Tim Burgess from The Charlatans recently added an extensive list of music book recommendations to his website. There are some great books well worth checking out but, as usual with these lists, it mostly includes rock titles with a token few on electronic music and club culture. However, it did inspire us to create our own list of recommended electronic music books.
We’ve deliberately excluded all our own books as you can check them all here. If your favourite is missing please write a few sentences about it, send it to us and we’ll add it. Thanks to Russell Deeks (editor, iDJ magazine), Laurent Fintoni, Ellie Jones, Matthew Duffield, Scaramanga Silk and GLOWKiD for contributing. So, in no particular order, here they are…
All Crews: Journeys Through Jungle/Drum & Bass Culture by Brian Belle-Fortune
Published in 2004, this was actually the second edition of this book – the original All Crews Muss Big Up came out in 1999 but a certain photographer never returned my copy of that! As with some of the more general works mentioned above, this early attempt to document the history of jungle/d&b culture has perhaps been surpassed in more recent years – but as any historian will tell you, hindsight is a lens that often distorts. So it’s always worth checking the earliest sources available… and in d&b terms, that’s pretty much this book.
The Secret DJ by The Secret DJ
The Secret DJ is an essential exposé into the world of DJing – a true ‘warts and all’, real-life account from a fine storyteller. If you fancy a taste of what to expect then check out his regular column for Mixmag.
Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture by Simon Reynolds
With this weighty tome, Reynolds provided what was arguably the first “proper” in-depth history of electronic/dance music and rave culture. It’s not perfect: it’s very London-centric and Reynolds has a tendency to somewhat over-intellectualise everything, while his own musical proclivities, prejudices and predilections are writ large throughout. But you’ll still struggle to find a better over-arching analysis.
Velocity Press boss Colin Steven set up drum & bass magazine Knowledge way back in 1994 and this deluxe 10” square coffee table book celebrates their 25th anniversary in style. The 160 pages mostly feature new content as well plus a few classic features are thrown in for good measure.
Toop’s exploration of ambient music, in the most general sense and from classical to modern electronica, sits very neatly between being academic and freestyle wandering. This book gives a real sense of why music works, even when it’s a bit strange.
Last Night A DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey by Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton
A tried and tested favourite, and the first book to trace the history of dance music from the perspective of the DJ. Brewster and Broughton were the first to present DJing as an art form in its own right, and emphasis the cultural significance, in this immensely entertaining and down-to-earth book. Also check their The Record Players: DJ Revolutionaries if you can.
This book from legendary Manchester DJ, promoter, journalist and author covers much the same “a history of DJ culture” ground as Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, but is based around a series of interviews with key scene figures from the eras in question. Another must-read. His history of UK nightclubs and music venues Life After Dark is well worth checking too.
Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk by Dan Sicko
This is a solid introduction to techno, its trappings and origins, penned by Dan Sicko at the turn of the millennium as a round-up of techno’s history to that point with particular emphasis on Detroit and the Belleville Three (Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson).
All Things Remembered by Goldie
A whirlwind, adrenalin-fuelled celebrity memoir from drum & bass pioneer Goldie. Not to be missed.
Liberation Through Hearing: Rap, Rave & the Rise of XL Recordings by Richard Russell
The story of XL Recordings, one of the UK’s leading independent record labels, told through the life, and in the words of its owner, Richard Russell.
This oral history, consisting of interviews with the likes of Dennis Bovell, Norman Jay MBE, Youth, Adrian Sherwood, Skream, Jumpin Jack Frost with photos by Brian David Stevens, presents the story of the bassline of Britain, in the words of those who lived and shaped it.
It’s A London Thing tells the story of the linked black musical scenes in the capital across four decades: from ska, reggae and soul in the 1970s, to rare groove and acid house in the 1980s and jungle and drum & bass in the 1990s, to dubstep and grime of the 2000s.
Once In A Lifetime: The Crazy Days of Acid House and Afterwards by Jane Bussman
Most of the books on this list are fairly ‘serious’ works that attempt to tell the history of electronic music as an academic or broadsheet journalist might. This one’s altogether more fun ‘n’ fluffy affair, cobbling together flyers, sleeve artwork, tabloid clippings, club playlists and LOTS of random drug-addled rave anecdotes into one laugh-out-loud (and occasionally quite biting) whole that’s like listening to your favourite rave Auntie babbling away at 4am… yet STILL paints a pretty thorough picture of rave culture’s evolution through its 90s glory years.
Adventures In Wonderland: Acid house, rave and the UK club explosion by Sheryl Garratt
The late 90s were a great time for rave nostalgia and retrospection, being 10 years on from the original acid house boom. This early history of the culture has perhaps been somewhat surpassed by later works but remains a vital reference point, not last because Garratt was there from the start – she was writing about house and techno before most people in Britain had ever heard of them. Out of print for more than 20 years, this new 2020 edition has been updated slightly, with a new introduction and final chapter.
The Second Summer Of Love: How Dance Music Took Over the World by Alon Shulman
A bit southern biased in its scope but nonetheless still a good insight into the birth of dance music and club culture in the UK.
How To Wreck A Nice Beach: The Vocoder From World War II To Hip-Hop by Dave Tompkins
An incredible story about modern music told in an incredible way.
Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House by Matthew Collin
Love this book for the way it documents how ecstasy impacted music in the latter part of the 20th Century. It also tells a really interesting story about the relationship between drugs, police and youth culture during the 90s, with a discussion of how those running illegal parties were following the Thatcher imperative to become an entrepreneur.
Rave On: Global Adventures in Electronic Dance Music by Matthew Collin
Some 20 years on after Altered State, Matthew Colin examines the various changes dance music and club culture has gone through in the two decades since and ponders where we’re at today, looking into things like the rise of Berlin, Europe’s enduring ‘Teknival’ scene and the corporate takeover of EDM culture in the United States.
Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials & the Meaning of Grime by Jeffrey Boakye
Written with the same passion and brilliance as the music.
How To DJ (Properly): The Art and Science of Playing Records by Frank Broughton & Bill Brewster
The pair that brought us the definitive history of DJ culture (see Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, above) followed it up with the definitive guide to DJing itself. From how to balance a tonearm to dealing with snooty record shop staff, from basic beatmatching to advanced scratching skillz, it’s all here. Worth noting, too, that the 20-year-old book addresses the currently hot topic of gender equality in dance culture – which highlights just how slow progress has been in that regard.
Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime by Dan Hancox
As well it being a complete history of grime, complete with interviews with the important players, Dan Hancox also delves into the socio-political and psychography of the reason why, and locations that gave birth to the genre.
Mars By 1980: The Story of Electronic Music by David Stubbs
David Stubbs charts the evolution of electronic music from the earliest mechanical experiments in the late nineteenth century, through to the familiar sounds of electronica, house and techno that we know today.
Opening with David Mancuso’s “Love Saves the Day” Valentine’s party in February 1970, Tim Lawrence tells the story of disco. The definitive history of dance music’s early years. Also worth reading is Tim Lawrence’s Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983.
The Hacienda: How Not To Run A Club by Peter Hook
Peter Hook played bass in New Order who were co-owners of The Hacienda along with their label, Factory Records. The story of the Hacienda’s contribution to the Madchester scene is well documented, this book details the gleeful hedonism with frank admissions of eye-popping commercial ineptitude. Hooky’s books on his time in Joy Division and New Order respectively are also worth a look.
DJ Target is one of grime’s pioneers and his book is a great insider account of how the genre evolved.
Discographies: Dance, Music, Culture and the Politics of Sound by Jeremy Gilbert & Ewan Pearson
More academic than most others in this list, Discographies considers the formal, aesthetic and political characteristics of dance music.
Class Of ’88: Find the warehouse. Lose the hitmen. Pump the beats by Wayne Anthony
Wayne Anthony co-founded the legendary Genesis raves and took acid house to the masses. Class Of ’88 is a lively, highly individual account of the two years he spent as an illegal party promoter, leading the rave revolution that was sweeping the UK. Would make a great film or TV series.
Rave Art by Chelsea Louise Berlin
Rave Art documents the explosion of the rave scene in the late 80s and early 90s, through this collection of flyers, invitations and posters that were collected at the time by the author.
Originally published in 1996 so it’s a bit dated but this was probably the first review of club flyers and includes examples from all the major designers of the time and is introduced with an essay by Jon Savage.
The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America by Michaelangelo Matos
The Underground Is Massive is a history of the American electronic dance music underground, viewed through the lens of nineteen parties over thirty years — from the black, gay underground clubs of Chicago and Detroit’s elite teen-party scene through the nineties electronica to today’s EDM-festival juggernaut.
Big, Bad And Heavy by Jumpin Jack Frost
There’s been a welter of DJ autobiographies hitting the shelves over the past few years, but original jungle don Frost’s no-holds-barred account of his rise through the ranks, descent into drug-fuelled paranoia and subsequent recovery is still the one to beat, even if can make for quite disturbing reading at times. Big, bad and heavy indeed!
Art Sex Music by Cosey Fanni Tutti
One of the pioneers of industrial and avant-garde electronic music tells her story with brutal honesty in this autobiography. Fanni Tutti certainly pulls no punches, but at the same time manages to be remarkably non-judgemental, and throughout all the mayhem, the music remains centre stage. An enthralling read.
Let Them Eat Chaos by Kate Tempest
As anyone who has seen Kate Tempest in concert will testify, she can whip up an electronic storm and lay down a solid groove. This provides the backdrop to her words, of course, and it’s also worth reading them in a poetry form, where they’re just as powerful, but at a different pace. See also Brand New Ancients.
The Story of the Streets by Mike Skinner
You can always rely on Mike Skinner to tell a good story, and his account of life as The Streets doesn’t disappoint. It’s pure Skinner as it ricochets between eccentric trivia and fascinating insights into the music industry, and you can almost his voice bouncing up from the page. Great fun and perfect for a personal after-party.
This book is so interesting because it focuses on the perspectives of female ravers drawn from in-depth interviews with the author, offering a lot of insight into the motivations and experience of the female punter. This has made me think about the experience of me and my girlfriend ravers today in a lot more depth.
The Man Behind The Mask by Mark Archer
Something more than memoir for a legendary persona within the old skool rave scene. From Altern-8 to his solo works, collabs and even more adventures of his 30+ years of music life action.
The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco And The Culture Of The Night by Anthony Haden-Guest
This is the inside story of one of the most famous nightclubs of all time. The celebs, the drugs, the gangsters, the tax evasion and eventually the prison stretches for promoters Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager… journalist and author Haden-Guest was right on the spot when it all happened, and his account of those hedonistic 70s days pulls no punches.
The Disco Files 1973-1978 by Vince Aletti
For six years, NYC journalist Vince Aletti covered the disco scene in a weekly column for The Village Voice, and this book gathers all of those columns together in one place. It’s the closest you’ll ever get to record shopping time travel, as Aletti picks out the latest fads and trends week-by-week, as they happen. Be warned, though… combining this book, a credit card and Discogs marketplace can be dangerous!
How To Squander Your Potential: The Smart e’s & Kniteforce Story by Christopher Howell
An incredible and fun book, must-to-have for every Kniteforce Records and breakbeat hardcore junkie that knows the score. A bit further than just a simple biography. After all, it’s all about hardcore innit.
Diary of a DJ by Marshall Jefferson
From the US, the legendary Marshall Jefferson analyzes the phenomenal house music movement from the rise of it and his contribution alongside his fellow producers and DJs.
The Story of Big Beat: Bookazine by Rory Hoy
Big Beat was all about huge breakbeats, acid house sensibilities, hip-hop, soul and funk. And one of the best representers of this genre, the DJ/producer, Rory Hoy dedicates his love to that late 90s scene with this book, including his interviews with 120 big beat stalwarts with the likes of Fatboy Slim, Liam Howlett, the late Keith Flint and many more others.
We Eat Rhythm by Martin James
Hands down for a man who’s been very close to the best live band on our planet, The Prodigy, over the last 25 years. Martin James pays homage to the groundbreaking act with previously unpublished interviews and more amazing stories from back in the day. Also check out Martin James’ book on the origins of jungle/drum & bass, State Of Bass.
Inner Sound: Altered States of Consciousness in Electronic Music and Audio-Visual Media by Jon Weinel
Taking a broad view across a wide range of genres, Inner Sound draws connections between shamanic art and music, and the modern technoshamanism of psychedelic rock, electronic dance music, and electroacoustic music. While academically rigorous and formal, it’s a captivating read full of insight which offered me many a-ha moments, putting large blocks of modern culture into a more timeless perspective.