Cycling, Going, Grooving: On Repetition and Dynamism in Electronic Dance Music

In electronic dance music (EDM), recorded objects—vinyl records, digital files, loops, and samples—form the bases of fluid improvised performances. Music that can be held in one’s hand, that is not only precomposed but also inscribed onto wax grooves, is made to dissolve, recombine, and sound anew through the creative metallurgy of DJ and laptop sets. A diverse range of technologies, from analog turntables to MIDI controllers, undergirds this process. Yet certain key musical attributes of EDM—what I term its “musical technologies”—play an equally important role in facilitating these performative interventions.

This paper theorizes the interrelated technologies of cycling, going, and grooving, all of which hinge upon the core musical technology of repeating. Although musical cycles have largely been conceived of in spatial terms, I construe them as inherently temporal: as dynamic configurations of musical energy that push performance forward. In their goal-directedness they involve “going” as well. This emphasis on dynamism extends into a third technology, “grooving.” The burgeoning area of groove theory sheds light on the specific components of this musical technology. An analysis of a set of “locked grooves” used in performance by the musicians Phon.o and Bernhard provides a practical illustration of the principles involved.