Origins of Techno Music

Detroit and the Belleville Three

Techno music originated in Detroit, Michigan, during the 1980s. The genre emerged primarily from the works of three suburban Detroit friends: Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson, collectively known as the Belleville Three.

They were influenced by both European electronic dance music and African-American music genres like funk and electro.

Atkins, May, and Saunderson experimented with synthesisers and drum machines to create their unique sound. Their innovative music set the stage for the development of techno and its worldwide popularity in the 1990s.

Influences from Europe and Kraftwerk

The European music scene played a significant role in shaping the sound of techno. One key influence on the genre was the German electronic music band Kraftwerk. 

Kraftwerk’s use of synths and electronic beats inspired the Belleville Three and other aspiring techno artists.

Additionally, the genre owes its name to a development in Germany. The term “techno” originated in Germany in the early 1980s and gained traction after the UK release of the [compilation “Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit”] in 1988. 

This compilation linked the term techno with electronic dance music produced in Detroit at the time.

Evolution and Subgenres

House and Acid

Techno music originated in the United States during the 1980s and gained global popularity in the 1990s. 

It was influenced by European electronic dance music, such as Germany’s Kraftwerk and Belgium’s C.J. Bolland. 

House music, a close relative of techno, developed during the same period in Chicago, featuring a repetitive 4/4 beat and synthesised basslines. Acid house is a subgenre of house music characterised by the use of Roland TB-303 bass synthesiser, creating a distinctive squelchy sound.

Dub Techno and Ambient

As techno evolved, it spawned a variety of subgenres. Dub techno emerged in the 1990s, blending the minimalism of techno with the expansive reverb and delay effects associated with dub music, resulting in a hypnotic and atmospheric sound. 

Ambient techno, on the other hand, is a subgenre that focuses on creating lush, textured soundscapes, often eschewing the traditional 4/4 beat or downplaying it in favour of more experimental rhythms.

Hardcore and Trance

Another offshoot of techno is hardcore, which developed in the early 1990s. This subgenre pushes the tempo and intensity of techno to the extreme, often incorporating distorted and aggressive kicks, breakbeats, and rapid-fire synth patterns. 

Trance music, another techno subgenre, emphasises melodic and harmonic progressions, typically featuring repetitive synth phrases and a steady 4/4 beat. 

Trance music often creates an immersive and hypnotic experience for listeners and has roots in both house and techno.

Tech House

As techno and house continued to grow, the two genres began to merge, giving rise to tech house. 

This subgenre combines the repetitive, driving rhythms of techno with the melodic elements and groovier basslines of house music. 

Tech house has become increasingly popular in electronic dance music scenes worldwide, bridging the more experimental techno and the more accessible house music.

Techno Across the Globe

Berlin and the European Techno Scene

The fall of the Berlin Wall allowed for a merging of East and West, and techno music flourished in the city’s underground club scene with its unifying and energetic nature. 

Over time, techno became synonymous with Berlin, attracting top DJs and artists from around the world. Berlin developed its own type of techno distinct from Detroit. Other European cities, such as Amsterdam, also embraced techno and contributed to its growth and evolution.

Chicago and House Music

Techno music is closely related to another popular genre, house music, which has its roots in Chicago.

DJs and producers like Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy, and Marshall Jefferson became instrumental in shaping the sound that would later be known as house music. 

While different from techno in its origins and specific musical characteristics, house and techno both belong to the broader umbrella of electronic dance music and developed alongside each other, influencing one another throughout their respective histories.

United Kingdom and Warp Records

The United Kingdom played a significant role in the global spread of techno music. British music entrepreneurs, such as Neil Rushton, introduced Detroit techno to British audiences in the late 1980s. 

The establishment of influential record labels like Warp Records also contributed to the genre’s growth. Warp Records, founded in 1989 in Sheffield, became synonymous with cutting-edge electronic music and released early works by major techno and electronic artists, such as Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, and LFO. 

By fostering talent and providing a platform for groundbreaking music, Warp Records played a critical role in the development and ongoing success of techno and electronic music in the UK and beyond.

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