Ambient house

Ambient house is a subgenre of house music that first emerged in the late 1980s, combining elements of acid house and ambient music.


AllMusic describes "ambient house" as an "early categorical marker used to distinguish newer wave ambient artists such as the Orb, the KLF, Irresistible Force, Future Sound of London, and Orbital", although they note that a more rigorous interpretation of the term implied music "appropriating certain primary elements of acid house music -- midtempo, four-on-the-floor beats; synth pads and strings; soaring vocal samples -- used in a dreamier, more atmospheric fashion". Ambient house is sometimes conflated with "chill-out", and AllMusic acknowledge that the term "ambient house" is now rarely used, replaced by a morass of more specific genres and terms.


Ambient house was, in the words of John Bush at AllMusic, "virtually invented" by The Orb - Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty - during The Land of Oz events at the night-club Heaven; while Dom Phillips at Mixmag has said the Orb "kickstarted the whole ambient business". Neil McCormick has similarly credited Cauty and Paterson with inventing the genre, in The Daily Telegraph. In 1989, Paul Oakenfold ran the acid house night at Heaven, and Paterson ran a chill-out counterpart in the White Room with Cauty and Youth. There, Paterson spun Brian Eno, Pink Floyd, and 10CC songs at low volume and accompanied them with multiscreen video projections. Around the same time, in the East End of London, so-called spacetime parties were held at Cable Street. These parties, organized by Jonah Sharp, were designed to encourage conversation rather than dance, and featured Mixmaster Morris (also known as the Irresistible Force), another pioneer of the genre.

The Orb's early work at the Land of Oz drew from various influences, particularly Yellow Magic Orchestra (active since the late 1970s), an electronic music group frequently cited as a pioneer of ambient house music, in addition to influences from Steve Reich, Brian Eno, reggae music, and 1970s psychedelic rock, including Pink Floyd. Inspired by the house music played by DJs such as Larry "Mr. Fingers" Heard, Paterson and Cauty began DJing and composing experimental music.

The Orb released the twenty-minute track "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld" as a single in October 1989, which featured "bright, translucent sounds" and "tinkl[ing]" keyboards, as well as heavily sampling Minnie Riperton's "Lovin' You". A Peel session of the same composition was broadcast later that year (19 December 1989).

In February 1990, Cauty's other band the KLF, a partnership with Bill Drummond, released the album Chill Out: "one of the initial works in the ambient house canon" and "essential" according to John Bush at AllMusic,, "one of the most influential records in ambient house music" according to Pitchfork, and an album with which the KLF were "claiming pre-eminence in the ambient house field" (Ira Robbins of Trouser Press). The Grove Dictionary of Music describes Chill Out as "a 1980s pop culture version of musique concrète". In a press release for Chill Out, Scott Piering claimed that the term "ambient house" had been invented "off-the-cuff" by the KLF: "Chill Out... contains music which the media have already dubbed 'ambient house', a phrase that has been attributed to the KLF as an off-the-cuff remark spoken to a journalist. Ambient house seemed as good as anything to call it and the phrase became a genre".

After leaving The Orb in April 1990, Cauty finished work on Space, which was originally intended to be the Orb's debut album, and Paterson's Orb went on to create the single "Little Fluffy Clouds" with Youth – both important works of ambient house. In 1991, The Orb released the album The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, featuring both of their previous singles. Combining Moog synthesizers with religious chorales and audio clips of the Apollo 11 rocket launch, The Orb popularized the "spacy" sound of ambient house.

The KLF retired from the music industry in 1992, whilst in the same year The Orb released the single "Blue Room" which was to become their most successful, reaching eighth place in the UK singles chart. At forty minutes, it was the longest single to reach the UK charts. An edited form of it appeared on The Orb album U.F.Orb later that year. U.F.Orb brought in dub influences into ambient-house. In the years after the release of their live album, Live 93, The Orb largely stopped their ambient-house music production, instead concentrating on producing more "metallic" music.

Selected information

Major ambient house artists

  • Biosphere
  • Global Communication
  • Juno Reactor
  • Tetsu Inoue
  • The KLF
  • The Orb
  • System 7
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra
  • Rüfüs Du Sol
  • Safia

    Key albums

  • The KLFChill Out (1990)
  • Jimmy CautySpace (1990)
  • Various – Ambient House - The Compilation By DFC (1990)
  • The OrbThe Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld (1991)
  • BiosphereMicrogravity (1991)
  • The OrbU.F.Orb (1992)
  • The Irresistible ForceFlying High (1992)
  • The Grid456 (1992)
  • Pete NamlookAir (1993)
  • Tetsu InoueAmbiant Otaku (1994)
  • Global Communication76:14 (1994)

    Notable early track releases

  • The Beloved - The Sun Rising (EastWest, 1989)
  • Sueño Latino - Sueño Latino (DFC, 1989)
  • The Orb – "Little Fluffy Clouds" (Big Life, 1990)
  • The Grid – "Flotation" (EastWest Records, 1990)
  • AFX (Aphex Twin) – "Analogue Bubblebath" (Mighty Force Records, 1991)
  • The Future Sound of London – "Papua New Guinea" (Jumpin' & Pumpin' Records, 1991)
  • The Orb – "Blue Room" (Big Life, 1992)
  • Orbital – Halcyon" (FFRR, 1992)
  • The Grid – "Crystal Clear" (Virgin, 1993)