Even from the birds-eye view of larger genres, the interrelations and ongoing transformation of music is dynamic, complex, and inter-connected. That’s the view in The Evolution of Western Dance Music, a map of musical styles in five-year chunks across the 19th and 20th Centuries, through Africa, Europe, the Americas, and Asia. The project is the work of London/Seattle/New York Web agency Distilled, pulling genre births from Bass Culture, Last Night A DJ Saved My Life,The All Music Guide to Electronica, and Wikipedia.

Having just edited a book entitled The Evolution of Electronic Dance Music, I find it extremely interesting to watch in this visualization the way in which European synth pop and Jamaican dub can become, at once, vessels for a lot of these other musical idioms, just in terms of their ability to carry musical ideas across geography.

What is peculiar: this is more a selection of a few threads than it is any kind of comprehensive history, and many of those threads in turn trace backwards from a few modern styles more than they do forwards over those 200 years. If you accept that, though, there’s still something interesting to watch. Even hand-picking a few genres shows some fascinating connections.

But before I say any more, I think any methodology here will raise questions, and I’m as interested in reader questions as I am commenting myself. Mark Johnstone of Distilled has offered to answer questions, so from the intricacies of how the data visualization and mapping work to thoughts on how one untangles this musical history, I’d love to start a conversation.

Specifics of the genres aside, I think it’s the geographical connections that are in many ways the most interesting – all the more so as we can inexpensively get on trains and planes, cross increasingly-open borders (with some admitted major caveats), and be somewhere altogether different – or do the same from the comfort of our chair. Appropriately, I now see Thomson are a travel/vacation agency.


How Music Travels – The Evolution of Western Dance Music [Thomson blog]

Interactive Music Map [Thomson]

  • Jackass

    No input from Australia lol. We're so lame haha

  • It's a very nice visualization of these sites' data. A visualization never shows any global Truth, of course – but I do agree with a lot of this.

    But the sites are US and UK-centric. 1975 Europe was more than Synth Pop, New Age and Ambient, you know :). Germany contributed extensively to techno and electro, as did Netherlands. Breakcore and gabber is not even on the map, right?

    One idea could be to visualize this with slime instead of lines. Then you wouldn't have to claim a causlity from A to the others (which is never the case, IRL).

  • Peter Kirn

    Yep, this looks more like the Virgin Atlantic map than the "all the airlines" map. 😉

  • Till

    Its a nice visualisation. Can't say much about the content and truth in what is presented, however, I can say that yes, lots of information is present, like e.g. berlin's minimal scene. So, I think the title "The evolution on Western Dance Music" is a bit too general for its content. Also, I don't believe that all DM has its roots in the US.

    What is great is that you clearly can see the exponential growth over the years.

  • FCM

    Cool find, Peter, thanks.

    Thank God they didn't label this electronica or some other corporate speak.

    I was surprised to see techno spawn spontaneously on this chart. The Detroit guys were highly self-conscious of the ideas behind their music, and it would be all the more appropriate to show their inspirations, which are well-documented.

    Soul Makossa's omission writes contemporary Africa out of the story completely. Pretty f'ing dangerous and careless….

    Since the history of this music is still being discovered, a commonly accepted narrative is yet to be fully settled, it would be cool to see an wiki-type element to this.

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, if you could say dance music has roots in one place, "Africa" would be a safe answer (especially since all human civilization eventually traces back there)!

    No, the United States is probably not a safe answer to that question, important as it is as a hub in the 20th Century (which is, in turn, harder to overstate, at least in regards to jazz and popular and rock categories).

  • Peter Kirn

    @FCM: yes, I agree – the Southern Hemisphere in general gets short shrift, including both South America and Africa.

    And I think Africa is about to get a whole lot more important in the global scene, as it gets better connected and it becomes the major population hub of the planet. We can just hope the same thing, well, everywhere, that we all wind up with more enlightened governments relative to the status quo. (Nowhere to go but up?)

  • Korn

    Interesting infographic tackling a pretty daunting set of connections. Too bad the well-documented direct link between Detroit techno and European Synth Pop is omitted. I also have to echo FCM's concern that every type of music to come out of the continent of Africa in over 200 yrs. can be summed up as Traditional, and links only to American Jazz and Spirituals, and the Caribbean. Hard to criticize there, though, as I'm no expert myself. The funniest thing to me is that Rock and Roll is just a sad little backwater offshoot of R&B connected to nothing. Awesome bit of sidelining there.

  • Korn

    Wow. Also gotta point out that the only thing feeding Hip Hop is Funk according to this thing. That is a pretty staggering missed opportunity. No Jazz? Unbelievable. Even little orphan Rock should have a fat line piping straight into Hip Hop and vice versa. That reciprocal relationship alone has fueled a lot of danceable pop music over the past 20 years.

  • Aaron

    meh.. just as pointless/misinformed/potentially embarrasing and grating as "Ishkur's Guide".

    Theres a few obvious links, but way too many omissions (not in terms of sub-genres, but in terms of importance).

    pretty to look @ though. one thing i thought was funny was 'post punk' with no 'punk' and rock not leading into it. also, no blues in rock or rock in blues? no synthpop/detriot connection? apparently all that germany is about is trance? no minimal techno (arguably the genre that has gone the longest with a steady popularity in the past 10-15 years).

    anyways, outsiders looking in. a bit entertaining, but that's it.

  • Korn

    Yeah, the missing punk thing is a bit silly. If we're talking about Western forms of dancing, omitting the mosh pit is a pretty serious oversight. The fact that Industrial has no direct linkage to the US is also disappointing. US Dance music in the late 80's and early 90's had a notable industrial component. Ministry or Nine Inch Nails, anyone? Anyway, the more I look at this thing, the less I like it. As others have said, it is pretty to look at in a spastic wallpaper sort of way.

  • Hymns and marching band music come out of nowhere. Blues starts in 1850. Nothing happens at all between 1910 and 1925. Nothing happens in Europe until 1965. (Obviously nothing worth considering from South America, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Eastern Europe. Nothing comes back to Africa—no Afropop, World Music, Bangra, etc.  (a thousand years of western notation? off-topic)

    This person has a brilliant career ahead of him as a revisionist!

  • No link between Dub & Techno? This is seriously flawed in several ways, as pointed out. Fine if you know know nothing and barely care, I suppose.

  • Bill Cummings

    it's interesting that both JAZZ and JUNGLE are kind of at the epicenter…

  • eke

    probably you already know this 'Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music'
    now it is bit outdated but still it's my favourite (fun) guide

  • ocp

    No bossa nova, no afro-beat, no gamelan or aboriginal music, no cumbia, no mambo, no salsa, no kuduro, and I could go on…

    What would it be of the Wien scene or Thievery Corporation, Fela Kuti, Colin Mcphee/Steve Reich/Philip Glass and minimalism, Uwe Schmidt (aka Señor Coconut) etc., if these crossings hadn't happened?

  • yes, ocp, agree to all you say!

    mYooZik has endured a few thousand years, inspite of how we Klassify it! But, buy the animoog, even if you don't have an iPad! Your experimenting is important!

    Peese out! UrJent!

  • kid versus chemical

    I don't care for this sort of thing to be honest. Especially as a musician who feels negatively affected by a lack of genre (it's difficult to build a fan base unless you pander to a certain group, at least it feels that way).  I understand why these classifications are needed on some level, but these endless sub-divisions often turn into pigeon holes IMHO.

  • this kind of thing tends to remind me of how a few hundred years of western musical development gave us "classical music", and yet 10 years of "techno" has given us dozens of genres. quite remarkable. and, of course, utterly bogus. if you're the kind of person who is going to differentiate between acid house and deep house, then please be the kind of person who can differentiate between palestrina and monterverdi, or failing that, at least between beethoven and debussy.

  • FCM

    I can differentiate between palestrina and monteverdi.

    I think it's ok to talk about the genres. They really are distinct in style, and for really dedicated dancers, it can be hard to transverse different styles without messing up your vibe. Sorry if this sounds touchy feely, but it's true. When you're dancing for 8 hours through a night, going through too many styles can be a total cluster fuck, unless it's done by a master.

    When DJ's go through too many styles without linking them, or building relationships, it just shows sloppiness and a lack of love for the essence of dancing.

    A chart like this is useful for showing other people the relationships between certain genres. The problem I have is not the project outright, but the significant and disturbing omissions.

    Hopefully the authors will be receptive and committed enough to make changes.

  • FCM

    PS, I love ishkur's site. He avoids having to take too much responsibility by throwing in a ton of personal opinions, which are never disguised.

    But for a first effort, I think what he did was commendable. It's one of the first major efforts to organize the genres with sound samples. How else would you describe the acid 303?

  • Nice layout. I still prefer Ishkur's guide though, (agreed it has a its few quirks but still is the most comprehensive listing I found up until now)

  • ALTZ

    I think most EDM culture are very underground and obviously recorded non-academically. They are like oral history that different versions are likely to exist. The result is that you cannot really tell what came from what exactly. In the future, i think we need a different approach to record those underground music history or movement. Some genres could be a off spring of the internet world?

  • midihendrix

    Cool idea, lots of mistakes/omissions. But like kid versus chemical mentions, it doesn't reallly matter.

  • Cool! 

    In the same theme… music globalization, a project that visualize the evolution of the music industry and genres.

  • rod

    Ishkur guide should be named in the article as the first aproach to make a comprensive guide to EDM.

    And it has the music examples, would tove to see a modern version for iPad and updated to 2010