ALL ABOUT TECHNO MUSIC
Techno Music – The initial blueprint for techno developed during the mid-1980s in Belleville, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit by Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May (the so-called Belleville Three), all of whom attended school together at Belleville High, with the addition of Eddie Fowlkes, Blake Baxter and James Pennington. By the close of the 1980s, the pioneers had recorded and released material under various guises: Atkins as Model 500, Flintstones, and Magic Juan; Fowlkes simply as Eddie “Flashin” Fowlkes; Saunderson as Reeses, Keynotes, and Kaos; with May as Mayday, R-Tyme, and Rhythim Is Rhythim. There were also a number of joint ventures, the most commercially successful of which was Kevin Saunderson’s group Inner City, which saw collaborations with Atkins, May, vocalist Paris Grey, and fellow DJs James Pennington and Arthur Forest
Techno music is a form of electronic dance music that emerged in Detroit, Michigan, in the United States during the mid-to-late 1980s. The first recorded use of the word techno in reference to a specific genre of music was in 1988. Many styles of techno now exist, but Detroit techno is seen as the foundation upon which a number of subgenres have been built.
In Detroit techno resulted from the melding of African American music including Chicago house, funk, electro, and electric jazz with electronic music by artists such as Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, and Yellow Magic Orchestra. Added to this is the influence of futuristic and fictional themes relevant to life in American late capitalist society, with Alvin Toffler’s book The Third Wave being a notable point of reference. Pioneering producer Juan Atkins cites Toffler’s phrase “techno rebels” as inspiring him to use the word techno to describe the musical style he helped to create. This unique blend of influences aligns techno with the aesthetic referred to as afrofuturism. To producers such as Derrick May, the transference of spirit from the body to the machine is often a central preoccupation; essentially an expression of technological spirituality. In this manner: “techno dance music defeats what Adorno saw as the alienating effect of mechanisation on the modern consciousness”.
In exploring techno’s origins writer Kodwo Eshun maintains that “Kraftwerk are to Techno what Muddy Waters is to the Rolling Stones: the authentic, the origin, the real.” Juan Atkins has acknowledged that he had an early enthusiasm for Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder, particularly Moroder’s work with Donna Summer and the producer’s own album E=MC². Atkins also mentions that “around 1980 I had a tape of nothing but Kraftwerk, Telex, Devo, Giorgio Moroder and Gary Numan, and I’d ride around in my car playing it.” Atkins has also claimed he was unaware of Kraftwerk’s music prior to his collaboration with Richard “3070” Davis as Cybotron, which was two years after he had first started experimenting with electronic instruments. Regarding his initial impression of Kraftwerk, Atkins notes that they were “clean and precise” relative to the “weird UFO sounds” featured in his seemingly “psychedelic” music.
Derrick May identified the influence of Kraftwerk and other European synthesizer and techno music in commenting that “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!” May has commented that he considered his music a direct continuation of the European synthesizer tradition. He also identified Japanese synthpop act Yellow Magic Orchestra, particularly member Ryuichi Sakamoto, and British band Ultravox, as influences, along with Kraftwerk. YMO’s song “Technopolis” (1979), a tribute to Tokyo as an electronic techno music mecca, is considered an “interesting contribution” to the development of Detroit techno music, foreshadowing concepts that Atkins and Davis would later explore with Cybotron.
Kevin Saunderson has also acknowledged the influence of Europe but he claims to have been more inspired by the idea of making music with electronic equipment – techno music! “I was more infatuated with the idea that I can do this all myself.”
As the original sound evolved in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it also diverged to such an extent that a wide spectrum of stylistically distinct music was being referred to as techno. This ranged from relatively pop oriented acts such as Moby to the distinctly anti-commercial sentiments of Underground Resistance. Derrick May’s experimentation on works such as Beyond the Dance (1989) and The Beginning (1990) were credited with taking techno “in dozens of new directions at once and having the kind of expansive impact John Coltrane had on Jazz”. The Birmingham-based label Network Records label was instrumental in introducing Detroit techno to British audiences. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the original techno music sound had garnered a large underground following in the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. The growth of techno’s popularity in Europe between 1988 and 1992 was largely due to the emergence of the rave scene and a thriving club culture.
- Nuits Sonores, France
While the chief attraction in Lyon, France, is its incredible, coma-inducing cuisine, the Nuits Sonores techno music festival runs a very close second. Each May, the city is overrun with electronic music for five days, from all-night parties in massive halls to impromptu DJ sets on street corners. Your challenge is to eat to excess and still finding the willpower to rave. You may need some help.
In 2015, Berghain boss Ben Klock is one of the curators for the daytime program, inviting Joroen Search, Shackleton and even drum & bass believer Goldie to his showcase. The after-dark lineup includes a Detroit special featuring Carl Craig and Mike Banks, Agoria B2B with Mano Le Tough, Recondite, Factory Floor, DJ Tennis and French trailblazer Laurent Garnier. It’s not all techno at Nuits Sonores, but just enough to sweat out that coq au vin.
TECHNO LEVEL: technowine.fr
WHEN: 13-17 May, 2015
- Bloc Weekender, UK
How many other techno music -focused festivals can boast perks like “laserquest, fun-fairs, dodgems, arcades … and a waterpark,” besides UK weekender Bloc? Not sure what most of those are, but “fun-fair” is definitely not dark.
2015 finds Bloc returning to the Butlins Resort in Minehead, UK, after spending the last few years in London. Running this year from March 13-15, 2015, the three-day fest offers a packed roster of artists spread across five stages, including Jeff Mills, Robert Hood, Call Super, Akkord, Livity Sound, Marcel Dettmann, The Advent, Carl Craig, Karenn and many more.
There’ll be showcases from labels like Ostgut Ton, Numbers, Hessle Audio and Houndstooth, and brands like Boiler Room, Detroit Love, FACT and Dance Tunnel. Also, they have a waterpark.
TECHNO LEVEL: Waterpark techno. Ben Klock sipping from a blue fishbowl with an umbrella and crazy straw.
WHEN: 13-15 March, 2015
- Sonus Festival, Croatia
Sonus is an island offshoot of legendary German techno festival Time Warp, which takes place on Croatia’s popular Pag Island in August, boasting “beach, sea, sun and techno!” This year’s lineup (thus far) includes Chris Liebing, Luciano, Villalobos, Richie Hawtin, Sven Väth, Joseph Capriati, Pan-Pot and more.
The festivities include five days and nights of “sandy vibes and sun-kissed boat parties” DJed by “hand-picked underground gods who hop between club sets at the Papaya and Kalypso bars.”
This is not the renegade warehouse or bombed-out Berlin vibe devout dub techno heads might might hope for, but rather something aimed for the techno tourist types. Doleful loners need not attend.
TECHNO LEVEL: Vacation techno. Bender techno. Frozen drink techno. Airbnb techno. Jeff Mills shakes his head, mutters something about aliens, and returns to his bunker.
WHEN: 16-20 August, 2015
- I Love Techno, Belgium
I Love Techno festival launched in Ghent, Belgium, in 1995, with headliners Dave Clarke, Jeff Mills and Daft Punk. It attracted a total of 700 people, which – by all accounts – was a success. The event then moved to the Flanders Expo, a huge multi-purpose indoor arena, and now, 20 years later, reportedly hosts over 35,000 attendees.
Over the years, however, the festival’s namesake has carried less and less weight, and techno was eventually relegated to one room, with four rooms of EDM, house, trap and dubstep. 2013’s lineup included festival favorites like Dillon Francis, Martin Garrix, Knife Party, Disclosure and Baauer, but for 2014, the festival vowed a return to its roots.
While the 2014 lineup included Boys Noize, Duke Dumont, Gorgon City, Vitalic and the like, it still featured its fair share of dark emissaries, including Rødhåd, Len Faki, Audion B2B Tiga, Brodinski B2B Gesaffelstein, and some familiar names from way back: Dave Clarke and Jeff Mills.
I Love Techno takes place in November, so it’s a bit too early for dates and headliners, but this year being the year of techno, we’ll be interested to see how real things get.
TECHNO LEVEL: Sven scoffs. You walk to the right and spend the evening nursing Club Mates in bitter silence at the Kantine am Berghain, consoling yourself that you didn’t really want to catch an 8-hour B2B set by your favorite DJs anyway. Later that night, you shed a disco tear.
- Melt! Festival, Germany
Melt! takes place on a former mining site-turned-industrial monument in Ferropolis, Germany, which still houses much of the original equipment.
The strip mines are now lakes, and the festival, which takes place from 17-19 July, features a host of techno stalwarts, alongside artists from a variety of genres. Chris Liebing, Autechre, Alan Fitzpatrick, Jon Hopkins, Nina Kraviz, Sven Vath, Rødhåd, Marek Hemmann, Mathias Kaden, Dark Sky, Modeselektor and many more are among the techno highlights at this year’s festivities.
Hard to find a more techno outdoor festival experience than partying next to towering excavators in an old steel mine, unless you somehow stumble upon an abandoned Antarctic research station.
TECHNO LEVEL: Extreme. Mineshaft techno. Minecraft techno, too.
WHEN: 17-19 July, 2015
- Dimensions, Croatia
Now in its fourth year, Croatian beachside festival Dimensions returns with a typically mind-blowing lineup dwarfed only by its location; Fort Punta Christo in the southern coastal town of Pula.
The techno music and house music festival is set against an ancient amphitheater, the Arena, which dates back to the 1st Century AD, “with stone tiers all the way around, an estimated 20,000 blood-thirsty spectators could watch the Gladiators fighting to the death below.”
This year, however, from August 27-30, they’ll dance to techno sets by Ben Klock, Rødhåd, Truncate, Anthony Parasole, Surgeon, DJ Deep, Daniel Avery, Lee Gamble, Giegling label reps VRIL, Edward, Konstantin and Dustin, and many more.
TECHNO LEVEL: Moritz von Oswald on a boat.
WHEN: 26-30 August, 2015
- Sónar Festival, Spain
2015 marks the premiere experimental electronic music festival’s 22nd year in Barcelona, and will feature more than 130 performances from June 18-20. While this year’s lineup is still being announced, thus far we know that Sonar Barcelona 2015 will feature Autechre, Siriusmodeselektor, Laurent Garnier, Dubfire: live Hybrid, Daniel Avery, Roman Flugel, Vessel, Lee Gamble, Randomer and Powell.
There will also be a showcase celebrating 20 years of Peter Rehberg’s Mego label with Voices From The Lake, Russell Haswell, TL, the Asturians LCC and Klara Lewis. The off-Sonar parties will be headier, still.
For further techno cred, the festival also includes Sonar+D, with lectures, workshops, performances, installations and “exhibition of innovative technology projects, integrating the contents of music, sound and new media video game and audiovisual.”
TECHNO LEVEL: Rare 1/1 pressing made from the sole of an East German punk’s boot, perloined from Hard Wax and tossed into the Rhine with marked disdain.
WHEN: 18-20 June, 2015
- Awakenings, Holland
Renowned Dutch weekender Awakenings is preparing to throw its 15th edition at Spaarnwoude Houtra outside Amsterdam on June 27-28, featuring over 100 acts across eight stages, including the two main open-air ‘Areas’ and a special ’15 Years of Awakenings Festival’ stage.
The main stages feature a roll-call of festival mainstays including Luciano, Richie Hawtin, Loco Dice, Sven Väth and Joris Voorn, plus a special closing set from Drumcode’s Sam Paganini. Heads-down techno will rule Area X courtesy of Dave Clarke, Len Faki and Jeff Mills, while other standouts include Surgeon and Blawan as TRADE, Chris Liebing and Speedy J’s Collabs 3000, a tag-team set from Berghain dons Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann, and more.
TECHNO LEVEL: Dark morning techno. Enlightenment is too bright, you must close the shades.
WHEN: 27-28 June, 2015
- Decibel Festival, USA
America may catch flack for its love of EDM (but hey, it’s worldwide now, guys! You can thank us later.), but the US, too, has its share of future-facing festivals.
One such event is Decibel, a Seattle-based program that’s as innovative and off-the-cuff as its surroundings. Since its launch in 2003, Decibel has grown to attract over 25,000 visitors each September to its many live concerts and workshops, which take place in various locations throughout the city.
During the day, guests participate in workshops on music education, technology and multimedia, and at night they dance. Over the years, the festival’s played host to the Northwest and US debuts of Nicolas Jaar (and his Darkside side-project), Recondite, Marcel Dettmann, Scuba, Andy Stott, KiNK, Move D, Apparat and a whole lot more. It’s still too early in the year for 2015 dates and techno music artists, but we’re ready.
TECHNO LEVEL: Dark Mage.
- Weather Festival, France
Only three years in, Weather Festival proves Paris can also put together a techno festival lineup to match London or Berlin. This year’s edition – running from June 4-7 – will see the event leave its former home and take over the “largest open air space available… in full nature.”
What sets Weather apart is its wildly unexpected B2B billings. Weather boasts the world debut of live sets from Adventice’s DJ Deep & Roman Poncet, Vatican Shadow B2B Ron Morelli and Low Jack, and S3A (Sampling As An Art); plus pairings of Abdulla Rashim & Antigone, Motor City Drum Ensemble & Marcellus Pittman and Henrik Schwarz & Ame’s Frank Wiedemann. Other artist highlights include Jeremy Underground, Mr. G, Peter Van Hoesen and Xosar.
If you can’t wait until summer, sister festival Weather Winter goes down this weekend in a secret location with Kenny Larkin, Francois X, Robert Hood, Derrick May, Laurent Garnier, Mathew Jonson vs. Minilogue and more. [Photo by Guillaume Murat]
TECHNO LEVEL: Grim Parisian.
WHEN: 4-7 June, 2015
By 1994 there were a number of techno producers in the UK and Europe building on the Detroit sound, but a growing range of underground dance techno music styles were by then vying for attention. Some drew upon the Detroit techno aesthetic, while others fused components of preceding dance music forms. This led to the appearance (in the UK initially) of inventive new music, some of which bore little, if any, relation to the original techno sound; jungle (drum and bass) being a primary example, its origins having more to do with hip-hop, soul, and reggae, than with the electronic dance music from Detroit and Chicago.
With an increasing diversification (and commercialization) of dance music, the collectivist sentiment prominent in the early rave scene diminished, each new faction having its own particular attitude and vision of how dance music (or in certain cases, non-dance music) should evolve. Some examples not already mentioned are trance, industrial techno, breakbeat hardcore, acid techno, and happy hardcore. Less well-known styles related to techno or its subgenres include the primarily Sheffield (UK)-based bleep techno, a regional variant that had some success between 1989 and 1991, and a scene that was responsible for putting Warp Records on the map (largely as a result of its fifth release, LFO‘s self-titled 12″).
According to Muzik magazine, by 1995 the UK techno music scene was in decline and dedicated club nights were dwindling. The music had become “too hard, too fast, too male, too drug-oriented, too anally retentive.” Despite this, weekly night at clubs such as Final Frontier (London), House of God (Birmingham), Pure (Edinburgh, whose resident DJ Twitch later founded the more eclectic Optimo), and Bugged Out (Manchester) were still popular. With techno music reaching a state of “creative palsy,” and with a disproportionate number of underground dance and techno music enthusiasts more interested in the sounds of rave and jungle, in 1995 the future of the UK techno music scene looked uncertain as the market for “pure techno” waned. Muzik described the sound of UK techno at this time as “dutiful grovelling at the altar of American techno with a total unwillingness to compromise.”
TECHNO MUSIC SCENE
In America, apart from regional techno music scenes in Detroit, New York, and Chicago, interest was limited. Producers from Detroit, frustrated by the lack of opportunity in their home country, looked to Europe for their future livelihood. This first wave of Detroit expatriates was soon joined by a number of up-and-coming artists, the so-called “second wave”, including Carl Craig, Octave One, Jay Denham, Kenny Larkin, and Stacey Pullen, with UR‘s Jeff Mills, Mike Banks, and Robert Hood pushing their own unique sound. A number of New York producers were also making an impression at this time, notably Frankie Bones, Lenny Dee, and Joey Beltram. In the same period, close to Detroit (Windsor, Ontario), Richie Hawtin, with business partner John Acquaviva, launched the influential imprint Plus 8 Records.
Developments in American-produced techno between 1990 and 1992 fueled the expansion and eventual divergence of techno in Europe, particularly in Germany. In Berlin, following the closure of a free party venue called Ufo, the club Tresor opened in 1991. The venue was for a time the standard bearer for techno music and played host to many of the leading Detroit producers, some of whom relocated to Berlin. By 1993, as interest in techno in the UK club scene started to wane, Berlin was considered the unofficial techno capital of Europe.
Although eclipsed by Germany, Belgium was another focus of second-wave techno in this time period. The Ghent-based label R&S Records embraced harder-edged techno by “teenage prodigies” like Beltram and C.J. Bolland, releasing “tough, metallic tracks…with harsh, discordant synth lines that sounded like distressed Hoovers,” according to one music journalist.
The popularity of Euro disco and Italo disco—referred to as progressive in Detroit—and new romantic synthpop in the Detroit high school party scene from which techno emerged has prompted a number of commentators to try to redefine the origins of techno by incorporating musical precursors to the Detroit sound as part of a wider historical survey of the techno music development. The search for a mythical “first techno music record” leads such commentators to consider music from long before the 1988 naming of the genre. Aside from the artists whose music was popular in the Detroit high school scene (“progressive” disco acts such as Giorgio Moroder, Alexander Robotnick, and Claudio Simonetti and synthpop artists such as Visage, New Order, Depeche Mode, The Human League, and Heaven 17), they point to examples such as “Sharevari” (1981) by A Number of Names, danceable selections from Kraftwerk (1977–83), the earliest compositions by Cybotron (1981), Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder’s “I Feel Love” (1977), Moroder’s “From Here to Eternity” (1977), and Manuel Göttsching‘s “proto-techno masterpiece” E2-E4 (1981). Another example is a record entitled Love in C minor, released in 1976 by Parisian Euro disco producer Jean-Marc Cerrone; cited as the first so called “conceptual disco” production and the record from which house, techno, and other underground dance music styles flowed. Yet another example is Yellow Magic Orchestra’s work which has been described as “proto-techno” YMO had also used the prefix “techno” in a number of titles including the song “Technopolis” (1979), the album Technodelic (1981), and a rare flexi disc EP, “The Spirit of Techno” (1983).