Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Techno was primarily developed in basement studios by "The Belleville Three", a cadre of African-American men who were attending college, at the time, near Detroit, Michigan.
The budding musicians – former high school friends and mixtape traders Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson – found inspiration in Midnight Funk Association, an eclectic, 5-hour, late-night radio program hosted on various Detroit radio stations including WCHB, WGPR, and WJLB-FM from 1977 through the mid-1980s by DJ Charles "The Electrifying Mojo" Johnson. Mojo's show featured heavy doses of electronic sounds from the likes of George Clinton, Kraftwerk, and Tangerine Dream, among others.
Though initially conceived as party music and played at parties given by posh Detroit high school clubs such as Comrades, Weekends, and Rumours, the music soon attracted enough attention to garner its own club the Music Institute . The institute, though short-lived, was known for its all night sets, its sparse setup, and its juice bar (the Institute never served liquor). Over what was really a short period of time, techno began to be seen by many of its originators and up-and-coming producers as an expression of Future Shock and post-industrial angst. It also took on increasingly urban, science-fiction oriented themes.
The music's producers were using the word "techno" in a general sense as early as 1984 (as in Cybotron's seminal classic "Techno City"), and sporadic references to an ill-defined "techno-pop" could be found in the music press in the mid-1980s. However, it was not until Neil Rushton assembled the compilation Techno! The New Dance Sound Of Detroit for Virgin UK in 1988 that the word came to formally describe a genre of music.
Techno has since been retroactively defined to encompass, among others, works dating back to "Shari Vari" (1981) by A Number Of Names, the earliest compositions by Cybotron (1981), Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's "I Feel Love" (1977), and the more danceable selections from Kraftwerk's repertoire between 1978 and 1983.
In the years immediately following the first techno compilation's release, techno was referenced in the dance music press as Detroit's relatively high-tech, mechanical brand of house music, because on the whole, it retained the same basic structure as the soulful, minimal, post-disco style that was emanating from Chicago and New York at the time. The music's producers, especially May and Saunderson, admit to having been fascinated by the Chicago club scene and being influenced by house in particular. This influence is especially evident in the tracks on the first compilation, as well as in many of the other compositions and remixes they released between 1988 and 1992. May's 1987-88 hit "Strings Of Life" (released under the nom de plume Rhythim Is Rhythim), for example, is considered a classic in both the house and techno genres. However at the same time, there is also evidence that Chicago was influenced by the Detroit Three. Allegedly May loaned Chicago producers the equipment they would use to make the classic House Nation.
A spate of techno-influenced releases by new producers in 1991-92 resulted in a rapid fragmentation and divergence of techno from the house genre. Many of these producers were based in the UK and the Netherlands, places where techno had gained a huge following and taken a crucial role in the development of the club and rave scenes. Many of these new tracks in the fledgling IDM, trance and hardcore/jungle genres took the music in more experimental and drug-influenced directions than techno's originators intended. Detroit and "pure" techno remained as a subgenre, however, championed by a new crop of Detroit-area producers like Carl Craig, Kenny Larkin, Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills, Drexciya and Robert Hood, plus certain musicians in the UK, Belgium and Germany.
Derrick May is often quoted as comparing techno to "George Clinton and Kraftwerk stuck in an elevator", even though very little, if any, techno ever bore a stylistic resemblance to Clinton's repertoire.
For various reasons, techno is seen by the American mainstream, even among African-Americans, as "white" music, even though its originators and many of its producers are Black. The historical similarities between techno, jazz, and rock and roll, from a racial standpoint, are a point of contention among fans and musicians alike. Derrick May, in particular, has been outspoken in his criticism of the co-opting of the genre and of the misconceptions held by people of all races with regard to techno. In recent years, however, the publication of relatively accurate histories by authors Simon Reynolds (Generation Ecstasy aka Energy Flash) and Dan Sicko (Techno Rebels), plus mainstream press coverage of the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, have helped to diffuse the genre's more dubious mythology. The genre has further expanded as more recent pioneers of the scene such as Moby, Orbital, and the Future Sound of London have made the style break through to the mainstream pop culture.
Stylistically, techno features an abundance of percussive, synthetic sounds, studio effects used as principal instrumentation, and a fast, regular 4/4 beat in the 130-140 bpm range. It is very DJ-friendly, being mainly instrumental, often without a discernible melody or bass line, and produced with the intention of being incorporated into continuous DJ sets wherein different compositions are played with very long, synchronized segues. Although several other dance music genres can be described in such terms, techno has a distinct sound that aficionados can pick out very easily.
There are many ways to make techno, but a typical techno production is created using a compositional technique that developed to suit the genre's sequencer-driven, electronic instrumentation. While this technique is rooted in a Western music framework (as far as scales, rhythm and meter, and the general role played by each type of instrument), it does not typically employ traditional approaches to composition such as reliance on the playing of notes, the use of overt tonality and melody, or the generation of accompaniment for vocals. Some of the most effective techno music consists of little more than cleverly programmed drum patterns that interplay with different types of reverb and frequency filtering, mixed in such a way that it's not clear where the instrument's timbres end and the effects begin.
Instead of employing traditional compositional techniques, the techno musician treats the electronic studio as one large, complex instrument: an interconnected orchestra of machines, each producing timbres that are at once familiar and alien. These machines are set in motion one by one, and are encouraged to generate the kind of repetitive patterns that are more 'natural' to them. Depending on how they are wired together, they sometimes influence each other's sounds as the producer builds up many layers of syncopated, rhythmic harmonies and mingles them together at the mixing console.
After an acceptable palette of compatible textures is collected in this manner, the producer begins again, this time focusing not on developing new textures but on imparting a more deliberate arrangement of the ones he or she already has. The producer "plays" the mixer and the sequencer, bringing layers of sound in and out, and tweaking the effects to create ever-more hypnotic, propulsive combinations. The result is a deconstructive manipulation of sound, owing as much to Debussy and the Futurist Luigi Russolo as it does to Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream.
The techno producer's studio can be anything from a single computer (increasingly common nowadays) to elaborate banks of synthesizers, samplers, effects processors, and mixing boards wired together. Most producers use a variety of equipment and strive to produce sounds and rhythms never heard before, yet stay fairly close to the stylistic boundaries set by their contemporaries.
Substyles and related genres
In the early 1990s, adventurous techno producers experimented with the style, spawning new genres that have taken on a life of their own. The most prominent of these techno offshoots are:
- Detroit techno, music in the style of early techno from Detroit, not necessarily of that geographical origin.
- trance, which now has many subgenres, all of which differ from modern techno in that they tend to have emphasize synthesized, melodic or harmonic figures in the lower midrange frequencies, and often use build-ups and crescendos, among other differences;
- a short-lived subgenre called hardcore that evolved into jungle, based mainly on complex arrangements of sampled percussion, often at very high BPMs (180+), and often featuring loud, dub-influenced bass lines played at half time;
- Gabba (Gabber) - very loud, aggressive techno that was born in Rotterdam. The essence of the gabber sound is, for example, a distorted Roland TR-909 bass drum, overdriven to the point where it becomes a square wave and makes a recognizably melodic tone. The typical gabber track is from 160 to 220 BPM (beats per minute).
- IDM, representing techno's "avant-garde", a genre often influenced by and crossing over into ambient and experimental music, usually features complex, asymmetrical beat patterns that render it more for listening than dancing;
- tech house, a fusion that often combines techno with a prominent bass line and other elements of house, at a slightly lower tempo;
- Acid techno, Chicago inspired and UK-based style of techno that originally featured the sound of the Roland TB-303 synthesizer; and
- Ghettotech, which combines some of the aesthetics of techno with hip-hop, house music, and Miami bass.
Less known genres or substyles include:
- Bouncy techno, originating in Scotland in 1993 and influenced by Detroit techno and Gabba genres. Much of its characteristics have been used in the developing Happy hardcore scene since 1995.
- Schranz, one of many names for European hard techno: percussive, bass heavy techno with a generally simple, repetitive structure. The name is heavily associated with Chris Liebing as giving rise to its popular usage since at his local record store the owner used to place aside certain records for his visits in a pile which was called the 'Schranz' pile.
- Swechno, A name arising to describe the percussive sound arising from the Swedish techno scene, generally Swechno is accepted to be something which the prolific Adam Beyer gave rise to with labels such as his Drumcode defining the style.
- Tartan techno, originating in Scotland in 1991 and influenced by European techno, using vocals and piano melody hooks.
- Yorkshire Bleeps and Bass, a short lived, localised northern English scene in the early 1990s.
- Wonky techno, the birth of the term wonky techno can be traced back to London DJ Jerome Hill's record shop where a section had been setup proclaiming to be full of "Wonky" tracks. The tunes which make up this sub-genre take the name from how they sound, tunes often have harsh industrial type sounds as well as harsh beats, often messing with the beat structure to create breaks. Neil Landstrumm, Cristian Vogel, Dave Tarrida and Subhead are often to be considered excellent examples of this sound at work.
Occasionally some well-funded pop music producers will formulate a radio or club-friendly variant of techno. The music of Technotronic, 2 Unlimited, and Lords Of Acid were early examples of this phenomenon. Established pop stars also sometimes get techno makeovers, such as when William Orbit produced Madonna's "Ray Of Light".
The "originators", the artists credited with "inventing" techno, although arguably German group Kraftwerk whom heavily influenced these musicians, pre-dated even these "first wave" techno artists:
Other "second wave" Detroit-area techno producers active since 1988-1990:
- Eddie "flashing" Fowlkes [some argue that he is an originator]
- Richie Hawtin (Plastikman)
- John Acquaviva
- Carl Craig
- Kenny Larkin
- Stacey Pullen
- Underground Resistance: Mike Banks and Jeff Mills (The Wizard)
- James Pennington (Suburban Knight)
- Robert Hood (X-101, X-102, X-103, The Vision)
- Blake Baxter
- Alan Oldham (DJ T-1000, X-313)
Other artists of note who primarily produce techno:
- Moritz "Maurizio " von Oswald (Basic Channel)
- Ian B. "Eon" Loveday
- Peter "Baby" Ford
- Joey Beltram
- Mark Broom
- Dave Clarke (the "Baron of Techno")
- Chris Liebing
- Carl Cox
- Dave Angel
- Richard Bartz
- Fred Giannelli
- Funk d'Void
- Heiko Laux
- Johannes Heil
- Cari Lekebusch
- Adam Beyer
- Uwe "Atom Heart" Schmidt
- 808 State
- Moby (from 1990 to about 1995)
- Laurent Garnier
- Ken Ishii
- Sven Všth
- Ricardo Villalobos
Works that comprehensively explore the subject of techno music and its related culture:
- Simon Reynolds Energy Flash: a Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture (UK title, Pan Macmillan, 1998, ISBN 0330350560), also published as Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture (North American title, Routledge, 1999, ISBN 0415923735)
- Dan Sicko Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk, Billboard Books, 1999 ISBN 0823084280
Educational, informative sites focusing specifically on techno music:
- Sounds Like Techno – an online documentary exploring techno music, from its roots and early influences in the USA to its place in Australian music today
- Techno: Detroit's Gift to the World – exhibit at Detroit Historical Museum (Jan 2003 – Jun 2004)
- Ishkur's Guide – Flash-based site providing humorous summaries and audio examples of the different styles of modern electronic music, with better-than-average accuracy and completeness
- Techno Music Style – Guide to techno music style; includes reviews of techno music and links to techno sites.
- Digitally Imported - Internet radio, broadcasting techno and trance music.
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