British Electronic Music: From the Classics to the Cutting Edge

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,

British electronic music has come a long way since the days of the early pioneers like Delia Derbyshire and Brian Eno. Today, the UK is home to some of the most innovative and cutting-edge electronic music producers in the world.

In this blog, we’ll take a look at the history of British electronic music, from the classics that laid the foundation for the genre, to the cutting-edge artists who are pushing it forward today.


Electronic music has been part of the British musical landscape for over half a century. In that time, it has morphed and mutated, adapted and adopted, enriched and inspired. It has cross-pollinated with every other genre imaginable, and given birth to a plethora of new subgenres along the way.

This book tells the story of British electronic music, from its early beginnings in the avant-garde experimentation of composers like Delia Derbyshire and Brian Eno, to its present-day incarnation as a global phenomenon encompassing everything from dubstep to drum & bass. Along the way, we meet the mavericks and misfits who have shaped this ever-evolving art form, and chart its evolution from underground oddity to mainstream player.

Whether you’re a diehard fan or a curious newcomer, this book is your essential guide to one of the most important – and downright fascinating – musical movements of our times.

Early British electronic music

The BBC Radiophonic Workshop

After the war, the BBC ran a service called the Third Programme, which was intended to cater to a more highbrow, intellectually demanding audience than its other channels. The Radiophonic Workshop was set up as part of this in 1958, with the brief to create electronic effects and new music for use on the Third Programme and elsewhere.

The Workshop’s first home was a small room in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, which consisted of little more than a desk, a tape recorder and a soldering iron. The early composers (among them Daphne Oram and Desmond Briscoe) made use of found sounds – recorded on tape and then manipulated using splicing techniques borrowed from the film industry – to create moods and atmospheres that would have been impossible to generate using traditional instruments.

The Workshop’s best-known composition is probably the Doctor Who theme tune, which was created by Delia Derbyshire in 1963. However, its output ranged far beyond TV themes: over the years, it produced library music, soundtracks for radio plays and documentaries, and experimental pieces that pushed at the very boundaries of what could be considered music.

Delia Derbyshire

Delia Derbyshire is one of the most important and influential figures in early British electronic music. A self-taught composer and sound designer, she was responsible for creating some of the most iconic and innovative music of the 1960s and 1970s.

Derbyshire was born in 1937 in Coventry, England. She began her musical education at an early age, learning to play the piano and violin. She went on to study mathematics at the University of Manchester, where she became interested in electronic music after attending a lecture by Daphne Oram, one of the founders of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

After graduating from university, Derbyshire joined the Radiophonic Workshop, where she quickly made a name for herself with her distinctive and creative approach to sound design. She is perhaps best known for her work on the original Doctor Who theme tune, which she created using a combination of traditional instruments and electronic techniques. However, her repertoire also includes a wide range of other iconic pieces of electronic music, from experimental soundscapes to pop arrangements.

Derbyshire’s work has had a lasting impact on British popular culture and continues to inspire new generations of composers and sound designers. She passed away in 2001, but her legacy continues to live on through her music.

Other early British electronic composers

In addition to the composers already mentioned, other early British electronic composers include Tristram Cary, Daphne Oram, and Desmond Briscoe. Cary was a member of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop from its inception in 1958 until 1962, and composed the group’s theme tune, “Doctor Who”, which is still used today. Oram was one of the founders of the Radiophonic Workshop, and composed several influential electronic pieces before leaving in 1959. Briscoe was also a member of the Radiophonic Workshop, and composed many soundtracks for BBC programs.

The rise of British electronic music in the 1970s

British electronic music has come a long way since the 1970s. In the early days, it was all about creating long, drawn-out tracks that would slowly build up to a climax. These days, there is a much wider range of styles and genres, and Britain is at the forefront of the electronic music scene.

Brian Eno

Born in 1948, Brian Eno was one of the early pioneers of British electronic music. He first came to prominence as a member of the band Roxy Music, but soon began to experiment with electronic sounds on his own. His 1974 solo album, “Here Come the Warm Jets,” was one of the first commercially successful electronic albums and helped to legitimize the genre in the eyes of the mainstream music industry. Eno would go on to release a series of highly influential solo albums throughout the 1970s and 80s, including “Another Green World” (1975), “Ambient 1: Music for Airports” (1978) and “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” (1981). He has also worked extensively with other artists, producing records for Talking Heads, David Bowie and U2, among others.


Kraftwerk was a German band formed in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider. The group’s style combines elements of traditional German folk music with modern electronic music. Kraftwerk’s music was often influenced by the work of other German artists such as Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream. The band’s sound was also influenced by British bands such as Pink Floyd and The Beatles. Kraftwerk’s most successful album, Autobahn, was released in 1974. The album contained the title track, which became a hit single in the United States.

Other important British electronic music artists of the 1970s

Other important British electronic music artists of the 1970s include Brian Eno, who was a member of Roxy Music and produced several influential solo albums; Kraftwerk, a German group who were among the first to use synthesizers in a pop context; and Giorgio Moroder, an Italian producer who worked with disco artists such as Donna Summer.

The 1980s and 1990s: The golden age of British electronic music

The 1980s and 1990s were the golden age of British electronic music. This was the time when the genre was being developed and the pioneers of the scene were making their mark. Artists like Bruce Haack, Delia Derbyshire, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno were creating music that was groundbreaking and inventive. This was also the time when the British electronic music scene was at its most diverse, with a wide range of genres and styles being represented.

Depeche Mode

Formed in Basildon, Essex, in 1980, Depeche Mode were one of the first bands to bring electronic music to a mainstream audience. Their hit singles “Just Can’t Get Enough” and “Personal Jesus” helped to define the sound of the 1980s, and their albums Violator (1990) and Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993) are considered classics of the genre. The band is still active today, with their most recent album Spirit (2017) reaching number one in the UK charts.

The Pet Shop Boys

The Pet Shop Boys are an English synthpop duo, formed in London in 1981 and consisting ofNeil Tennant (lead vocals, keyboards, occasional guitar) and Chris Lowe (keyboards, vocals). According to the duo, their name was inspired by friends who worked in a pet shop in Ealing Broadway and were known as the “pet shop boys”.

The Pet Shop Boys have sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making them one of the best-selling music artists of all time. They have achieved 40 UK Top 30 singles, including four UK number-ones: “West End Girls” (1985), “It’s a Sin” (1987), “Always on My Mind” (1987), and “Heart” (1988). They are also considered the most successful British male pop group of all time. In 1996, they received a Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music.

New Order

New Order are an English rock band formed in 1980, currently composed of Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert, Phil Cunningham and Tom Chapman. The band was formed in 1980 by Sumner (vocals, guitars, synthesizers), Morris (drums, percussion, synthesizers), Thruston Barnes-Gillespie (then known as Gillian Gilbert; keyboards) and later exponentiating their sound with the use of sequencers.

The band’s breakthrough following the success of their 1981 single “Blue Monday”, which became the best-selling 12-inch single of all time. They achieved international acclaim with their 1984 album Low-Life and then released a string of successful singles before largely disappearing from the public eye in the early 1990s. They made a comeback in 2001 with Get Ready and returned to critical and commercial success with Waiting for the Sirens’ Call (2005), which was nominated for Best Dance/Electronic Album at the Grammy Awards.

They achieved their last number one album in 2013 with Republic. New Order have sold more than 30 million records worldwide. In December 2016, the band announced they would disband after a final concert in October 2017.

Other important British electronic music artists of the 1980s and 1990s

While the 1980s and 1990s are considered the golden age of British electronic music, there were other important artists who contributed to this genre during this time. Some of these artists include:

-The KLF: A duo who was known for their hit single “3 a.m. Eternal” as well as their unusual stunts, such as burning £1 million in banknotes.

-Aphex Twin: A solo artist whose debut album “Selected Ambient Works 85-92” is considered a classic of the genre.

-Autechre: A duo whose music is known for its complexity and experimental nature.

-Boards of Canada: A duo whose music is characterized by its use of vintage synthesizers and samples from old educational films.

The new millennium: The cutting edge of British electronic music

The new millennium has seen a surge in popularity for electronic music, with a particular focus on the UK. This is evident in the success of British electronic musicians such as David Guetta, Calvin Harris, and Skrillex. In this article, we will explore the cutting edge of British electronic music, including the genres of dubstep, techno, and grime.

Aphex Twin

Richard D. James, better known by his stage name Aphex Twin, is a British electronic musician and founder of the record label Rephlex Records. He first rose to prominence in the early 1990s with his seminal album Selected Ambient Works 85-92, and has since released a number of critically acclaimed and genre-defining records. He is widely considered to be one of the most important and influential figures in electronic music, and has been described as “the most inventive and influential figure in contemporary electronic music” by Pitchfork Media.


Burial is the stage name of William Bevan, a British electronic music producer from South London. His style has been described as dubstep, 2-step, and post-garage. He first gained notoriety with his 2006 track “Untrue,” which was ranked as one of the best albums of 2007 by Pitchfork Media. Since then, he has released several other EPs and singles to critical acclaim.

The Chemical Brothers

The Chemical Brothers are one of the most commercially and critically successful British electronic music acts of all time. Their unique blend of acid house, techno, and rock has seen them headline festivals all over the world, win multiple Grammy Awards, and sell over 20 million records.

Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons met in Manchester in 1989 and started making music together under the name The Dust Brothers. They released their first track, “Song to the Siren”, in 1993, and it was an instant hit with club DJs. The track caught the attention of !K7 Records boss Tony Humby, who signed them to a record deal.

The Dust Brothers became The Chemical Brothers in 1995, and released their debut album Exit Planet Dust later that year. The album was an instant success, reaching number one on the UK charts and spawning the hit singles “Setting Sun” and “Life Is Sweet”.

The Chemical Brothers’ second album, Dig Your Own Hole, was even more successful than its predecessor, reaching number one in the UK and selling over two million copies worldwide. The album featured the massive hits “Block Rockin’ Beats” and “Setting Sun”, which won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

The group’s third album, Surrender, saw them experimenting with new sounds and styles, resulting in another chart-topping UK album and another Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance (for the song “Let Forever Be”).

Following a four-year hiatus, The Chemical Brothers returned with their fourth album Push The Button in 2005. The album was another huge success, reaching number one in the UK and winning a Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronica Album.

The Chemical Brothers have continued to experiment with their sound on subsequent albums We Are The Night (2007) Further (2010)and Born In Echo (2013), cementing their position as one of Britain’s most innovative and beloved electronic music acts.

Other important British electronic music artists of the new millennium

Aphex Twin: Born in 1971, Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin, is a Grammy-nominated British electronic music artist who helped define the IDM and techno genres in the 1990s. He is known for his experimental and often complex music, as well as his innovative use of various computer-based music software programs.

Bjork: Born in 1965, Bjork is an Icelandic singer, songwriter, and actress who first gained international attention as the lead singer of the alternative rock band The Sugarcubes. She has since released eight solo albums, incorporating elements of electronica, trip hop, jazz, and classical music.

Four Tet: Born in 1978, Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, is a British electronic musician and producer whose work spans several genres including IDM, ambient, and hip hop. Hebden has released nine solo albums since 1999, most recently 2016’s ‘Morning/Evening.’

Mount Kimbie: Mount Kimbie is a London-based electronic music duo composed of Dominic Maker and Kai Campos. Formed in 2008, the duo are considered pioneers of the ‘post-dubstep’ sound and have released two studio albums to critical acclaim.


In conclusion, electronic music has come a long way since its inception in the early 20th century. From its humble beginnings as a niche genre, it has grown to become one of the most popular and influential genres of music in the world. In the United Kingdom, electronic music has had a particularly strong impact, with artists such as The Prodigy, Massive Attack, and Aphex Twin becoming global superstars. Today, British electronic music is as varied and diverse as any other genre, with artists exploring all sorts of different sounds and styles. Whether you’re a fan of the classics or the cutting edge, there’s sure to be something for you.

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