Electro (also known as electro-funk) emerged after the decline of disco, when musicians of the early 1980s started using electronic instruments to recreate the structure and feel of funk. A particularly important moment in electro’s history was the invention of the Roland TR-808 drum machine in 1980. This was one of the first drum machines that allowed users to program their own rhythms, which opened up a whole new world of creative possibilities for artists.


Electro presented a new sonic fusion of funk, hip hop, and electropop. The genre’s tracks were meant to be club-ready, with the TR-808 being especially useful for producing a desirable, bumping-bass sound. A classic of the genre is “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa, who used the TR-808 to create memorable drum beats.


The essence of electro are tracks made from synthetic sounds, which are built using technology like synthesizers and drum machines. The electro rhythm usually features a syncopated kick drum that alternates with either a snappy sounding snare or electronic handclap. A key feature to look for when identifying an electro track are minimal to nonexistent vocals that, when present, tend to be robotic-sounding and sampled.

Ryuichi Sakamoto – “Riot in Lagos”

Tokyo, Japan, 1980

In Japan, artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto were pushing boundaries of what could be created using only electronic instruments. “Riot in Lagos” isn’t exactly pure funk, but you can still feel its influence behind the computer-generated beats and sounds.

Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force – “Planet Rock”

New York, 1982

Just about every 1980s breakdancer on the planet had a routine based on “Planet Rock”. The classic sounds of hip hop are presented on this track, with half-sung, half-shouted lyrics delivered throughout this classic electro hit.

Warp 9 – “Nunk (New Wave Funk)”

New York City, New York, 1982

The science-fiction-influenced trio Warp 9 present a groovy blend of funk vibes and electronic production on “Nunk”.

Warp 9 – “Light Years Away”

New York City, New York, 1983

The drums are a little more sophisticated on Warp 9’s “Light Years Away”, a track that also features vocals which turn into rap during its verses.

Herbie Hancock – “Rockit”

New York City, New York, 1983

Countless turntables were destroyed after Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” was released, as kids across America tried their hand at scratching on their parents’ record players. This epic electro funk track features the lyrics taken from its “Planet Rock” predecessor.

Hashim – “Al Naafiysh (The Soul)”

New York City, New York, 1983

The young Hashim was the genius behind “Al-Naafiysh”. DJs everywhere loved this track, and it became a major influence on many emerging electronic genres, particularly Detroit techno.