Electronica, like many classifications of music ("alternative," "neo-soul," "folk-rock"), is one of those things that's hard to explain why it is what it is, even though you know it when you hear it. Then again, it's easy to say Moby's an electronic act. Except that he was making electronic music back before the term was coined. And, while Moby could show up with a couple of turntables and pedals, he'll be playing Moogfest with a live band. Enhanced, no doubt, by an arsenal of samples and effects.
Samples, effects, turntables, synthesizers, drum machines, mixers: These are the tools of electronic music. Some musicians can perform an entire set with a laptop and a loop pedal. Fine Peduncle builds soulful grooves using looped vocals and a beat pad. Amon Tobin (described as a "virtuoso sound designer") started composing music based on prerecorded material, but his more recent work is crafted from field recordings and samples that he records himself.
On the other end of the spectrum, hard-line electronica also embraces more traditional band setups, adding drum kits at live shows. Canada’s Austra — a trio — consists of drums, bass and vocals (they use a MIDI for any other instrument sounds they might need). Also from Canada, Holy F**k goes a step beyond instruments, using non-instruments, such as toy phaser guns, to achieve sound effects. —A.M.
Flying Lotus His grandmother was a songwriter. His great-aunt was married to John Coltrane. He's been tapped by Erykah Badu to collaborate on her new material. But it almost seems that FlyLo's creativity is too big for just music — in between countless mixes, singles, albums, EPs, collaborations and music videos, he's gearing up to score an interactive animation film by L.A.-based artist Miwa Matreyek. —A.M.
Brazilian-born, San Francisco-based composer Amon Tobin was studying photography when some of his early tracks garnered label interest. His 2011 album, ISAM, is sampled from his own recordings, and the live show involves a 3-D set onto which electronics and pulsing lights are projected. —A.M.
Holy F**k Synthesizers, multiple percussionists, driving dance beats: all of these contribute to the equation of Brian Borcherdt, Graham Walsh and a rotating cast of contributors. But here's the key to Holy F**k: the band uses live instrumentation to create its electronic effects. —A.M.
Glitchy, feverish and forceful to the point of abrasive, Crystal Castles embraces its punk roots. Fittingly, the band's single, "Not in Love," features The Cure's Robert Smith, forefather of a similar concept: hard-hitting, raw-edged songs so seeped in melody that they play like the ballads of the damned. —A.M.
Earlier this year, Emancipator announced (via Twitter) that he'd be creating the soundtrack to sci-fi feature film The Lost Cause. Which kind of makes sense, because his compositions manage to be both stories and explorations. They're densely layered and webbed in mystery, yet burble and float with hits of light and breath. —A.M.
Austra is a whole lot of departures (at least at first glance) from the electro-pop usual: two-thirds female, gay-identified and seriously into minor chords. All of this is irrelevant, however, in the face of Austra's aggressively post-new-wave beats and lush vocals. Plus, frontwoman Katie Stelmanis is pure star power. —A.M.
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