A genre of EDM that focuses on tone and atmosphere as opposed to melodic structures or rhythm is Ambient. It is likely that ambient started during the 1970s in UK when electronic instruments like synthesizers were available to a wide audience. Its many varied stylistic influences include jazz, electronic, psychedelic rock, industrial techno and even noise.
It is similar to a few other genres of EDM like drone and space rock in that it also emphasizes the use of sound to evoke visual landscapes and create an immersive atmosphere. Despite this, Brian Eno, an English musician who practically invented the genre has stated that ambient must be “as ignorable as it is interesting.” To put it simply, ambient is meant to be played unobtrusively at airports, shopping malls, and elevators though it should not be confused with elevator music which is an entirely different genre.
Ambient has a fair share of sub-genres with popular ones being dark ambient, ambient dub, drone music, and psybient. In addition from its sub-types, off-shoots, and derivatives, it has had a lasting influence on other styles of electronic music like post-rock, downtempo, and IDM to name a few. It also led to the emergence of other sub-genres of fusion music such as ambient house and Illbient that draw heavily from traditional Eno-esque ambient.
This genre of electronic music remained in obscurity until the end of the 1970s when it was popularized by the English musician, Brian Eno. He was one of the most influential figures in the development of this genre of music. His pioneering sixth album ‘Ambient 1: Music for Airports’ was the first ever album to be sold under this label. He was later responsible for creating the sub-genre of dark ambient usually characterized by eerie sound samples and electric guitar distortions. Ambient enjoyed a surge in popularity in the 1990s with the commercial success and critical success of specialized bands like Aphex Twin and The Orb.
The Orb’s second studio album U.F.Orb released in 1992 reached the No. 1 position on the UK Album Chart. As indicated by the title itself, this album used bizarre and heavily manipulated sound samplings to evoke an alien landscape. Aphex Twin’s first full length album Selected Ambient Works 87-92, released in 1992 met with critical acclaim for its groundbreaking innovations in this genre. Though Brian Eno’s influence is obvious, this album expanded far beyond the originator’s tracks by using lush organic soundscapes with ocean sounds and creeping basslines. LoopGuru and Woop are other talented artists in this genre credited with developing the sub-genre of ambient dub.
Downtempo or downbeat as its often called is a sub-genre of EDM that shares many common elements with ambient music. However, its key difference lies in the fact that it has a much greater focus on rhythm as compared to ambient music tracks which often do not even have a beat. Basically, downtempo tracks feature a more complicated sequence of beats. That being said, it does not contain any kind of tense build-up or layered melodies that is characteristic of certain genres of EDM like trance. It is popularly used as background music in the relaxation rooms of many clubs and private parties.
Despite the differences between ambient music and downtempo, the latter is considered by many to be a derivative of the former. Downtempo has been strongly influenced by other genres of electronic music as well including house, hi-NRG, jazz and groove to name a few. It probably originated in the 1990s in Europe along with many other slower paced forms of electronic music. Initially, it was played as post-rave music to help party-goers wind down in the early hours of dawn after an intense night of partying. Soon after, downtempo became a popular choice for background music in the relaxation or chill-out sections of clubs and parties where party goers would sometimes retire to catch their breaths.
Throughout its brief lifetime, downtempo has remained a fairly niche sub-genre of EDM. Even so, this style of music achieved some degree of mainstream recognition at the turn of the century when Kruder & Dorfmeister popularized it by releasing downtempo remixes of many pop and hip-hop tracks. Most downtempo tracks have a very relaxing and calming feel to them which is partly on account of the fact that they have a lower BPM range of 65-100. Though downtempo is still a fairly recent genre of electronic music, it has already spawned off-shoots and other derivative sub-genres. Some of the most popular sub-types include acid jazz, trip-hop, nu-jazz and chill-out music among others.
Trip-hop is a popular sub-genre of downtempo music that started in UK during the late 1980s. This is essentially a combination of hip-hop, jazz, and funk prominently featuring beats played on a loop at somewhat higher BPM ranges than regular downtempo. Bjork and Dido Armstrong are two leading artists in this experimental sub-genre. Meanwhile, Thievery Corporation, a Washington based DJ collective, have incorporated elements of Brazilian music as well as Jamaican dub and reggae into their tracks. Other leading artists in this young sub-genre of electronic music include Zero7, Goldfrapp, Royksopp, and Bonobo. In fact, even the popular English alternative band, The xx have experimented with elements of downtempo in Intro.