The story of the origins of techno and the many different techno genres, takes us on a journey that includes dub, ambient, trance, electro, euro pop and many more influential musical touch points. So if all those genres have influenced what we know as techno, the question, “what is techno music?”, might be harder to answer than you might have previously thought.
In this article we’re going to touch on the evolution of techno music, what makes it so unique, what producers have defined the genre and dive into the many techno sub genres that remain popular to this day.
In this article
- A History of Techno Music
- 5 Critical Elements Your Techno Track Needs
- Influence on modern music
- Top 3 techno music artists
- The most popular subgenres of techno music
A History of Techno Music
Before we look at the key producers and techno subgenres, let’s go back through the history of techno music timeline, to see how this genre emerged in the first place. Let’s explore the evolution of these techno genres and their impact on the music world. Here are some key points in the evolution of techno music.
1970’s - Kraftwerk - there is no argument that the German electronic pioneers influenced not only all types of techno, but many genres including hip hop, electro and pop. Albums like Computer World and Trans Europe Express defined what was possible with electronic music. Kraftwerk’s pioneering work laid the foundations for various techno genres that emerged over the next few decades. Their influence can be traced through various techno genres, demonstrating just how much they impacted the genre, right up to today.
1980’s - The Belleville Three - if Germany was the starting point for modern electronic music, techno was arguably born in Detroit. Producers Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May, produced tracks such as Alley of your Mind, Good Life and Strings of Life, and cemented Detroit’s place in techno music history. Their innovative approach set the stage for the development of various techno genres in the years to follow.
1990’s - Plastikman - Richie Hawtin’s Plastikman alias and his future thinking Plus 8 records, defined what was possible from both a production and performance point of view. Hawtin’s classic track Spastik, is still played by many different DJs to this day. Plastikman’s influence extended across multiple techno genres, pushing the boundaries of what techno could be. His approach to not just production, but performance, club events, and technology development, has had a significant contribution to the evolution of different techno genres
2000’s - Stadium Techno - The 2000s saw techno shift out of the club and into stadiums with bands like Underworld, The Chemical Brothers, Leftfield and The Prodigy seeing out world tours and headlining the biggest festivals in the world. This era saw techno genres evolve from underground clubs to global stages, showcasing their universal appeal.
5 Critical Elements Your Techno Track Needs
Understanding techno music history is all well and good, but what if you want to start producing your own techno tracks. Here’s our top five tips for essential elements every techno track needs. Each of these elements plays a crucial role across various techno genres, shaping their unique sound, and recognizing these elements is key to understanding the nuances of those techno genres.
One of the most ubiquitous sounds in techno is the deep bass line. The “reese” bass sound was created by Detroit’s kevin Saunderson and first made an appearance in the 1988 track “Just Want Another Chance”. Variations of this sound can be heard throughout techno history. Check out DK8’s “Murder was the Bass” and Laurent Garnier’s “Man With the Red Face” for more reese bass anthems.
Tight and crispy hats are core to the groove of a lot of many types of popular techno music. Check out A GUy Called Gerald’s classic UK techno anthem “Voodoo Ray” for that legendary 909 closed hat sound. Also fire up Plastikman’s “Fuk” to hear thos crispy hats pushed to their absolute limit.
Lush deep pads are synonymous with many different techno artists over the years, especially for those working in the deeper end of the genre. Many DJ’s still drop tracks like 808 State’s “Pacific State” or Underworld’s “Dark and Long (Dark Train)”, that feature some of the most amazing vivid pads sounds in popular techno music.
For many different sub genres of techno, the hook of the track comes from repetitive synth lines that flow through the tune. Grab any early Aphex Twin track from volume one of the Ambient Works series, to find some of the most emotive synth lines you’ll hear. Start with the classic track “Pulsewidth”, and go from there.
The use of effects in producing wide screen techno anthems is absolutely essential. A carefully tweaked effect can turn simple vocal samples or synth lines into spacy masterpieces that will destroy any dancefloor. Check out Slam’s use of filters and delays on the synths in their classic techno track “Positive Education”. All types of techno music benefit from the careful use of effects.
Influence on modern music
So we’ve had a look at what techno music is, from both an historical and production point of view, but the influence of many techno genres across popular music is also worth diving into. For example, in the 90’s, forward thinking pop stars like Madonna enlisted techno producers to work on their records. Willam Orbit produced Madonna’s classic Ray of Light album, resulting in one of her biggest hits to date, and introducing his form of progressive techno production to the mainstream. Bands like The Prodigy, Underworld and The Chemical Brothers brought their own brand of techno to mainstream audiences with massive hit albums and headline shows at the biggest festivals in the world.
Top 3 techno music artists
Everyone’s list of top three techno artists is going to be different, it’s all subjective right? But we’re going to give it a go anyway! So here are what we think are the all time top three techno artists (disclaimer: this may be different tomorrow!) These artists have been pivotal in shaping the course of different techno genres.
Detroit born Jeff Mills, was one of the founders of the legendary Underground Resistance, but broke away to go solo in the 90s. His pioneering three deck DJ sets saw him perform around the world, define what modern techno DJing would become and cement his legendary status in the techno scene. He’s no slouch in the studio either, with tracks like The Bells, becoming mainstays in many techno DJs record boxes for decades.
Hawtin aka Plastikman, hails from Canada, but cut his teeth in the Detroit techno scene. Hawtin pushed the use of pioneering technology such as the 808, 909 and 303 beyond any producer that came before him, creating all time classic anthems such as the legendary Spastik. His Decks, FX and 909 DJ sets became the stuff of legend and set on the path to create some of the most innovative technology used by techno DJs today. Hawtin always seems one step ahead of the game, whether it’s in the studio or in the live arena.
There’s a fairly strong argument that we wouldn’t even be writing this article if it weren’t for Juan Atkins. With his futuristic synthesis of funk and electronic music, Atkins, through his aliases like Cybotron and Model 500, crafted the blueprint for techno’s rhythmic, machine-like beats. It would be hard to find an example from any of the techno music genres that couldn’t be traced back to Atkin’s productions.
The most popular subgenres of techno music
There are many different techno music genres that span from the late 80’s right through to the modern day, but which of these techno genres have become the most popular with fans. Let’s have a look and a handful of these different types of techno music, to see what sets them apart from each other. This isn’t a definitive techno music sub genres list, there are plenty of others out there to explore. Let’s have a look at a handful of these different types of techno music, highlighting the versatility of different techno genres. Also don’t forget that on the Sonic Academy website we have a wide range of amazing techno tutorials for all levels of producer, touching on many of the subgenres covered below.
Created by the trio of Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May, detroit techno blended elements of electro, funk and house, to arguably birth what modern techno became.
Minimal techno is a stripped-down subgenre of techno characterized by a sparse approach to sound design. Artists such as Richie Hawtin and Ricardo Villalobos pioneered this method of less-is-more techno in the 2000s.
Industrial techno blends the relentless rhythms of techno with the abrasive textures and dark atmosphere of industrial music. Artists such Surgeon, Regis and Mick Harris, have been at the forefront of the industrial techno scene, pushing the gritty machine like music that is definitely not for the Xmas party.
At the opposite end of the scale from industrial is deep techno, which tends to feature more melodic elements, and can have more in common with ambient and other soundscape music, than with dance floor bangers. Artists like Deepchord and Rhythm & Sound have become known for crafting immersive sonic landscapes that evoke an emotional response.
Acid techno is a branch of techno characterized by its squelchy basslines produced by the Roland TB-303 synthesizer. Key artists in this subgenre include DJ Pierre with Phuture, whose track “Acid Tracks” is seminal, as well as Hardfloor and Emmanuel Top, who are known for driving, hypnotic acid lines.
Berlin techno is known for its hard, gritty sound, reflecting the city’s legendary underground club scene. Pioneering artists like Ben Klock, Marcel Dettmann, and the label Ostgut Ton, associated with the famed Berghain club, have been crucial in defining this raw, powerful strain of techno.
Dark techno is a brooding subgenre characterized by ominous, often dissonant melodies, the use of minor keys, and a menacing atmosphere. Key artists include Dax J and Paula Temple, who have been instrumental in creating some of the most intense, hard-hitting tracks in techno history.
Dub techno combines the rhythmic elements of techno with the echo and reverb-heavy production of dub music. Artists like Rhythm & Sound and Basic Channel have played a key role in this genre, with their hypnotic and spacious productions. Perfect for the warmup set at any techno club.
Melodic techno combines driving techno beats with uplifting melodies and more musical arrangements that are more akin to progressive house. Artists like Tale Of Us, Stephan Bodzin, and Maceo Plex are prominent in this subgenre, writing emotive compositions that work well on both dance floors and at home on your headphones.
Defined in the 90s by artists like Aphex Twin and The Orb, this techno genre combines the rhythmic elements of techno with ambient music’s ethereal textures and chilled out soundscapes. Music for the head more than the feet.
So, what is techno music? We have seen that this can mean a wide range of different things, as there are many different techno genres out there to get stuck into, whether you’re looking for the hard edge of industrial techno or the melodic chill out vibes of ambient techno, there’s a sub genre for everyone. It’s this ability to appeal to a broad range of music fans that has seen techno and all the techno music genres remain relevant for decades. You just have to listen to some of the many genres mentioned above, to see that techno music isn’t just a single style or sound but a collection of diverse techno genres, each with its identity and place in music history.
If you are looking to start producing one of the many techno music genres, take a look at our courses - created and presented by some of the greatest techno artists in the world right now.