The 2000s saw techno tangle with pop music with many artists incorporating directly pop-influenced melodies and harmonies as tracks evolved into songs. Meanwhile minimal techno and its main purveyor M-nus continued to blossom and Kompakt’s rich techno hallmark garnered critical acclaim. The end of the decade also saw the rise of the Berghain and Ostgut Ton artists who have captured the imaginations of many by reinvigorating the ‘Berlin’ sound that some had perceived to be stagnating. Similar to the Three Decades of Techno: The Second Chapter, I will focus primarily on the genre’s development in Germany throughout the last decade whilst covering other European and South American artists who have shaped the sound of techno’s future.

Growing into an empire of distribution with an incredible record and download shop, booking agency and a number of sub-labels (Immer, Profan, Kompakt Pop, Kompakt Extra), Cologne’s Kompakt has a near mythological quality in the techno world, is admired by virtually all techno fans and can be pinpointed from the start of the 2000s as the beginning of techno’s cross-pollination with pop music. Wolfgang Voigt has described the label’s signature as “honest, simple. It is adult techno, cultural techno” and has also frequently spoken about the importance of the “boom boom boom” that underpins all electronic music, something the label has explored by releasing boundless variations of techno, tech-house, ambient, ambient-dub and pop music. In essence the famous “Kompakt sound”, which is mentioned in almost everything written about the label, is the incorporation of traditionally pop music melodies and harmonies into that fundamental pulsing 4/4 bass drum and looped, textural ambience: firm but supple.

Despite first making its reputation as a sponsor of minimal techno Kompakt’s trademark has always been a full and distinctly, a lovingly intimate sound. Thomas Fehlmann’s “Honigpumpe”, the “Nah Und Fern” compilation by GAS and The Field’s “From Here We Go Sublime” embody this eloquently. Its core artists Voigt, Michael Mayer, Superpitcher, DJ Koze, Reinhard Voigt and Justus Köhncke have been with the label for a decade or more. Though they have often released projects under pseudonyms covering different styles these artists have helped the label achieve its distinct and renowned identity. Kompakt has played a remarkable role to techno over the decade with music critic Simon Reynolds crediting it as the “label that’s contributed more than any other to Germany’s dominance of electronic dance music this decade [the 2000s].”

Chilean-German DJ and producer Ricardo Villalobos is one of the most revered names in techno. Though usually described as minimal techno, his productions are too singular to be part of one genre. His critically celebrated 2003 debut album “Alcachofa” from which the seminal ‘Easy Lee’ and ‘Dexter’ were cultivated is a unique collection of intricate and highly detailed tracks; keywords in Villalobos’ discography. Included on several compilations and mixes curated by his peers Richie Hawtin and Michael Mayer and others that year, ten minute opener ‘Easy Lee’ builds slowly with delicate percussion pattering under an uneasy vocodered vocal refrain and showcases Villalobos’ expert hand in creating subtly composed sound-designed tracks. Writing for All Music Guide, Andy Kellman observed “Alcachofa”‘s (artichoke in Spanish) appropriate title, “If the kind of vivid house you hear blaring in the hip clothing store is an apple, giving the mouth an instant burst of flavor the moment the teeth puncture its skin, then the microhouse of Ricardo Villalobos is more like an artichoke – a more subtle fruit that’s consumed by peeling off its fleshy leaves and delicately skimming the pulp off the inner surface.”

An exceptional feature of Ricardo Villalobos’ work is that his productions truly feel equally perfect for both home listening and DJ sets, something that many artists have tried to achieve, because despite the elongated grooves and naturally evolving structures that are suited to the dance floor the microscopic details and the queasy feeling of nervousness that permeates his material, especially “Alcachofa”, can only be detected when listening in stasis.

His bespoke speakers that resemble a gramophone which use every frequency across the spectrum, his passion for audio fidelity and sound design, his immersive Fabric36 mix and the sheer complexity and amount of work that Villalobos puts into creating his productions display why he is such a highly regarded figure in techno who is continuously mentioned by critics and artists. The influence of his work on new producers going in to this decade like Nicolas Jaar, Shackleton and The Field in such a short space of time is a testament to his talent and individual material.

Just over halfway in to the decade The Knife released “Silent Shout” and Ellen Allien and Apparat released “Orchestra Of Bubbles” in 2006. “Silent Shout” is an ideal example of the blurring of lines between techno and pop seen in the 2000s, due in part to The Knife’s conceptual, theatrical heart. The Swedish pair’s music is as much techno as it is pop: it has narratives, chord changes, even sing-able choruses. Karin Dreijer Andersson, singer and co-producer, manipulates her voice to become the songs’ protagonists, enabling her to sing in the first person; making the songs far more personal and significant. Yet they are also distancing – as if the listener is an audience member in a macabre play where each scene introduces a new character – the lyrics are skeletal and leave the subject matter open-ended. Dreijer Andersson has explained that the films of David Lynch, in particular the scene from Mulholland Drive in which the lead characters go to a midnight concert where the music is generated from a playback tape, are a great influence on how she presents the songs.

The nightmares of the title track, ‘From Off To On’’s whispering voices, the naïve character in ‘Forest Families’ who, shamed for having “a communist in the family” and told their “favourite book was dirty”, sings about the particular and the universal as the song rises and falls, the furious sexual equality sea-shanty ‘One Hit’ and the schizophrenic voice in ‘We Share Our Mother’s Health’ going hysterical with fear all create the haunting and uneasy mood of “Silent Shout”. Yet it also offers easy to miss humour in the sly  hip-hop beat that announces the arrival of ‘We Share Our Mother’s Health’ and ‘Marble House’’s ‘singing whale’ synth. The album pushes what we can consider to be ‘techno’ and it is The Knife’s ingenious use of pop melodies and characterisation which play against the techno landscape of rippling filters, de-tunings and thunderous 909 claps that makes “Silent Shout” compelling and musically momentous.

Berliner Ellen Allien, acclaimed DJ, producer, graduate of leading ‘90s club Tresor and chief of the record label BPitch Control has spent the last decade releasing five albums and numerous DJ mixes that showcase her distinctive blend of pop-indebted melodies (she claims to have learnt to speak English by listening to David Bowie records), thick bass lines and techno-fied breakbeats. Apparat who co-runs the record label Shitkatapult has released a handful of albums and EPs which combine his understated voice, not unlike Thom Yorke’s, with home-listening designed intelligent dance music (IDM). Their album “Orchestra Of Bubbles” is perhaps the pinnacle their careers. Their differing electronic music styles: Allien’s sweet, dance floor techno and Apparat’s melancholic IDM make the release a thrilling album where the tracks pull and push against each other. It ascends and descends, the glide of techno is resisted by jerky IDM beats, misty pads contrast oomph-ing bass lines, rippling arpeggios swirl around Ellen Allien’s dreamy, accented voice. The songs present a guessing game of which part belongs to whom: interlocking sections shine through as Allien’s as her huge analogue synth leads go head-to-head with Apparat’s grainy crunches and snapping beats, as presented in ‘Turbo Dreams’ and the gorgeous ‘Jet’.

The triangle on ‘Metric’ and ‘Way Out’’s ride cymbal that quietly pushes the chorus along are hidden gems that mark out “Orchestra Of Bubbles” as something that has being meticulously composed. Every aspect of the album sounds considered yet effortless: the vocal stutter that bridges the two sections of ‘Floating Points’ and builds to a demanding SH101 bass line, to standout ‘Do Not Break’, which breathlessly speeds for 5:13 minutes. Its entirety is full and encompassing, even in comparison to Allien’s effervescent “Thrills” released the previous year, and is brimming with the blending of digital and analogue timbres which are so richly textured they are nearly physical. Those looking for an essential song-based techno album and a microcosm of techno in the 2000s will find it in “Orchestra Of Bubbles”.

Ostgut Ton, the Berlin-based label launched six years ago to provide a base for Berghain and Panorama Bar residents, has become the name du jour in the past 18-24 months. ‘90s pioneers Basic Channel’s unique dub-techno sound architecture has left an indelible mark on the productions of Ostgut Ton’s main artists: Ben Klock, Marcel Fengler, Norman Nodge and Marcel Dettmann. Perfunctory, mechanical, cold: adjectives used to describe Ostgut Ton’s output contradict the productions’ true sound. On closer listen they are clearly imbued with a womb-like warmth and depth. Typifying this is Marcel Dettmann’s debut album “Dettmann”, which is filled with immersive atmospherics and bass frequencies that embrace and surround; more akin to Basic Channel and early techno like Model 500 than the icy, driving beat that is associated with Berlin techno. Despite murmurs of a backlash Ostgut Ton have entranced many with its pure stylistic signature and this with Berghain’s infamously strict door policy give the label an exclusive nature that harks back to techno’s beginnings in elite parties for only the most dedicated. Hopefully this limitation will stop the popularity and hype of Ostgut Ton/Berghain been its downfall.

Ahead of his performance at Coachella last year Richie Hawtin was asked in an interview with LA Times: “You’re based in Europe now, where everyone seems to think the edgiest electronic music is being made today. How do you think the American scene can catch up?” To which he replied, “Well, to catch up would be hard in a way because it’s been sustained for so long there. It’s not about catching up; it’s about following your scene and your location’s individual path. And that’s what electronic music’s about. There shouldn’t be one electronic music hit everywhere, like Jay-Z is everywhere. Electronic music is like a snake that you can’t grab. So it should be different in different scenes. That’s what makes it interesting.”

Hawtin’s point encapsulates what techno in the past three decades has been about and done.  It has mutated and flourished in numerous countries, evolving into different breeds independently and yet the genre’s founding ideologies have remained: emotive and human, pushing the limits of technology, valuing music for head as much as the feet. Techno is so adored and indestructible it will continue to be a dominant force for decades to come.

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