Where Did Techno Music Come From?

A professional production environment of techno music.
A professional production environment of techno music.

5. Overview and Characteristics -

Techno is a type of electronic dance music, that originally came out of the largest city in the American state of Michigan, Detroit in and around the middle to latter part of the 1980s. As a genre of music, techno is stylistically a repetitive instrumental music, that is often produced and used by DJs on a DJ set, played in nightclubs or party environments. The music utilizes a central rhythmic component, mostly using a common time signature, that is marked with a bass drum and a backbeat done by a clap of snare that usually has a tempo of between 120 and 150 beats per minute. Techno music is also noted as a genre of music that utilizes a lot of music production technology to make its sound, like more modern digital audio workstations, drum machines, synthesizers and also retro electronic music devices. Techno is a music genre that is very selective in the use of the word to describe the music, so that it is not confused with other genres that may seem similar to a casual listener, like trance or tech house music.

4. Origins -

The influences that converged in the 1980s in Detroit, where techno music emerged, were many. Techno was the result of a blend of music, electric jazz, electronic music, electro, funk and Chicago house and the influence of futuristic fictional themes that were influential in American culture at the time. The music that would become techno was made possible in the 1980s due to the Roland TB-303 mini-keyboard and later the Roland TR-808 programmable drum machine, which made it possible to have a cheap way preform the sounds required of the music.

The first known use of techno as a term to define this specific genre of music came about in 1988, when British music entrepreneur Neil Rushton approached the Detroit based Belleville Three, as he wanted to license their music to be released in the United Kingdom. They decided to use the word techno as the way to describe their tracks and music and help to make it seem distinct compared to Chicago house music. Before this event techno had been involved in Detroit for most of the 1980s, with the Belleville Three (Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Juan Atkins) having collaborated together shortly before going on to release albums separately. Atkins also worked with Rick Davis in their band Cybotron on albums and techno music before all of this. Other techno musicians and DJs on the Detroit scene at the time include, Eddie Fowlkes, James Pennington and Blake Baxter. The term techno had been used in Detroit in the 1980s prior to 1988, but that was the first time the term was truly used to describe the music when marketing it to the public.

3. Spread and Development -

The 1988 license and official naming of techno music between Rushton and the Belleville Three can be seen as a turning point, since the compilation record "Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit" between them helped to give techno an identity in Europe and separate it from other types of underground dance music emerging in the era. However, the music was not mainstream in America and outside of major cities like Detroit and Chicago. Producers of the music grew frustrated, so many of the first and second wave artists, especially ones from Detroit went to Europe, since the music, nightclubs, and raves associated with it were becoming a major event in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom. It was during this period of the early 1990s that techno started diverged widely in terms of a range of acts performing the music and between regions, which led to many different styles of techno that have all grown from the original Detroit techno scene.

In the U.K. techno music even became pop music and independent English record label, Warp Records started to build a roster of techno musicians, with the goal of exploring new areas of the genre. However, techno's popularity in the U.K. started to fall around 1993 and many techno artists went to Germany and also Belgium where the music was most popular. By the middle of the 1990's there were a variety of underground dance music genres that were competing with techno, which led to diverse music that sounded far flung from techno. There was also the fact that the dance music scene that techno was a part of had become commercialized and mainstream, which lead to a diminished rave and nightclub scene and a fracture in how dance music should be done by each faction within the dance music genres. It also seemed that techno had become stale in terms of creatively and underground artists were being drawn to non-techno styles of music. By the end of the 1990s, techno had been thrown to the wayside and post-techno styles emerged to take its place.

2. Notable Practitioners -

The biggest known practitioners of techno music are the so called Belleville Three, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Juan Atkins, who are known as the originators of techno music and the regional scene of Detroit techno music. The three released a number of different albums, as well as singles when they collaborated together mostly over the 1980 through the middle of the 1990s when techno was at its peak. The Belleville Three inspired a lot of future techno artists, with May specifically having mentored future artists like Carl Craig and Stacey Pullen.

Other members of the Detroit techno scene that were prominent include Eddie Fowlkes, James Pennington and Blake Baxter, who each had plenty of albums of their own. Fowlkes and Baxter are also known for having gone to the techno scene in Germany, specifically in Berlin and having a more direct influence there. Paul van Dyk, real name Matthias Paul, is a German DJ who got his start in the 1990s and was one of the first so called superstar DJs. He was a major part of the German techno and trance music scene, but now does electronic music, preferring not to categorize it. He has won a German Grammy Award for his work and was a major part of the German techno scene in the 1990s and is still very active today.

1. Greater Significance and Legacy -

The original Detroit techno scene helped to launch a variety of regional scene, subgenres, fusion genres and successor forms of music. The other regional scenes of techno that developed are the Nortec scene that developed in Tijuana, Mexico, the Schranz scene that developed in Germany and the Freetekno scene that developed in Europe and has since spread to Canada, Australia and the northwest of America. Techo also developed various sub-genres that split off in the late 1980s and 1990s which include, acid techno, ambient techno, hardcore techno, minimal techno, dub techno and tech techno. Techno also helped to inspire many fusion genres that used aspects of techno music like, eurodance, IDM, kuduro, techstep, techstyle and trance. The various post-techno styles that came about at the end of the 1990s that followed techno include, ghettotech, nortec, glitch, electroclash and digital hardcore.


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