Underground/Overground: Techno’s Emergence
Since it first emerged from Detroit in the mid-1980s and made its way over to Berlin in the early 1990s techno has been a staple of underground electronic music.
In the last decade we’ve seen a seismic shift, and what was once an esoteric scene confined to dark, smokey basements has expanded into a massive, highly visible mainstream industry with a global following.
Whether this is a positive or a negative thing is up for debate — some say it’s blossoming, others would call it gentrification. But there can be no question that techno has hit the mainstream, and doesn’t look like it will return to its subterranean roots any time soon.
Let’s take a look at the reasons behind its popularity.
Techno is everywhere. Open up Instagram and you’re likely to stumble across clips from a recent Nina Kraviz, Carl Cox, or Charlotte De Witte set — and now these top DJs command rockstar-level fees for playing a gig. You’ll find techno in advertisements, soundtracking fashion shows, played from the tops of skyscrapers, in ancient amphitheatres.
It has permeated industries like iGaming, including online casinos, where players can find techno-themed slot machines, among other games. Techno has always been symbiotic with new technology, and the game engines behind online slot machines, such as the online slots at Paddy Power, are advanced enough to handle electronic music and cutting-edge sound design. These slot games are also at the forefront of recent and past trends, combining culture and entertainment in a unique and appealing fashion.
This is all in stark contrast to the techno scene of the 1990s, which was mainly confined to warehouses and clubs on the outskirts of cities, and tiny record shops full of determined diggers. What has remained is the rolling, minimalistic nature of the music itself, which still hypnotises millions of dancers each weekend.
The German capital has always been the epicentre of techno in Europe (though its roots in black, urban Detroit shouldn’t be forgotten), and the redevelopment of the city since German reunification led to a massive influx of young people from across the world. As the city is gradually and inevitably gentrified, independent organisations — such as cafes, art galleries, and clubs— reach the surface and widen their reach.
The globalisation of culture, brought about in part by social media, means the rapid spread of ideas, trends, and music, as well as advertising the lifestyle associated with all of these. Organisations such as Boiler Room have made DJs and dancers much more visible, and ubiquitous mobile phones document the insides of clubs from all across Europe.
There are some notable exceptions to this, however — clubs such as Berlin’s Berghain have a strict no-camera policy, and clubbers can dance to techno in near darkness all night long, as nature intended.
Accessibility & Inclusivity
Although every era of techno has produced prominent female DJs, and the original Detroit incarnation of the music is a close cousin of Chicago house —forged in predominantly black, gay clubs — the modern techno scene has become increasingly inclusive and embraces fans, DJs, and producers regardless of race, gender, or sexuality.
Again, Berghain bucks this trend, rejecting people regardless of their identities, but generally, techno is an antidote to the overly macho ‘bro-step’ scene that grew out of nu-metal in the United States.
In terms of the creation of the music itself, many producers are moving back from computer technology to synthesisers and drum machines, and we’re seeing a trend towards smaller, independent companies that produce instruments which are idiosyncratic, and more often than not, reasonably affordable. There is a rich seam of content online for aspiring techno producers, from tutorials and demos to full production walk-throughs and masterclasses.
After two decades of relatively underground obscurity, techno has come out from the shadows, creating an entire industry distinct from its roots. While there is plenty of nostalgia for the past, techno has always been about looking forward, and embracing the evolution of its unique subculture as it develops.