Best electronic music documentaries

George Palladev

Pump up the volume: A history of House music • 2001

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The king of documentaries about electronic music is a two-and-a-half-hour film created by British television producers, where the pioneers of the genre talk about the birth of house music. They explain why it was called that, which clubs it came from, how it used sound, what it had in common with techno, the splash it made in the UK, and how it then spread to all countries and continents, contributing to the creation of drum’n’bass, hardcore, techno, and UKG. Watch this documentary

Jungle Fever • 1994

A half-hour story for the All Black programme, which recorded the state of affairs in the United Kingdom in the summer of 1994. Jungle’s popularity was rapidly growing. The mainstream showed some interest but the movement’s participants were against it. Fabio, LTJ Bukem, SOUR Records and Kickin’ Records, DJ Rap and DJ Trace all speak about the vision of the scene they created. There is also a recording of the hits Original Gangsta and Nuttah, as well as the confrontation between General Levy, who flew into the mainstream, and the entire underground jungle crew. Watch this documentary

High Tech Soul • 2006

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Derrick May used high-tech soul to describe at least his own music. He didn’t agree with Atkins’ techno, especially since that was similar to what horny Florida rappers called themselves, possessing only a Roland 808 and toilet rhymes. The result is well-known: Derrick hold onto his own opinion, while the whole world now knows about techno. An hour-long story about the abandoned city, the root of all troubles, inspiration, the first techno club and all the key figures of the first, second, and third waves of music in Motor City. Watch this documentary

Talkin’ Headz • 1998

In 1998, this film took a look at a drum’n’bass company aiming for world domination. This label has got some of the UK’s finest producers (according to Mixmag). That label produced many gifted minds worthy of an Oxford degree (according to DJ Mag). “DJs and producers talk openly of the artistic freedom they enjoy, how the label has evolved to represent such a diverse musical scene and why moving forward and pushing the boundaries is so vital.” Everything here is from the dark side of the force: Goldie, Grooverider, Dillinja, Adam F, Ray Keith, Andy C, Lemon D, Optical, Digital, Source Direct, Bailey, Randall, and Gilles Peterson as an independent expert and a guide not only to acid jazz, but also to all such exotic things in the country. Watch this documentary

Berliner Trance • 1993

Originally, hypno-trance was seen as the melodic side of techno. That’s why this music was warmly supported by Sven Vath, who later founded Eye Q in Frankfurt, and Laurent Garnier, who is meant to be connected to French techno, but in this film evaluates trance. As Mijk van Dijk noted, Frankfurt trance was heavily influenced by Belgian new beat and industrial, while Berlin trance was more down-to-earth, slightly dirtier, and heavily influenced by Detroit techno. Proudly walking through Berlin in boots, the founder of the first trance label in the world later said that with the word trance he wanted to stand out among the few competitors back then, to indicate his niche. We can see the results today :) Watch this documentary

Modulations • 1998

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One of the first attempts to understand the big bang of electronic music in the 90s. Slightly avant-garde, Modulations pay homage to the sound artists of the 30s, 50s and 70s, interweaving a variety of house, techno, jungle, drum’n’bass, hardcore and ambient under dense and dynamic editing, full of interviews, gigs and narratives. This film is about sound in electronic music, about how everyone — by slowing down, speeding up, filtering, shredding and mixing up — creates something completely different. Watch this documentary

Vaporwave: A Brief History • 2015

An introductory video about the name and its beginnings, as well as what is hidden under the sound, and what it resulted in. Since vaporwave is mostly ambient, or new age, or tainted lounge, or completely low-grade lo-fi, it should be remembered that vaporwave isn’t music — it’s aesthetics. It should also be noted that most of the articles justifying it are basically a case of graphomania. And we should also acknowledge the fact that the master of talking about techno, Derrick May, would envy such excuses to slow down other people’s tracks. And we should remember that from the very first day, there was at least something serious in vaporwave. Watch this documentary

Synth Britannia • 2009

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A film about the arrival of electronic music in the UK in the 70s. It’s about the audacity of young renegades who didn't want to play traditional rock: Ultravox, Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, Gary Newman, Soft Cell, New Order, Eurythmics, Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Pet Shop Boys, and OMD. They were fascinated by these strange angular boxes from which sounds could be extracted that no other instrument in the world can reproduce. The pioneers of Detroit techno and Belgian hardcore point to the British new wave as their first source of inspiration. They simply, like any other generation, reinterpreted the music of their youth and childhood in their own way. Watch this documentary

Good Looking Documentary • 1997

A TV film from the mid-90s about the main label of atmospheric drum’n’bass. Without a doubt, at that time LTJ Bukem and his company were causing a stir in the UK. It’s not like that anymore. So if you want to understand why the great innovative label Good Looking turned into just a memory, and why all its residents left at the first opportunity, this is a must watch. Watch this documentary

The Sound of Belgium • 2012

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A real study of a cultural phenomenon from Belgium: how a small country in the north of Europe believed in itself, and for a short decade became a trendsetter. It shows how in the late 80s Belgium suddenly became a kind of Northern Ibiza, where the club youth from the neighbouring Netherlands, France, Germany and the UK came to hang out. It shows how Belgian musicians gave birth to a new beat madness, which in its turn swelled a spectacular wave of Belgian hardcore, the predecessor of the British one in the early 90s. Watch this documentary

Gabbers! • 2013

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This film isn’t about the emergence of gabber culture as such. There are no extensive interviews of DJs and musicians. It's about gabbers in particular — those who went wild on the dance floor in their twenties and how they feel twenty years later. It turns out that gabber is still in their souls. Dance 4 life, gabber 4 life. It was Paul Elstack, the initiator of the movement, who once engraved “It's not a disgrace to be a gabber!” on the press, which went on to make thousands of records. They put distortion on a Roland 909, accelerated the tempo and got the salt of the Dutch earth — gabber, the night riot of the working youth. Music as it is, without embellishment. Loud & proud. Watch this documentary

Discovering Electronic Music • 1983

An educational film about the components of electronic music: wave types, oscillation speed, frequencies, filters, envelopes, and everything else. It shows how people imagined electronics at the service of man in the 60s and 70s. Fast cuts had not yet been invented, so the action in the film flows calmly, and the presenters speak in a measured manner. But it’s still interesting, especially if you draw parallels with nowadays: how they imitate real instruments now, how processing became suitable for live performances (for world music and ambient music in particular). And it turns out that in the 70s, there were already touch panels and something like manual MIDI-controllers! :) Watch this documentary

Electric Rhythm: The History of Drum Machines • 2018

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An educational film about the evolution of drum machines: from giant boxes to pocket grooveboxes; from the rattlers of the 50s to the ‘pums-pums’ of the late 80s. Tape, analog, sampling, and digital — the film explains how everything developed, who used them and what they were used for. It was made on the occasion of the sale of a huge collection of Moby’s analog drum machines on the Reverb website, where they buy and sell new and used musical instruments. So all the models shown there are his, though already sold. Watch this documentary

Sound of Berlin • 2018

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Sound of Berlin tries to answer the question: how did the capital of Germany become the world capital of techno? Guest musicians, DJs and club owners talk about how the techno dance floor united a once divided country. They explain how the Love Parade changed their lives and their attitude to music, money, competition, and a combination of styles, and discuss the eternal question of the techno mainstream and the underground. They touch on a wide variety of creative intellectuals, explain how to get into a Berlin club and what they think about city life around the clock. (Briefly: madness!) Watch this documentary

Brandy & Coke: UK Garage • 2014

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The film is a memory of the golden days of UK Garage, when going to a club was considered going out into the world. From its very beginnings, the director of the film, Ewan Spencer, embraced the new movement in the late 90s. Working as a photographer in London magazines, he often took pictures of what was happening. 15 years later, he made a mini-documentary. Watch this documentary

I Was There When House Music Was Born • 2017

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The film is about the first DJs who created proto-house tracks from juicy fragments of 10-minute disco tracks. It’s about the first clubs, with a tour of the former sanctuary of the genre — The Warehouse club, where there’s now a law office. It’s about the first labels, with stories about the infamous sound of Trax Records, for which Chicago House is also loved. Finally, it’s about how the genre became musical. Watch this documentary

Ambiguous, ironic and somewhat serious, Copyright Criminals talks about high-profile cases, the attitudes of the parties involved, legal restrictions, the lack of boundaries between the author of a work and its consumer, as well as widespread borrowing not only in music, but also in painting and literature. Technically, sampling has always existed, but it was called quoting, imitating, borrowing, or something else. Also, before sampling came to electronic music, and then pop music, it was widely used in hip-hop. The authors of the film managed to talk to the most famous owners of sample packs: producer George Clinton and drummer Clyde Stubblefield. After all, all old school hip-hop was based on their fragments. Watch this documentary

Bonzai Records. The story • 2017

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This film is about the ups and downs of the Bonzai Records — Belgian trance, house and hardcore label, which has long been a national treasure for its homeland and can be compared to R&S Records, another Belgian treasure. With a bit of a difference: R&S hooks quickly picked up in Britain for breakbeat hardcore and European techno, while Bonzai tracks were highly regarded in Germany and the Netherlands, enriching trance and gabba music. Watch this documentary

Firestarter: How The Prodigy won over metalheads • 2020

This film has two characters: Howlett, who was under the influence of punk, early hip-hop and breakbeat and combined it all in the music of the The Prodigy, and Flint, who used his punk look to become the symbol of the group for its fans and a nightmare for God-fearing parents in the mid-90s. Watch this documentary

Suburban Prodigies • 1992

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A story about the early days of the breakbeat-hardcore label Suburban Base, made up of 20-year-old musicians; and about first years of The Prodigy band. Good 5 minutes story about years we didn’t catch, but when everyone was young and alive. Watch this short documentary

Drum & Bass: The Movement • 2020

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The film is about the development of the movement and its sound from 1996, when drum’n’bass finally moved away from jungle, to our time, when drum’n’bass singles and albums hit the top of the British charts. In addition to stories about what happened year after year and of how wonderful life used to be, the film touches on the eternal conflict between the poorly dressed but honest underground, and the lying mainstream with fashionably-groomed youth wearing their merch. Watch this documentary

The Ingredients of a Classic House Track • 2019

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A small story that explains how house music gained such massive popularity. The secret is simple: the genre didn’t bring anything new. It just adapted a long-standing and effective recipe for a new time and new tastes. Watch this documentary

MTV about sampling • 1989

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The appearance of sampling on the music scene is a surprise to all and artists are full of doubts. Here: British sampling revolutionaries Coldcut, Israeli singer Oprah Haza; rockers Andy Patridge, Steve Stevenson, Lou Reed, Tom Petty, Steve Winwood; Debbie Gibson; rappers Ice T, Kool Moe Dee, LL Cool J, the timeless Will Smith, Jazzie Jeff and sound engineer Bob Clearmountain, who brought together a huge number of rock albums in the seventies and eighties. Watch this documentary

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