A Dance Music Dictionary


Please note! This is my personal dance music dictionary. As with most things non-mainstream, if you ask different people for a definition of a word, you’ll get different answers. You may not agree with mine!

However the definitions here are based on over 20 years of experience in the scene, the first couple of which were spent asking everyone around me, “What would you call this music and why?” among many other questions.

Please note this page (and most of the site!) is currently under construction. Please comment on any words or terms you’d like added.


Ambient/Downtempo – Mellow electronic music for chilling out. Carbon-Based Lifeforms is one of my favorites.

DJ Controller – A device DJs use to select, cue up, mix and play their tunes. DJ controllers are great as beginner DJ equipment because they don’t cost too much and they are relatively easy to learn to use. Our own Alex Young uses the highly popular Traktor Kontrol, one of the best DJ controllers, and I hope he’ll post his review of it here very soon.

Dub – Dub is a type of music that originated out of reggae in the 1960s. Dub is now applied to many types of music as a subgenre. For example, dub techno is a softer form of techno with a bit of a syncopated reggae rhythm to it. If something sounds “dubby”, it has that softer, reggae type feel to it.

Dubstep – This is a specific type of dance music that has a syncopated rhythm and a heavy bassline. As I am a slave to 4/4 (steady rhythm), this is not one of my favorites.

Electronic dance music or EDM – Any type of electronic music produced for the purposes of dancing, usually at raves, clubs or festivals. In the 1990’s and earlier, many people called all electronic dance music “techno”, but now techno is known as its own specific type of dance music and EDM is the more umbrella term. However, to some people like myself, EDM is considered its own type of music separate from house, trance, techno and the like. EDM in my opinion is a noisy, far more commercial electronic sound popular in the US, performed by artists such as Skrillex. I find it to be impossible to listen to. Thus I tend to stick to using more specific labels for music, such as house, trance, or techno.

Electronic Dance Music Producer – A producer is someone who makes music on the fly, using electronic tools such as synthesizers, controllers, samplers, and the like. A “live” set is one that may use samples from other people’s records, but does not mix entire tracks with other entire tracks like a DJ does. This is highly creative, in the moment work.

Electronic Dance Music DJ – A DJ is someone who mixes their own and other peoples’ tracks together in a creative way, for 1 hour up to 10 hours in a row. These days, the line between DJ and producer has gotten fuzzy, because DJs have the ability to also create music on the fly and mix it in with other people’s tracks, and to be extremely creative with other peoples’ tracks such that they are creating almost entirely new track, sounds, and sets. The best DJs have three main skills: technique (how well they mix), flow (how well the set creates a musical story from beginning to end), and track selection (how high quality are the tracks that they use). Some DJs also have an amazing stage presence that enhances their sets, while others have no stage personality at all but let their music speak for itself.

House – A type of 4/4 music at around 120 BPM (beats per minute) characterized by a swing and a clap, and a heavy bassline. Some house, particularly gay house, has “wailing diva” vocals with it, some has vocal samples, and the more minimal you go, the fewer vocals there will be. Major global artists include Fedde le Grande and Laid Back Luke.
Subgenres: Tech, disco, funky, deep, hard, progressive

Minimal – Minimal is a rather stripped down music, with a simple 4/4 rhythm and no big, epic climbs, drops or dips. It sucks you in gradually and you have to really listen to hear the various layers that the artist is adding or taking away.

Party –  I put this here not because I think you’re an idiot – we all know what a party is, right? But the best electronic dance music events, no matter how big or how small, are known as “parties”. You could go to a 10,000 person festival and say, “That was a great party!” and be perfectly fine. People also tend to refer to club nights not by the name of the club, but by the name of the party held at the club. For example, we used to go to “Buzz,” which was a party held at the Capitol Ballroom in Washington DC. We never said we were going to the Capitol Ballroom, just “Buzz”.

Promoter – Promoters are the ones who put on these events, big or small. One of my favorite parties is at a tiny club called Toffler in Rotterdam, which has a very cozy, intimate vibe. But Toffler is a much bigger organization, a promoter, and they recently put on a multi-thousand person festival, also in Rotterdam. Keep in mind, while still not of the magnitude as commercial music, the electronic dance music scene is big business, and many promoters are owned by even larger entertainment organizations who are making big bucks off our willingness to shell out $50 a ticket. I judge promoters by their ability to provide a unique, enjoyable and safe experience, which is getting to be quite competitive at least in Europe.

Techno – My unabashed favorite, although I started out with much softer progressive trance way back in the 1990s. Gradually my taste has toughened to love this more mechanical yet soulful yet pounding techno sound, at around 130 bpm. This music requires the best techno artists to be continually creating while performing, whether via mixing tracks or making their own music, while creating a unique journey for us, the dancers. I didn’t think I liked the even harder subgenre of industrial techno until very recently. Major global artists include Adam Beyer and Carl Cox. 
Subgenres: Hard, funky, industrial, minimal

Trance – My gateway drug, a melodic, sweeping yet FAST (around 140 bpm) dance music style. Major global artists include Tiesto and Armen van Buuren, both from where I live now in the Netherlands. 
Subgenres: Psychedelic, epic, progressive