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Techno Subgenres: 6 Different Types of Techno Music

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6 Different Types of Techno Music

Techno is a genre that originated in Detroit, where it was coined by Juan Atkins in the 1980s. After gaining popularity overseas, it continued to develop in various directions. This article examines six types of techno music, including Detroit techno, acid techno, minimal techno, and industrial techno.

Key elements of techno music

Techno music and rave culture are once again on the rise. Although the genre has been well-established for a long time, thanks to social media apps, it is becoming increasingly popular, especially among young people. Yet, the focus on consumption over exploration takes away from people’s understanding of its origins and fundamentals. As a result, the genre is often conflated with everything ‘EDM-ish’ and assumed to be primarily European.

So, what exactly is techno?

Techno is a genre that was born in the United States, more precisely in Detroit, and quickly established itself worldwide. It is a primarily rhythmic genre that commonly revolves around a four-on-the-floor beat (4/4 rhythm). Stylistically, tracks usually lie somewhere between 130 and 150 BPM, with some producers choosing to go above or below the tempo bracket.

Tracks are characterized by a substantial amount of repetition that endows them with an immersive, trance-like feel. Rhythmic elements are programmed with drum machines or sequencers included in DAWs and are combined with melodic, harmonic, and textural elements. The experimental approach toward sound selection is facilitated by the usage of analog and digital synthesizers, (vocal) samples, textures, sound effects, arpeggiators, and various effect plugins.

Since its birth, techno music has evolved in a multitude of directions. Each subgenre is characterized by a set of elements and approaches to music production, but more often than not, tracks fall into more than one subgenre. Let’s examine the many different types of techno music in the following sections.

1. Detroit techno

It would be a shame not to begin with Detroit techno, the arguably most important type of techno music. Although today, the genre is often associated with European cities, the birthplace of techno music lies in Detroit and is a product of Black culture.

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That European influences exist is not a secret – in fact, some Detroit artists have explicitly listed bands like Kraftwerk as their inspirations. Yet, the argument that techno music is a European genre stems from the faulty use of the term electronic music, which is often conflated with techno. While techno falls under the broader umbrella of electronic music, they are not the exact same thing. Thus, regardless of the influence of European electronic musicians, techno music as its own genre was created and popularized by Black artists from Detroit. For this reason, it is not a subgenre but rather the origin of all other types of techno music.

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After the birth of house music in Chicago in the early 80s, music production and technology continued evolving in multiple directions. Influenced by various electronic music bands, artists from Detroit began experimenting with rhythm and sound in innovative ways. Among them were Derrick May, Juan Atkins, and Kevin Saunderson, also known as the ‘Belleville Three.’ Strongly inspired by futuristic themes and Detroit’s status as a post-industrial city, they began creating obscure, otherworldly tracks in their basements. This way, they created the genre techno, first coined by Juan Atkins in the 1980s.

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Other prominent names from Detroit are the duo Drexciya; Robert Hood, known for his minimalistic approach toward techno; Kelli Hand, also known as K-Hand, who opened the door for Black women to participate in the techno music scene; DJ Stingray 313; and Blake Baxter.

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2. Acid techno

Next comes the subgenre acid techno, commonly referred to as “acid.” It is closely related to acid house and Chicago-based producer DJ Pierre, aka Nathaniel Pierre Jones, who played a crucial role in its development. With time, the style began gaining popularity in London (and other European cities), where it was further developed.

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In comparison to acid house, acid techno is significantly faster and darker. It is primarily characterized by its squeaky and psychedelic sounds, initially produced with the Roland TB-303 synthesizer. Other synths and drum machines used are the TR-909, TR-808, or the TR-707. Thanks to its immersive, high-energy sound and popularity among whom some would call ‘rebellious’ individuals, it is often associated with illegal raves and rave culture as a whole.

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Acid techno often intersects with other electronic music genres, including trance. Some of the genre’s most prominent names are Plastikman, aka Richie Hartwin, DAVE the drummer, and Underground Resistance.

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3. Ambient techno

Ambient techno combines the atmospheric, melodic, and harmonic elements of the genre ambient with the rhythmic structures and sounds of techno. Ambient is characterized by much repetition, heavy processing, and a production and sound selection process that renders it highly immersive. Tracks are usually somewhat slower and can be listened to in various settings. Because it does not follow strict rules and does not require rhythm or structure, it allows for much experimentation.

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After gaining popularity in Europe and the United States, the genre began establishing itself within rave culture, allowing ravers to unwind from the otherwise harsher sounds of techno and its subgenres. Over time, the increased interest in ambient music and its presence at raves allowed for the formation of new genres, including ambient house in the 80s and ambient techno in the 90s. One of the key figures of ambient techno is Detroit producer Carl Craig, whose style inspired many artists overseas to follow a similar approach. Other prominent artists within the genre are Aphex Twin, the Black Dog, The Orb, and Biosphere.

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4. Industrial techno

Industrial techno is a genre that blends techno with various elements of industrial music. Inspired by industrial artists like Cabaret Voltaire and labels like Wax Trax, it began developing in the late 80s and established itself in the 90s. Among the genre’s pioneers are the Detroit artists Jeff Mills and Anthony Srock, who worked together under the name Final Cut. In 1989, they released their album Deep into the Cut (1989), which, in many ways, encompasses the early sound of industrial techno and the atmosphere of Detroit. Other influential names are Perc, Paula Temple, Mike Banks, Tommy Four Seven, Helena Hauff, and the record labels Tresor Records, Perc Trax, and Sonic Groove.

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Sonically, industrial techno revolves around dissonance, distorted and metallic sounds, noise, and texture. Because of its name, it is commonly associated with industrial machinery, factory equipment, and settings in which such tools are used.

The subgenre commonly revolves around an unrefined and gritty sound and allows for much experimentation, including polyrhythms and unconventional time signatures. Tracks can be slower or somewhat faster but commonly have a darker, more mechanical, abstract sound that can sometimes even be described as dystopian. This is achieved by much processing via techniques like FM synthesis and heavy reverberation.

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5. Minimal techno

Minimal techno is closely related to Detroit techno, with Detroit artists Robert Hood and Daniel Bell considered the pioneers of this particular style of techno music. Over time, it gained much popularity in Germany, where it continued to develop and transform. Today, it is often used as an umbrella term for everything that sounds somewhat minimalistic, leading to tracks getting mislabeled.

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So, what makes a techno track minimal? As the name suggests, minimal techno revolves around the phrase ‘less is more.’ Tracks typically feature drums, groovy basslines, and melodic elements that are intentionally sparse. Repetition and the introduction of subtle changes over time are key aspects of this subgenre, allowing tracks to be highly immersive, hypnotic, and groovy.

In an interview with The Fader, Robert Hood encapsulates the essence of the subgenre as follows: “It’s simple, stripped-down rhythm tracks, even though it’s focused on minimum structure, it’s focused on maximal soul. The first thing that stuck out in my mind was how devoid of complexity it was and yet how powerful it was. (...) It had the potential and the potency to take you places and put thoughts in your mind, to implant certain pictures and memories and ideas.”

His minimal techno classic “Minus” is an ideal sonic representation of his words.

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6. Dub techno

Dub techno is a subgenre that combines techno with various elements of dub music, a genre that evolved out of reggae in the late 60s and early 70s in Jamaica. Dub techno is characterized by a softer approach to the usually harsher genre. It is often compared to ambient techno because of its emphasis on atmospheric elements, use of reverbs and echos, and delay-heavy approach to music production.

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The style is heavily influenced by King Tubby, who is considered the inventor of the remix and dub music. However, dub techno is primarily associated with the German producers Moritz von Oswald and Mark Ernestus, who formed the duo and label Basic Channel in the 90s. They are also the individuals behind Rhythm & Sound. Other relevant names include the label Mille Plateaux, Rod Modell and his project DeepChord, and Stephen Hitchell.

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