Open Mic: Was 2011 A Good Year For Electronic Music?

Open Mic: Was 2011 a good year for electronic music?

I’ve been reviewing some of our posts from 2011, and it seems like 2011 was a pretty good year on the hardware side:

  • There were major new synths from the big three keyboard manufacturers;
  • Dave Smith Instruments released the Tempest, a really deep analog drum machine;
  • M-Audio put themselves on the synth map with the affordable Venom synthesizer;
  • there were tons of interesting boutique synths and new synth modules; and
  • Korg proved that there was room for affordable analog gear with their Monotribe and Monotron introductions.

On the software front, the biggest news was probably that Apple’s IOS established itself as a third popular platform, after Windows and Mac, for music production. The platform is still far from mature – but you can’t ignore that there are a lot of interesting developments in mobile music-making.

It seems like 2011 was a good year for electronic music festivals, Moogfest 2011, especially, stood out as an event that successfully combined pushing the envelope with getting people to show up and dance.

When it comes to new electronic music in 2011, things seem a little fuzzier. It wasn’t a banner year, but electronic dance music certainly got broader attention. And the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross Girl With The Dragon Tattoo score promises to be one of the most prominent electronic soundtracks in years.

What do you make of 2011 as a year for electronic music? Were there any new hardware or software that you thought stood out? And what about the music of 2011? Any albums or events that you think made 2011 a year to remember?

Image: by Santini Roberto

31 thoughts on “Open Mic: Was 2011 A Good Year For Electronic Music?

  1. @justin
    As someone who isn’t a particular fan of dubstep, I’d argue that it hitting the mainstream (TV commercials, etc.) is good for electronic music because it exposes kids to synthesizers. Same with electronic soundtracks to movies like Tron Legacy and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

    Regarding iPad synths, I think synthhead nailed it: the rise of iOS (and eventually Android) as a music-making platform is a huge positive development, for several reasons: 1) multitouch offers qualitative improvements in usability, 2) mobile platforms are cheap, pocket-sized and ubiquitous, and 3) we’ve already seen some outstanding music apps (e.g. Animoog, NanoStudio, iMS-20, Sunrizer, etc.), middleware (Core MIDI, OSC, WIST) and hardware (e.g. SynthStation25, Alesis IOdock) which turn these humble devices into nifty additions to any home studio.

    1. Synthesizers like Massive? I´m sorry, but the people who were listening to Rihanna and Lil Wanye last year are still doing it now. So don´t expect brostep fans and/or producers to turn their heads onto better electronic music.

      Yes, I´m an elitist 🙁

      1. Massive is most certainly a synthesizer, as are most of NI’s products. And when people buy it, they put more money into NI, supporting the development of more music software, which is good for electronic music.

        Regarding Rihanna, well 1) I still have Disturbia on my iPod after all, 2) I’m delighted that synth-dance-pop has made such a comeback, and 3) I like anyone who samples/recreates Soft Cell.

    1. I would have to argue that an Ipad as a mobile platform is not cheap. Also electronic music has been in commercials for a really long time(mitsubishi commercials). I don’t think dubstep single-handedly has brought synths to the youth either. Well maybe software synthesizers like massive. I’ve seen deadmau5 use a prophet which is pretty sweet but I don’t think these kids who are going to clubs are going to spend the money on a prophet any time soon. And Android’s can’t handle music programs that easy either even though Android devices are a little cheaper. Aside from that I really do enjoy it when Daft Punk and Trent Reznor do movie soundtracks. That’s always a plus.

      1. I think that after the initial investment of getting the ipad, it/ is/ cheap to get all these great apps (i should know, i have them all). If you are smart, you can get a lot of great apps for free or on sale. For example, Animoog (a$30 app) was only $1 for the first month. Korg’s great apps are often on sale for half price… Its great to have a electribe for about $15 instead of like 500 for the hardware. The same principle applies to apps like the Tenori- on which would cost you at least around 700 for the hardware.

        Also, a lot of apps get upgraded often with new and better features, for free! You cant say that wbout a lot of hardware…

        So once you have your ipad (i used my tax return),,, you can load it up with hundreds of instruments/apps and the ability to have access to anyone of them at any time is an incredible feeling. Very convenient, to say the least.

  2. i like the fact that a lot of artists are now turning to synthesizers in their tunes! i’ve never been a rihanna fan, but hearing “we found love” and “only girl in the world” just make me wanna get up and dance! same goes for nicki minaj and “super bass”. then we have newer artists like david guetta and martin solveig just tearing up the electro scene! lady gaga of course has some incredible stuff, too. i have always loved robyn since she first entered the biz in the 90’s and is making a fierce comeback now! selena gomez is also great! dubstep has some really interesting elements to it, although i’m not so fond of the screaming bass guitar riffs skrillex uses heavily. i am an upbeat poppy synth kind of guy! owl city by far has to be my utmost favorite artist right now! he REALLY took electronica to a new height in what i call the “dreamland” in my mind! he has spawned my own creativity as well as fellow artists summertime’s end and love is electric. the one act that i have faithfully stood by for the last 25 years, though, has to be erasure! vince clarke is the “godfather” of electro music in my book! that’s my 2 cents, thanks for letting me share it!

  3. As far as gear goes, it seems like there were quite a few powerhouse kinds of instruments released this year both in hardware and in software. And lots of things happening in the wireless MIDI world, Touch-screen interfaces, iOS synths, etc.

    As far as new innovations go, it seems like the ability to generate composed music has temporarily taken a back seat to loops, granular work, sounds themselves, and automatia.

    The tools are there for really interesting new work. It hasn’t made it’s way to my ears, anyway.

      1. Hahaha, what a difference an article makes!

        I think he meant without, since few people outside M-Audio would overstate the Venom’s awesomeness. But I think cheap DSP synths like the Venom are a good trend – sure it’s no Prophet ’08 or Voyager (or Virus or Nord Lead for that matter), but what it is isn’t bad: 12 interesting voices (VA/sample + waveshaping + fm + filters). Too bad they didn’t include phase distortion though. 😉

  4. It was a great year for electronic musical instruments considering all the advancement we have seen with apps like animoog and ikaossilator, physynth etc etc. I also picked up a monotron /and/ a monotribe this year…not to mention the wavedrum mini as well… And I look forward to the new monotron delay before the end of the year. And by the way, the update for the monotribe was very, very cool.

  5. It was a good year for me. My DIY modular synth build advanced significantly, and made a contribution to an electronic music album. I built the Nebulophone, which is a high bang-for-buck product for those who want to get into DIY electronics. And I still submit that when the prices of the new Monotrons drop to a more sensible level (£99? I don’t think so!) it’ll be possible to make a great little synth out of the three of them.

    In summary, a good year for DIY. Commercial synths? I don’t splash that kind of cash.

    Meanwhile, a very happy Christmas and New Year to all your loyal followers and yourself, Mr Synthhead. May your stockings bring that which you most desire.

  6. For me it was a good year. I’m only exposed to some of the ugly stuff on sites like synthtopia, so I get only a healthy dose of news I don’t enjoy on top of being informed about new developments. I got some nice pieces of gear this year, build some myself. In retrospect the only thing I would change about 2011 is that I should have done more synth DIY instead of making a big pile of schematics and notes about how I would build things.

  7. 2011 was a fascinating year. Lots of eclectic hardware and software developments. The growth of the iPad and iOS as a platform cannot be ignored (companies like Moog and Korg certainly are not ignoring it), and I predict that the coming years will see similar developments for Android. Korg also continues to surprise with unpredictable products like Monotron and Monotribe. I hope that 2012 will be the year of the Kaoss KP4 (please!). NI’s Mikro Maschine is another interesting product. The popularity of boutique analog synths/modules continues as well. Electronica is also making strong inroads into the mainstream, and this will have far-reaching repercussions in hardware and software sales in the future. Let the elitists weap.

  8. Certainly an excellent year for gear, and a tremendous number of boutique synths/ synth kits hit the market for cheap, which is excellent.

    As far as music goes, i can’t speak for the world in general, but i found a lot of excellent european music this year(although i think alot of the music i found came out in previous years…). The only 2011 album that’s sticking in my mind is Fatty Gets A Stylist’s self-titled album. Deadmau5’s rope remix was great….. Actually, the glitch mob released we can make the world stop this year as well, some of their best work in my opinion……

    Was it a great year for electronic music as a whole? Nah. Was it pretty good for people like us who care about it and dig up the good stuff? I think so.

  9. Its easy to discuss the many great tools that have appeared, but that is always subjective. My main view is how repetitious and even downright un-tuneful dance music has come to dominate the image of synthesizers. I LIKE a lot of it, but now, even a simple synth pretty much CAN sound like anything in the world, so why all the boom-bap? It sometimes feels as if people have nothing to express but “Look at my new toy.” I do appreciate Orbital, Autechre and others, but its people with quieter careers, such as Kit Watkins, to really put some emotion back into it. Dub has its pluses, but an artist wins me over best when the mechanical aspects become a component of something larger than the soundtrack for chasing tail, heh…. A nice Xmas to all of you and thanks for keeping Synthtopia interesting.

  10. In general, it was a bad year for synthetesizers, just look, DSI Tempest 2000 dollars, Jupiter 80 around 3500 dlls , Kronos 3500 dlls, Moog Voyager 3500 dlls , unless daddy buy it, thats a lot of money for a modest home studio, when they are gonna sell at least a good analog rack synth wit all the controls in lets say 1000 dlls.? If DSI, Moog, Korg, Roland dont stop being so greedy and lower the prices or reinvent themselves by year 2013 we are all gonna be talking about the best software synthesizer of the year, and that sucks. Im gonna keep looking ebay for old and cheap synths hoping they re not broken jaja. Cheers

    1. This year was awesome for synth-heads. TONS of affordable euro modular gear, Macbeth unvieled the new micomac, The M-Audio Venom is cheap and sounds good, VIRUS TI owners got and upgraded OS, Moog gave us the Voyager XL, Elektron gave us an Octatrack, Twitch gave us great new remix abilities, Oberhiem gave us a new (affordable) modular SEM…. I could continue forever… Solaris, Kronos… Accelerator, NI Razor, etc….

      These companies ARE NOT being greedy (for the most part)… and Price doesn’t = a good/bad year for synths…

      FYI, Moog DID come out with a great sub-1k synth rack… the Slim Phatty. Also, the DSI Tempest is an awesome bargain, considering that it is very similar to the Mopho AND you Get FOUR voices for half the price (and an awesome sequencer). Roland released an upgraded JP-8000 as the Gaia…. waaaay under $1000, and a classic sound engine.

      And don’t get me started on Korg. They are the only major synth manufacturer to listen to our cries for analog. They gave us a baby MS-10 for under $200. AND they ported the ER-1 Electribe to the iPad and sold it for $10!!!!

      Dude, this year was awesome. Stop complaining and do some research, Brah….

      1. Dude be real, the last good worth synthesizer is the DSI tetra, and that is 2 years ago, still to change the parameters in this synth are a pain in the… worthless software editor, unless DSI come with a rack synth, or keyboard will see, DSI tempest too expensive, RMX software cost less and does the work, M audio, is cheap and it sounds cheap, just read the other reviews, and who wants to risk the money in a euro modular gear, without a good demo and page?, come on, if you can afford the Voyager XL, all those crappy small instruments from korg are for kids.
        if companies want to sell they need to make a good synth in an affordable price , tetra was a good try.
        and more, the only good thing about the the synths apps for the amazing Ipad is that you can play it in the airplane, other than that, unless you have baby fingers you can play it, and they are not the future in music, Ipad synths they are no better than Massive or Omnisphere.


        1. You keep complaining about things “sounding cheap”… and then complain that the synths are “too expensive”.

          Expensive gear sounds the way it does because it is built with more expensive parts. Quality costs money. There is no way Moog is going to make a synth that sounds “moogy” with the same build quality for under $500 bucks.

          Sorry if I came off a little peeved, but you’re argument is non-nonsensical. Just because software is cheap, doesn’t mean the price of producing quality hardware has dropped. It’s weird to complain about price when you are talking about niche gear being produced in small batches for a boutique market. In other words: Just because YOU are broke, doesn’t mean that the synth manufacturers are doing something wrong.

          Also… the major Eurorack modular shops in the US are VERY good about exchanges. These modules are built by a talented (and possibly more educated on synths than you) group of people who usually don’t make a lot of money from their passion. You should give it a try… def worth the small risk, and it will teach you more about synthesis than ANY pre-patched keyboard ever will.

          1. 1st Lets make it clear, do you know who make the synth of 2011? Is ARTURIA, now tell me who is talking about that synth ( im not saying is bad, may be is terrific) nobody, if it was the Access Virus everyone would be talking about it for years and that was several years ago when they came with the TI, and yes i do have a complain against big companies, all of them went from analog to something else, i can see on internet people looking for analog old synths, because the new ones like the Moog are very, very expensive, aaa and by the way, I’m not broke, but i m not a professional, i don live from making music, if i was i would buy the voyager right now, so thats not the excuse, and i am pretty sure there it is talented people working with synthesizers but they are in a very tiny group who knows them, and yes i wil give them a try why not, tell me names and webs and ill check it, so far, i dont think its a good year for synths, and i hope they come with something good this year 2012. so far im happy with my tetra and access virus ti snow.

            1. Unlike you, I do this for a living (i.e. 100% of my income which pays for my apartment, car, food, etc…) Maybe that is why I don’t see an issue with the prices… cause I know what it costs to actually make these things.

              Hope this helps: try checking out or – Both sell some great gear at affordable prices, and are generally good about module exchanges.

              Arturia Origin… synth of the year? Not my cup of tea, but to each his own I guess.

  11. The Octatrack by elektron was my favorite piece of gear to come out this year. Truly an astounding little box. Trent Reznor’s oscar and Burial’s massive attack remixes make this a wonderful year for electro nuts.

  12. My favorite release was VNV Nation’s “Automatic.” In my opinion, it was the best VNV album since “Future Perfect.” Ronan Harris shows again that dance music can have intelligent lyrics.

  13. Synth prices are for the most part right were they should be. C’mon now, you should have to sweat a bit to get something like a Voyager.

  14. Checkout our debut album Decipher available on 150 digital sites .We use many electronic apps , synths,samples and try to create our own cinematic/dance/electronic soundscapes. Thanks . Decipher by Heathward

  15. Pros:
    1) new analog pieces
    2) development on mobile devices .
    3) a lot of very good sample libraries

    1) Linux computer packed into “nothing special” midi controller and selling for a crazy price – Korg Kronos … hope that it is realy not as advertised … “game changing workstation”

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