It only takes five minutes of navigating the tangled, unsettlingly invasive world of MySpace to see that musicians have a problem with categorization. For evidence of this, one quick search reveals a number of bands that have carefully defined themselves as ‘other/other/other’ a genre which I can only assume involves no instruments, no vocals, and a creative selection of farmyard noises and Windows 95 samples.
Most musical genres are entirely a creation of journalists, record labels and occasionally artists who want to feel original – The Klaxons and the short-lived ‘nu-rave’ being a good example. This phenomenon is never more obvious the case than in the case of ‘Intelligent Dance Music’.
IDM was invented as a label by the creators of an online mailing list to describe the 90’s output of the pioneering Warp and other record labels who shared the same view that dance and electronic music could be as ‘at home in the living room as on the dancefloor’. With this ethos in mind, artists such as Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher and Boards of Canada produced experimental electronic music that veered from laidback ambient techno to drum ‘n’ bass whilst slaloming effortlessly through musique concrète, obscure synthesised sounds and slavish attention to detail.
Unfortunately, it quickly became clear what a divisive term IDM would prove to be. While the IDM community was certainly influential, stretching its tendrils out into the mainstream in the form of Radiohead’s Kid A and Aphex’s Windowlicker, even at Warp’s primitive beginnings in Sheffield many found the idea of relative ‘intelligence’ between bands unpalatable.
Aphex Twin, having to an extent started the whole movement, also became one of the first to publicly disown the term IDM, denouncing its implication that other dance music was somehow ‘stupid’. Soon the term became taboo as record companies and artists alike scrambled their musical thesauruses to find another, inoffensive, way of describing their music.
Many suggestions followed, more amusing examples being ‘electronic body music’, or naturally ‘EBM’, and ‘armchair techno’, which seemed to suggest that one should listen to Squarepusher by a toasty fire with a purring cat on your lap. Of course, this would be impossible without strangling the cat and burning it in crazed ritual sacrifice, such is the intensity of Tom Jenkinson’s progressive jazz-infused brand of drum ‘n’ bass.
As it turned out, however, none of the artists ever really escaped the label and it remains a fitting way of describing the experimental attitude of many within the electronic music community. While IDM is without doubt a crude and offensive genre label, the bands it describes all have a healthy dose of this supposed ‘musical intelligence’, and it will allow them to remain relevant even as they are ostracized by the rest of the dance community and explore areas the mainstream will not dare to.