Techno is, typically, a form of electronic dance music with a 4/4 beat. Most of the time it's instrumental, or uses vocals only in a limited manner, and has a synthetic, futuristic feel to it. However, this doesn't mean that music which has these characteristics is specifically techno, or that techno has to have all these characteristics.
It was originally conceived in The '80s by three black middle class Detroit audiophiles (called "The Belleville Three" due to their neighborhood): Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson. They started making music that combined their love of early European synthpop and contemporary funk. In fact that May had described the sound of early techno "like George Clinton and Kraftwerk are stuck in an elevator with only a sequencer to keep them company". It basically ended up sounding like music for robots to breakdance to. Atkins was arguably the first person to produce techno music, while May developed many of its distinct features, and Saunders was the first to push techno to the charts (with his group Inner City). Here's an example of an early techno song by Juan Atkins' group Cybotron.
Despite their differences, techno and house have nevertheless had a pretty symbiotic relationship, sharing many similar attributes, such as a 4/4 beat and looped samples. The main difference is in the sound: the more synthetic and robotic a tune sounds, the more likely it's techno. The more organic and disco-y sounding it is, the more likely it's house. The two genres have often overlapped, the subgenre of "tech house" being one result of merging the two. Here is an example of what techno began to sound like after the house music influence in it became more prominent.
After the 1980s techno has moved far beyond the borders of Detroit and has a sizeable fan base around the world. Germany in particular has taken a liking to the genre, and Berlin has become techno's second city, more or less. German techno has two major strands: the maximalist techno meant for mainstream clubs and raves, and the minimalist subgenre that's more fitting for home listening, though it's played in clubs as well.
The minimal techno movement has engineered some of the most incredibly fervent defenders of this genre. Here is the story: in the mid-1990s, after the passage of the acid house/techno movement, followed by the raves and free parties in Europe, as well as the rise to fame of trance and extreme hardcore, techno was going through a crisis. The music that was once dance-oriented, funky and soulful had become too ravey, fast, and hard to the taste of some of the older figures in techno. One of them, Richie Hawtin, reacted with sonic minimalism. Under the moniker Plastikman, he produced some of the most smooth, fluid, and funky techno ever, using almost the same tools than those who created the genre: Roland drum machines and bassline generators.
Another man, Robert Hood, came with another approach: structural minimalism. It consisted of keeping the music structure very clear, simple and repetitive, but also in making sure that the sonic quality of the production was the best possible. Hawtin and Hood were not the only ones being tired of ravey and fast techno, and by the early 2000s the minimal sound had gained a considerable fanbase. Today, some of the most famous techno producers create very minimalistic techno.
Classic techno also continued to evolve, and at some point it sort of merged recently with the minimal movement, brigning tempos back to more danceable 125-128, and retaining a lot of the power and precision of the minimal basslines. The 2000s have produced a generation of techno lovers that are extremely purist about the music they love.
Most techno is in 4/4, with a bass drum on each downbeat, and either a clap or a snare on every 2nd and 4th beat. Most of the time it retains the open-hi-hat-on-every-upbeat feeling of house, but there's often a rhythmic accent that marks the upbeats.
The term "techno" has often been misused as a catch-all term for electronic dance music. Techno tends to have a rather specific sound, and in fact a decent amount of what some people call "techno" is usually either trance, house music, or Eurodance. Some fans find it very frustrating when people misunderstand what techno is about. Calling this techno is as accurate as calling Avril Lavigne hardcore punknote .
- Original 1980s Detroit techno: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7HiL2m63pQ
- European techno that evolved from the Detroit sound in the early 1990s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpZVPSCv79U
- American minimal techno from the 1990s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=um0zaDEBUQw
- European minimal techno from the 2000s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Bc2HlUNcS8
- Schranz, born in Germany, a subgenre that relies heavily on distorted and dissonant synth loops: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ovm0CfCfvgI
List of techno musicians
- μ-Ziq note
- Aphex Twin
- Juan Atkins
- Basic Channel
- Blake Baxter
- Boys Noize
- Carl Cox (mixed with some elements of House Music)
- Carl Craig
- Dave Clarke
- Ellen Allien
- Laurent Garnier
- A Guy Called Gerald
- K Hand
- The KLF
- Lords of Acid
- Derrick May
- Moby (on his first two albums)
- Mouse On Mars (on their 1990s albums)
- The Orb
- Kevin Saunderson
- Underground Resistance
- dubnobasswithmyheadman (1994)
- Ricardo Villalobos
- 808 State