Late-1980s Detroit was a rather depressing place: a post-industrial city stricken with crime, unemployment and poverty. Seeking escapism from this decaying backdrop, three high school teenagers – Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson – experimented with newly affordable music-making machines, fusing funk, synthpop and Chicago house with sci-fi fiction and dystopian themes to craft their own vision of futuristic music: techno.
The genre made its way across the pond, greeted with open arms by UK and European dance music fans – particularly in Berlin – and has since branched out into the multiple subgenres of techno we see today: acid, minimal, industrial, funky and countless others.
Techno is a club-oriented, percussive, 4/4 genre that makes full use of repetition, minimalism and the latest audio technology – characteristics that can benefit any music-maker.
Techno styles and subgenres typically follow house music’s rhythmic blueprint: a repetitive 4/4 kick drum underpins the groove, a clap or snare sits on beats 2 and 4 of the bar, and an open hi-hat sits on the offbeat. What often differentiates techno from house is its use of more intricate percussion grooves combined with an emphasis upon hypnotic repetition.
The 4/4 kick is the backbone of almost all techno and tech-house styles, so can be considered the most important element alongside the bassline.
The variety and scope of techno means there are no hard and fast rules for making your bass, as long as your low frequency elements all work together.
Complex riffs, melodies and chord progressions aren’t usually associated with the repetitive, minimalist movement of techno. Instead, producers tend to make use of simple minor chord hits, sampled jazz chords and dark, industrial-style stabs akin to the sounds heard in rave and hardcore.
Techno is often stylistically aggressive, making use of obvious distortion and saturation application throughout various track elements.
The genre’s futuristic, dystopian outlook gives plenty of scope to experiment with atonal textures and non-musical sounds.
The techno aesthetic tends to reject epic ‘hands-in-the-air’ breakdowns and traditional musical arrangements popular in more commercial styles of dance. Subtle changes throughout your core groove can instead be achieved through clever filtering and automation over time.
Whether you’ve got a stage full of analogue gear or a laptop running Ableton Live, techno’s groove-based, simplistic structures make it ideal for live performance – and getting started is a lot easier than you might think.