Tag Archive: GAS


10. Ursprung – “Ursprung” (Dial)

 “Ursprung”  is Pantha Du Prince (Hendrik Weber) and Stephan Abry. The pair previously worked together when Abry contributed “sound sources played on prepared instruments” for Pantha Du Prince’s exceptional album “Black Noise”. “Ursprung” (German for origin) is a flawed release, it seems based on alternating a few standouts with tracks that fulfil an experimental role but don’t deliver an exciting listen. Yet it deserves a place on this list for the five tracks that provide a union of beautiful melodies, emotional depth and high production values. ‘Mummenschanz’ is a gentle track that weaves minimalist guitar chords and phrases into ambient textures above a pattering bass and snare drum rhythm that sounds like a relaxed Neu! cut. After a short measure of interplay between guitar and bass frequencies ‘Ohne Worte’ evolves into an uneasy groove of guitar phrases that are pulled along by a thudding bass drum, percussion and metallic textures which build to a frenetic climax. ‘Exodus Now’ is the album’s centrepiece: dense with guitar chords, icy synths, Neu!-inspired rhythms and buzzing noise. The hand of Hendrik Weber can be heard in the fleet-footed hi-hats and bell-like percussion. A move to African-sounding percussion and a solid melody halfway through the track adds an extra dimension. Texturally and atmospherically ‘Exodus Now’ is mesmerizing, a true standout. ‘Lizzy’ is the closest thing on “Ursprung” to what could be called technowith its sort-of danceable bass line and complimentary techno drum rhythms, percussion adding a frenetic touch underneath a playful melody. On ‘Kalte Eiche’ a clap and glistening synth arpeggio are interrupted by a thundering bass drum and stuttering snare rhythm. Clipped male vocals sit above a harmonising second male voice all the while its stuttering rhythm refuses to slot into place. These five tracks contain emotional resonance coupled with stunning atmospherics and textures, motorik rhythms and delicate minimalistic guitars underpinning it all.

9. Mohn –  “Mohn” (Kompakt)

Kompakt pioneers Wolfgang Voit and Jörg Burger continue their long friendship with Mohn, a new project that comes with a self-titled album. In an effortless synchronisation of its parents’ styles “Mohn” (poppy in German) is full of atmosphere and sustained emotional resonance. The album contains nine tracks that could be an aural representation of a Casper David Friedrich painting: barren landscapes and colossal, other-worldly forces of nature erupting or the sound of the unnamed apocalypse that dominates Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. This is most apparent on ‘Schwarzer Schwan’, which begins with a ghostly synth and an immense bass drum that thunders under a delayed, drifting melody. The intensity rises as a second synth melody comes in and out of view. Male and Female voices enter singing held notes all the while that heavily reverbed bass drum thunders. Others are moments of fragility and beauty; any abrasive edges have been erased. Neatly sitting alongside Voigt’s exemplary work as GAS is ‘Ambientöt’, thanks to the long reverb tails that seep out into soft, sparkling atmospherics meanwhile ‘Saturn’ evolves into a track of delicate percussion and textures that flutter like a bird’s wings, recalling Cluster’s “Sowiesoso”. Flickers of the style of techno Voigt and Burger had a hand in creating can be heard in the sensual, slowly unfolding ‘Seqtor 88’ or ‘Ebertplatz 2020’, a wonderful decelerated ambient/techno track with a beautiful synth part that drifts in and out, gradually building to an intense yet sombre climax; full of atmosphere and emotional resonance. On the haunting and unearthly ‘Wiegenlied (lullaby), the listener is brought back to an uneasy sense of dystopia: a lone cavernous bass drum signals the album’s end, it is a final death-knell of a human-inhabited world and the beginning of a post-human one. Added together, “Mohn” couldn’t be anything other than a Kompakt release – possessing fleeting tension strong enough to upset the glistening ambient clouds and expansive minimalism.

8. Marcel Dettmann – “Landscape EP” (Music Man)

The main feature of ‘Landscape’ is a slow, muted melody that swells underneath hissing and thudding drums that are classic Dettmann. Their syncopated shuffle evokes a broken electro rhythm. Though it’s uncharacteristically subdued for Berghain’s master of thunderous techno, an unsettling cry that repeatedly rises from the mix is the embodiment of the agony and ecstasy of peak hour. ‘Landscape’ is the kind of track designed for a skilled DJ, like Dettmann, to build a set around; a track that is capable of providing surprising twists for years to come. The accompanying remix by Answer Code Request whips the track into a fever of tension, the bass lines punches harder, a syncopated 909 snare comes to the fore and that female cry is unbearably loud. It’s a remarkable track though even at high volume it feels strangely distant as if the listener is hearing it emanate out of Berghain’s lauded walls rather than from the centre of sweaty elation.

7. King Felix – “SPRING EP” (Liberation Technologies)

This “SPRING EP” by King Felix (Laurel Halo working under a name taken from a previous EP) carries on the thread of the “Hour Logic EP”, notably the accelerated beats and ecstatic cries of ‘Aquifer’. The first three tracks, ‘SPRING01’, ‘SPRING02’ and ‘SPRING03’, are reconfigurations of the same instrumentation and theme, one that heavily references early nineties Detroit techno, in particular Drexciya’s underwater world and the sheen of early Model 500. Their rhythms are restless and shuffle constantly. Halo races the drums forward then scales them back to allow piercing synths to sit atop. The vast organ samples that screech through the opening of ‘SPRING 01’ are anchored by a visceral beat and razor-sharp synth textures. Only on the dramatic ‘SPRING03’ does she let a percussion-filled, 4/4 techno beat dominate. The final track, ‘FREAK’, is a collage of drones. Its sagging bass line looms underneath a quivering synth pattern and Halo’s submerged voice which merges into stretched-out chords. “SPRING EP” is coloured by its immediacy, moments of frightening suspense and an almost aggressive purposefulness. Though the four tracks string together as a narrative arc each presents a different personality and it is Halo’s ability that imbues the collection with cohesion.

6. Ital – Hive Mind (Planet Mu)

With his debut album “Hive Mind”, Ital disrupts and stretches the signifiers of techno and presents something that sits between the context of dancefloor and home listening. Starter ‘Doesn’t Matter If You Love Him’ takes those lyrics from Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ and chops and repeats the line until it becomes a faintly absurd mantra which then dissolves into a glitched drone. ‘Floridian Void’, a highlight, is a dark techno track containing an unsettling low end, queasy synthesisers, stretched-out vocals and a clap/hi-hat pattern that never quite slots into a liquid groove. Ital’s corruption of techno structure provides a thrilling yet disorienting experience, across “Hive Mind” there is an unshakeable sense of uneasiness:   the drums push yet don’t flow with a danceable ease and bass lines swing nauseatingly. Only until the final track, ‘First Wave’, is the listener provided with a breather, an ecstatic release of booming bass drums, a hands-in-the-air 303-aping bass line and rapturous synths; a blissful finale to “Hive Mind”. Outside of techno and wider dance music, the next clearest influence is the kosmiche musik of Cluster and Harmonia, which can be heard in the rising and falling harmonies in ‘Israel’. Many of the reviews of “Hive Mind” have discussed the album in analytical/academic rather than music/production terms, such as finding dystopian analogies within the paranoia-inducing elements that pervade ‘Privacy Settings’ to a life half-lived on computers or technology’s fast-forward-paced advancements. Yet to see and appreciate “Hive Mind” by its intelligent use and abuse of dance music signifiers increases the album’s longevity and emotional response and makes for a more satisfying and complete listen.

5. Blondes – “Blondes” (RVNG INTL)

Slotted between Kompakt’s elegant techno-pop and US dance music releases such as Laurel Halo’s output and the King Felix “Spring EP” (Laurel Halo’s pseudonym), “Blondes” captures a range of emotions and moods. Each pair of tracks are two versions of the same thematic idea, reflected in the paired song titles: ‘Lover’/‘Hater’ ‘Wine’/‘Water’, ‘Business’/‘Pleasure’. Similar to Kompakt’s model, the tracks’ dance elements are complimented by rich atmospherics and luxurious synths. Each track bears the duo’s extended, rippling approach to house and techno as do the slow builds and heady releases that contain a patient construction of melodies and texture.  ‘Lover’ opens the album with a Meredith Monk sample folded into a strident piece of late-night electronica. ‘Wine’ is calmer and smoother, a lithe vocal-filled track that flows into its partner, ‘Water’, a refined “Autobahn” recline that would fit beautifully in any Michael Mayer set. The Kraftwerk-esque ‘Business’ is set against the dark, subdued ‘Pleasure’. One of the most intricately constructed tracks is ‘Gold’, which follows its 4/4 guide through arpeggios, the distant sounds of percussion and Berlin techno melodies. ‘Gold’ and its pair ‘Amber’ glow in the distance, creating the album’s beautiful ambient conclusion. “Blondes” is a singularly impressive piece of work that enthralls and captivates.

4. Claudio PRC – “Inner State” (Prologue)

Claudio PRC’s debut album “Inner State” takes us deep into the abyss. It is a minimalistic world of profound and effortless deep, hypnotic techno and one that is filled with heavy atmospheres, foggy dubs and unrelenting beats. Claudio’s love for techno and production skills is displayed with confident poise. In his own words, “In most of my tracks, the electroacoustic side plays the more emotional role, where the atmosphere created by the sound research and processing are my means to tell a story, while the rhythm reveals my natural matrix of energy I use to give life to these stories.” Opener ‘Echoes’ is a pitch black techno track with a relentless bass line that fold into waves of static and hi-hats. Intense, snapping percussion tops a droning bass line and cloudy textures in ‘Transparent’ and beat-less ambient track, ‘Leave’, provides a reflective moment before the vitriolic beats of ‘Radial’ kick in. With “Inner State”, Claudio PRC shows great potential while Munich-based label Prologue maintains its status of championing high-quality techno artists.

3. Orcas – “Orcas” (Morr Music)

Named after the mammal native to the Pacific Northwest where Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below) and Benoit Pioulard hail from, their new collaboration as Orcas blends poignant, twinkling pop songs with shuddering masses of electronic sounds; a fusion of song-writing with ambient minimalism that stands somewhere between the piano-based modern compositions of Peter Broderick, the Field’s highly emotive techno and GAS’ subdued beats and stately atmospheres. ‘Pallor Cedes’ sets the tone of the self-titled album with rising and falling drones and a clipped guitar rhythm sitting under softly picked acoustic guitar and Pioulard’s aching repetition of the phrase “like coming up for air”. “Arrow Drawn”’s clever use of vocal double tracking and harmonies slowly seep into the listener’s ears as quiet acoustic guitar and piano merge into ‘Standard Error”s floating loop of sighs. Calling to mind GAS and Irisarri’s work as The Sight Below is “Carrion”, an unhurriedly evolving hymn that encompasses a distant beat, echoed piano parts, an irregular guitar chord and Pioulard’s gauze-covered sad-eyed voice. A standout is their sublime, glacial cover of Broadcast’s ‘Until Then’, a poignant tribute to the untimely passing of singer Trish Keenan. Continuing the album’s use of piano, the track is built on a close-mic’d delicately played piano which frames Pioulard’s reflective vocals. Dark tones that lurk beneath the surface surge to the fore three minutes in compacting everything under coarse static until a sudden drop back to a solo piano, making for an emotionally charged song. Across the album Benoit Pioulard’s vocals glide along amid quiet piano and guitar notes and backing textures that rise and fall in gentle interplay, vinyl crackle and natural reverb adding an important touch of atmosphere. “Orcas” is a beautifully dignified album that summons a sense of space, understated progression and emotional depth.

2. Claro Intelecto – Reform Club (Delsin)

Reform Club sits in a dreamy, foggy haze of serene melodies and reflective emotion. It’s comforting and inviting while deeply tender, the meaty production gives the tracks a thick texture. The album’s nine tracks sit together in a unified way; cleverly avoiding homogeneity – a result of meticulous compositions and the freedom Claro Intelecto’s new label Delsin has offered. Opener ‘Reformed’ matches ‘Voyeurism’ (from the “Second Blood” EP) in pace and style. Metronomic hi-hats push the tempo to 120 BPM (‘Reformed’ is the fastest of the nine tracks) while a bouncing bass line and snatches of strings top a driving bass drum. A standout is the next track ‘Blind Side’, which sounds like a Basic Channel track for this decade: a deep bass drum pushes forward a mysterious melody that is submerged under churning dub-techno percussive elements and metallic slivers of hi-hats. ‘Still Here’ takes the tempo down to 96 BPM. Reverbed percussion sits upfront, striking the listener, and melancholic, dreamy strings are embraced by the bass drum; a theme throughout the album is the depth and warmth in the low end frequencies. The beautiful, fluttering synth that appears at 3:25 in “Night Of The Maniac” is something to behold as it flickers above sonorous beats and a dark melody that is set against a counterpoint bass line. Album closer ‘Quiet Life’ features piano and fluctuating sheer pads to form a delicate, touching conclusion. Musically, emotionally and production-wise, “Reform Club” is one of the strongest, deepest techno album of the past six months.

1. Voices From The Lake – “Voices From Lake” (Prologue)

Voices From The Lake is a project born out of a friendship between Italian DJs/producers Donato Dozzy and Neel. Following on from last year’s beautiful, lucid “Silent Drop EP”, the self-titled album extends and deepens their ambient techno explorations with an emphasis on the techno component.  Listening to “Voices From The Lake” is an immersive experience as the textured beats and unhurried rhythms pour with a deeply hypnotic flow. The deep wells of ambient sounds develop and unfold at their own pace, creating a intoxicating sense of tranquility. ‘Iyo’ imposes scattered hats and percussion against a humid backdrop. Its drones leads us into the next track ‘Vega’, which introduces a pulsing bass drum underneath a soothing pillows and layers of tiny hits of percussion. The pair’s reworking of the previously-released ‘S.T.’ is a revelation. After 30 minutes of bubbling and vibration, the album’s first bass line emerges, a gently ascending and descending chord progression that creates impact while remaining airy and translucent. Rhythm, texture and atmosphere are the key components of this album, creating an enveloping physical presence that asks for concentration; a meditative state of listening. “Voices From The Lake” is something that is alive and breathing. Its patterns shift and morph in minute detail, so subtly and patiently that it gives the album an unusual flow, a feeling like it’s floating. The construction is painstaking, so much so you can’t tell where one track begins and another ends.In the context of sound design “Voices From The Lake” has far more emotional resonance than most releases, it has a warmth that feels inviting. Except for the mid-album detonation of melody and beats, this album ignores techno’s linear structure by replacing the rise-rise-rise-peak-explosion-descend progression with one that places builds and falls into tiny pockets of a wider, complex canvas. Donato Dozzy and Neel have created a unique, entrancing release that supplies the closest aural equivalent to waldeinsamkeit since Pantha Du Prince’s “Black Noise”, my top-ranking album of 2010.

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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.

Sonic Fiction is proud to introduce the new bi-monthly column Music Is Improper, which will focus on electronic music brought to you by our columnist Vier.

Minimal Techno: a discussion of the most criticised genre in electronic music

When house and techno grew in exposure in the mid 1980s productions were minimal out of necessity. As sampling and programming technology developed, the music grew increasingly layered and clean. Evolution to some, unnecessary commercial crossover moves to others. Reacting against these increasingly dense productions, minimal techno artists subtracted from their productions almost everything except sharp drum rhythms and stark sequencer or synthesizer patterns and yet of all the electronic music genres, none are more maligned and misunderstood than minimal techno. It is criticised for a lack of depth and lacklustre, monotonous repetition, a disparagement that has been levelled at electronic music in its entirety, with fans of other electronic music genres quick to invalidate it, viewing it as calculated affectation. Fans of minimal (an adjective so powerful it seems to negate the need for a noun) can get it wrong too, valuing it as being thoroughly innovative and progressively new above other, busier genres, forgetting that minimalism, in its original sense, played a key role in the invention of electronic music.

Without the repetition and phrasing of minimal music and the rejection of traditional compositional, notational and tonal language by its leaders Steve Reich and Philip Glass et al techno and house as we know it would not exist. Neither would electro and hip-hop – spinning the same two records to infinitely extend a loop is as minimal as it gets and yet the minimal tag is a misrepresentation. Vacant they are not; the tracks brim with colour, shade and moods, neither are artists lazy; they sculpt sounds: moulding tone, pitch and timbre. With fewer elements each is more exposed and thus must justify its existence. Sparseness permits emotions to move to the foreground, absorption of the atmospheres and textures is encouraged by repetition, rejecting traditional song structure allow the listener to enter a trance-like state, purging late night excesses. After years as the black sheep and enduring a creative slump, minimal techno found its way into the hands of a generation of artists like Ricardo Villalobos, Gui Boratto and Click Box who have reinvigorated it with incorporations of Southern American instruments and rhythms and a new generation of listeners, who were children when many seminal albums were delivered, are discovering exciting records past and present.

As for the genre’s supposed lack of depth, Plastikman’s influential, and greatest, album ‘Closer’ is the sound of someone in the pit of depression; disconnected, exhausted and unemotional. The music is distant, as if approaching from outside, a place the voice is crawling to reach. Crunches, snaps and rips creep up on the listener, encasing them inside the protagonist’s oppressed mind; the microscopic variations amplify the tension. Dystopia: techno stripped to its inner core. Not exactly limp.

A key text in the genre’s history is Basic Channel’s ‘BCD’ from 1996. Redefining the standard of stripped music further than their peers, the duo of Moritz von Oswald and Mark Ernestus subtracted percussive elements, leaving only reverb to swirl and decay in the vacuum created. Journalist Simon Reynolds noted that listening to Basic Channel was akin to hearing a pounding nightclub from miles away. Most of the tracks on ‘BCD’, which is a compilation of single edits rather than a true album, are without drums, aside from the occasionally-occurring propelling bass drum and melodies are replaced by weightless chords. Synthesisers replicate the codes a listener would expect to hear in techno. The intricacies are the focus rather than pumping drum patterns yet Basic Channel songs sound like techno tracks. Closely related to Basic Channel is Pole, whose trio of albums, ‘1’, ‘2’ and ‘3’, demonstrate a detached austerity, even in full-colour covers.  Compositionally, Pole’s albums are kept bare; tracks are tethered by dub-specked held bass lines and an effervescence of high end. By reducing the elements so severely Pole reveals the similarities of dub and techno. Both share repetitious loops and the smallest of modifying steps – filter cutoff sweeps, hissing tapes, bouncing delay – are to be zoned in on and the clicks, pops and squeals present are now the foundation of minimal techno. The Cologne label and distributor Kompakt is considered synonymous with the genre and founder Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS pseudonym can be thought of as worship to Basic Channel. Purportedly a contemplation of German identity, GAS mutates samples of German classical music into dark arrangements held down by a simple bass drum. Sections morph and counterpoints dissolve, building an oppressive atmosphere where pops and clicks resemble stepped-on fallen branches while lost in the black forest. Although GAS’ sound isn’t overtly techno and is much bigger in size than Basic Channel, the stripped production and its rejection of structural norms is evidence of how malleable minimal techno is, which can therefore lead to misunderstandings of what it is.

The genre is also maligned because perhaps its philosophy is not understood due in part to the traditional reluctance of many electronic music artists to permit press meetings though these can often be enlightening. In an interview for Resident Advisor, Hawtin responded to a question about the aesthetics of his record label Minus, which has minimal techno artists such as Magda, False and himself on its roster, with: ‘I think the Minus aesthetic has always been about finding a balance between music and technology and art… when it’s in sound, whether it’s a Gaiser record or a Plastikman record, you’re fighting to get your point across with just the bare essentials of timbres, of sounds, of effects…all of that goes into the whole Minus aesthetic. It’s minimalistic, but it’s also futuristic and progressive at the same time.’

This ethos coupled with Minus’ nine date, nine country AV tour Making Contakt, which set out to explore themes of security, privacy and communication, blurred the lines between performer and audience by actively encouraging audience participation and interaction via technology summarizes what minimal techno is; an evolving and engaging form that is true to the founding ideology of electronic music: to push musical and technological boundaries and defy audience expectations. To progress, to challenge, to be the vanguard.

Vier

Minimal techno playlist

Minimal techno playlist

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