This is part three in Salacious Sound’s The History of Electro. To recap what we’ve covered so far head on over to Part I: The Death of Disco and the Rise of Kraftwerk and Part II: Electro Gave DJs Their First Grammy!
Following Kraftwerk’s rocketing rise to fame in 1981, little uncertainty about the influence of electronic music in the domain of global pop culture remained. But the synth-driven acoustics of Computer World only tell half of the story of electro’s early development. After all, electro is more than just electronic music. Electro’s character is, and always has been, well, kind of funky.
Electro’s character is, and always has been, well, kind of funky
In 1982, halfway across the world a young artist by the name of Afrika Bambaataa began recording in the New York-based Intergalactic Studios. The young Bambaataa released his first truly-major single, Planet Rock, in the same year. The song sampled Kraftwerk’s early 1977 work Trans Europe Express along with their now-infamous Numbers off of Computer World. This is no small point in the history of modern music either, let alone a history of electro. In Rap Meets Techno, With a Short History of Electro, Tim Haslett describes Bambaata’s “transformation of Kraftwerk’s star German electronics” as some of “the most ecstatic and contemplative mind and body music ever made.”
Bambaataa would later go to release a full album under the same same title of Planet Rock. Driven by the synth-skills of John Robie and producer Arthur Baker, Bambaataa was the first to successfully meld the modernist, mechanical sound of electro-pop with the organic rhythms and rhymes of the human voice. The combination of these two elements, of electronic-synth and the lyrics of the South Bronx unleashed an entirely new genre of music on the world. Planet Rock fused avante garde turntabalism with keyboard rock to create the now iconic boogie sound – and electro-funk was born.
The combination of these two elements, of electronic-synth and the lyrics of the South Bronx unleashed an entirely new genre of music on the world
The story of Bambaataa’s early experimentation and rise to cultural-stardom is important in realizing that the hip-hop/electro fusion of the last decade is no new development. In fact, most of modern urban/pop music wouldn’t have been possible were it not for his early innovation. To this point, the widespread use of grinding electro mixed with the rhymes of everyone from B.o.B. to Rick Ross, is historically rooted in the Bambaataa-Kraftwerk synthesis. The recent revival of Biggie by smashup artists and DJs alike is yet another example of creative fusion first made possible by Bambaataa.