To a new EDM listener, the world of EDM can be very overwhelming. It can take some time to figure out what sub-genres are for them, but it just takes a little research to learn about all the sub-genres EDM has to offer.
One of the largest, and most popular genres of EDM is house music. House music is a pop-infused style of EDM that came from the disco influence in Chicago in the 1980s. Since its creation, house music has been extremely popular and has had decades to grow. In more recent years, sub-genres like deep house, tropical house, future house, bass house, tech house, progressive house, and electro house have captivated the EDM music scene.
One of the older sub-genres of house music is deep house. This sub-genre is a slower version of house music with the tempo ranging from 100 to 130 BPM. Deep house was heavily influenced by soul, jazz, and funk. In 1985, Larry Heard pioneered the first deep house track with his song, “Mystery of Love.” Since its debut, deep house has developed into its type of EDM.
Some characteristics of deep house music are it’s more likely to have soulful vocals, especially by a female singer, use TR-909 drum loops, and a 4/4 beat structure. Even though there are many characteristics of a deep house, this music mixes light and deep beats for a steady background while the vocals are strongly heard. Many deep house songs come to listeners in waves of beats, buildups, and breakdowns. Over the years, deep house has branched off into two more categories: tropical house and future house.
Tropical house started when artists like Thomas Jack and Kygo created uplifting and relaxing remixes. What distinguishes tropical house music is the sounds from instruments like steel drums, pan flutes, guitar chords, marimba, and soft vocals that create an easygoing sound.
When listening to tropical house, it's easy to pick up on the soft beats that keep the background full. The vocals are the main focus but rely on the background to keep the song poppy.
Some of the other production characteristics include a 110 to125 BPM structure, major keys, major chords, simple triads, and a short percussion with a lot of soft claps and snaps. All of these elements separate tropical house from its parent sub-genre, deep house.
Future house was popularized from 2014 to 2015 by artists Tchami and Oliver Heldens. This type of house music is a metallic, bouncier, form of deep house. Future house can be described as futuristic with contagious hooks and drops. In the beginning, future house started as a more ambiguous sub-genre, but over the last couple of years has been able to develop more defining characteristics.
Now, future house contains defining elements like a high-energy house drum pattern with boosted highs and OTT/compression, digital plucked bass sound with fast decay and low sustain, pop elements, heavy use of risers and sweeps to build tension, but still includes swing and groove patterns to keep the house feel.
Future house focuses just as much on vocals as it does the beat structure. By mixing soft and heavy sounds, this sub-genre keeps the song coming in waves. Even though future house is a little smoother, it still keeps the energy flowing.
Bass house just recently appeared in the 2010’s decade. This subgenre combines elements of house and bass music that provide an upbeat tempo and heavy distortion and uses sounds similar to bass drops in dubstep.
This type of house music is appealing to the edgier crowds of EDM. The deep and futuristic sounds create exciting buildups and epic drops for listeners. Some big artists like Ghastly, Dr. Fresch, Habstrakt, and Jauz have found a lot of success with this form of EDM..
Bass house ranges around 130 BPM, has a very digital sound, uses high-energy house drum patterns with OTT/compression, includes risers and sweeps to build tension, and has an FM synthesis and complex bass design.
Starting in the UK, Tech house was created in the mid to late 1990s. This sub-genre has a steady beat, rugged baseline, and combines elements of techno and house music. Tech house uses the tempo and rhythm of house music but adds an industrial element from traditional techno.
This sub-genre appeals to the techno elements with the repeated lyrics, breakdowns, and steady beat. Listeners can follow along for song after song with the consistent flow music.
Tech house ranges around 125 BPM, repeats phrases, house drums with loud off-beat hats and snares, and repeating short-phrased baselines. All these elements create the sub-genre that gets people dancing. Artists like Chris Lake and Green Velvet are bringing tech house into rising popularity in the last few years.
Progressive house started in the 1990s in Europe before moving to the US and becoming a more well-known house sub-genre. What characterizes this sub-genre is the infectious drop and euphoric feeling. Progressive house is chill, melodic, percussive, and builds up over time.
The percussive element brings a wider variety of sounds to the listeners. Even though progressive house has less vocals, softer elements, more bubbly sounds, and the exciting buildups give the sub-genre an extra kick.
Some of the production elements of progressive house is synthesized chords and melodies, plucked supersaw sounds with a low-pass filter controlled by an ADSR envelope, and 125 BPM house patterns with a kick and clap focus. Artists like Avicii, Lane 8, and Alesso have made the genre what it is today.
The electro-house sub-genre was created in the early 2000s and was heavily influenced by 80’s music to create a pop sound to bounce to. This sub-genre uses a heavy use of digital synthesizers, distorted baselines and bright chords, side-chained noise to fill out the background, noise, and pitch oscillators, and has 128 to 130 BPM with a 4-on-the-floor pattern.
Electro house highlights the slower, deeper beats with the distorted vocals. The sounds all come together in waves of buildups and breakdowns throughout the song. Artists like Zedd, Benny Benassi, Steve Aoki, and Swedish House Mafia have made electro house popular in the last few years.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, each EDM listener is unique in their way. There is a reason why there are so many sub-genres of EDM. EDM attracts such a diverse community because of its open-minded, expressive, and freeing values. For a new EDM listener, it’s important to dive into the full spectrum of the genre, find what they like, and continue to explore this music.