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Techno Music Guide: A Brief History of Techno Music

TechnTechno, a type of dance music performed with electronic instruments, evolved out of German electro-pop and American house music in the 1970s and 1980s. It has since gone on to inspire many forms of electronic music including EDM and dubstep.

What Is Techno?

Techno music is a form of electronic dance music that came of age in the late 1980s and 1990s. While some forms of dance music rely on live instruments (such as disco and early R&B), techno is created using electronic instruments. These include synthesizers like the Roland TB-303 and drum machines like the Roland TR-808.

Techno traces its roots to German electro-pop acts such as Kraftwerk, but the genre distinguished itself in American cities like New York, Detroit, and Chicago. In America, techno picked up elements of House Music (particularly Chicago house), electro, and synth-pop.

A Brief History of Techno

Techno music first emerged in the 1970s and quickly evolved, spawning many subgenres.

  • Early days: Techno music grew out of European electronic music from the 1970s and 1980s. Influences included Germany’s Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream as well as Belgium’s C.J. Bolland. These artists used electronic synthesizers and songs anchored around repetitive basslines and drumbeats.
  • Emergence of Detroit techno: By the late 1980s, Michigan residents Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson formed a collective known as the Belleville Three. They used many of the same electronic instruments favored by European dance groups. Music historians sometimes credit Atkins with the first true techno song, 1985’s “No UFO’s.” Along with the rest of the Belleville Three, he helped establish a Detroit sound that caught on in Europe. Much of European rave music in the late ’80s and early ’90s revolved around Detroit techno.
  • Techno’s expanding influence: Techno continued to thrive in Detroit thanks to the Underground Resistance music collective, formed in 1989 by “Mad” Mike Banks, Jeff Mills, and Robert Hood. Other techno capitals around the world included New York (where Joey Beltram helped elevate the genre), Chicago (where techno merged with the deep house, Chicago house, and acid house music), Berlin (where the Bunker club hosts famous techno live sets), and Ghent (home to R&S Records).
  • Techno today: Today’s ravers dance to a wide array of electronic music. The same nightclub could mix techno into a playlist that includes dubstep, EDM, Chicago house, and breakbeat ardcore. As such, today’s techno music is slotted in among genres that influenced it and genres that grew from it. Techno spawned many subgenres including minimal techno, ambient techno, hardcore techno, industrial techno, intelligent dance music (IDM), Detroit techno, trance, deep techno, and tech house. From these subgenres came offshoots like acid house, rave, electronica, and EDM.

3 Characteristics of Techno

Techno music is typically characterized by:

  1. Early synthesizers and drum machines: Techno music is created with electronic instruments, and most techno producers show an affinity for vintage synths. These include the Roland TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines, the Roland TB-303 bassline generator, the Yamaha DX7 keyboard, and the Korg SQD1 sequencer.
  2. Repetitive, danceable beats: The overwhelming majority of techno music is in 4/4time and played at a tempo ranging from 120 beats per minute (bpm) to 150 bpm.
  3. Compositional technique based on looping: Most techno songs are derived from a looping bassline and drumbeat, over which a producer may add synth pads, diatonic melodies, or samples. Often, techno songs are improvised in a live setting and vary from one performance to the next.

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