8 electronic pioneers who died too young

Given the sad news of The Spaceape’s passing last week, we thought now would be a fitting chance to take a celebratory look into the work of 10 pioneers whose lives ended too soon.

See below for more information about each of these dearly departed artists and to hear some of their tracks.

The Spaceape

Best known for his collaborations with Hyperdub label head Kode9, Stephen Samuel Gordon, aka The Spaceape, was a vocalist, poet and MC of the highest order.

The Spaceape and Kode9 released two albums together – 2006’s Memories Of The Future and 2011’s Black Sun, and the pair’s latest EP Killing Season came out just last week.

The late artist, who also collaborated with Burial, The Bug, Martyn, Jerry Dammers amongst others, “passed away peacefully after a 5-year struggle with a rare form of cancer” according to a Hyperdub statement.

DJ Rashad

Alongside DJ Spinn, Rashad Harden brought footwork out of the Chicago underground and into the electronic music world’s consciousness.

Apart from having his own success with releases such as last year’s incredible Double Cup EP, Rashad also founded the Teklife collective and record label, which has been responsible for launching the careers of a second wave of footwork producers like Taso and DJ Earl.

Following Rashad’s death in April this year, his Teklifecrew has announced details of an upcoming album on Hyperdub, which will serve to honour the late producer, with all profits to be given to his family.

DJ Ajax

DJ Ajax helped foster an interest in dance music in Australia through his show on Sydney’s FBI Radio and the founding of his Bang Gang collective. He won fans across the world with tours through Europe, the UK and USA.

Having witnessed the Aussie electronic scene grow from almost non-existent into the worldwide force it is today, Ajax is heralded as one of the artists responsible for the its meteoric growth in popularity.

DJ Mehdi

Tragically cut down in his prime, DJ Mehdi fell through a glass ceiling during a party at his Paris apartment, aged just 34.

Born Mehdi Favéris-Essadi, the French producer and DJ brilliantly blurred the lines between hip hop and electro and became “one of the best-loved figures in clubland” according to a Mixmag tribute published a year after his death.

Tracks like worldwide hit ‘I Am Somebody,’ remixes of the likes of Cassius and Miike Snow and incredible sets as part of Ed Banger’s Club 75 DJ crew saw Mehdi at the top of his game at the time of the accident, which left his many fans and collaborators devastated.

Frankie Knuckles

April this year was a sad month in Chicago, with the unexpected passing of house music innovator Frankie Knuckles preceding that of DJ Rashad.

Often credited as the inventor of the house genre, Knuckles formed his sound in the late 70s, choosing to spin obscure imports and re-edits to stay ahead of the shift away from disco fever.

To the wider public, Knuckles is best remembered for hits like 1987’s ‘Your Love’ and 1991’s ‘The Whistle,’ and was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2005.


A genuine pioneer of his craft, Japanese producer Nujabes is noted for his unique approach to hip hop, which saw elements of jazz blended in to create lush and atmospheric soundscapes.

Amongst Nujabes’ many credits are collaborations with rappers Substantial and Fat Jon as well Florida hip hop group CYNE and numerous Japanese artsits.

While the man born Jun Seba’s work is still somewhat under-recognised, a brilliant double LP tribute album featuring the likes of Taku, DJ Sorama and P.SUS released on Digi Crates Records goes to show the strength of his legacy.

J Dilla

Listing the accolades for legendary hip hop producer J Dilla could take a while… In fact it might be easier to list the artists that he didn’t work with, such was the influence of the man dubbed one of the most important artists in the history of hip hop.

Through his early work with 1st Down and Slum Village right up until later collaborations with Janet Jackson, A Tribe Called Quest and Madlib, the innovative producer defined a intricate, densely layered and immediately recognisable hip hop sound that has gone on to inspire countless others.

Stevie Hyper D

A truly pioneering MC in the drum n bass and oldschool jungle scenes, Stevie Hyper D died at just 30 years of age, and sadly didn’t get to see the release of his debut album The Next Step.

Released in 1999 on Island Records, The Next Step was the first ever release by a drum n bass MC on a major record label and was produced by Hyper D’s longtime friend and collaborator Dfrnt Lvls.

Born Stephen Austin in London, Hyper D is also credited with inventing the ‘double time’ style of MCing, which went on to become a hallmark of the drum n bass jungle sounds.

Written by Will Van de Pol