Techno 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 sub-genres have been built.
In Detroit, techno resulted from the melding of black styles 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 and DJ Juan Atkins cite 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 mechanization on the modern consciousness”.
The creative use of music production technology, such as drum machines, synthesizers, and digital audio workstations, is viewed as an important aspect of the music’s aesthetic.
Many producers use retro electronic musical devices to create what they consider to be an authentic techno sound. Drum machines from the 1980s such as Roland’s TR-808 and TR-909 are highly prized, and software emulations of such retro technology are popular among techno producers.
Music journalists and fans of techno are generally selective in their use of the term; so a clear distinction can be made between sometimes related but often qualitatively different styles, such as tech house and trance
Prior to achieving notoriety, Atkins, Saunderson, May, and Fowlkes shared common interests as budding musicians, “mix” tape traders, and aspiring DJs.
They also found musical inspiration via the Midnight Funk Association, an eclectic five-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 electronic music by artists such as Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra and Tangerine Dream, alongside the funk sounds of acts such as Parliament Funkadelic and dance-oriented new wave music by bands like Devo and the B-52’s. Atkins has noted:
He [Mojo] played all the Parliament and Funkadelic that anybody ever wanted to hear. Those two groups were really big in Detroit at the time. In fact, they were one of the main reasons why disco didn’t really grab hold in Detroit in ’79. Mojo used to play a lot of funk just to be different from all the other stations that had gone over to disco. When ‘Knee Deep’ came out, that just put the last nail in the coffin of disco music.
Despite the short-lived disco boom in Detroit, it had the effect of inspiring many individuals to take up mixing, Juan Atkins among them. Subsequently, Atkins taught May how to mix records, and in 1981, “Magic Juan“, Derrick “Mayday“, in conjunction with three other DJ’s, one of whom was Eddie “Flashin” Fowlkes, launched themselves as a party crew called Deep Space Soundworks.
In 1980 or 1981 they met with Mojo and proposed that they provide mixes for his show, which they did end up doing the following year.
During the late 1970s-early 1980s high school clubs such as Brats, Charivari, Ciabattino, Comrades, Gables, Hardwear, Rafael, Rumours, Snobs, and Weekends created the incubator in which techno was grown.
These young promoters developed and nurtured the local dance music scene by both caterings to the tastes of the local audience of young people and by marketing parties with new DJs and their music.
As these local clubs grew in popularity, groups of DJs began to band together to market their mixing skills and sound systems to the clubs in order to cater to the growing audiences of listeners.
Locations like local church activity centers, vacant warehouses, offices, and YMCA auditoriums were the early locations where underage crowds gathered and the musical form was nurtured and defined.
The early producers, enabled by the increasing affordability of sequencers and synthesizers, merged a European synthpop aesthetic with aspects of soul, funk, disco, and electro, pushing electronic dance music into uncharted terrain.
They deliberately rejected the Motown legacy and traditional formulas of R&B and soul, and instead embraced technological experimentation.
Within the last 5 years or so, the Detroit underground has been experimenting with technology, stretching it rather than simply using it. As the price of sequencers and synthesizers has dropped, so the experimentation has become more intense. Basically, we’re tired of hearing about being in love or falling out, tired of the R&B system, so a new progressive sound has emerged. We call it techno! — Juan Atkins, 1988
The resulting Detroit sound was interpreted by Derrick May and one journalist in 1988 as a “post-soul” sound with no debt to Motown, but by another journalist a decade later as “soulful grooves” melding the beat-centric styles of Motown with the music technology of the time.
May famously described the sound of techno as something that is “…like Detroit…a complete mistake. It’s like George Clinton and Kraftwerk are stuck in an elevator with only a sequencer to keep them company.”
Juan Atkins has stated that it is “music that sounds like technology and not technology that sounds like music, meaning that most of the music you listen to is made with technology, whether you know it or not. But with techno music, you know it.”
One of the first Detroit productions to receive wider attention was Derrick May’s “Strings of Life” (1987), which, together with May’s previous release, “Nude Photo” (1987), helped raise techno’s profile in Europe, especially the UK and Germany, during the 1987–1988 house music boom.
It became May’s best-known track, which, according to Frankie Knuckles:
“just exploded. It was like something you can’t imagine, the kind of power and energy people got off that record when it was first heard. Mike Dunn says he has no idea how people can accept a record that doesn’t have a bassline.”
The Detroit sound exerted an influence on widely differing styles of electronic music, yet it also maintained an identity as a genre in its own right, one now commonly referred to as “Detroit techno”
German techno scene
Germany’s engagement with American underground dance music during the 1980s paralleled that in the UK. By 1987 a German party scene based around the Chicago sound was well established.
The following year (1988) saw acid house making as significant an impact on popular consciousness in Germany as it had in England. In 1989 German DJs Westbam and Dr. Motte established the Ufo club, an illegal party venue, and co-founded the Love Parade.
After the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November 1989, free underground techno parties mushroomed in East Berlin, and a rave scene comparable to that in the UK was established.
East German DJ Paul van Dyk has remarked that techno was a major force in reestablishing social connections between East and West Germany during the unification period.
In 1991 a number of party venues closed, including Ufo, and the Berlin Techno scene centered itself around three locations close to the foundations of the Berlin Wall: Planet (later renamed E-Werk by Paul van Dyk), Der Bunker, and the relatively long-lived Tresor.
It was in Tresor at this time that a trend in paramilitary clothing was established (amongst the techno fraternity) by a DJ called Tanith; possibly as an expression of a commitment to the underground aesthetic of the music, or perhaps influenced by UR’s paramilitary posturing.
In the same period, German DJs began intensifying the speed and abrasiveness of the sound, as an acid infused techno began transmuting into hardcore.
DJ Tanith commented at the time that:
“Berlin was always hardcore, hardcore hippie, hardcore punk, and now we have a very hardcore house sound.”
This emerging sound is thought to have been influenced by Dutch gabber and Belgian hardcore; styles that were in their own perverse way paying homage to Underground Resistance and Richie Hawtin’s Plus 8 Records.
Other influences on the development of this style were European Electronic Body Music (EBM) groups of the mid-1980s such as DAF, Front 242, and Nitzer Ebb.
Changes were also taking place in Frankfurt during the same period but they did not share the egalitarian approach found in the Berlin party scene. It was instead very much centered around discothèques and existing arrangements with various club owners.
In 1988, after the Omen opened, the Frankfurt dance music scene was allegedly dominated by the club’s management and they made it difficult for other promoters to get a start. By the early 1990s, Sven Väth had become perhaps the first DJ in Germany to be worshipped like a rock star.
He performed center stage with his fans facing him, and as co-owner of Omen, he is believed to have been the first techno DJ to run his own club. One of the few real alternatives then was The Bruckenkopf in Mainz, underneath a Rhine bridge, a venue that offered a non-commercial alternative to Frankfurt’s discothèque-based clubs.
Other notable underground parties were those run by Force Inc. Music Works and Ata & Heiko from Playhouse records (Ongaku Musik). By 1992 DJ Dag & Torsten Fenslau were running a Sunday morning session at Dorian Gray, a plush discothèque near the Frankfurt airport.
They initially played a mix of different styles including Belgian new beat, Deep House, Chicago House, and synthpop such as Kraftwerk and Yello and it was out of this blend of styles that the Frankfurt trance scene is believed to have emerged.
In 1993-94 rave became a mainstream music phenomenon in Germany, seeing with it a return to “melody, New Age elements, insistently kitsch harmonies and timbres“.
This undermining of the German underground sound leads to the consolidation of a German “rave establishment,” spearheaded by the party organization Mayday, with its record label Low Spirit, DJ Westbam, Marusha, and a music channel called VIVA.
At this time the German popular music charts were riddled with Low Spirit “pop-Tekno” German folk music reinterpretations of tunes such as “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and “Tears Don’t Lie“, many of which became hits.
At the same time, in Frankfurt, a supposed alternative was a music characterized by Simon Reynolds as moribund, middlebrow Electro-Trance music, as represented by Frankfurt’s own Sven Väth and his Harthouse label.
*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.