Progressive Electronic is rapidly becoming my new favourite genre. The term doesn’t really help explain this style, for while it is electronic and it is progressive, it’s also ambient, minimal synth, psychedelic chillout and retro sci-fi. It started in the mid-70s with Jean Michel Jarre and Space Art, taking the epic but meandering sound of Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze and giving it some purpose. The original version has recently seen a big resurgence, with bands like ARP, Chateau Marmont, and Zombi’s Steve Moore producing their new take on this otherworldly retro sound. Below are six albums on Spotify to introduce Progressive Electronic: check ‘em out space travellers!
Jean Michel Jarre – Equinoxe (1978)
The classic, unparalleled second album from Jean Michel Jarre defined the Progressive Electronic genre. Thirty-three years later, it still sounds as fresh and unearthly as it ever did. This forty-minute journey is superbly sequenced (it apparently reflects a day in the life of a human, from morning to night), and although I must have listened to this album hundreds and hundreds of times I’ve never grown tired of it. Spotify’s lack of gapless playback is a minor inconvenience to the enjoyment of this record; I was nonetheless delighted when this and most of JMJ’s other work finally arrived on Spotify late last year.
Space Art – Space Art (1977)
Also known as Onyx, this album from France’s Space Art was recently released in remastered form on Spotify. While contemporaries and friends of Jean Michel Jarre (they even worked with him on the Concerts in China tour), Space Art use real drums as the bridge between earlier progressive rock and the then future full-electro sound. It’s a wonderful album, with haunting melodies and hand-sequenced analog synths.
Harald Grosskopf – Synthesist (1980)
Meanwhile in Germany, Harald Grosskopf locks himself in his apartment with his Minimoog and uses light bulbs to keep the room temperature just right to ensure the machine stays in tune. Synthesist was the result: eight tracks of instrumental analog electronica that slides from upbeat Motorik down to a Tangerine Nightmare. It’s just been released on Spotify, along with a brand-new version of remixes called Re-Synthesist. I completely missed out on this when it first came out so I’ve only just unearthed this little jewel, all thanks to Spotify’s vast and deep catalog.
Chateau Marmont – 2008-2009-2010 (2011)
Jumping forward to the now, Chateau Marmont must surely take over from Daft Punk as the essential modern innovators of French electronica. This album collects together all their EPs from the past couple of years, and has just arrived fully-formed on Spotify. While not as ambient and late-night as most Progressive Electronic, Chateau Marmont’s use of analog synths and raison d’etre (“we’re playing music from the future like it was imagined 20 years ago“) stand them in good stead here.
ARP – In Light (2007)
With a mission to bring back some of the rough edges lost in modern electronic music, California’s ARP look back to the dawn of krautrock, to a time before that Motorik engine kicked in. The drone is still there but the time for beats is over: this is sunset blissed-out music from Venus, recorded live with only one loop. ARP’s latest album The Soft Wave is also now on Spotify.
Steve Moore – Primitive Neural Pathways (2011)
Taking us back to where we started, Titan and Zombi’s Steve Moore has just released this gorgeous baby of an EP that’s the natural successor to Jean Michel Jarre’s earlier work. The synthetica swirls around in a dreamy whirl for the first couple of tracks, before a Vangelis-Kleerup hybird progresses the EP to some kind of missing sci-fi soundtrack from the early 1980s. I know I’m going to be spending a lot of time with this short but oh-so-sweet album, I’ve completely fallen for this retro cosmic sound. Spotify also hosts three other Steve Moore tracks, including the brilliant Fever Dream (as featured on the HMS Derbyshire soundtrack).