I used to struggle to understand why people liked Techno. Everytime I went to visit friends in Berlin, it would get brought up and I’d inevitably have to sit through another person showing me a song that would ‘completely change my mind about Techno’. The high tempo, repetitive four-on-the-floor beats and the minimalism of its production just did not appeal to me. It was not until I experienced an actual night out where I could see and begin to understand the beautifully diverse cultures that all feed into Techno. How it has been shaped by past traumas, slowly I’ve begun to love Techno and, moreso, the culture that surrounds it.
Techno was born in the 1980s in a town called Belleville, located around 30 miles from Detroit. It was made popular by three friends who took inspiration from electronic music pioneers like Kraftwerk, the Yellow Magic Orchestra and ‘the father of disco’ Giorgio Moroder. They went on to form a trio act called The Belleville Three. They popularised Techno in the Detroit party scenes as a reaction to the excesses of disco music. The music also reflected the economic and social state of the city at the time. Detroit struggled a lot after the Reagan Recession and as a result there was significant urban decay and social tension. This, paired with rising unemployment rates, led to an increase in crime rates and racial tensions. The person considered to be one of the ‘creators’ of Techno, Juan Atkins, said that his original reaction to Kraftwerk was admiration for the clean and precise sounds which he found to juxtapose the ‘ugly mess’ of Detroit.
In 1988-89, the Belleville Three licensed their music for release in the UK and Atkins chose the term ‘Techno’ to describe the genre of music. Over the years, it became a niche hit in the UK, Germany, France and Spain being played initially in black and gay clubs aligning with Techno’s vision to be music through which you can discover yourself.
At the same time this occurred, the second-wave of Techno surfaced back in Detroit. A collective called the Underground Resistance formed with a focus on appealing to young underserved African American men. It prioritised attempts to spread the opportunity of developing a new identity in these groups, to break free from the hyper-masculine gang culture that had spread throughout the inner city of Detroit. It would be wrong, however, to say that this was the only purpose of Techno. People really enjoyed the music! Students throwing house-parties or people going out to clubs were seeking a new sound and techno found a place in dance music as an alternative to disco, Chicago house and other electronic genres.
For me the most exciting moments for Techno came right after the Berlin Wall fell, late in 1989. The first major Techno club established was called Tresor. Jeff Mills, one of the founders of the Underground Resistance collective, was in fact one of the early guest artists at the club helping to establish a Techno scene in Berlin. The previous East German government had imposed Soviet restrictions on music leading to the ban of music such as Techno as it was considered subversive in its ability to introduce new ideology. Artists like Paul van Dyk, WestBam, and Marusha gained popularity during this time, and Techno music became a symbol of reunification and freedom for the people of Berlin.
This time also gave rise to a lot of illegal Techno raves around the world, which were sometimes considered a form of political resistance since they let people come together to express their ideas without fear of persecution. Techno music is also frequently associated with the concepts of communal joy and social unity. Many Techno events, such as raves and festivals, are intended to bring people together in a shared musical and dancing experience. For many fans, Techno music symbolises a type of independent and communal expression, allowing them to connect with others while simultaneously expressing their own unique perspective on the world. It has provided people who are outsiders in society a place to feel safe whilst also bringing people who want to break out of a predisposed identity a place to grow and learn more about themselves.
This has been demonstrated in the effects Techno culture has these days. For example, in 2020, during the George Floyd BLM protests, Techno music was played during political demonstrations to uplift supporters. The Love Parade, a Techno music festival that ran annually in Berlin from 1989 to 2003, was initially started to bring about unity but transformed into a platform for political expression, with participants using the festival as a way to protest against issues such as xenophobia, homophobia, and racism. Many Techno clubs in Berlin have been used to promote social justice with Tresor hosting discussions on police brutality and global warming. This has even been replicated in Techno clubs in Manchester which have hosted events to raise awareness about issues such as austerity, homelessness, and inequality. Techno is much more than simply music; it reflects a broad movement centred on the idea of being your own individual. This has evolved into a culture of political action, with ideas such as equality and equity at its core.
Does this mean that you should force yourself to listen to hundreds of hours of Techno until you begin to like it? Probably not. However, I would recommend that if you find yourself in Berlin, Amsterdam, Manchester or London that you give it a chance because joining a culture so vibrant and accepting is a fun and unique experience. Keep an open mind and be willing to explore the variety of sub-genres within Techno, such as acid Techno, industrial Techno, or Detroit Techno. You might be surprised to find that there are elements of Techno that you enjoy. Whether it's the driving rhythms, hypnotic melodies, or the energy of the crowd. Additionally, attending Techno events can be a great way to meet new people and immerse yourself in a diverse and inclusive community.