Techno Music: An American Tradition
By TODD CALLAIS
Scene Music Critic
There is perhaps no genre of music more misunderstood or stereotyped than techno. It is not uncommon to hear a self-proclaimed music fan say, "Oh, I could do that stuff, just give me a computer," or "Whatever, I don't like that Euro stuff." Others will assume that techno music is a genre limited only to groups like Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim. The truth is that techno is one of the most complicated and intricate styles of music with a deep American history that ranges over hundreds of talented and respect-worthy artists.
The story begins in Germany, 1974, with the release of the song "Autobahn" by the two-man keyboard group Kraftwerk. This historic event moved the concept of electronic instrumentation from the minds of inventors, scientists and factory workers to radio waves and record shelves.
The story then moves to Detroit, where a group of young artists were combining forms of disco, rock and hip-hop into something that would forever change America's music. With the release of Cybotron's 1981 album, Alleys of your Mind, the stage was set for the first electronic studios by a song that broke from tradition with its first purely electronic sound and large public appeal.
Where did the influences and terminology in techno music come from? Much of it was started by a Juan Atkins, a member of the group Cybotron, who took a future studies class at Belleville High School in Belleville, Mich., which focused on the works of Alvin Toffler.
From this, Atkins created a mindset and style of music which lives today.
He went on to befriend and train Derrick May, and later Kevin Saunderson. The three of them went on to form Metroplex, Transmat and KMS Records, respectively, on the famous Gratiot Street in Detroit (a.k.a. Techno Boulevard). Known as the three wise men of early techno music, they created a scene that spread to radio and caught the attention of London record producer Neil Rushton who took the scene to Europe. The album Big Fun by Saunderson's group, Inner City, became the first successful full-length techno album. As they say, the rest is history, and a permanent fixture in music was born.
The biggest misconception about techno music is it is easy to create, but this notion could not be further from the truth. Techno music goes through a rigorous process of careful editing, scrutiny over samples, guitar and drum instrumentation, keyboard programming and general musical knowledge. Most of the big-name techno artists now, like Ed Simons and Tom Rowlans from the Chemical Brothers, combine training in classical piano, rock guitar and drums with wide-ranging musical influences that are more eclectic than those found in most other genres of music.
"This history stuff is great and all, but what about the actual sound?" It is impossible to argue that all techno is good; there are always black sheep in any genre of music. Techno is not just a repetition of sound but the formation of an extreme rhythm that invades the mind and can be felt in every part of the body. When listening to techno one can hear and sense beat changes that can be used to dance to, study with, drive to, anything. It is true that there is often no lyrical aspect to electronic music, but this is because the artists are appealing to a higher sense of music appreciation such as instrumentation and sound appeal. The artist crafts each song from his or her personal experiences.
For those who want to learn more about techno music, there are a couple of different ways. A number of books are available that can provide information. The best of these is probably Dan Sicko's "Techno Rebels," which spans techno's roots from Detroit to its international recognition today. It also has a recommended discography section to help everyone from the biggest techno fan to a novice.
There are a number of great magazines too, like Urb, Raygun and Wired magazine, which can provide up-to-date information on the electronica world.
The best way to learn is first-hand experience at a concert. There is no cooler experience than a Chemical Brothers or Fatboy Slim concert.
Some techno albums that are good starting points to the genre are Chemical Brother's Exit Planet Dust, Prodigy's Music for the Jilted Generation, the compilation "Amp," DJ Scott Henry's Smile and Juno Reactor's hypnotic are good places to start. Other very notable acts include Fatboy Slim, Fluke, the Crystal Method, Underworld, Death in Vegas, and Josh Wink. The best new album to come out in the realm of techno is called Rhythm and Stealth by Leftfield.
Techno is an experience that anyone dedicated to music should give a chance. Moreover, it is an American tradition.
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, November 9, 1999