Electronic music artists who don't sample other peoples' music?
February 19, 2015 4:49 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to discover more electronic music artists who rarely sample other peoples' songs, and instead prefer to use their own samples, synthesizers, and synthesized instruments. One such artist is Tipper; another is Bonobo, who I recently discovered. What are some others? How common is this kind of artist?

I've never loved electronic music too much, and I think this largely has to do with the fact that the artists tend to sample other peoples' music. I don't think there's ethically anything wrong with that, but a lot of what makes a particular song "good" to me are the unique themes, licks, and clever little moments — exactly the things that electronic music artists tend to borrow into their own songs, lessening their value to my ear.

When I discovered Tipper, something about his music intrigued me. It was so incredibly unique and beautiful. I did some research to try to figure out where his samples were coming from, only to find out that he was an incredibly meticulous artist and tended to use his own samples and synths. I had a similar feeling when I first heard Bonobo's "Black Sands", and again: after doing some research, I found out that much of the music on the album was recorded from live instruments.

So, it turns out that there might be a type of electronic music I actually do really like, and I'd love to find more of it. Any ideas?
posted by archagon to Media & Arts (45 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
BT (Brian Transeau) tends to work from scratch. When he does use samples--actually, when any good artists use samples--they use them as another instrument.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:02 PM on February 19, 2015

"When he does use samples--actually, when any good artists use samples--they use them as another instrument."

As far as I'm concerned, if the sample is a musical fragment — if it has its own identity other than strictly timbral — then I probably won't like the song. And if you are only sampling a couple of notes to use as an instrument, why not use a synth or virtual instrument to begin with?

I dunno. I feel most electronic music artists that are considered "good" sample in the musical fragment manner that I don't really like.
posted by archagon at 5:07 PM on February 19, 2015

posted by chasles at 5:23 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think that Dan Deacon would fit that description.
posted by statsgirl at 5:32 PM on February 19, 2015

I'm not sure where you've been looking, but most artists that are lumped under the loose "IDM" umbrella are not reliant on samples - Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada (my favorite).

I have mixed feelings about BoC soundalike Tycho, but his newest album is pretty solid and doesn't sound like a knockoff.

If you want something with a bit more 80's tinge, check out Com Truise.

Also, I wouldn't call Bonobo electronic. I realize there isn't a good word for what he does.
posted by O9scar at 5:54 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Going back a bit, Banco de Gaia (I remember really liking Big Men Cry). Going back even further, '80s Tangerine Dream (I can recommend in particular the albums Tangram, Exit, Poland).

BT's ESCM; in particular, its two amazing, epic tracks, "Firewater" and "Flaming June." I'll be very surprised if you don't like it.

Boards of Canada

Mitch Murder ; here's a taste of this guy, who's channeling the Miami Vice soundtrack
posted by kindall at 5:55 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure where you've been looking, but most artists that are lumped under the loose "IDM" umbrella are not reliant on samples

Thanks — I'm a noob when it comes to electronic music, so I don't know if this is common or not. But I definitely feel like "mainstream" electronic music is heavily sampled.
posted by archagon at 5:58 PM on February 19, 2015

Squarepusher. I interviewed him in 2013 for KBOO. He corrected me for trying to compare him to anyone else or even categorizing his music. I'd say he's an original.
posted by CollectiveMind at 6:03 PM on February 19, 2015

I've always respected Vince Clarke for always doing original stuff on his own terms. He can even coax unique sounds out of antique hardware.

You might want to check out VCMG, his electronic project with Martin Gore (yes, his old bandmate from Depeche Mode). If you need lyrics, there's always Erasure.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:04 PM on February 19, 2015

Oooh came back to (now seconding) aphex twin.
posted by chasles at 6:06 PM on February 19, 2015

It sounds like you're describing the really obvious, uncreative sampling that tends to go on in the "EDM" world? Like, sampling whole riffs and vocal parts from older pop songs, and whatnot?

That's the kind of sampling that untrained ears are most likely to recognize as sampling, but once you look beyond the club-oriented stuff, you'll find that it's possible to use samplers very artfully: by sampling audio from unexpected sources, and/or manipulating the sample in a way that turns it into something new, or adds meaning through context and juxtaposition. (There's dancefloor-friendly music that fits this description too.)

And if you are only sampling a couple of notes to use as an instrument, why not use a synth or virtual instrument to begin with?

Because it's often the character of the source material, more than the melodic content, that's crucial. Even in something as brief as (for example) two bass notes, you can hear whether those two notes were played into an old-fashioned cage microphone in Mississippi in 1932, or in a corporate rock studio in 1986. And that tone matters, a lot (and can be difficult or impossible to recreate). Heavily sample-based music is often collage art. The musician isn't sampling because they're lazy, or because they're just too untalented to play an instrument themselves—they want you to recognize that the sound is taken from somewhere else. Where the sound is taken from, and how it's been transformed and positioned in the piece, is part of the meaning that it brings to the track. It's a lot more than just ripping off the bassline from Superfly or whatever.

But, to answer your question, here are some tracks you might like. Disclaimer: I haven't thoroughly scoured these to make sure there are absolutely no samples in them; I just grabbed some stuff from my playlists.

The Reflecting Skin—Traffickers
Tiki Obmar—A Bench Per Couple
Tiki Obmar—Adolescent Blues (does contain a vocal sample starting around 3:00; sorry)
Vatican Shadow—Cairo Is a Haunted City
Trentemøller—Miss You
Oneohtrix Point Never—Along (also contains a brief vocal sample, of unclear provenance)
NQ—Mewq (Aquatic Deserts Mix) (Spotify link)
Amon Tobin—Journeyman
Amon Tobin—Rosies

If you're up for more ambient and experimental stuff, there's much to be enjoyed in the music of Murcof, Sutekh, Deaf Center, Woulg, and Djunya. See Cliff Martinez for some great soundtrack work.

I'll leave you with one more track, which you can feel free to ignore, since it deviates from the conditions of your question:

Keaver and Brause—Cleff Rechard: There's a sample—of someone else's music—playing throughout the entirety of this track. And yet it's been transformed into something completely new, and something that couldn't have been done in any other way. It's not the most amazing track I've ever heard or anything, but the "unique themes, licks, and clever little moments" you're looking for can be found in what Keaver and Brause do with the sample.

Okay, I'm off my soapbox now. Hope some of the above tracks strike your fancy!
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:12 PM on February 19, 2015 [15 favorites]

But I definitely feel like "mainstream" electronic music is heavily sampled.

Ohhhhhhhhhhh. It's not, really. Individual beats may be sampled (as with the bit about bass notes above), there might be the odd spoken word bit dropped in on top of something, but outside of hip hop there's a lot less sampling going on than you probably think.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:15 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Squarepusher is great, but he samples heavily (in addition to playing a virtuosic bass guitar, and creating all manner of other original sounds). It's hard to do drum & bass, even the oddball variety that Squarepusher does, without sampling. You could always play your own drum breaks and sample those—and I think Squarepusher is one of the few artists who sometimes does this—but he's far from a sample-free purist.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:16 PM on February 19, 2015

escape from the potato planet, thanks for the soapbox lecture! I will certainly keep my mind open as I explore electronic music. I think the main issue for me is that I come from a classical music background, so my mind puts enormous emphasis on musical composition. To me, a unique motif or melody has far more value than an interesting tone, be it from the 1930's or otherwise. Even if an artist does incredible work on the production side, I get bored if I discover that the meat of the song — the composition, the order of the notes, the contour of the music — is taken from another artist. But I realize others don't see it that way, and that's fine. I will certainly keep listening to see if my mind can be changed.
posted by archagon at 6:19 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

So much of electronic music is about timbre and texture, though. Samples are just a convenient source of different timbres and textures, which the musician then arranges and combines to create something new. There's certainly electronic music that's melodically complex in similar ways to classical music, but you'll be missing out on a lot of what's happening in a track if you only listen to the melody. Electronics have provided such fertile ground for creativity precisely because they allow artists to control timbre with an unprecedented level of complexity and precision. There really is no separation between the "meat" of a song and "production work"—the production work is part of the meat; it helps to form the meaning of the track as much as the key and time signature.

Here are a few more (probably mostly sample-free!) tracks for your perusal, including some more challenging/leftfield stuff:

Perc—My Head Is Slowly Exploding (Ancient Methods Remix)
Julien Neto—Voy
Vaetxh—List of Lists
Holger Hiller—Once I Made a Snowman
Lapalux—Without You (feat. Kerry Leatham)
Kokofreakbean—Ossity #4—Klaxing Fluxion (warning: loud, chaotic, experimental)
Man Without Country—Puppets (poppier)
Dawn of Midi—Dysnomia (this is actually all acoustic instruments, played in an electronic style—very cool)

I take back what I said about Squarepusher. I was thinking of his more drill & bass work. That's the stuff I'm most familiar with, but it's a small portion of his output, and he's definitely known as a talented instrumentalist. He deserves a place on your list.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:47 PM on February 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

There's certainly electronic music that's melodically complex in similar ways to classical music, but you'll be missing out on a lot of what's happening in a track if you only listen to the melody. Electronics have provided such fertile ground for creativity precisely because they allow artists to control timbre with an unprecedented level of complexity and precision.

Yeah, I definitely see that, and it's actually the main reason I love Tipper so much. Not only is his music — particularly, his downtempo albums "Broken Soul Jamboree" and "Forward Escape" — melodically unique and meaningful, but his production skills are also out of this world. It feels like he builds these incredible acoustic worlds from scratch, and then populates them with equally incredible musical ideas. And again, I might be wrong because I'm a newbie to the genre, but it seems like many electronic artists focus more on the tone — the "world-building" — without having the melodic ingenuity, the "content", to back it up.

Thanks for all the recommendations! I'm going to have a lot of fun building a Spotify playlist for this question.
posted by archagon at 6:57 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

SBTRKT - Ready Set Loop.

Guy grew up on a farm in the UK, and says it influences his electronic music making process.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:59 PM on February 19, 2015

You may be interested in Matthew Herbert, who explicitly only samples things he recorded himself. He also sets other restrictions for himself which are enumerated here. In particular:
  1. The use of sounds that exist already is not allowed. Subject to article 2. In particular:
    • No drum machines.
    • No synthesizers.
    • No presets.
  2. Only sounds that are generated at the start of the compositional process or taken from the artist’s own previously unused archive are available for sampling.
  3. The sampling of other people’s music is strictly forbidden.
  4. No replication of traditional acoustic instruments is allowed where the financial and physical possibility of using the real ones exists.
He has some really cool work under his own artist alias "Herbert" (e.g.) and also produced Roisin Murphy's first solo album, which is really great (e.g., e.g.).
posted by en forme de poire at 7:03 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Loads of acid techno, I'd think. Kick it off with Chris Liberator or Hardfloor.
posted by pompomtom at 7:21 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

(More Matthew Herbert; this album has fewer of what you might call "songs" than Scale, and so it might be a closer match to what you're looking for.)

You might also like Max Tundra, who's another self-sampling multi instrumentalist (though it's possible he may use other people's samples in places and I haven't scrutinized his tracks for them, he mainly relies on playing instruments and synthesizers himself).
posted by en forme de poire at 8:14 PM on February 19, 2015

Archagon, have you listened to Bonobos early albums like Animal Magic? They are meticulous sample collages, but he is composing in much the same way he does now. You might also like The Cinematic Orchestra, who record instruments but have a very electronic, collage-y sort of sound.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:20 PM on February 19, 2015

If you don't mind a bit of a New Age vibe, there's loads of melodic stuff like this:

H.U.V.A. Network—Cobalt
Helios—Nine Black Alps
Aes Dana—In Between
Solar Fields—Daydreaming
Sounds From the Ground—Dimewater (strong dub influence with these guys)

This tracklist represents a continuum between trance (on the more upbeat, four-on-the-floor end) and, I dunno, the less experimental wing of ambient (which is cousin to the loose genres known as "chillout" or "downtempo").

But I suspect that what you really want is stuff that has, like, key changes, and distinct parts (rather than just layers of sequences fading in and out), and less repetition? More conventional song structures that happen to be played on electronic instruments?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:25 PM on February 19, 2015

Jon Mitchell, not yet, I only actually started listening to him a few days ago!

escape from the potato planet, it's hard to say. I don't actually necessarily think that's true. For example, a lot of Tipper's music is actually pretty "ambient". Take "Cinder Cone" from "Broken Soul Jamboree": it's the same basic four note motif repeating over and over again. But at the same time, there's all sorts of new, one-off mini-motifs darting in and out throughout the piece. The harmonies subtly shift in the background. The orchestration moves between different instruments. Occasionally, a familiar sound might come back — but never long enough to feel unwelcome. It never feels like you're listening to the same thing more than once, even though on a macro level it might appear repetitive. (I also read that Tipper heavily uses "microediting", which by my understanding is modifying identical samples in subtle ways to make the music feel more dynamic.)

I guess I'll know it when I hear it!
posted by archagon at 8:36 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Trentemøller's remix of Djuma Soundsystem's Les Djinns
posted by asterix at 10:43 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is kind of the opposite of what you're asking for, but I think you should check out A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure by Matmos. It's made from samples, but not samples of music and it may influence your view on sampling.

I think a lot of the classic Warp Records back catalog fits the no-samples criteria. Some have already been mentioned but Plaid, Autechre, and Clark are all, as far as I know, based primarily on original composition. Aphex Twin samples a lot but also has original works such as Drukqs.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:04 PM on February 19, 2015

This brief documentary gives an pretty vivid example of the extent to which a drum sample can be used, from largely playing an iconic drum loop as-is in "Straight Outta Compton", speeding it or chopping it up, or completely breaking out all of the components and re-arranging them to borrow the "scratchy vintage" sound of the original beat without playing the same beat. Squarepusher is an example "de/re-constructor" in the video.

More to answer the question, I think KMFDM is a good example for the most part, more on the industrial-experimental side of things, at least with this album and previous ones. There are occasional spoken bits that sound like samples (like from a movie or whatnot) too, but I believe they are for the most part original recordings from the band's various vocalists made to sound dramatic-historical-like.
posted by aydeejones at 11:18 PM on February 19, 2015

You might enjoy going back to the roots, so to speak, and listening to some Kraftwerk. They don't generally use musical samples.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:35 AM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

You'll love Si Begg. He does sample on occasion, but lots of his music is unique. I'm also quite a fan of Andrea Parker, her earlier stuff ("Kiss My Arp").
posted by hz37 at 12:44 AM on February 20, 2015

Amon Tobin would fit, I think. "GOTO 10" is a personal favorite.

Fever Ray and The Knife (both feature Karin Dreijer Andersson).

Excision will cop a sample or two, but I think mostly he uses his own stuff.

Something I noticed awhile back: Rob Zombie's Hellbilly Deluxe has enough synthesizers and processing and stuff in it to qualify as 'stealth electronic music'.

Something really old that still stands up: Wire's 154.
posted by doctor tough love at 5:37 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Resident Advisor led me to discovering all sorts of wonderful and diverse electronic producers. They release a podcast every week featuring a different artist or DJ, often times including track lists which leads to the discovery of so much music.
posted by sewellcm at 6:27 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

So it sounds like you're only looking to exclude musicians who use samples for hooks or significant compositional building blocks, right? Not just people who use samples for e.g. individual tones or drum hits? In which case it seems like the answers can encompass the majority of electronic musicians ever.

But anyway, here's a list of some people in loose categories.

70s pioneers
Tangerine Dream
Jean Michael Jarre

80s Synthpop
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
The Human League
Pet Shop Boys
Depeche Mode
Tears for Fears

Contemporary Retro/synthwave
Mitch Murder
Carpenter Brut
Le Cassette
Electric Youth
Com Truise

Misc. contemporary
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Aphex Twin
The Notwist
Nils Frahm
posted by ludwig_van at 6:40 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I feel like it's probably important to mention Laurie Anderson here.
posted by erlking at 6:44 AM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

You might want to look up some videos of Tune-yards performing live. She will drum / sing / etc and sample it and/or loop it in the song live (alongside other instumentalists on stage).

You may also like Crystal Castles
posted by WeekendJen at 7:26 AM on February 20, 2015

Seconding Andrea Parker, Matmos, and definitely Kraftwerk. And Autechre, and Aphex Twin if you've somehow missed out on him. (I'm not a big fan myself, but he is a Big Deal. Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2 is a masterpiece.)

Loops Haunt—Rubber Sun Grenade
Kangding Ray—Amber Decay
Obtane—Inner Absorption
Plastikman (aka Richie Hawtin)—Psyk (a huge name and pioneer of minimalism and acid techno—he's a master of that "subtle changes within a repetitive framework" thing that you mentioned, though it's largely done live rather than through audio editing)
Zoe Keating—Legions (War) (classically trained cellist who samples loops of her own playing live, and builds beautifully layered compositions out of those loops)
Woob—Return to the City (soundtrack work from a criminally underappreciated artist; Bandcamp page)
Biosphere & Higher Intelligence Agency—Cannon Hill (Biosphere is amazing; his early techno work is pretty dated at this point, and I don't care much for N-Plants, but everything else he's done is worth checking out, including his collaborations with Higher Intelligence Agency)

You may also find something to enjoy on musicforprogramming.net—it's a growing collection of mixes, covering a broad variety of styles and eras of electronic music (mostly more meditative stuff, though).

Really, there's so much electronic music that meets your basic criterion, that answering this question feels a bit scattershot. Maybe that's what you want—to hear a lot of different styles so you can start figuring out what you like—but have any of the suggestions in the thread made you think "yes, more of that please"?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:27 AM on February 20, 2015

If you're open to house music, Louisahhh! has been rocking my world lately. Here she is rocking a crowd in Paris; several of the tracks she plays are her own (including the opener). There's probably a sample or two in there (mostly the odd vocal noise), but 95% of the sounds you hear are original creations (as far as I can tell).
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:36 AM on February 20, 2015

O9scar: I wouldn't call Bonobo electronic. I realize there isn't a good word for what he does.

"Electronic" is often short-hand for "doesn't feature live instruments, but isn't hip-hop," which was how he started. He is often grouped in the "downtempo" and/or "chill out" scene, though his more recent work has drawn inspirations from London styles (4/4 house, whatever you want to classify as "UK Bass").

archagon: And if you are only sampling a couple of notes to use as an instrument, why not use a synth or virtual instrument to begin with?

Because synths try to replicate "normal" instruments, note by note, where as samples can introduce a more human sound, with intentional and unintentional distortions. But because producers don't always have a full band on hand, or a particular performance catches their ear, they use samples, which they can distort and tweak further.

Also, even a few notes can trigger memories and emotions, so that small segment is still more powerful than fully virtual instrumentation.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:17 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

It seems like there's a lot of confusion about what sampling involves and what samplers can do. I would recommend anyone interested in the details check out this series of articles from Sound on Sound, "The Lost Art of Sampling."
posted by ludwig_van at 8:32 AM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

OK, here's a Spotify playlist with as many of the listed tracks and artists as I could find! Will be listening to this while I do programmy things over the next few weeks.

I should add that I'm generally not a fan of DJ sets, mixes, and remixes. I don't really like electronic music as a performing art; my favorite pieces are composed strictly for listening outside the club, usually as part of an overarching album or EP. (Would you "remix" a symphony? I find it odd to separate bits of a song from its whole, unless it was designed from the start for dancing, not contemplation.) I've also never really enjoyed pre-90's electronic music; I gave Kraftwerk a shot a few years ago, but they just didn't keep my interest.

Thank you for all the suggestions!
posted by archagon at 1:10 PM on February 20, 2015

Would you "remix" a symphony?

posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:12 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well, sort of. But arrangements don't really change the nature of a piece, and besides, they were often created because musicians/instruments were in short supply as well as for convenience, not for artistic reasons. (On the other side of the coin, you have something like Liszt's piano transcriptions, but there's so much new content in those arrangements that they're basically entirely new pieces.)
posted by archagon at 1:17 PM on February 20, 2015

(In other words, a "cover" vs. a "collage".)
posted by archagon at 1:19 PM on February 20, 2015

Yosi Horikawa is another artist who does interesting (and beautiful imo) work with samplers and natural sounds.
posted by bouvin at 2:51 PM on February 20, 2015

Thanks for updating my knowledge, escape from potato planet. I appreciate it.
posted by CollectiveMind at 3:19 PM on February 21, 2015

Four Tet
posted by judith at 5:43 PM on February 22, 2015

If you like classical, listen to my buddy Convextion.

He does hour-plus PAs that are very alien and atmospheric.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:11 PM on March 2, 2015

« Older Grandma, you are my negative role model.   |   Mr. Wheezy Cat Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.