Techno Music Definition
Techno is the sound of warehouse raves, dimly-lit basements
In techno, rhythm is everything. Techno is unique among musical genres in that it does not rely on conventional melody in order to work. A track can work with just a drumbeat and mechanical manipulation alone. In this sense, it inherits the radical nature of electronic classical music – as seen by the proto-techno genius Delia Derbyshire – and minimalism, in which repetition and production alone can gather interest in a track. Employing a four-to-the-floor beat, snare drums or claps on the second and fourth beats, and hi-hats on the off-beat, techno has a similar beat to disco, although the tempo is slightly faster, coming in between 120 to 150 BPM.
We Call It Techno! Documentary
The three key figures in the Detroit techno sound, Juan Atkins, Derrick May
Juan Atkins – The Mission
In the early 80s, the three of them traveled to Chicago to hear the emergent house sound played by DJs such as Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles at The Warehouse. Upon hearing this sound they started to develop their own ideas of what the Detroit sound should be, combining a fascination of the future with the synthesized sounds of Chicago. Science-fiction and Afrofuturism was a major theme for these suburban black youths, repurposing technology – which was currently replacing jobs in Detroit, once the beating heart of American industrialization – and using it for utopian ends. The Detroit sound reached massive popularity, especially in Britain, with Derrick May’s 1987 track, “Strings of Life“, released under his pseudonym Rhythm Is Rhythm, becoming a huge hit. The Detroit sound came in two waves, the first peaking in 1989, and the second continuing with massively influential artists such as Jeff Mills, Carl Craig and Octave One.
The German Techno Takeover
Even before the Wall came down, West Berlin was listening closely to the sound of Detroit, the now-shuttered Ufo Club, an essential place to hear the latest techno and acid rave tracks. In the 90s the sound blossomed, with abandoned warehouses in the East of the city being repurposed for endless rave parties. The Berlin sound was a lot harder than the Detroit one, but it was massively popular, leading to the establishment of some of the most important techno clubs in the world: including Tresor, Watergate, and the notoriously hard to get into Berghain.
Now many DJs such as Marcel Dettmann, Ben Klock, and Ricardo Villalobos either live in or have residences in Berlin. But this sound isn’t just limited to the capital, with the whole of Germany enamored with the techno sound, meaning that its normal for even third and fourth-tier cities to have their own respected clubs. Personally, I remember having a great night out at the Salt and Pepper club in Pforzheim, Baden-Württemberg.
Origins of Techno
Techno is a special combination of both black and white influences, a fusion of European and American styles to create a pan-continental sound. The different types of music that inspired techno are as diverse as
Krautrock was the umbrella term given to experimental German music in the late 60s and early 70s. Prioritizing radical invention over traditional arrangements, its famous for its focus on rhythm and technological innovation. The repetitive nature of the “motorik” beat, heavy on the bass drum, and the radically experimental nature of bands such as NEU! and Can, showed techno could go beyond traditional harmonic structures. But the biggest influence on techno by far is the legendary Kraftwerk, who ditched all traditional instruments in favor of synthesizers. As techno historian Kodwo Eshun says: “Kraftwerk are to Techno what Muddy Waters is to the Rolling Stones: the authentic, the origin, the real.”
Under The Influence – Krautrock
Funk music in the 70s was one of the most experimental of all genres, moving between the stripped backbeats of James Brown productions to the Parliament-Funkadelic maximalism led by George Clinton. An authentically African-American genre forged within inner-city areas, funk music was both danceable and intelligent, locking together bass-lines and drumbeats in new and exciting ways. Additionally, George Clinton’s love for science-fiction and futuristic themes, helping to form the concept of Afro-Futurism, would be a key influence on the Detroit techno aesthetic.
Best of Funk
After disco music‘s collapse in the late 70s, a slew of innovative genres came to take its place. Italy had the radical Italo-Disco, while Hi-NRG took a mechanical, European approach to the genre. The Godfather of this modulated sound was Giorgio Moroder, whose era-defining hit “I Feel Love”, produced & written for Donna Summer, inspired both house music and techno. As Derrick May says of the European sound: “it was just classy and clean, and to us, it was beautiful, like outer space. Living around Detroit, there was so little beauty… everything is an ugly mess in Detroit, and so we were attracted to this music. It, like, ignited our imagination!“
Donna Summer-I Feel L
Techno Music in the 90s
As written above, Germany was the place to be to hear the best techno in the early 90s, but it wasn’t the only country embracing the sound. The UK loved the music, leading to them opening up clubs such as Sub Club in Glasgow and the now-shuttered Trade in London, a gay club that famously opened from 3 am until 1 pm on Sundays. Second-wave techno also found a home in Belgium, eventually leading to the creation of New Beat. While techno became part of german culture, in the USA it remained mostly confined to hubs such as New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Orlando.
OUTLANDER Vamp (R&S RECORDS)
Techno and the Mainstream
Techno never had quite the same effect on popular culture that house had. In the UK, Underworld’s classic track “Born Slippy” was featured on the era-defining soundtrack for Trainspotting, launching them to massive fame. Additionally, bands such as Orbital have seen great commercial success, although these groups are few and far between. Techno by its very nature is an abrasive and at times dissonant genre; it would have to radically change in order to have a moment like progressive house. In that sense, it wouldn’t be techno anymore, so therefore techno couldn’t become mainstream barring a massive change in everyone’s personal taste.
Techno has inspired a variety of different subgenres, all of which have their own ardent following. The Chicago version of the genre, acid techno, is characterized by its squelchy synthesizer sounds. A fusion of techno with the production techniques of dub music led the way for the airy genre known as dub techno; also related to ambient techno, its basically the genre’s version of
As popularised by artists such as Villalobos, whose tracks often last longer than twenty minutes, there may be little obvious variation within the beat apart from very subtle changes – perfect for the club and meditative listening. Additionally, experimental DJs often take the inspiration of techno without adhering to its rhythmic structure, borrowing its effects while veering away from strict 4/4 beats. The best example of this can be found in Objekt’s latest album Cocoon Crush.
Making techno looks easy on the surface. You can sample a simple drumbeat, such as a bass drum kick, add effects and toy around to get that perfect sound. But manipulating it perfectly for the club – where conventional drops are eschewed in favor of subtler and more satisfying peaks and troughs – is a hard task to master. The first thing you should probably get is a pair of very good headphones – check out our guide to the best studio headphones under $100 dollars now! To figure out the best hardware, software and samples to use, check out our selections below.
For a cheap drum machine for less than $100 dollars we would recommend the Teenager Engineering PO-32. If you are looking for something more in line with the original techno sound, we would recommend the Roland TR-09. As for synthesisers, you can get a Korg Volca FM synth for just over $200. The Roland TB-03 is also a really good place to start with some great sounding bass-lines.
Getting the right software is essential for properly nailing down the techno sound. The DAW you pick is essential to what kind of sound you want to make. I personally use Logic Pro because it allows for so much manipulation of every sound, but Ableton is also a great tool, especially plugged in with a MIDI controller, as it can help to create a “live” style sound. Below are some plug-ins that I would recommend you download.
Sometimes the best results can be found just by cheating. When I make my own techno music, I found the best way to get the finest drum sounds is simply to take them from other, better artists before putting my own spin on them. Techno, relying more on a musique concrète tradition than any other electronic genre, means that you could basically sample anything and incorporate it into a song. So try recording sounds that interest you and find ways to use them in your next beat. If you are looking for a simple sample pack, however, check out the great selection at SampleMagic now.
Techno may not be the most popular electronic dance genre, but it is one of the most durable – its biggest proponents are
Techno Music Artists You Should Listen To | Spotify
Best Techno Music Tracks
- Jeff Mills, “The Bells”
- Rhythm is Rhythm, “Strings of Life”
- Ben Klock, “Subzero”
- Oxia, “Domino”
- Bjarki, “I Wanna Go Bang”
- Paul Kalkbrenner, “Sky and Sand”
- Age of Love – “The Age of Love (Jam & Spoon Watch Out For Stella Mix)”
- Richie Hawtin – “Spastik”
- Ron Trent – “
- Vitalic – “La Rock 01”
Redmond Bacon is a film obsessive and amateur music producer who can easily spend all day either at the cinema or making fresh beats. Catch his writing over at redmondbacon.co.uk.