published 28 July 2003.
  11. ^ "the development of IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) is closely entwined with a mailing list established to discuss the work of seminal post-techno producers like Autechre and Aphex Twin; in fact, the name 'IDM' originated with the mailing list, but now is routinely applied by reviewers, labels and fans alike." Sherburne, P. (2001:172), Organised Sound (2001), 6 : 171-176 Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  12. ^ Frere-Jones, Sasha (6 October 2014). "The Pleasure Principle. Aphex Twin smooths out his edges". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 17 December 2014. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  13. ^ "Ambient House". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 22 February 2015. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  14. ^ AllMusic Guide, Overview of Artificial Intelligence
  15. ^ Reynolds, Simon (2012). Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture. Soft Skull Press. pp. 156–7.
  16. ^ …the dance scene was changing and we were hearing B-sides that weren't dance but were interesting and fitted into experimental, progressive rock, so we decided to make the compilation 'Artificial Intelligence', which became a milestone… it felt like we were leading the market rather than it leading us, the music was aimed at home listening rather than clubs and dance floors: people coming home, off their nuts, and having the most interesting part of the night listening to totally tripped out music. The sound fed the scene. Birke S. (2007), "Label Profile: Warp Records", The Independent (UK), Music Magazine (supplement), newspaper article published 2/11/07
  17. ^ a b c Reynolds, S., (1999). Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture, Routledge, New York, (pp. 180-205)
  18. ^ "Art Techno Favorites". Reactor Mega-Magazine (4): 21. December 1992.
  19. ^ "Of all the terms devised for contemporary non-academic electronic music (the sense intended here), 'electronica' is one of the most loaded and controversial. While on the one hand it does seem the most convenient catch-all phrase, under any sort of scrutiny it begins to implode. In its original 1992-93 sense it was largely coterminous with the more explicitly elitist 'intelligent techno', a term used to establish distance from and imply distaste for, all other more dancefloor-oriented types of techno, ignoring the fact that many of its practitioners such as Richard James (Aphex Twin) were as adept at brutal dancefloor tracks as what its detractors present as self-indulgent ambient 'noodling'". Blake, Andrew, Living Through Pop, Routledge, 1999. p 155.
  20. ^ Reynolds (1998), p181.
  21. ^ "Coil _The Snow_ EP - | Google Groups". Archived from the original on 4 November 2012. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  22. ^ Needs, Kris (26 September 1992). "On The Tip: Marching Through Germany's Techno Love Parade". Billboard. p. 45.
  23. ^ McCann, Ian (14 November 1992). "Short Circuit: Various: Earth Beat [review]". New Musical Express: 32.
  24. ^ "MiniREVIEWS galore (No hardcore please, we're Finnish). - alt.rave | Google Groups". Archived from the original on 4 November 2012. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  25. ^ Willmott, Ben (10 July 1993). "Various – Global Sweatbox [review]". New Musical Express: 33.
  26. ^ [Intelligent Dance Music] "is a forum for the discussion of what has been termed 'intelligent' music – that is, music that moves the mind, not just the body. There is no specific definition of intelligence in music, however, artists that I see as appropriate are FSOL, Orb, Orbital, Richard James (aka Aphex Twin), Black Dog, B12, and various others from Warp's 'Artificial Intelligence' series. Of course, the list is open to all interpretations of intelligent dance music." Quote by Alan Parry in an IDM mailing list announcement posted on alt.rave, dated Aug. 1993
  27. ^ "List announcement: IDM - alt.rave | Google Groups". Archived from the original on 4 November 2012. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  28. ^ ""Can Dumb People Enjoy IDM, Too?", the first post to the IDM list". Archived from the original on 17 November 2007. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  29. ^ ""Re: Can Dumb People Enjoy IDM, Too?" post from Brian Behlendorf to the IDM list". Archived from the original on 18 November 2007. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  30. ^ IDM, AllMusic
  31. ^ Winfield, Adam (24 November 2007). "Is IDM Dead?". igloo magazine. Archived from the original on 15 December 2014. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
  32. ^ Fintoni, Laurent (1 March 2018). "Going to Miami: How IDM conquered the USA". Fact Magazine. Archived from the original on 19 December 2022. Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  33. ^ IDM page Archived 23 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine at AllMusic
  34. ^ "Aphex Twin interview- Perfect Sound Forever". Archived from the original on 11 June 2008. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  35. ^ Dave Segal (20 November 2003). "Rephlexions!: A Braindance Compilation". Archived from the original on 11 March 2007. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  36. ^ "Kid606 Ultrahang festival". Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  37. ^ Pozo, Carlos M. (September 1999). "Matmos interview". Archived from the original on 6 May 2021. Retrieved 4 June 2021. That said, I belong to the weblist called "IDM" and occasionally enjoy the discussions there, because I like some of the artists who get lassoed into that category (not to mention that we, occasionally, are lumped into that category too), and because you can occasionally find out about interesting records on that list. Like any other community, it allows for networking and exchange of information which is really useful and productive and powerful- but like any community, it always needs to define itself through exclusion, clique-ishness and the fashioning of some "other" excluded terms: rock music, women, noise, "real" dance music. I've noticed that whenever discussions drift towards anything about gender or sexuality on that list the cluelessness factor jumps off the chart. Matmos is IDM if that only means "might be talked about on the IDM list"- but I don't endorse that term "intelligent dance music" because it's laughable.
  38. ^ Muggs, Joe (6 June 2016). "Review: Autechre - NTS Sessions 1-4". Resident Advisor. Archived from the original on 26 May 2020. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  39. ^ Sam Davies (1 August 2018). "The IDM List Gave Intelligent Dance Music Its Name and Geeky Legacy". Vice. Archived from the original on 2 May 2020. Retrieved 3 May 2020.

Further reading