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How your favourite genre got its name

Explaining the origins of house, techno, dubstep and more

  • Mixmag Crew
  • 28 December 2021

Ever wonder how your favourite genre got its name?

The history of dance music is full of stories of how genres came to be – house, techno, dubstep, you name it – and in all of those stories is a moment or brief period of time during which their names were coined.

Trip hop, for instance, was first used in a Mixmag article. Gabber was Dutch slang that would end up being used to describe a musical movement. Goa trance was born on the sunny beaches of western India. The list could go on, and it does. Scroll down to find out how dance music's most famous genres, as well as a wealth of sub genres and niches, were named.

Indeed, the origins of some genre names have remained elusive to us but we're betting you'll find more than a few afterparty-friendly facts below.


Aphex Twin founded braindance in opposition to the much maligned term IDM, a genre name he found to be haughty and insulting to all other genres of dance music. Fundamentally the same as IDM, Rephlex Records has said that braindance “encompasses the best elements of all genres”.


Chiptune is made from vintage ‘sound chips’ taken from old consoles and arcade machines. Their noises are turned into ‘tunes’ that reflect the modern, computerized sounds of electronic music. See also: 8-bit.

Deep Tech

Deep tech is the darkened, bass-heavy house sub genre pioneered by London DJs like Mark Radford (check the output of his Audio Rehab label for examples). It's become prominent in the UK capital and beyond and got its name after Radford kept having to explain to people the kind of music he'd play in his DJ sets and on his Rinse show. "I always say it's a cross between deep house and tech, so deep tech was the tag that everyone starting giving it," he says. Simple, and effective.

Deep House

According to this great Ron Trent interview, "deep house" was the name for "classics, disco and obscure music" played out at legendary clubs like Shelter, The Loft and Paradise Garage back in the day. He reckons MFSB's 'Love Is The Message' is the "Godfather" track of deep house, calling it "tasteful and timeless".


Dubstep became the name for the dark garage mutations that South London producers El-B, Benny Ill, Hatcha, Skream and Benga, among others, were making in the early 00s. It was coined by Neil Joliffe, who co-founded influential dubstep label Tempa, during a conversation at the imprint’s offices. In an interview with Vice, Oris Jay remembers it like: “We were talking about Benny Ill, and a magazine feature that was due. ‘It's like 2-step, but it's got dub in it. It's kind of like... dubstep.’ At that point we were like, ‘Yeah, yeah: it's bass-driven, the beats are steppier. Why don't we just call it dubstep?’” The magazine he refers to is XLR8R, who put Benny Ill’s Horsepower Productions on its cover in 2002 to celebrate the release of debut album ‘In Fine Style’ (the first release on Tempa). In a press release to the mag, Joliffe would use the name dubstep to describe the Horsepower sound and in 2004, Tempa would release ‘Dubstep Allstars Vol. 1’, mixed by Hatcha, featuring the aforementioned names as well as Kode9 and Mark One.


When UK garage began to shift into darker and murkier territory, Wiley was a key figure pioneering the new sound that came to be known as grime. In typical fashion, he wanted to attach his own personal label to the music he was making, which had a slightly more prominent hip hop influence than other grime.

His creation of the word eskibeat derives from the word Eskimo, a title he also used for a 2002 instrumental considered to be the archetype of the genre.

In an interview with Hyperdub in 2003, the London-based MC who counts Eskiboy among his monikers explained he was drawn to the term’s association with coldness, saying: “I’m a winter person but the cold… sometimes I just feel cold hearted. I felt cold at that time, towards my family, towards everyone. I was going to use “North Pole” but I didn’t even get that far. It was all things that were cold because that’s how I was feeling. There are times when I feel warm. I am a nice person but sometimes I switch off and I’m just cold. I feel angry and cold.”


Gabber is the name for the nails techno that emerged out of Rotterdam in the early 90s. The word itself is Amsterdam slang for ‘friend’ or ‘buddy’ and the genre was coined when the Dutch capital’s DJ K.C. The Funkaholic described the Rotterdam scene as “just a bunch of gabbers having fun” in a magazine article. While it sounds lighthearted enough, the comment fed into the rivalry between the two cities and in response, Rotterdam’s De Euromasters crew engraved “It’s not a disgrace to be a Gabber!” in the run-out groove of their 1992 record ‘Amsterdam Waar Lech Dat Dan?’ Translated that is, of course, ‘Amsterdam, Where Is That?’ and a new tribe, calling themselves gabbers, was born.


In the early noughties, key producers like Wiley and Jon E Cash were making their own styles of what would later go on to be called grime (eskibeat and sublow respectively). And during its early stages it was also called 8bar.

But as a catch-all name? Well, long-serving London DJ and music journalist Martin Clark remembers that "as grime began to disrupt and break out of UKG, the purist UKG lot were like 'we're not playing that grimey garage.'" The word grime was also being used by journalists such as Clark (writing for Mixmag at the time), although it's documented that producers were wary of the name at first.

Funnily enough, Wiley named a 2004 single 'Wot Do U Call It?' which kind of sums up the germination of this one.

Goa Trance

Simply, Goa Trance originated in Goa, India in the late 80s. As one might imagine, Goa acted as a home to the free-spirited due to its low cost of living, widespread interest in spirituality and ample availability of hashish and LSD. The vagabonds these factors attracted liked their music to be psychedelic, and they travelled round the region sharing their cassettes and hosting beach parties. As the sound began to spread beyond South-West India, its roots were recognized in the naming of the genre. Paul Oakenfold was one of the first to grab hold of the Goa Trance phenomenon in 1994 – so much so, that he named his 1994 Essential Mix the Goa Mix.

Happy Hardcore

When picking adjectives to describe variations of hardcore, ‘happy’ wasn’t a likely candidate. While early hardcore output is defined by dark and brooding sounds, the scene began to split and mutate around 1993 with artists such as DJ Slipmatt infusing piano riffs and spacey techno stabs written in the major key into their productions, giving the genre its ‘happy’, upbeat feeling.


'High energy' originated from the US and UK disco scenes placing more focus on steady energetic tempos as well as sequence bass synth sounds. Donna Summer’s 1977 Giorgio Moroder-produced single ‘I Feel Love’ is credited for elevating Hi-NRG music to mainstream success. Summer said the track became popular due to its “high-energy vibe” in a post-release interview, and the description “high-energy” began to be applied to the music made by pioneers such as Sylvester with Patrick Cowley, Cerrone and Moroder, later becoming stylised as ‘Hi-NRG’.


Much debate has raged over the origin of the descriptor ‘house’, but the most commonly accepted story is said to derive from the late, great Frankie Knuckles. Early on his career, Knuckles served a residency at Chicago’s then hotspot, The Warehouse. He would pick up most of the records he played there at the Importes Etc. store, which led to Importes’ Dick Guenther labeling his stock with ‘As heard at The Warehouse’ in a bid to shift more copies. Over time, fans of Knuckles began to lovingly abbreviate the catch-all term for his selections to just ‘house’ music.


Illbient was coined by DJ Olive to describe the industrial soundscape based hip hop being made by a group of multidisciplinary artists in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The term is a blend of the hip hop slang ‘ill’ and the genre of ambient. Made up of pioneers like DJ Spooky and Spectre, illbient has taken on many forms mainly encompassing hip hop-influenced samples and beat programming and dub soundscapes. Illbient is also notable for its conceptual live performances which came in the form of raves, warehouse parties and lounge/chill out rooms.


Often compared to the hyper-energetic feel of drum ‘n’ bass, the genre’s name is said to come from the influence of Jamaica and dancehall music. Residents of a housing project in Kingston called Arnett Gardens referred to the area as a ‘concrete jungle’ and labeled themselves ‘junglists’. UK producer Rebel MC sampled the phrase “alla di junglists” from a Kingston sound-system bash recording in one of his beats, and the term ‘junglist’ made the jump across the Atlantic. Pioneering MCs of the genre such as Rebel and Navigator lived in Tottenham’s Broadwater Farm estate which they considered to be their country’s own ‘concrete jungle’, so they adopted the term.


Coined by Pitchfork contributing editor Philip Sherburne while writing for the Wire in July 2001, the term microhouse was meant to describe the minimal house-y techno that was being made and released by Kompakt, Farben and Oval. Though structurally the same as minimal techno and deep house, microhouse stuck out on its own with its unconventional use of short samples as well as its penchant for ambience.


Would you believe that Chuckie is behind the creation of moombahton? The producer’s 2009 collaborative release with Silvio Ecomo of ‘Moombah’ was slowed from 128 bpm down to 108 bpm by Dave Nada during a gig in Washington. Nada had become interested in the reggaeton music playing prior to his set and matched its tempo with his first selection. He had unknowingly created ‘moombahton’, inspiring the idea of infusing electro house with the rhythmic swagger of reggaeton.


Arguably dubstep's finest sub-genre, purple was created by a cadre of Bristolian producers that included Joker, Gemmy, Guido and Ginz. When asked why, Joker simply told us, "Shit just sounded purple". Listen to his collab with Ginz, 'Purple City', for the pinnacle of this sound.


Techno was originally the label for a completely different genre than the one we know today. Pioneering Detroit trio The Belleville Three - consisting of Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson - were initially happy to be grouped in with the Chicago house scene. Although Atkins had used the term in 1984 release ‘Techno City’ from his Rick Davis-collaborating project Cybotron.

Soon it became clear that The Belleville Three’s Kraftwerk-inspired, futuristic music that took inspiration from the post-industrial cityscape of Detroit was its own distinct phenomenon. Northern soul DJ Neil Rushton convinced Virgin Records subsidiary Ten to license their tracks for release in the UK as part of a compilation. The working title was ‘The House Sound Of Detroit’, but in an interview with NME prior to its release Atkins stated “We call it techno”. May was in favour of naming the style ‘hi-tech soul’, remarking that “To me techno was the stuff coming from Miami. I thought it was ugly, some ghetto bullshit”, but Atkins won the argument. When the compilation landed, the title boomed ‘Techno! The New Dance Sound Of Detroit’.

trip hop

Trip hop is a Mixmag original that was published in June 1994 and coined by the magazine’s own Andy Pemberton. First used to describe DJ Shadow’s ‘In / Flux’ track, trip-hop was the combination of soulful, r'n'b-styled tunes and swaggering drum break beats. It took root in the UK, with London labels Mo' Wax and Ninja Tune releasing it, and in Bristol, where outfits like Massive Attack and Portishead helped progress it.


Imagine trap music, and you’re probably hearing billowing bass punches and aggressive lyrics. Trap music evolved from hip hop roots in the South of the USA during the 90s and inevitably was heavily influenced by racial tensions and culture. The term started as a literal translation – a tip of the hat to the locations where drug deals were most often made. Later, ‘trap’ also was understood as a sharp reminder of the ways that poverty and drug-dealing and wheeling “entrapped” people.

Tropical house

Somewhat of an obvious jump, tropical house was coined to convey the warm, sunny vibes that wash over while listening to a tune largely made up of pan flutes, marimbas and peaceful chimes. Australian output Thomas Jack is credited for penning the term with his Tropical House Volumes mixtape series, but he claims it was intended as a joke and has already (and rightfully) grown sick of the phrase himself.

UK Funky

UK funky was the sound of London in the mid to late noughties thanks to artists like Roska, Geeneus, Supa D, Champion, Crazy Cousinz and more. A very LDN style of house, it was dubbed 'funky house' before being abbreviated by ravers who'd say they were going to a "funky dance" or vibing to a "funky tune".


Directly related to the concept of vaporware, a product that despite being advertised has and probably never will come to fruition, this genre is founded on interruption and denial of music. It's also related to a quote from philosopher Karl Marx, “all that is solid melts into air”, like vapour. And much of the genre’s aesthetic (or A E S T H E T I C as its stylised) carries an anti-capitalist tone.


Coined by DJ and producer Steve Goodman (aka Kode9), sinogrime is a genre that never fully developed. The prefix sino denotes China, and sinogrime was the retro-futurist fusion of Eastern melodies and the structure of grime, as heard in Wiley’s ‘Shanghai’.


Weightless is more in line with a deconstruction of a quality than a genre, being placed opposite of bass music. Mumdance conceived of weightless while re-defining his approach. Aiming to add variation to his sets, he began making hazy, beatless soundscapes to contrast against his heavy-hitting grime and techno selections, coining the term ‘weightless’ to describe the ethereal genre. He also runs the Weightless label, alongside Logos.

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