Intelligent dance music (commonly IDM) is a form of electronic music that emerged in the early 1990s. It was originally influenced by developments in underground dance music such as Detroit Techno and various breakbeat styles that were emerging in the UK at that time. Stylistically, IDM tended to rely upon individualistic experimentation rather than adhering to musical characteristics associated with specific genres of dance music. The range of post-techno styles to emerge in the early 1990s were described variously as art techno, ambient techno, intelligent techno, and electronica. In the United States, the latter term is now used by the music industry as a catchall to describe EDM and its many derivatives.
The term IDM is said to have originated in the United States in 1993 with the formation of the IDM list, an electronic mailing list originally chartered for the discussion of music by (but not limited to) a number of prominent English artists, especially those appearing on a 1992 Warp Records compilation called Artificial Intelligence.
Usage of the term “intelligent dance music” has been criticised by electronic musicians such as Aphex Twin as derogatory towards other styles and is seen by artists such as Mike Paradinas as being particular to the U.S.
During the late 1980s, a number of UK based electronic musicians were inspired by the underground dance music of the time and started to develop their own styles. By the early 1990s, the music associated with this experimentation had gained prominence with releases on a variety of record labels including Warp Records (1989), Black Dog Productions (1989), R & S Records (1989), Carl Craig’s Planet E,Rising High Records (1991), Richard James’s Rephlex Records (1991), Kirk Degiorgio’s Applied Rhythmic Technology (1991), Eevo Lute Muzique (1991), General Production Recordings (1989), Soma Quality Recordings (1991), Peacefrog Records (1991), and Metamorphic Recordings (1992).
Ambient house, a genre that fused house music (particularly acid house) with ambient music, was being produced in the United Kingdom around this time, by bands such as The Orb. A major influence on ambient house was Japan’s Yellow Magic Orchestra, sometimes cited as one of the pioneers of ambient house. During the early 1990s, the term “ambient house” became synonymous with intelligent dance music in general, but was eventually replaced by several other terms. Following the lead of ambient house, ambient techno music was soon produced by artists such as Aphex Twin and Japan’s Tetsu Inoue. Ambient techno distinguished itself with strong techno and electro influences, including more extensive use of Roland’s TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines. The term “ambient techno” was eventually replaced by “intelligent techno” following the success of Warp’s Artificial Intelligence series.
By 1992, Warp Records was marketing the musical output of the artists on its roster using the description electronic listening music, but this was quickly replaced by intelligent techno. In the same period (1992–93), other names were also used, such as armchair techno,ambient techno, and electronica, but all were attempts to describe an emerging offshoot of electronic dance music that was being enjoyed by the “sedentary and stay at home”. Steve Beckett, co-owner of Warp, has said that the electronic music the label was releasing at that point was targeting a post-club, home-listening audience. In 1993 a number of new record labels emerged that were producing intelligent techno geared releases including New Electronica, Mille Plateaux, 100% Pure, and Ferox Records