Electronic Music & Me

The history of electronic music told through photographer, DJ and TV presenter Normski

By Museum of Youth Culture

Self-Portrait by NormskiMuseum of Youth Culture

A start

I’m one of the lucky ones that got to see electronic music evolve from its near beginnings to the present day. My life has so much musical amplification since before the 1970s. Born in London in 1966 and raised in a Jamaican family household, the sound of bass is a frequency that has stayed with me ever since. 

Street vendor in Camden, Normski, 1985, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Normski grew up in North London, around the corner from venues like the iconic Roundhouse

Popular culture

I remember when electronic sounds started playing an even bigger role in music of the popular culture. Disco hits like the 70s classic “I feel Love” produced by Giorgio Moroder, with Donna Summer raising dance floor emotions entwined in an arpeggio of rhythmic notes embedded in audio landscape of synthesisers and those electronic drums. 

Moog Synthesizers

Around the same time French composer and record producer Jean Michel Jarre had released  LP “Oxygene” Bringing to light the new frontiers in music with Moog Synthesizers . Soon to come was one of my favourite electronic groups who’s sound has been described as Kraut pop, the Legendary group Kraftwerk from Dusseldorf in Germany.

Jungle Brothers DJ Sammy B Dj'ing (1990's) by NormskiMuseum of Youth Culture

Across the world

As a Black young man from the UK It was very apparent that these forms of electronic music were spreading across much of Europe and as far as USA and back. It wouldn’t be long before these electronic influences would be adopted by early hip hop, funk and Pop music creative’s and a different kind of soul was rising from the technology of the machines. 

Soft Cell (1982) by Peter AndersonMuseum of Youth Culture

New wave, Synth Pop, Funk and Jazz funk artist and groups were incorporating the sounds of synthesizers and electronic drums through the 80s into the 90s. Being a drummer in my teens during the early 80s showed my friends and I that we were still reinforcing how a traditional band should be, But the technology was changing this model. 

A Guy Called Gerald (Gerald Simpson) at an early gig in Manchester (1988) by Peter WalshMuseum of Youth Culture

Technology

The technology race was definitely on and in a rush towards the future with the music constantly reflecting this electronic wave and growing digital landscape. Drum machines played a big part in the rhythm and we all know how important the beat is. When reggae had much electronic vibes in the rhythm section and processing of dub sounds, Hip hop was programming all its early beats on drum machines.  

Sampling

Different beats with a new sound became widely available and the Sampling of sounds with analogue & digital hardware coupled with DJs performing scratching alongside the vocal dexterity of the MCs. This spawned a new generation of creative’s and new ways of interpretation of sounds through movement in dance, expressionism and creativity. 

TR-808

The 80s really was a very explosive and changing time in how music was not only being created, but also how it was being received. PCs and Computer games were all the rage, in arcades and at home plus The TR 808 drum machine was made by Japanese Electronics manufacturer Roland. This single piece of kit was a complete game changer as it really did bring the low frequency Kick drum to the dance floor and a programmable rhythm section of new breed of electronic machines.

Zulu Nation in a park (1991) by NormskiMuseum of Youth Culture

Exposure

This added to earlier influences like the Arthur Baker produced “Planet Rock” by Bronx Hip hop crew “Afrika Bambaata & the Soul Sonic Force” would soon become electro music of the 80s. We were all being exposed to more electronics than ever before. TV programmes and films would feature this culture more and more.

Adrian Sherwood & Mark Stewart (1985) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

Sweet home

Home hi fidelity sound systems were getting bigger and better and the birth of the DJ thanks to Technics 1210 Turntables.  Electronic music was happening with a huge impact on the music industry and this gave way to home studio recording too. 

Dynamic 3 MC's (1985) by NormskiMuseum of Youth Culture

Genres

Numerous genres would again reflect the many different people across the globe. Hip hop, Acid House, Break Beat, Techno from 84 -89. These four genres combined with a shift in emphasis depending on tastes, that in the 90s would grow into more sub genres like, Hard core, Rave, Jungle, Drum & Bass and within these sub genres would evolve into a new generations  genres from the turn of the millennium like; Garage, Dub Step, Grime and more recently  Bass music, Trap and EDM.

Octave One (1987) by NormskiMuseum of Youth Culture

The States

I remember going to NYC & New Jersey to photograph the US Garage scene and to Detroit in 1987 where I met the pioneers of the then new sound of Detroit, Techno. I realised that a phenomenon was spreading from inner cities a new generation of young producers using the latest recording equipment and reinventing how music was being created

Detroit Techno pioneers - Derrick May, Antonio Echols, Juan Atkins, Eddie 'Flashin' Fowlkes, Blake Baxter, Kevin Saunderson,, Normski, 1987, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Rickel Malt Brewery and grain elevator, Normski, 1987, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Legendary Detroit club The Music Institute, home to the Techno scene

Dance Energy

In 1991 I presented “Dance Energy” on BBC 2 a ground breaking TV show that specialised in all things Dance music.

Sammy B of The Jungle Brothers doing a DJ set (1990s) by NormskiMuseum of Youth Culture

Expressionism

Every decade has its own particular social & political movements and changes that represent the times. Music has always played an important part of not just the sound track of life, but also a way of escape and imagination. The contagious effect of electronic music is like nothing that has ever been before it for the global appeal it has. Self expressionism is at full power with the many tribes that have come out of the alternative and underground subcultures. 

Clubbers pose for the camera (1996) by Tristan O'NeillMuseum of Youth Culture

Digital age

Now brimming over the edge into mainstream and popular culture, it’s hard to believe that what was once sometimes deemed as scenes of anti social and anarchic dance behaviour is now the norm. Thousands of people worldwide in the digital age all able to create and share more than ever before with their own Brands, Original Music labels, Internet radio & TV stations, online magazines, publications and shops! All this from a laptop is amazing. 

Crowd with hands in the air (1997) by Tristan O'NeillMuseum of Youth Culture

In the present

Continually entwined in music style and attitude every subculture in the club music scene has its own sound, This community of electronic sounds in 2020 have spread a lot further than just gay clubs, underground techno DnB raves, Hip hop, Dubstep, 2 step garage nights and the many other ways of people coming together to sharing common interests through the music. Now a huge global industry stretching across the world, Festivals of electronic music, modern soundtracks used in every conceivable way in advertising TV, Radio, Cinema and downloads, just shows how the world has gone crazy for electronic music.  

Credits: Story

Normski is a London-based photographer, DJ and TV presenter who has chronicled and been part of the British music scene for over four decades, from documenting the UK hip hop scene to presenting Dance Energy, and DJing across the UK and beyond

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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