While rave culture reached its peak in the 1990’s, techno as a genre is still alive and well today, and any DJ who has an interest in EDM should have a basic understanding of how to DJ techno. Even though it may sound simple to the untrained ear, there’s actually a lot more to learning how to DJ techno than simply learning to play a 4 on the floor beat on a drum machine. To understand a little more about what defines techno as a genre, let’s take a brief look at the history of the techno movement, as well as the basic philosophy behind how to DJ techno music today.
From Underground Beginnings to Mainstream Success
While almost anyone you meet on the street today would know what techno is, it’s important to remember that techno started off as a purely underground genre. Techno originally arose in Detroit in the late 1980s as a blend of American funk and house sounds with European electronic influences. By the early 1990s, techno had gone international and was beginning to find mainstream success. Raves became popular in places like Detroit, Chicago, and London in the early 1990s, but it wasn’t until 1996, when UK techno band The Prodigy landed two songs at #1 on the Billboard charts, that techno officially went mainstream. By this point, techno had spawned a number of sub-genres like acid techno, tech house, hardcore techno, and minimalist techno, and a battle began between mainstream artists like Moby who were focused on making hits, and collectives like the Underground Resistance that were focused on keeping the genre true to its underground roots.
The Legendary TR-808
Techno music arose in unison with the technological developments that made new electronic sounds possible, namely the Roland TR-808 drum machine. Released in 1980, this inexpensive drum machine quickly found its way into the hands of legions of electronic music producers, and paved the way for early developments in EDM genres like techno, house, and hip-hop. Because of this little box, techno developed around the 4 on the floor kick drum beat that still defines the genre today. In addition to the 808, producers and DJs began to use other pieces of technology like the Roland TB-303 keyboard to create squelchy basslines and all sorts of other weird and wonderful electronic sounds.
Basic Mindset: Rhythm Over Everything
While drum machines are used throughout a variety of EDM genres, the drum machine is especially important in techno, as rhythm trumps all other musical elements in this genre. While techno songs can contain melodic and harmonic elements such as basslines and synth melodies, these elements are used to support the rhythmic elements of the track, rather than the other way around. Techno also differs from many EDM genres in that it is mainly an instrumental genre; while some vocal sampling may be used, it is once again used as a supporting element for the rhythmic structure of a track rather than the focus of the song.
The simplicity of techno makes this an ideal genre for DJs; the basic beat pattern gives you plenty of opportunity to play with polyrhythms, while the lack of harmonic elements makes this genre easy to mix and gives you lots of room to experiment with various types of sonic manipulation. In our next post in this series, we’ll dive deeper into some of these techniques, but for now, if you want to start learning how to DJ techno, it’s a good idea to brush up on some basic DJ skills like cueing and beatmatching. And if you want to brush up on more DJ skills, from basic techniques to advanced DJ tricks, consider joining Spin Academy’s online DJ school for only $19.95 per month.