The Best Electronic Music of the 90s

best electronic music 90s

The 1990s marked an explosion of techno, jungle and rave culture into mainstream consciousness. Warehouses filled with sweaty bodies moved together under pulse-pulsing strobe lights were home to this unique musical experience.

But it wasn’t just limited to male artists; female artists like Netherlands’ Miss Djax proved it with their impactful tracks.

1. Carl Cox

Carl Cox has earned himself an incredible legacy within dance music with an illustrious history of gigging, production and album releases. As a DJ he’s performed worldwide while headlining and curating prominent festivals with loyal followers who cherish his live shows. Meanwhile as producer his hardcore techno beats are uncompromising and undiluted like Carl himself.

He became well-known on the British rave scene during the late ’80s and ’90s for leading legendary club nights with DJs such as Danny Rampling and Paul Oakenfold, specialising in acid house and techno music and utilising three turntables simultaneously to produce seamless mixes and transitions.

Around this time, he experienced some significant successes in the charts with two top 30 singles and his debut album ‘All Roads Lead to the Dancefloor’. Since then he has established himself as an important artist within the genre with several highly successful remixes released through Intec Records label.

Carl Cox was at the cutting-edge of hardcore techno at this point in 1992, as evidenced by this 1992 hit from Carl. Boasting tight 909 drums pulsing and rippling through epic snare rushes, deep bass rumbles, and violent sparks of percussion; it still manages to envelope listeners in waves of electronic radiation that make their hair stand up with electric currents while whipping dancefloors into an uproarious frenzy!

By the latter half of his career, Coxy began moving away from euro-dance, breakbeat piano, and Belgian Techno sound of these tunes and towards full-on techno and hard trance sounds – this track being a prime example.

2. Paul Van Dyk

Paul Van Dyk became one of dance music’s iconic producers and DJs during the ’90s, emerging in Berlin where he took advantage of its club culture to perfect his sound and play gigs before debuting with 45 RPM Records as an official recording artist in 1994. Blending minor-key melodies with ecstatic beats, Van Dyk’s early productions helped establish what became known as progressive trance music by decade’s end.

At the same time, techno was also developing. Orbital, Richie Hawtin and many others began making waves with their first masterworks over underground circuits, lending it an elastic, psychedelic and soulful edge that ultimately inspired synth-pop artists such as Canada’s Men Without Hats and Trans-X, Belgium’s Lime and Peter Schilling and Germany Modern Talking as well as Switzerland Yello and Spain Azul y Negro to emerge.

Drum ‘n’ bass was also experiencing an incredible revolution at this time, becoming an intensely competitive field to create music in. People like Photek of Mo’ Wax label and figurehead fame would worry that one mistake could set him back a full year in his industry career. Photek’s track “Chase the Devil” perfectly illustrates this unforgiving environment; featuring intricate reversed drum patterns constructed using MIDI before being sped up and timestretched to become part of its rhythmic groove.

Today, electronica may seem intimidating or awkward; this is far from true! Electronica music is filled with sensuality and often just as emotionally engaging as drum ‘n’ bass or big beat music.

3. Orbital

Paul and Phil Hartnoll were prominent members of the UK rave scene and made their name through dancefloor explosions that left audiences gasping for air. Their 1996 album In Sides and its lead single ‘Satan’ are classics of 1990s electronic music with its pounding beats and menacing synthesizer riffs creating an atmospheric dark soundscape – plus featuring spoken word sample from Stephen Hawking to create a thoughtful mix between science and art.

Orbital’s first album, In Sides, provided an impressive starting point but its second record truly marked them out as artists. The untitled Brown Album traversed a compelling path between techno’s hypnotic sprawl and rave’s discordant riffs with ambient house’s refined melodic beauty for added harmony – particularly notable are delicate breakbeat rides into angelic peace with Belfast and Day One featuring London singer Anna B Savage’s emotive vocals.

They pushed the limits of live electronic music by adding theatricality and creating an enchanting onstage experience. Their 13-minute ‘Weekender’ piece pays a poignant homage to tower blocks – far removed from today’s mundane, monotonous rave music.

After Orbital had concluded, both brothers remained active musically through solo albums that explored strings and melody. Their latest record, Optical Delusion, explores a deeper concept more in line with their original sonic vision than anything they’ve done previously. We caught up with Phil to hear some of his favorite Orbital tracks ranging from Satan-related pranksterism to Halcyon + On + On. Below are his picks!

4. Goldie

Mid-1990s electronic music often gets misconstrued as awkward or nerdy; this does a huge disservice to producers like Aphex Twin and Richie Hawtin who were still tied to Detroit techno and rave scenes while still having strong hedonistic motivations in their work.

Not content to replicate the superficial club music of mainstream culture, these acts pushed boundaries through rhythm and beat, tapping into an interest for more authenticity and experimentation. Their pioneering sounds paved the way for underground genres while even encouraging rock bands to embrace digital production techniques.

Clifford Joseph Price MBE, more commonly known by his nickname Goldie, epitomised this spirit. Before becoming one of the world’s most influential DJs, his life was full of variety – ranging from playing goalkeeper on the UK national roller hockey team, selling grills for drug dealers, painting trucks for drug dealers as a street artist for drug dealers, to rapping and becoming a street artist himself – and finally becoming an influential pioneer of UK jungle, drum and bass, breakbeat hardcore scenes alongside musical collaborators such as David Bowie (who collaborated on Truth), Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and Oasis’ Noel Gallagher among many others.

Timeless is an exquisite 22-minute hardcore symphony by Robert Wyatt that captures the zeitgeist of its time, and Invasion remains one of its signature pieces to this day. Even lesser known tracks deserve our consideration because they provide a window into an iconic decade that celebrated innovation and broke boundaries; every beat and rhythm tells a tale that continues to inspire artists, ignite dance floors, and capture imaginations today.

5. The Prodigy

With their track, ‘Beyond the Death Ray,’ The Prodigy provided a glimpse of their more gentle sides within their energetic dance music. Resonant chords and Maxim’s plea to “breathe with me” gave this track emotional depth that helped mitigate their trademark brute force. This track came during their most commercially and critically successful period – when they made MTV features, appeared on Rolling Stone and SPIN covers and headlined Lollapalooza for one final time at Lolla in 1993 – while Keith Flint became their lead voice who could bridge electronica with rock history in ways few others of his time could.

This Prodigy hit is perhaps their best-known single, due to its memorable lyrics and iconic black and white video which earned them a Grammy. Additionally, it’s the epitome of what the group excelled at – crafting rowdy rave songs using movie samples, piano house belters and acid squelch to produce infectious dancefloor energy that still stands up today’s drab life.

The Prodigy were an innovative dance music band in the UK that did things differently than many of their contemporaries. Alongside their albums and hit singles, they also put on live shows unlike many of their peers at that time – their shows attracted greater crowds than expected at times, showing that an effective live act could draw audiences for big beat movements like big beat. Their approach paid off eventually as The Prodigy proved themselves an irrepressible force that no one should underestimate.