Best electronic music documentaries

George Palladev 11.08.2020

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

Soundtrack on Spotify

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

Dub Echoes • 2007

The film isn’t about reggae or Bob Marley. It’s about slow, lingering music with all the contemporary consequences: sound systems, remix culture, which began with the dub music of the seventies under the Jamaican sun in small 4×4 studios, DJs and MCs, acetate discs, and the key figures of the dub revolution with compliments from those who were influenced by dub: downbeat, dubstep and jungle pioneers. 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

Soundtrack on Spotify

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

Daft Punk: Unchained • 2015

This is the story of two young Parisians who first took up guitars and it turned out badly, and then took up synthesisers and it turned out well. It’s about how to dictate terms to Virgin itself at the age of twenty; how to pay respect to the Chicago founding fathers on Homework, turn into robots in the extremely successful and colourful Discovery, and then forget all about it and record garage rock on the very aggressive Human after All. How to create your own empire and a recognisable image, so that helmets like yours are made in the basements all over the world; how to record your first album in a nursery and your fourth in the best studios in the world.

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

Soundtrack on Spotify

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

Soundtrack on Spotify

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 o 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

Soundtrack on Spotify

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

Soundtrack on Spotify

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 dancefloor 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 underground—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

The New Sound of Music • 1979

New Sounds of Music is about the rise of electronic music. A charming presenter in a tweed jacket fascinatingly talks about how mechanised music has changed over time: from late Victorian organ and pianola, which played programmed tunes from wooden shafts and paper rolls to experiments with magnetic tape in musique concrète and synthesizers. All these inventions are part of one long road, which progressively led to the creation of a new sound in music.

Apart from presenting technologies from different years, the film gives the floor to electronic composers who solve their tasks with the help of new equipment: from turning themselves into a human orchestra and fulfilling commissions for TV to inventing new approaches to electronic music and creating new instruments. Watch this documentary

Electric Rhythm: The History of Drum Machines • 2018

Soundtrack on Spotify

An educational film about the evolution of drum machines: from giant to pocket grooveboxes; from the rattlers of the 50s to the boom-boom of the late 80s. Tape, analog, sampling, and digital&msdash;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

808. The Movie • 2015

The film is about the most famous modern drum machine and its legacy. It was shot over three years and began one evening when two of its co-creators indulged in memories. It’s about how this simple-looking box with red and yellow buttons had such a powerful sound legacy and helped in the formation of house, techno, drum and bass, trance, and a whole set of hip hop subgenres, becoming an object of worship and desire. The 808 was produced from 1980 to 1983. Roland tried to keep the price low, so they assembled it from second-rate transistors, thus creating the signature sound of the 808, which the musical revolutionaries loved, and the rest despised. Watch this documentary

Sound of Berlin • 2018

Soundtrack on Spotify

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

Soundtrack on Spotify

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

Soundtrack on Spotify

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

The Man from Mo’Wax • 2016

A documentary about the man’s destiny:: how one can, with incredible talent and love for music, gather the best people and found one of the best trip hop labels; get fabulously rich, become the most eligible bachelor in glasses with diopters, and wish to become as cool as your residents; record his best album, force out the rest of them, fall out with everyone, lose everything, and stitch himself back together piece by piece. This is the story of James Lavelle, the man from Mo’Wax. View in iTunes

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

Soundtrack on Spotify

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 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

Soundtrack on Spotify

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

Soundtrack on Spotify

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

Soundtrack on Spotify

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

Thunderdome never dies • 2019

An educational film about the history of the Thunderdome hardcore festival. From amateur parties in hangars to mega parties for tens of thousands of people in huge expo centres in the Netherlands. How ID&T was formed, where the wizard logo and the rest of the design came from, how the name Thunderdome was chosen, the first hardcore compilation, the battle for the trademark, hardcore entering the mainstream, Nazis on the dancefloor, and the last fest in 2012. And the comeback in 2017. Watch this documentary

Jungle Fever • 2014

An educational short doc about the ways in which the elements of jungle came to the UK and how it all came together as well as what American hip hop and funk, Jamaican dub and early reggae have to do with it; how jungle evolved, what it turned into, what was happening before it and what came after. Watch this documentary

Hey Good Looking • 1999

The film is about the label that gave the world ambient jungle and intelligent drum and bass. Carney Turner, the founder of the Crows Nest studio, who was in love with this music, managed to convince Bukem to take him on a tour to shoot a documentary about the label and its musicians at the end of the 90s.

Here LTJ Bukem, MC Conrad, Blame, Intense, and MC DRS talk about the label, how they met each other, the history of the first compilation Logical Progressions, Speed evenings, which made atmospheric mainstream, touring, playing drum and bass on live instruments, the 720 Degrees sublabel, the connection between the DJ and MC, solo albums by Bukem, Conrad and Blame, the principles of Good Looking, the future of drum and bass, Cookin' Records evenings, and slow music at 90 bpm. Occasionally, Blu Mar Ten, Seba, PHD, and Artemis make appearances in the documentary. Watch this documentary

MTV about sampling • 1989

Soundtrack on Spotify

The appearance of sampling on the music scene was 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