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date: 20 January 2021

Ambient houselocked

  • Will Fulford-Jones


A form of 20th-century club dance music. It became popular in the ‘chill out’ rooms of clubs in London during the late 1980s as music to relax to, away from the more fevered, heavily rhythmic music favoured in the main rooms. Its DJs included Dr Alex Paterson of the Orb and the KLF, who played a mix of wildlife samples, sound effects, hypnotherapy tapes and Pink Floyd. The KLF’s 1989 album, Chill Out, took up this thread and was perhaps the first ambient house record. A seemingly random collection of samples (from the likes of Fleetwood Mac to Acker Bilk), it is best described as a 1980s pop culture version of musique concrète. Like much club dance music, ambient house music is largely electronic, but differs from other styles in that much of it is not intended for dancing: many of its records are arhythmic, and those that feature a rhythm track do so sparingly. It also often lacks a diatonic centre and features perpetual atonality and prolonged washes of chords played on a synthesizer. Other features include samples of wildlife and birdsong. The term ‘ambient’ was eventually applied, unconvincingly, to many other forms of dance music, such as dub and drum ’n’ bass. (For ambient music, ...

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