Home » Fun » How Music Travels – The Evolution of Western Dance Music

How Music Travels – The Evolution of Western Dance Music

Music tourism (visiting a city or town to see a gig or festival) is on the rise. But why stop at gigs and festivals? Why not visit the birthplace of your favourite genre and follow the actual journey various music genres have taken as one style developed into another.

To make it easier to trace the threads of music history, we’ve created an interactive map detailing the evolution of western dance music over the last 100 years. The map shows the time and place where each of the music styles were born and which blend of genres influenced the next.

How Music Travels
How Music Travels - The Evolution of Western Dance Music

Click on the image above to launch  the interactive version

Click here to view the static version

You may need to upgrade to the latest version of your browser to view the interactive map.


We hope the graphic will allow you to learn more about the music you love and discover other forms of music you’ll enjoy — as well as possible locations to add to your wish-list.

About the Research:

The map shows the evolution of top level dance genres only, and does not delve into all possible sub-genres.

It is often difficult to pin-point the beginning of a genre to a single year, so we have placed the birth of each genre within 5-year periods.

When the explosion of dance music arrived in the 80s, many genres arrived in the same 5-year period as the genres they influenced. In this situation, the ‘influencer’ genre starts to fade in on the map at the time the influencing line appears.

Non-dance music genres which influenced dance music are also included, but their own influences are not shown.

Often where a genre was first born was not the location it eventually gained most popularity.

The sources used to create the map include Bass CultureLast Night A DJ Saved My Life,The All Music Guide to Electronica, and Wikipedia.

This is a fairly complex subject and much debate exists not only around how you define various genres of music, but also where they initially came from. If you’d like to share your thoughts, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

>>View the static version
>>Launch the interactive

To embed the infographic, use the following code:

You May Also Like

129 Responses to “How Music Travels – The Evolution of Western Dance Music”

  1. fritz.sands@gmail.com' Fritz

    Tango? Salsa (and Bachata and Samba and ChaCha and all sorts of other Latin dances)? Foxtrot? There are a lot of large areas to fill in here.

    • chrispy.com@hotmail.co.uk' chrispepps

      Why is [insert Dance Genre here] not included?
      I believe that it is not a case of the creator of the chart forgeting about them. I believe it is the case that the title is misleading.
      It should probably read “Electronic Dance Muisic and Genres that directly influenced it” (this also clears up the Africa proplem. Although many African genres may have eventually led to electronic styles, it was not a direct transition)

  2. jrue@berkeley.edu' Jeremy

    Hi, do you have a license for the code you used on this? I love the way the slider works. Would it be possible to open source it so that others can adapt it to other types of timelines? Namely the inforgraphic and canvasslider.js.


    • Rhiannon@Thomson

      Hi Jeremy, unfortunately the code (except JQuery) is not currently open source. It has an exclusive license to Thomson. Hope that answers your question.

  3. travishallenbeck@gmail.com' Travis

    Surely Japan should be on here for producing many of the tools, at least?

  4. aaron.cody@gmail.com' AaronC

    Great Infographic. Besides jQuery, did you guys use any other Javascript Libraries? Specifically, did you use any to work with the element?

    • osman.khan@thomson.co.uk' Osman Khan

      Hi Aaron,

      I’ve had a word with the developers and they said: “We didn’t use any other Javascript libraries other than jQuery; Relying instead on bespoke classes created specifically for this project.” Hope that answers your question.

  5. wirgefuehl@gmx.de' Wirgefuehl

    WE like it! Brave work which encourages reflexions. Talking about music genres is always neverending. We make music and haven´t got a clue to name the genre. Is it techno, is it electro, is it technoelectro? We like to say: name it yourself. Music is just subjective in every respect.

  6. nwoollcombe@gmail.com' Natasha

    Love this inforgraph, but I do think it limits African and Latin American influence. Afrobeats and West African music should be represented!

  7. fillie@yahoo.com' Erdagon

    I think there should be Reggaeton and Funk Carioca. Beside this it should be called the evolution of EDM.

  8. thomsonsun.sammysoul@xoxy.net' Sascha M.

    I agree that this is a fairly complex subject, however you did it a disservice by giving it such a comprehensive title. Western dance music is heavily based on music from many cultures in Africa. The map skews this fact by graphically making it look like all there is only one kind of “Traditional African music.” Without the many musical styles from dozens of mainly West African countries there would be no “western dance music” in its modern sense.
    Just to give you a few examples: drum patterns, instrumental improvisation, call-and-response, polyrythmic harmonies, etc.
    The data used for this map is highly biased towards USA and UK styles and does not represent the history accurately in my view. The Caribbean does not only consist of Trinidad and Jamaica, there are other important styles like Soca, Zouk, Reggaeton, and not to mention Salsa, Merengue, and Bachata, that I would consider very much “western” dance music. Don’t even get me started on South America (at least mention Tropicalia/Bossa Nova which hugely influenced the “West”).
    Why not focus less on unimportant sub-genres that are basically the same (Drum’n’Bass –> Grime –> Dubstep), but instead try to represent the big picture more accurately and less narrow-minded and anglo-centric?

    • chrispy.com@hotmail.co.uk' chrispepps

      Good points made, I definitely believe that this chart should be upgraded and improved to make it more accurate and inclusive.
      However I dissagree that Grim and Dubstep are unimportant or “basically the same” as DnB. Dubstep and Grime are typically 140 bpm and 85 bpm respectively, compared to DnB’s 170 bpm.
      Drum and bass is a breakbeat genre whereas Dubstep is a 2 step one and they are definitely independent grenres.

    • fahd@onseedonline.com' fahdH

      completely agree about the grime/dubstep comment… and including them is esp relevant seeing how these genres and their influences are rapidly taking over the airwaves..

      great work on the infographic though… solid research and nice execution… but yeah the title could do with a rework lol 🙂

    • vrazomatt@hotmail.com' Matt

      I think the bigger issue that should be addressed is that Dubstep and Grime did NOT come from DnB, but came from garage, and specifically 2-step (with a healthy dose of US rnb and hip hop). The basslines of Dubstep definitely have that DnB sound, but the formula itself is definitely a 130-140 2-step garage/breakbeat-derived one.

    • chrispy.com@hotmail.co.uk' chrispepps

      Also agree. They both draw elements from D&B and Garage and should have arrows coming from both.

  9. devlinoneseven@gmail.com' Andrew Devlin

    Love the project! Any way we can make this more collaborative? Could even expand to western music’s origins and influences–all the way through Hollywood Soundtracks that definitely influence a lot of hip-hop and electronic producers today. Other big one that comes to mind is Brazil/South America as a whole. Awesome work, though.


    • osman.khan@thomson.co.uk' Osman Khan

      Hi Stephen, this is being looked at now – it should be working soon. Apologies for the inconvenience.

  10. chrispy.com@hotmail.co.uk' chrispepps

    I think that most people commenting havent realised that this chart shws only dance music and genres that led directly to it. THat is why predecessors to rock are not shown.
    A lot of this music was developed in America but after 1980 most evolution has taken place in Europe. Most dance tends to become more popular in Europe also.

  11. juepucta@yahoo.com' juepucta

    You forgot about Euro musics that influenced American (and i mean the continent not just the USians) in past centuries and at the begining of the 20th. For example, country has a lot of anglo/irish music. That in turn influences rockabilly and early RnR.

    Also, the maturation of RnR into rock, happens among other things, with great help from Britain. Kinda crazy not to illustrate that.


    • afrizoetic@gmail.com' afrizoetic

      @juepucta The first arrows spin from Traditional African music AND Western Folk music.

      Overall, this depiction is a wonderful graphic that attempts to capture a modern phenomenon, but it is obviously not going to be able to show everything. What kills me is how people get all upset the moment something Afro-centric shows up, as if rock and popular culture really came from Europe. Even before the 15th century, Europeans have been appropriating musical styles and attributes from elsewhere, …and vice-versa, let’s call it cultural dialogue, but we know the rapid expansion of styles in the 20th century was a result of what happened people of the diaspora finally had a creative voice and the music industry came to be when they found a way to exploit it…. Colonialism/Imperialism is over, the widespread effects of modern globalization/commercialism are largely US-centric.

  12. blaat@xox.com' Simon

    As awesome as this project is I’m surprised that it has yet to be mentioned how extremely US biased this graph is, even though there is some mention of missing out a lot of the contributions from Africa, South America and Europe are missing, the overall slant is not noted anywhere.

    Although no one will deny America’s huge influence on pop music (I find the use of the word dance music quite ambiguous here) if we were to believe this graph almost every mayor musical style evolved in the US. I am not on expert on the subject but surely research should go beyond the already quite anglo-centered wikipedia and English focused sources which are undoubtedly familiar and easy to digest for most of us English speakers ; ).

    This might come off like a minor gripe as this is just a fun graphic made by people who (quite understandably) used mainly English sources, but I feel it is in important point to make as bit by bit history is re-written by this kind of laziness, there is a long history of this kind of skewing towards the US point of view the American perception of the Second World War is a case in point. It would be nice if people took responsibility for their actions and try and create a balanced picture when they ‘write’ history, whatever its shape or form the document might be in and however humble its aims are.

  13. 10communications@operamail.com' em goedhart

    Thanks for working this out. As mentioned above, a lot of waves are in but big fields aren’t (yet) made visible. The point of view seems located in the US. From a European mainland point of view at least following influences not being mentioned above, belong to be considered blended in:

    * German/Austrian/Hungarian 19th century dance music like waltzing.
    * Folk dance-music from the Balkan-area, travelling to the America’s with migrants.
    * Spain (India-rooted) Flamengo.
    * Irish folk music travelling to the America’s with migrants.
    * Portugese fado / German schlager / Dutch ‘smartlappen’. (dance-music?)
    * Roots of swing / musical / crooning in 1920’s Germany (Berlin) / Europe’s big cities. Travelled (from Germany) to the US as composers, singers, musicians fled for the new regime.
    * France (Piaf etc.) – Belgian (Brel) – Greek (Mouskouri etc.) great chanson. (1960’s-1990’s)
    * Neue Deutsche Welle (1980’s-2000’s), swapped to Holland.
    * Dutch DJ – dance music, 2000’s – now

    Being aware it’s easier to stand aside commenting, hoping to make the picture more inclusive.

  14. 10communications@operamail.com' em goedhart

    Thanks for working this out. As mentioned above, a lot of waves are in but big fields aren’t (yet) made visible. The point of view seems located in the US. From a European mainland point of view at least following influences not being mentioned above, belong to be considered blended in:

    * German/Austrian/Hungarian 19th century dance music like waltzing.
    * Folk dance-music from the Balkan-area, travelling to the America’s with migrants.
    * Spain (India-rooted) Flamengo.
    * Irish folk music travelling to the America’s with migrants.
    * Portugese fado / German schlager / Dutch ‘smartlappen’. (dance-music?)
    * Roots of swing / musical / crooning in 1920’s Germany (Berlin) / Europe’s big cities. Travelled (from Germany) to the US as composers, singers, musicians fled for the new regime.
    * France (Piaf etc.) – Belgian (Brel) – Greek (Mouskouri etc.) great chanson. (1960’s-1990’s)
    * Neue Deutsche Welle (1980’s-2000’s), swapped to Holland.
    * Dutch DJ – dance music, 2000’s – now

    Being aware it’s easier standing aside giving comments, hoping to make the picture more inclusive.

  15. albert2@gmail.com' albert

    You so forgot about Belgium. Belgium did more then Industrial Dance.

    How about New Beat which was the actual beginning of housemusic.
    Detroit was influenced by it

    Beyter do your homework.

    Hints ; Praga Khan, R&S film music from the eighties (yes Belgium alternative music in US movies)

  16. john.rosenfelder@earbender.com' john rosenfelder

    this is a really great project! there are some minor things i would change but in general, i like it a lot. what is there “source” of the data? i’m curious how the connections/history was established most. generally, it does a very good job with a complex set of data and i look forward to seeing how it this map embellished and built upon in the future.

    great post!

  17. snw@gmail.com' snowman

    So where would the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Sex Pistols, Bauhaus, Duran Duran, etc. be represented in this US focussed map?

    • chrispy.com@hotmail.co.uk' chrispepps

      Rock and roll. Just because rock and roll is show in america it states at the beginning that…
      “Often where a genre was first born was not the location it eventually gained most popularity.”

  18. ushaped@gmail.com' ushaped

    I love the graphic! I do think the omission of Brazil and all the great music from that country is massive! Agree with Mamey Disco that Cuba absolutely must be there. I would also say that American R&B, Soul and Jazz loop back to Africa to inform Afrobeat and Cuba loops back to Africa for the various Cuban-influenced musics. What about Highlife? Must also say that the graphic disproves the title. It’s just Dance Music fullstop with different parts of the world contributing to the beat. Great job otherwise!

  19. directcourant@hotmail.com' DC

    A lot of errors and missing elements from the 80′ to today!
    Bad general view

  20. Rhiannon@Thomson

    Thank you all for your comments on our blog and your views are greatly appreciated. As you are aware this is a fairly complex subject and can bring about a lot of debates about how you define various genres of music. We intended the piece to be a conversation starter, and we are glad it appears to have achieved that, both here and in other locations on the web. We love getting feedback, and we are taking all comments on board for future graphics and blog posts.

  21. fcmnzm@gmail.com' FCM

    Also – why did electro and techno spawn immaculately?

    • cyrusefx@gmail.com' cyrusfx

      According to the map, techno was inspired by soul, which went on to inspire electro, so neither are immaculate conceptions.

      To the author: this is great! a job well done, I appreciate the time and effort put into this creation, so thanks for sharing!

  22. fcmnzm@gmail.com' FCM

    Congratulations on a very fun and useful visualization.

    I would strongly suggest Generation Ecstasy as a source, as well. Reynolds is a WAY off on certain things, but it’s an important source, which leaves a couple things off, here.

    More importantly, I think the challenge is to account for the practices that were essential to the formation of certain genres. It’s a bit misleading to depict everything as purely sound-inspired progress. The French influence on disco is completely missed, here, for instance. This is not just a historical footnote, but a crucial part of this music.

    It’s dance music, it’s music that happens in the gathering of people, THROUGH the gathering of people. As such, the history and development of dance-spaces is equally (if not more?) important that a discussion of sonic styles.

    • 10communications@operamail.com' em goedhart

      Good point. Brings me to:
      Wuppertal (Germany) jazzclub-culture in the 1960’s-1990’s;
      Hamburg (Germany) clubs where Beatles’ fame started;
      Amsterdam (Netherlands) Paradiso, Melkweg: 1970’s – now

      What brings me to a few more musical waves:
      Punk – born in UK/London political activist culture;
      British pop, poprock, rock (Kinks, Hollies, Cliff Richard, Dusty Springfield, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Dire Straits etc)
      Psychadelic pop – David Bowie, Pink Floyd (UK)
      Synthpop / Poptronic – Kraftwerk (Germany), Ekseption (Holland), Jean Michel Jarré (France), Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons Project, Yes, Brian Eno, Eurithmics, Human League, Duran Duran (UK)

      Oh boy, this really is a project you’ve started…

    • aurelienl.afon@gmail.com' Aurelien

      Great stuff. Thanks for that!
      I am missing a couple of cornerstones. The influence of Kraftwerk (I guess grouped under synth pop) on early hip-hop.
      It has been mentioned but Africa is really under-represented. What about the afrobeat movement of the 1970s? Seminal stuff. Plus it would be a nice way to show a two way street between the west and Africa (as Afrobeat was influenced by jazz, funk etc).

  23. awexelblat@gmail.com' Alan Wexelblat

    Rhiannon thank you for your considered response. I totally see the problem with a seminal album that falls in the mid-point of a 10-year period. I, personally, would consider Brown’s earlier work to be soul but I’d have to go back and re-read some of the biographies to be sure. My leaning toward 1970 as a better marker for funk has to do with the general atmosphere for music. In 1960 the Beatles hadn’t even visited America – that happened in 1964 – so it seems odd to put the genesis of funk earlier.

    I do agree that Disco was a reaction to Funk, but having re-checked the diagram I don’t see an item for rock & roll so I’m not sure what you mean by “Arguably the line could have been taken from Rock & Roll instead of R&B”. Do you mean you could have drawn the diagram differently? I’m still not sure why rock & roll is absent.

  24. MameyDisco@gmail.com' Mamey Disco (@MameyDisco)

    GOOD STUFF! But what about Latin America?

    Cubans and many other Latin countries experimented with jazz in the 1940s and 1950s. Salsa spurred later on, which influenced Latin Americans i.e. Venezuelans & Colombians to mention just a few. The FANIA All Stars were highly active in the Salsa scene of the 60 & 70s, founded by an Italian-American by the name of Jerry Masucci. Joe Bataan (Fania Records) releases Rap O Clap on (Salsoul Records). In 1973, Joe Bataan helped coin the phrase “salsoul,” lending its name to his first post-Fania album. Along with the Cayre brothers, he co-founded Salsoul label, though later sold out his interest. He recorded three albums for Salsoul and several singles, including “Rap-O Clap-O,” from 1979 which became an early hip hop hit. Thank you New York City!

  25. Brianstevens@orange.fr' Brian stevens

    I think Africa has been grossly kept out of the picture. As a hub and origin of worldwide musical influence the omission is shocking.

    • David@dorrellmanagement.com' David Dorrell

      Surely Country is an influence on Reggae…Listen to early Scratch and Studio 1/ Coxsonne Dodd to confirm. Just as Cowboy movies (and Spaghetti Westerns soundtracks) influenced both Reggae and Techno (just ask Derek May…)…

  26. import_me@hotmail.com' anton wilson

    Country is NOT a big influence on reggae. However, it is generally accepted that Dub influenced the formation of Techno. Dub is the first music to experiment with electronic sound effects.

  27. sarmoung@gmail.com' sarmoung

    It looks good and it’s certainly provocative. Off the top of my head, some of the discussions I’d be having around the kitchen table (if I was in a kitchen) are these:

    1. Like Alan above, Country and/or Western don’t exist in this account.
    2. Graphically, it’s convenient to situate Blues and Jazz in the South and not move them, but…
    3. What, no Italo Disco?
    4. Does South America and/or Latin music play no part?
    5. Don’t blame Europe for New Age. Haha….

    And more. But raising questions is not a bad thing!

    Also, there’s a wider question (which makes drawing such a thing harder to read for sure) of how these forms then feeds back into Africa and India. It’s not one-way traffic and that’s surely part of the evolution.

  28. awexelblat@gmail.com' Alan Wexelblat

    I can see the need to go +/- 5 years, but I still think placing Funk in 1960 is too early. You also spawn Disco off of Swing and not Rock&Roll, which I think is backwards.

    Also I’m not sure why you include American Marching Bands but leave out Country (or C&W) which are big influencers both on rock & roll and reggae.

    • ghettrocentricity@gmail.com' adam

      this is like dissecting your wife to figure out why you love her.

      although i admire the work and headscratching that must have gone into it.

    • Rhiannon @CustomerService

      Good Afternoon Alex,

      Thank you for your thoughtful and considerate comments regarding our blog. We will try to offer a response, but they are not intended to be out-and-out counter-arguments, as you do make valid points.
      You make a strong point about the funk era. James Brown released “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” in 1965. Were all his releases before then all considered Soul? Possibly but it’s difficult to mark the definitive point when it made the transition, as it evolves more than leaps in most cases.

      With regards to influences, we were only considering the influences of the earliest form of the music. The earliest rock & roll was much more influenced by blues than country, although as it matured and more people got involved it took more influences from a wider range of genres, including country.

      The main influence of Disco was Funk, which itself was spawned from R&B (which also fed Rock & Roll). Arguably the line could have been taken from Rock & Roll instead of R&B, but Funk was a return to the earthier sound after Soul and Rock & Roll in the mainstream became quite polished and started to move in a different direction from their roots.

      The times, places and influences will always be debated – we wanted to put this out as a conversation starter. As much as we would love to make the definitive guide, we think it may always remain too subjective a topic for that to happen. But we’re glad to be part of the conversation. Perhaps we can update the graphic in the future based on the feedback we receive.

      We trust that answers your queries and thank you again for your comments.

Leave a Reply