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  • Sarah Hart

A Beginner’s Guide to Experimental Music

Have you ever wanted to be able to say you listen to “underground music,” but don’t know how to discover new, interesting artists and genres? If you want to make your playlists more interesting, I would recommend getting into experimental music! 

On a basic level, experimental music is any music that questions or pushes the boundaries of conventional aesthetics, sounds, and creation practices of each genre. Well-known examples of experimental artists are the Velvet Underground, the Talking Heads, David Bowie, Radiohead, and even the Beatles. 

Still, when a lot of people think of experimental music, the genre feels daunting and strange, and in many cases, listening to experimental music can feel like an odd or uncomfortable experience. Many modern composers of experimental music are process-based creators, meaning that there is more of an emphasis on the act of creating and researching sound rather than a polished end product. 

For me, it took several months, and even years to become more comfortable with music that is considered to be experimental. Experimental music can be difficult to commercialize, replicate, and sometimes it is difficult to pick out the recognizable melody that is easy to find in pop music. 

A great way to introduce yourself to the experimental genre is to begin with classical music or soundtracks. I know, some people find classical music boring, but getting more comfortable with wordless-ness, moments of ambience, and more familiar with the subtleties of instrumental work will help to grow an appreciation of liminality, repetition, and abstraction. 

I got into experimental music this way. I used to go to ballet school, so I guess I was lucky enough to gain an appreciation of classical music and grand, sweeping instrumentals. As I began to get more serious about being a dancer as I reached high school, I was introduced to modern dance. I grew to really love and appreciate experimental music as I graduated high school and started college. There are ways in which experimental artists express themselves which I feel can transcend more conventional sounding music, just like how dance lets me express feelings that are difficult to put into words. 

As a brief summary, modern dance and experimental music go hand and hand. During the postmodern period of American art, modern dance and experimental music grew side by side, intertwined. During this period, many famous dancers and choreographers worked with experimental musicians, such as Steve Reich (who plays with minimalism in sound) or John Cage (who played with nonsensicality).

Regardless, I believe that listening to experimental music can lead us to a deeper understanding and appreciation of all music, and sound for that matter. By questioning the “rules” of music that’s more produced, the better we can understand, explore, and appreciate both the music we already love and the music we may love in the future. 

For our purposes, I am writing this piece as a guide for those who are unfamiliar to the experimental genre! Here are some of my recommendations. Yes, some of these artists are quite popular, and yes, you may have heard their music before. Despite this, I personally believe these artists are great gateways into more underground sounds. 

Aphex Twin 

Aphex Twin’s music has definitely become more popular in the age of Tik Tok. Still, I have a personal connection to this artist because they were my gateway into experimental music. I would recommend it if you like electronic sound, house-like beats, and want a dramatic, intense, and intriguing soundtrack to play in your headphones as you walk around campus or work in a coffee shop.  


If you’re into subculture, you’ve probably heard of Bjork. Her music has changed a lot over the years, but I would definitely say that her debut album is a great way to get into listening to new sounds. Her lyrics are raw and simple, and her work sounds reminiscent of pop music at times. Still, there is a uniqueness to her music that can’t be compared to other artists. For extra listening, I also recommend the band Bjork was in before going solo, The Sugarcubes.


On the surface, you could classify Broadcast as indie rock, but I think there’s something gothic about their sound that sets them apart from your run-of-the-mill indie band. There is something dark and mysterious about Broadcast’s sound mixed with their sometimes cryptic lyrics that makes them an essential band for your spooky playlist. I would definitely recommend their song, “The Book Lovers.” 

Dean Blunt 

If I had to guess, you probably haven’t heard about Dean Blunt. His work is hard to describe to someone who hasn’t listened to his music. I would say as an artist he is a little inconsistent and elusive, but his sound is strong and difficult to compare to any other artist. All I can suggest is to give him a listen and see for yourself. 


This is probably one of the most well-known artists on this list! Grimes has gone through a lot of phases in her career, but I personally think her music is consistently innovative. Whatever you think of her, she is talented and her music has a lot of range, whether you want to get hyped up or chill out.


This is my personal favorite from this list. There is never a time I can not listen to Nujabes, whether I’m in the car, doing homework, hanging out with friends, or at home playing video games or reading. Nujabes’s music is a form of lofi, so it is easy to relax while listening to. I recommend this artist if you want to hear some of the most beautiful tracks to do homework to. 

Penguin Cafe Orchestra 

Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s music is a fun listen. Their music is all instrumental, and one of my favorite things about their songs is that they all cater to a specific aesthetic. Listen to their music if you want to daydream about some far-off place or let your mind wander whether you’re speeding down the freeway or laying in bed. 

Saint Etienne 

Do you like TV Girl, but don’t know whether or not to think if their lyrics are misogynistic or ironic? If so, Saint Etienne might be for you. Their music is similar to TV Girl, with a bright sound and upbeat lyrics. I would say that out of all the artists on this list, Sainte Etienne is definitely one of the easier ones to listen to. 


This artist is indie-rock with an electronic twist. With a sometimes darker sound, this is definitely a band that I would put on a playlist I plan to send to someone who I want to think my music taste is interesting. Otherwise, songs from Stereolab are essential songs for your spooky playlists. 

The Garden 

Yes, I know, The Garden isn’t that underground, especially if you’re from Orange County, California, like me. There is really nothing like The Garden’s sound. Take punk rock, mix it with electronic, EDM, and metal, and you might have a Garden song. All I can say is listen to them and you’ll understand. 

Yo La Tengo 

The last on this alphabetic list is Yo La Tengo. They’re more of a soft, indie band but I inexplicably felt the need to include them on this list. I listen to Yo La Tengo when I’m making breakfast, or sitting at the park. The music is soft around the edges but has something different than other soft indie rock bands. Listen to them if you’re a fan of Pavement, Wilco, or the Flaming Lips. 

Once again, this list has so much room for additions! I picked artists who I feel are beginner friendly and artists who I felt would make the list as comprehensive as possible, for whatever genres you may enjoy. 

Listen to my experimental music playlist here!


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