In the decaying post-industrial Midwestern city of Detroit, a young Black man by the name of Juan Atkins manifested an escape hatch into the future with the aid of his Korg MS10 synth. Inspired by the work of futurist Alvin Toffler, whose book Future Shock he studied at school, Atkins, still only in his teens, set about creating music that could transport listeners to an imagined future. Crumbling Motor City became glistening Techno City, as Atkins channeled elements of funk and soul through automated beats into innovative electronic compositions that migrated over the Atlantic to Europe as part of an ongoing cultural exchange. 40 years later, the music he christened “techno” has branched off into numerous styles and sub-genres, but the ethos remains the same: futurism, optimism, escape, catharsis and people dancing in unity to the electronic beats.
The history of Detroit techno is populated by the influence of Black electronic music, but also determined by European electronic pioneers and ignited by the socio-economic and cultural circumstances of Motor City itself. Going all the way back to Berry Gordy’s Motown, there’s a distinct attitude and rhythm that exists only in Detroit. From Martha and the Vandellas’ hit “Dancing in the Street” to “The Tracks Of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson, Gordy’s label was a hit factory, pushing out one big song after another, modeled on the production lines at the car factories that dominated industry in Detroit.
Photo: Juan Atkins
Disco DJs and funk bands preceded the birth of Detroit techno, both integral to the city’s Black club culture in the years before techno arrived. Legendary DJs such as Ken Collier primed the city for its first wave of techno, with the 4×4 heartbeat of disco pumping away on the dance floors of clubs such as Pink Poodle, Millie’s and Flamingo. The disco influence was especially pertinent for techno pioneer Kevin Saunderson, who lived in New York when he was a kid. After moving to Detroit when he was nine, Kevin would still visit New York every summer as his brothers were still living there. During those trips he made it to the Paradise Garage, where Larry Levan kept the dance floor ignited with disco and proto-house cuts all night long. Tracks like First Choice “Love Thang” and Cerrone “Supernature” inspiring young Kevin.
Later, it was the Electrifying Mojo who became Detroit’s foremost influence with his show on WGPR-FM. As Captain of the mothership he would take listeners on a four-hour long odyssey of music and themed segments, presenting his audience with a broad selection; from Prince b-sides and rarities, to Kraftwerk’s “Numbers”, Parliament’s “Flashlight” and much much more. His shows were pivotal to the birth of techno, introducing pioneers like Juan Atkins and Carl Craig to programmed electronic beats, and new wave innovators like Gary Numan and Depeche Mode. Numan’s “Cars” a fitting anthem for the city’s automotive pulse. New wave, industrial and eighties electronic acts were highly influential at the time as well as bands like the B-52s, whose “Mesopotamia” was a favourite of Mojo’s.
Kraftwerk are considered the godfathers of techno, and contemporary electronic music. Interestingly, Detroit groups The Stooges and MC5 were among Kraftwerk’s early influences, as was Motown Records, according to the group’s later member Karl Bartos. Tracks like “Numbers and “Trans-Europe Express” inspired Arthur Baker and Afrika Bambaataa to produce “Planet Rock”, giving birth to electro, a precursor to techno. “Clear” by Cybotron, (AKA Juan Atkins and Rik Davis) is another pivotal track in the electro world, which we’ll come back to later.
A young Juan Atkins managed to convince his grandmother to buy him a Korg MS10, which he used for his earliest experiments. He’d already been playing bass in garage funk bands as a teen, and spotted the synth in a back room at a music shop called Brunel’s during a visit there with his grandmother. After that, he picked up the Pro One by Sequential Circuits, a mini version of their famous Prophet 5 synthesiser.
In 1981, The Electrifying Mojo debuted proto-techno tracks like “Shari Vari” by A Number Of Names and Cybotron’s “Alleys Of Your Mind”. Later, Atkins and Davis’ 1982 jam “‘Cosmic Cars”’ would play out like a follow up to Gary Numan’s 1979 release. Elsewhere, Cybotron’s “Techno City” was the first Motor City track to use the term ‘techno’ and Model 500’s “No UFOs” marks the point where a new sound began to emerge.
In 1983 Roland released the TR-909 drum machine. That, along with their 808, proved to be pivotal in the development of contemporary electronic music. A shift in sound, driven by the Japanese manufacturer’s machines, happened soon afterwards as electro evolved into techno.
By 1985, Juan Atkins was operating on his own under the Model 500 alias. His first cut, “No UFOs”, was a local hit and heralded the genesis of techno. The follow up, “Night Drive (Thru Babylon)” has clear echoes of Kraftwerk’s signature sound: spoken-word narrative, futuristic atmospheres, and soul and funk cocooned inside icy electronics. And while this sound was found on many of Atkins’ early releases, each was also written with his own distinct Detroit spin. Juan, along with high school friends Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May* and Eddie Fowkles, started to create the soundtrack to a better future, an escape from the post-industrial depression their city was experiencing
*Derrick May has since been accused of sexual assault by multiple women.
Eddie was part of Juan’s Deep Space crew and was among the first to release on Atkins’ Metroplex label, which laid down the blueprints for Detroit techno. “Goodbye Kiss”, by Fowlkes, was released in 1986, a year after Metroplex launched. It was the label’s sixth release, and became a city-wide jam. The following year, Derrick May released “Strings Of Life” as Rhythim Is Rhythim, alongside “The Sound” by Reese Santonio (Kevin Saunderson and Santonio Echols), “When We Used To Play” by Blake Baxter, and “Triangle Of Love” by Kreem (Atkins and Saunderson). Also active in this era were Anthony “Shake” Shakir, Alan Oldham, Norm Talley, mobile DJs like Delano Smith, and several other early techno architects, all of whom contributed to shaping Detroit’s emergent sound, which rivaled Chicago’s thriving house scene. Two key venues, Cheeks and, later, The Music Institute, were at the heart of the early Detroit techno scene.
Across the Atlantic, these seminal cuts were flowing into specialist record shops in London, Manchester and numerous other cities across Europe. Electro records were the soundtrack to the new hip hop subculture, which was exported out of New York and onto the streets of Europe’s cities, towns, and villages. And as the decade progressed, tracks like Cybotron’s “Clear” re-emerged as cult classics, bringing the futuristic Detroit sound to Europe’s youth on the dance floors of clubs like Berlin’s Metropol, Le Palace and Les Bains Douche in Paris, London’s Jungle club and the Blitz, and Spain’s La Ruta del Bakalao. Many of these venues were gay or Black clubs, and provided patrons a heady mix of disco, funk, HI-NRG, EBM, new beat, new wave, industrial and early house and techno records.
By 1988, the popularity of this emergent genre was reaching new heights on both sides of the Atlantic, as Kevin Saunderson unleashed “Big Fun” and “Good Life” as Inner City with Paris Grey. Both tracks were globally successful, turning Saunderson into an overnight pop star just as acid house was exploding in popularity in the UK and across Europe. Suddenly songs like “Strings Of Life” became part of the summer soundtrack, and could be heard at many of the summer’s biggest outdoor raves: Sunrise, Energy, and Biology held crowds of 25,000 or more, as young ravers traveled from around the UK to fields on the outskirts of London to party night and day.
Meanwhile in Manchester, a club once known locally as stronghold for jazz funk began putting on acid house nights, as The Haçienda set the stage for the Madchester era that would follow for many years and give birth to acts like A Guy Called Gerald and 808 State. Gerald’s classic “Voodoo Ray” was an instant acid house anthem, while his 1989 track “Emotions Electric” epitomised the hedonism and hazy outdoor euphoria of the various raves that took place all over the UK. Similarly, 808 State’s “Pacific State” captured the emotion of the era.
Though one of the era’s biggest turning points came in 1988, when UK journalist Neil Rushton compiled Techno! (The New Dance Sound Of Detroit). The compilation was signed by Virgin Records, and helped establish Detroit techno in Britain. Rushton’s compilation, the first official release of its kind, landed in ‘88, but it wasn’t until the following year when its impact was fully felt. Music fans who were already familiar with early Atkins releases were formally introduced to the Detroit sound with a release that brought together a crew of pioneers on one record for the first time. It was part of a burgeoning connection between techno’s birthplace and the continent where it was truly thriving. And soon, UK artists like Kirk DeGiorgio, Mark Archer (Altern8), the late Matt Cogger (who worked for Transmat in the late eighties), Frankie Foncett, Lee “In Sync” Purkiss (who went on to launch Fat Cat Records) and more began visiting Detroit in order to connect with the pioneers. They worked in the studios of Atkins and May, forming bonds that led to the creation of music that was more authentic than many of the early British attempts to emulate Motor City; acts like B12 and The Black Dog initially taken direct influence from The D, whileCogger’s ‘Artemis’ (as Neuropolitique) was recorded at Metroplex Studios, for example. Pirate station Kiss FM hired Colin Dale and Colin Faver to host shows, both using their slots to showcase early techno. Both Dale and Faver were essential to the proliferation of techno in London.
Detroit’s pioneers also visited the UK, playing live shows and DJ sets to varying degrees of success — some parts of the country weren’t quite ready for the music. Darren Mohammed of Adrenalin M.O.D. went on to record “Heychild’s Theme” as Heychild in 1989, an early UK techno classic. The Black Dog (Ken Downie, Ed Handley and Andy Turner) emerged with their first release “Age Of Slack” the same year, followed by “Virtual”.
Back in Detroit, another radio personality was becoming an anonymous phenomenon. The Wizard, a faceless DJ whose dynamic precision, quick mixing and live re-edits won him a loyal fanbase on local radio station WJLB. Real name Jeff Mills, The Wizard was initially a member of the industrial group Final Cut. While things didn’t quite work out, the project ended up connecting him with “Mad” Mike Banks. Together they set up Underground Resistance, inspired by the success of independent Detroit outfits Metroplex, KMS and Transmat.
UR had a clear objective and ethos, conceived to oppose the powerful entities that controlled the music industry. Mills and Banks (later joined by Robert Hood) brought a strong purposeful, empowering edge to the music. Put simply, Underground Resistance was a game changer. The incendiary performances of Jeff Mills, Mike Banks and Robert Hood, along with their militant dress code, ethos and mission statements etched into their records, added a whole new dimension to the music. Initially centred on their own often diverse, uncompromising, sometimes soulful, sound, with cuts like “Transition”, “Planet X”, “Jupiter Jazz” and the confrontational “Fuck The Majors,” which features the words, “Message to all the murderers on the the Detroit Police Force — we’ll see you in hell!”, with a dedication to Malice Green, who was beaten to death by Detroit police officers in 1992. UR also released Blake Baxter’s mesmerising “When a Thought Becomes U”, DJ Rolando’s timeless 1999 track “Knights Of The Jaguar,” and some of Drexciya’s early material, from “Aqua Worm Hole” and “Wavejumper” to “You Don’t Know”.
Drexciya defined their own sound, taking the majority of their influence from electro and developing the genre into what became a unique representation of their ethos and the world they had created. Though they would never have pigeonholed themselves as such, or even claimed to be part of Detroit’s techno scene per se, Drexciya played an important role in the growth of the music, their mystique and insular approach creating a unique, aquatic strand of techno DNA.
Parallel to UR’s arrival, Jeff Mills was also producing his own solo material, which elevated him to almost God-like status for fans across Europe. His seminal anthem “The Bells” was one of many underground club hits he produced during a prolific period in the early nineties, and in 1991 he founded his own label Axis, and he also launched a sub-label named Purpose Maker, with productions mostly under his name but also using the alias Millsart. Cuts such as “Black Is The Number”, “The Dancer”, “In The Bush”, “Step To Enchantment (Stringent)” and many many more proving Mills to be a visionary without equal in the techno world.
In Belgium — a country with a history rich in music and dancing — a slowed down sound called new beat was exploding parallel to the development of techno. Discovered as a “happy accident” when “Flesh” by A Split Second was played at the wrong speed by DJ Dikke Ronny, new beat became the sound of a generation. Though it was short-lived, fizzling out in just a few years as imitators watered down the original sound, new beat opened the country up to electronic sounds, spawning Electronic Body Music (EBM) and ushering in a wave of techno innovation, led by acts like Joey Beltram.
By the time Beltram released his seminal techno track “Energy Flash” on RS Records, the label was already seven years old. Launched in 1983 by Renaat Vandepapeliere* and Sabine Maes, the label (christened with the couple’s initials) embraced the new beat/EBM boom, and was perfectly positioned for the wave of gechno that would follow. There were all-time classics such as “Plastic Dreams” by Jaydee, “Mentasm” and the aforementioned “Energy Flash” by Joey Beltram, a glut of early Aphex Twin releases (Selected Ambient Works 88 – 92 among them) and C.J. Bolland’s incendiary “Horsepower.” So influential was the label in the UK that they set up a London office, with the aid of drum bass DJ Bryan Gee. In fact, DB pioneers Fabio Grooverider cite RS as one of the key influences in the conception of jungle at legendary club night Rage.
Elsewhere in Belgium, Frank De Wulf rose to prominence as one of the country’s most prolific and revered electronic music artists. He broke through with his classic track “Acid Rock” before cementing his place in the history books with the ‘B-Sides series on Music Man Records (another seminal Belgian label) with cuts like “Magic Orchestra”, “The Tape” “Traffic” and “Moral Soundabuse”. Music Man launched in 1989 and hit the rave wave with a series of releases that were immediately on the money — “Just A Techno Groove” by Sounds In Order (De Wulf and Gaetan Bouvie) and the acid/new beat hybrid “Danger Zone” by Fatal Attraction, for instance. Other Belgian tracks that epitomize the era include T99’s “Anasthasia” and the high-octane acid delirium that is “Gravity” by Trax-x.
In Holland, techno pioneers include Orlando Voorn, a former DMC champion who became one of the earliest Dutch artists to forge a direct link to Detroit; and Gerd and Speedy J, two Rotterdam-based producers who would heavily influence the country’s techno scene. Of course, no mention of Holland is complete without Miss Djax (Saskia Slegers), who launched her label Djax-Up-Beats in 1989. The DIY hardcore techno platform fully embraced the underground attitude of rave culture, and Slegers often released music without mastering the recordings. Among its early successes were Terrace with “916 Buena Avenue”, Edge Of Motion’s “Set Up 707”, “Give Your Body” by Random XS and Miss Djax’s own “Hardliner”. Djax also formed a strong alliance with techno artists from Chicago and the labels Relief and Dance Mania.
*Renaat Vandepapeliere is currently being sued by a former employee for unlawful dismissal and racial discrimination.
Photo: Orlando Voorn
Photo: Sven Väth
Photo: Jeff Mills
If techno was still a new, far-out concept in the UK and Holland toward the late ‘80s, in Kraftwerk’s home country of Germany, it had been brewing for a few years. As early as 1984, DJ Talla 2XLC launched the legendary Technoclub night in Frankfurt. This predates the techno scene that appeared in Berlin by at least five years. And in 1985, Talla 2XLC recorded the hugely influential electronic cuts “Techno Talk” under the Moskwa TV moniker with Alexander Henninger, Ralf Henrich and Kurt Ader.
Berlin’s pioneers include DJ Chris, who was resident at Metropol, one of the city’s forward-thinking gay spots. He liked to focus on the beats and basslines, keeping it minimal and hypnotic, rather than full-on vocal. Sylvester’s “Dance Disco Heat” by Sylvester, along with “The Break” by Kat Mandu and “Hot Shot” by Karen Young were among the favourites during the late seventies disco era, before the transition into HI-NRG with acts like Lime and Bobby O on regular rotation during the early eighties.
Movements like Neue Deutsche Welle, which DAF were part of, krautrock and various experimentations with electronic synthesisers — Fad Gadget, Nitzer Ebb, The Normal etc — along with disco and funk, set the scene for what occurred in the late eighties when acid house exploded out of the UK and spread across Europe.
Over to the west in Frankfurt, Sven Väth was making a name for himself. He went to Ibiza in 1980, decided he wanted to become a DJ and began playing records at his parents’ pub. Two years after the Ibiza trip, Sven landed a residency at Dorian Gray, where he met Michael Münzing and Luca Anziloti. The three men teamed up as OFF (Organisation for Fun) in 1985. In that time they achieved huge commercial success, with “Electrica Salsa”, a 1986 single which sold over a million copies. And then, in 1989, the Berlin Wall came crashing down. The impact was instant. East Berliners, who’d been living under a Soviet regime, finally had a taste of freedom and the future.
Despite the early success of Dimitri Hegemann’s UFO Club, by mid-1988, its numbers were dwindling. After the wall came down, however, it was suddenly packed, as a generation hungry for fun and adventure headed out to explore Berlin’s nightlife. Seeing opportunity, in 1991 Hegemann opened a new club in the vaults of a former department store. Called Tresor, early guests included many of Detroit’s pioneers, who played their first Berlin shows at the club. The venue itself was pitch black, small, dripping with sweat and intensely loud, standing in stark contrast to the city’s newly minted open-air street party, Love Parade, which began in 1989 a few months before the wall came down. The Love Parade ran for many years, becoming one of Europe’s biggest street parties, while the success of Tresor urged Hegeman to launch a record label by the same name.
Tresor Records’ debut release was 1991’s “Sonic Destroyer” by Jeff Mills, Mike Banks and Robert Hood, who were producing under their alias X-101. Blake Baxter was also among the first wave of artists to release on Tresor, as were Eddie Fowlkes and Juan Atkins. The harder-edged sound coming from Mills and Underground Resistance soundtracked the hedonistic catharsis of the citizens of reunified Berlin. Techno had arrived, as ex-industrial spaces and squats housed ad-hoc raves side by side with early clubs like Planet and E-Werk.
DJ Kid Paul (Paul Schmitz-Moormann) was one of the most prominent names at the time, and went on to write the techno-trance classic “Café Del Mar” as Energy 52 with fellow techno prodigy Cosmic Baby (Harald Blüchel) in 1991. Another key selector in Berlin was Tanith, who was resident at UFO and Tresor. He launched a label called Bash in 1991. Not forgetting pioneers like UFO resident DJ Rok, and Westbam, who took over from DJ Chris at Metropol and is the only DJ to have played every single Love Parade.
Ellen Allien, who’d been introduced to electronic music and rave culture while living in London in 1989, returned to Berlin and immediately immersed herself in the city’s club scene. She became a resident at Tresor, The Bunker and E-Werk, launching the Braincandy show on Kiss FM along with a record label of the same name. In 1995 she released her first EP on Championsound, which included “Waiting For The Dr.” and “Get The Groove Goin”. Braincandy shut down in 1997, but she set up another label two years later. BPitch Control, named after her Pitch Control parties, became her new platform, featuring producers like Rob Acid, TokTok, Trike and Paul Kalkbrenner among its earliest contributors.
Photo: Ellen Allien
Photo: Underground Resistance @ Tresor, 1991 (Courtesy of Exhibit 3000)
Mark Ernestus, founder of record shop Hard Wax, was also instrumental in bringing the Detroit sound to the German capital. The shop was and still is one of the most respected outlets for techno in Europe, if not the world. As Basic Channel, Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald pioneered the dub techno sound. Cuts like “Phylyps Trak” and “Quadrant Dub II”, along with their exploits as Maurizio, including “M04A”, “M06A,” and “Domina,” rank amongst some of the most influential and enduring techno to come from Germany.
The duo also launched offshoot labels, including Chain Reaction and Main Street, which released seminal records from artists like Vladislav Delay (“Huone”), Porter Ricks (‘Port Gentil”), and Monolake (“Cyan”) — the latter a project of Robert Henke, who went on to create Ableton.
By 1990, European techno had started to formalise and step into adolescence, while in America, a second wave of Detroit producers was hitting their stride. These included names like Kenny Larkin, Stacey Pullen, the late Mike Huckaby, Moodymann, Marcellus Pittman, Omar S, Brett Dancer, Scott Grooves, K-Hand, Claude Young, Daniel Bell and Carl Craig.
Before branching out on his own, Craig played drum machine and synthesisers in Derrick May’s live band. But his idiosyncratic approach to techno immediately set him apart, and he quickly became a respected member of the global techno fraternity, signing early tracks like “Crack Down” and “Elements” to May’s Transmat label. Later, Craig became synonymous with the jazzy, cerebral side of techno with cuts like “At Les”, “Sandstorms” and drum bass instigator “Bug In The Bass Bin” under the Innerzone Orchestra alias. He also set up Planet E Communications, a label that he used to express himself freely while supporting friends and newcomers to the electronic music world.
Across the water in Windsor, Canada, Richie Hawtin was beginning to find his feet as a DJ and producer. Among his early releases was the showstopping 1991 collaboration with Joey Beltram and Mundo Musique as Final Exposure entitled “Vortex.” With fellow Canadian John Acquaviva he launched Plus 8 Records and began to carve out his own niche, splicing acid, harder edged techno and minimalist experimentations with his propensity for technical wizardry.
Originally using the pseudonyms States of Mind (with Aquaviva) and F.U.S.E., Hawtin really hit his stride with the Plastikman alias, which he conceived in 1993. His first release, “Spastik,” was an instant smash, becoming and remaining a ubiquitous peak-time club weapon. Other cuts that cemented Hawtin’s place among the greats include “Call It What You Want!,” “Minus / Orange 2,” ‘Technarchy,” “Bang the Box” (as Jack Master) and “F.U.” as F.U.S.E..
In 1998 he launched the M_nus label, which marked another step forward as an artist and label owner; curating a core family of artists around the label and expanding his exploration of the minimal sound. 2001’s DE9 | Closer To The Edit was a thrilling showcase of Hawtin’s technical skills, blending various components of existing tracks into entirely new ones, in a “first-of-its-kind” commercial DJ mix. Hawtin’s innovative outlook also extends into his performances, which have incorporated a wide range of technological developments over the past 20 years, his almost obsessive fascination with technology resulting in a setup that is light years of most other electronic music artists.
All of the aforementioned artists plus Jeff Mills, Carl Craig, Hawtin and Mathew Jonson and many others became part of the transatlantic exchange between the US, Canada and Europe, as their music flowed across the Atlantic Ocean to European shores and beyond. Eventually, they all spent time living in Europe too, where techno flourished much more than it did on home soil.
Techno had strongholds in other parts of North America, with brothers Frankie Bones and Adam X near-singlehandedly launching the early ‘90s New York City rave scene, while Josh Wink in Philadelphia helped triangulate the nascent yet growing East Coast rave community. With trax-influenced tunes like 1992’s “Percolator,” Chicago’s Cajmere (and his Green Velvet alias) was central to the story; plus the Relief and Dance Mania crew, who formed strong bonds with Miss Djax in Holland. And DJ Rush emigrated from his native Chicago to Berlin, where he established himself a potent force, pumping parties full of energy with his entertaining persona and high-octane selections.
It was around the beginning of the nineties when the music began to split into various styles. Holland witnessed the extremes of gabber; London had jungle; France found French Touch, and people formed distinct tribes around trance, house, techno, hardcore and more.
Holland’s Speedy J signed his first release to Richie Hawtin’s seminal Plus 8, while Orlando Voorn landed on Lower East Side Recordings with ‘Hey, Hey, Hey’ under his Frequency Moniker. 1991 saw the arrival of Hithouse Records, launched by the late Peter Slaghuis. The label was one of a few early Dutch labels that released homegrown house and techno. Bunker Records also launched in the early nineties, introducing the pioneering outfit Unit Moebius (Menno van Os, Guy Tavares, and Jan Duivenvoorden). Groundbreaking Dutch label Eevo Lute Muzique, founded by Wladimir M. and Stefan Robbers (AKA Florence/Terrace) arrived in 1991 and Clone Records was launched by Serge in 1992. Three years later Serge opened his first record store, and Clone entered the annals of Dutch electronic music history, becoming one of the country’s best-known and most influential brands. The ‘90s also gave birth to Rush Hour, which was opened in 1997 and has been at the heart of Amsterdam’s electronic music scene ever since.
Artists including 2000 and One, Major Malfunctions, Steve Rachmad and Terrace appeared on the scene, pushing the music forward, while clubs such as Nighttown, Parkzicht, Mazzo and Roxy offered Dutch customers a glimpse into the future via the new techno sound.
In 1990, Sven Väth’s pop group OFF split up. But Sven was running the Omen club, a techno boiler room in Frankfurt. He also launched labels Eye Q in 1990 and Harthouse in 1992, both of which were prolific throughout the decade. But it’s his decision to launch Cocoon in 1996 that would mark Sven’s longest lasting (and arguably largest) achievements in techno. Starting as a club night in Frankfurt, Cocoon first Ibiza party took place in 1999 at Amnesia, and remains one of the island’s longest running techno nights, spawning a booking agency and record label. The Cocoon Recroding’s earliest releases include outings from Frank Lorber with “Jailhouse Rocker”, Glove with “Drogenkontrolle”, Legowelt “Disco Rout” and Sven’s own classic “Face It”.
Other artists that came out of Frankfurt’s fertile scene include Alter Ego/Roman Flügel and the Klang label; Ricardo Villalobos; and Chris Liebing, who co-established a harder style of techno known as Schranz. In Cologne, Kompakt was launched by Mike Ink/Wolfgang Voigt, Reinhard Voigt, Jörg Burger and Jürgen Paape, who were later joined by Michael Mayer. The label grew out of a record store called Delirium and arrived on the German scene in 1998.
In 1996 Munich’s DJ Hell launched International Deejay Gigolo Records, a label that rose became central to the electroclash movement of the early 2000s, but initially signed US acts l Jeff Mills and Anthony “Shake” Shakir; UK legends like DJ Naughty, Dave Clarke and DMX Crew; and Terrence Fixmer, Miss Kittin and The Hacker from France. Their fellow Frenchman, Vitalic, also released his seminal Poney EP with Hell’s label, which is said to be Germany’s most successful electronic music imprints.
Photo: Mike Huckaby
Photo: Roman Flügel
In the UK in 1990, B12 Recordings was founded by Mike Golding and Steve Rutter, launching with “Musicology” by Musicology (Golding and Rutter). The EP included “Telefone 529,” which was later licensed to Warp. This was a precursor to what was later dubbed IDM or Intelligent Dance Music. The following year Steve Bicknell started up Lost with Sheree Rashit. Witnessing the explosion of rave culture and its subsequent division, Steve gravitated towards the deeper, darker sound of techno. Widely regarded as one of London’s premier techno parties, Lost set the bar high, bringing over people like Richie Hawtin for his earliest appearance in the capital.
Several other techno parties popped up, including The Brain, Final Frontier at Wandsworth superclub Club UK, The Drum Club, Strutt and Best of British which became Open All Hours at Ministry of Sound, plus Vapourspace at the Fridge in Brixton. But Lost held the most allure, thanks to its mouthwatering lineups and focus on the immersive power of the dance floor, presenting techno music in spaces that complemented and often amplified its ominous power. They cultivated a close bond with Jeff Mills, whose track “The Bells” was a Lost anthem.
Fat Cat Records became one of the key techno hubs in London around this time, after relocating to Covent Garden from Crawley, West Sussex. Outside London, the Sheffield scene was making an impact. In the pre-Warp era, a number of pioneering acts formed in the northern city and eventually became the first wave to be signed to the electronic powerhouse. “LFO (The Leeds Warehouse Mix)” by LFO one of their earliest and most revered releases. The West Country had its own scene, with Aphex Twin emerging as one of the most innovative sound technicians. His track “Didgeridoo” one of many early examples of his near-limitless talent. In Birmingham, two of the most influential artists of the nineties arrived on the scene with Surgeon and Regis. The latter also launched a label, Downwards, and duo eventually teamed up as British Murder Boys. Together they were pivotal in creating a dark, industrial, typically grey British sound that continues to inspire techno artists around the world today.
In 1991, Glaswegian duo Slam launched Soma Quality Recordings, a label that has become synonymous with the Scottish techno scene and has supported and nurtured lesser-known acts and superstars alike (including Daft Punk) over the years. Their track “Positive Education” was an early triumph for the duo. And in the Northern Ireland capital of Belfast, Shine opened in 1995, welcoming a long list of techno stars over its 25-plus year history, with local techno heroes like Phil Kieran keeping the city pumped. While Sunil Sharpe was one of the most influential figures in Dublin, techno fans could get their fix in most of the UK’s big cities and towns, with spots like The Orbit in Leeds, Escape in Brighton, Voodoo in Liverpool and Atomic Jam at the Q Club in Birmingham all catering to the ever-growing community.
Photo: Speedy J
Throughout the nineties, techno continued to maintain a prominent position within the UK electronic landscape, with James Ruskin, Mark Broom, Dave Clarke, Ben Sims, Neil Landstrumm, Steve “Stasis” Pickton, The Advent, Ian O’Brien, and Christian Vogel among the artists keeping the genre alive. Not forgetting Grain, AKA Santos Rodriguez AKA Artwork, who went on to be pivotal in the birth of dubstep. His classic records on Fat Cat are highly regarded for their functional yet characterful construction. Labels including Mr.C’s Plink Plonk, Peacefrog, Ifach, Mosquito, and Rephlex were pushing the music in new directions and looking to the future for inspiration while keeping true to techno’s core ethos.
Throughout the era, Jim Masters was an instrumental figure in the techno scene, launching Open All Hours at Ministry of Sound and his own event It Is Where It Is later on. His label Open signed acts like Carl Craig and Green Velvet, while a who’s-who of technoland appeared at his events over the years, some of whom performed their first-ever shows in the UK. He also ran a night called BASE for seven years with Carl Cox, who of course became a global ambassador for techno, his musical knowledge, gregarious persona, and exceptional technical abilities making him one of the most beloved DJs on the planet.
France caught the wave a little later with Guillaume La Tortue forming the core of the burgeoning underground scene in Paris. Along with Laurent Garnier and David Guetta, he was one of the main faces at Jean-Claude Lagrèze’s French Touch parties at The Palace. La Tortue went into production, landing on labels such as Music Man (“Salinas”), Chronobrain, and Chris Carrier’s Adult Only.
Eventually, a hardcore techno scene formed in France, with Manu Le Malin leading the charge. In the mid-nineties he appeared on Lenny Dee’s Industrial Strength label and began his production career. Manu straddled the worlds of techno and hardcore for a while, using the alias The Driver for his techno work. On that first release he worked with Thomas Bangalter, who went on to become one of the most famous and influential French electronic music artists in history as one half of Daft Punk. Manu set up in Montpellier and the city became one of the key outposts for techno in France. The aptly-named Jack de Marseille was at the forefront of his city’s small but dedicated scene, both hosting a night called Atomix at La Luna and opening a record store called Wax Records. Among the many weapons in his artillery were cuts like D-Shake’s “Techno Trance,” “Chime” by Orbital and Master Techno with “My Noise.”
Photo: Carl Cox
Also in the south, La Tribu des Pingouins (Penguin Tribe) came to the fore as an influential collective that covered all the bases — they organised raves and set up a record label and record store called Pingouins. Their party Boréalis, launched in August 1993, brought in thousands of people at every event. One of the group’s members, Josselin Hirsch, founded Technopol, an activist/lobbying group that works to support and defend rave culture, and which organised France’s first techno parade, inspired by the Love Parade in Berlin. By 1996 the crowds at Boréalis had grown from 2,000 to 25,000, and they were hosting summer parties under the name Polaris. Though Boréalis came to an end in 1999, Technopol is still going strong today.
Italy developed its own fervent techno community around this time, with hotspots in Rome and Naples with Old River Club. Famed Riccione club Cocoricò also opened in 1989, becoming one of Italy’s most famous institutions, while selectors like Mauro Picotto and Lory D put in the groundwork for a national scene that remains just as strong and fevered today. They were followed by Marco Carola, Luigi Madonna, and a whole wave of Italian techno superstars.
In Sweden, early key players included Jesper Dahlbäck, Robert Leiner, Alexi Delano, Par Grindvik, Joel Mull and Cari Lekebusch, who often met at the Swaj Cafe in the centre of Stockholm. While the enthusiasm was there with fans and ravers almost instantly, clubs faced a constant battle against the police and media, with raves labeled “drug parties” and a police department determined to shut down raves. The backlash even had a name: Ungdomssektionen (the Youth Section). But the Deep in Bleep club night at Tritnaha challenged the status quo, staying open all night long for eager ravers. The owners of Tritnaha eventually went on to open Docklands in 1995, one of the biggest and most influential Swedish venues of the nineties. Docklands fell foul of the Ungdomssektionen’s unwanted attention within five months of opening, and from the mid-nineties to the early 2000s this campaign against rave culture never ceased and it was almost impossible to play techno in many clubs.
Of course, no mention of Swedish techno is complete without Adam Beyer, who teamed up with Jasper Dahlbäck and Peter Benisch to launch Globe Studios. During this period, many of the aforementioned artists were collaborating with one another. For instance, Beyer’s first release was a link up with Peter Benisch and Joel Mull (as John Mull). The Swed EP, under their alias Slaughterhouse, was released in 1994 on New York’s Direct Drive label. Beyer’s first solo release was entitled “Drum Codes” on Glenn Wilson’s Planet Rhythm Records — the label wing of Stockholm’s influential record store. (A shop called Mega Store was also a key spot for record collectors at this time).
By 1996, Beyer had launched his own label based on the simple premise of releasing DJ tools created strictly for the dance floor. The first EP did exactly that, with Beyer and Dahlbäck teaming up as Beyer Lenk to produce four untitled dancefloor-focused techno cuts. Since those early days, Drumcode has become one of the world’s most popular and recognisable techno brands, with a global radio broadcast and legions of diehard fans, who travel to Drumcode events all over the world. Beyer himself has achieved superstar status, but has always been eager to share the love, with a career-making roster that’s signed some of today’s best-known techno purveyors, including Alan Fitzpatrick, Reset Robot, Ida Engberg, ANNA, Sam Paganini, Victor Calderone, Enrico Sangiuliano and many more.
Photo: Carl Craig
Photo: Terrence Parker
But Sweden’s impact on techno hasn’t all been the DJ tool variety: Sweden’s Eric Prydz also hit the world stage, using the alias Cirez D for his techno experiments. Prydz achieved major commercial success, but maintains an underground presence through his pseudonym and is one of Sweden’s most famous electronic music stars.
In Spain, the early nineties belonged to Oscar Mulero, who earned his stripes at the New World Club before going to open his own club The Omen (not to be confused with Väth’s club) with some friends. He eventually caught the attention of international observers when he was booked to play at the third Sonar Festival, after it launched in 1994. His label Polegroup is one of the foremost Spanish techno labels and Oscar became a global icon in the years that followed that first Sonar performance. Other key Spanish DJs during this time were Reeko, Exium (Valentín Corujo and Héctor Sandoval) and Christian Wünsch, all of whom turned to production towards the end of the decade. Wünsch started his own label Tsunami, while Reeko also launched his own label, Mental Disorder, which he uses as a platform for his prolific output under different personalities.
The offspring of the late-eighties, Ruta Del Bakalao scene includes Paco Osuna, who came up through the ranks to ascend to the very highest levels of success. The Ruta Del Bakalao was a strip of highway in Valencia, where a number of clubs supported early electronic music, from EBM to proto house, new wave and more. Osuna started out in 1994, growing up on a diet of tapes from Raul Orellana, the resident at Studio 54 in Barcelona, where his uncle was a director. He landed a residency at Heaven in Valencia and within five years made his debut in Ibiza.
Osuna connected with Väth on the island, which was the catalyst behind the growth of his international profile, since the German kingpin signed him as the first Spaniard to join the Cocoon agency. By the mid-2000s he’d launched his own label, Mindshake, with the debut EP coming from Osuna himself. He also regularly released on Richie Hawtin’s Plus8, most notably with his massive remix of Plastikman’s “Goo.”
Towards the end of the nineties, London continued to innovate, forming its own incarnation of tech house, a sub-genre that Blake Baxter laid claim to years before. Artists including Mr. C, Eddie Richards, Nathan Coles, Layo Bushwhacka! and Terry Francis cultivating the sound through events like Wiggle. Fabric appeared on the scene in 1999, creating a permanent home for techno in the capital. Likewise, Turnmills (with nights like Eurobeat 2000) and The End were hubs of techno activity around this period.
Photo Credit: Sebastian Matthes
As the millennium approached, dance music peaked before falling in global popularity. This was as true for techno as it was for house, and while pop-centric electroclash took hold in America, some European DJs turned to minimal, which was dominated by imprints like Perlon and Richie Hawtin’s M_nus, and epitomised by tracks like Gabriel Ananda’s “Doppelwhipper’’ and Ricardo Villalobos’s “Dexter” and “Easy Lee.”
However, not every producer fell in with the Berlin-centric minimal crowd. Thanks to his formal training and the depth of his musicality, Canadian Mathew Jonson made a huge impact in the 2000s, standing out with his richly textured productions that were deeply emotional. His first release, 2001’s “New Identity” on Itiswhatitis Recordings, introduced the world to his subtle yet persuasive style; it’s a prime example of Jonson’s hypnotic, almost poetic sound. By 2003, two years after his first release, he’d produced “Typerope” and the growling classic “Decompression” (via Richie Hawtin’s M_nus), while 2005 saw the arrival of his masterpiece “Marionette,” a spellbinding composition that’s hailed as one of the greats.
Photo: Richie Hawtin Ricardo Villalobos
After achieving commercial success as Deep Dish (with Sharam Jay) Washington D.C.’s Dubfire needed a change in direction. Spending time in Ibiza, and especially DC-10, pushed him to start a new solo project, inspired by the minimal sound. His 2007 debut, “RibCage,” on Loco Dice and Martin Buttrich’s label Desolat, was a minimal masterstroke and demonstrated Dubfire’s production prowess from the off. Since then he launched the famed SCI+TEC label, while working tirelessly to build a technologically advanced live performance set up. Further down the line, Truncate, DVS1, Function and the Sandwell District crew held it down for the US, alongside the Detroit pioneers and the generations that followed.
Detroit’s Electronic Music Festival, an early incarnation of Movement Detroit, was founded in 2000. It was one of the first electronic music festivals in North America. Richie Hawtin was holding legendary parties at City Club, and the aptly-named Motor Club was also a seminal spot in the city. Meanwhile, a new generation sprung up out of Detroit: Matthew Dear, Seth Troxler, Magda, Shaun Reeves, Ryan Crosson, Ryan Elliott, Lee Curtiss, Kyle Hall and a whole new generation of artists who continued Motor City’s legacy and deep connection with Europe. Many of them migrated to Berlin, where their influence was felt across the city, which had become an epicentre for techno music.
Germany’s domestic techno scene also evolved, maturing into various strands with acts like Booka Shade, DJ Koze, Solomun, Norman Nodge, Len Faki, Steffi, Monika Kruse, Ben Klock, Marcel Dettmann, Âme and many many more, taking the music in various directions. But at the centre of the German techno movement was a gay club called OstGut. Founded in 1998 by Norbert Thormann and Michael Teufele, the club’s early residents included Marcel Dettmann, who would also reside over OstGut’s reincarnation as Berghain, which launched in 2004 (when Ben Klock began his residency). Berghain became synonymous with techno to many fans almost instantly, and some even described the linear, streamlined sound its residents played as “Berghain techno,” which became the dominant sound for much of the 2000s. Berghain’s industrial setting, impeccable soundsystem and sterling booking policy also made it a global tourist destination, while Ostgut Ton, the club’s offshoot label, became highly influential as well, with early cuts like “Dead Man Watches The Clock” by Klock and Dettmann setting a high standard straight away.
Photo: Berghain in Berlin, Germany
But in the UK, fabric was still flying the flag, with Sankeys and, later on, Warehouse Project in Manchester. plus Sub Club and The Arches in Glasgow. A new crop of techno-focused heads began to revive its scene, some of them coming from the dubstep world. This post-dubstep generation helped kickstart an upsurge in the popularity of techno in Britain, with artists like Scuba, Joy Orbison, Blawan and Boddika and labels Nonplus, Swamp81, Hotflush, Hessle Audio and Livity Sound representing this very British style of techno; dark and bass heavy. Blawan’s seminal “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?” a prime example of the sound.
Photo: Dekmantel Festival (2016)
As the 2010s got underway, the club scene was once again thriving. EDM sparked an explosion of raves and festivals across the USA, and its trickle-down effect led to the rebirth of an underground scene in the States. Levon Vincent, Kyle Hall, Function and plenty of others proved the US was still a prime source of techno, with Levon especially pushing out one impeccable cut after another, like the impossible to forget earworm of all earworms, “Man Or Mistress”. The decade marked a major shift in the consumption of electronic music, with “techno tourism” becoming a key driver in the growth and spread of techno. While clubs, festivals and artists all began to establish huge followings through social media, heralding the dawn of a new era.
As budget airlines democratised international travel, artists and music lovers traveled the world like never before, giving rise to the popularity of international festivals and clubs. Berlin had become the unquestioned techno mecca by 2010, thanks in large part to its permissive clubs and supportive local government. Artists flocked there in their droves, attracted by a cheaper way of life, weekend-long parties and some of the world’s best club spaces: Arena, Club Der Visionaere, Bar 25, Kater Blau, Watergate and Berghain among them. Today it is one of the most prominent and respected techno destinations on the planet, with Berghain becoming a globally recognised centre for electronic music and its residents. New acts like Rødhåd, Vril and the Dystopian crew, Efdemin, Recondite, plus the Zenker Brothers and their label Ilian Tape, rose to prominence alongside predecessors such as Dettmann, Allien and Klock. Not forgetting Radio Slave, whose Rekids label was instrumental in establishing new acts with Radio Slave himself producing a long list of minimal techno classics.
Festivals appeared everywhere, catering for a new market-driven by cheaper air travel. Techno arrived on the big stage in nations from Canada (Mutek) to Albania (Ion). Croatia saw a huge upsurge in festivals, with Dimensions, Sonus and Hideout among its best-known techno events. Elsewhere in Europe, Dekmantel, Awakenings, Time Warp, Kappa Futur Festival and Junction 2 emerged among a sea of techno-focused large-scale events. In the US, South America and Asia it was much the same. A global scene formed as international travel became more and more commonplace, and DJs and ravers alike connected to a worldwide circuit.
Photo: Charlotte De Witte Amelie Lens
In Paris clubs like Concrete, Djoon, Badaboum, La Machine Du Moulin Rouge, La Petit Bain and Zig Zag were among the clubs that catered for techno, along with plenty of warehouse raves across the city and party brands like Possession. An array of artists popped up in France, including Bambounou, Francois X, Scan X, Shlømo, DJ Deep, Traumer, Leo Pol, NDOS, Polar Inertia and Antigone . Buoyed by the success of their club, the team behind Concrete launched their Weather Festival, and another huge techno event, the Peacock Society also became a regular fixture on the annual rave calendar in France’s capital city.
Italy saw a new crop of techno stars rise up, including Joseph Capriati and melodic techno heroes Tale Of Us, as well as DJ Tennis with his Life And Death label, which released several early Tale Of Us EPs. The duo later split with Tennis’ label and set up their own platform called Afterlife, which spawned a hugely popular party series in Ibiza which focused on the dark side of emotive techno and won them a legion of dedicated fans around the globe.
Belgium’s long dance music traditions have given rise to all kinds of famous DJs over the years, including techno producer Peter Van Hoesen and lauded techno clubs Clubs like Fuse Brussels, Café d’Anvers, and Kompass in Gent. However, few have achieved fame like Amelie Lens, Charlotte de Witte, who represent a new generation of techno superstars. The impact of Amelie and Charlotte is hard to understate. As women in traditionally male dominated roles — headlining major techno events and festivals while running their own techno imprints — both have shattered barriers through dominance and prowess on the decks. Since launching in 2018, Amelie’s LENSKE has become a home for incendiary acid and techno cuts such as “The Riddler” by Farrago, “Zenith” by Milo Spykers and “Frozen Throne” by Airod; while Charlotte’s label and club night KNTXT — running since 2019 — has seen huge success with early releases like “Pattern” and a collaboration with CLR bossman Chris Liebing entitled “In Memory.”
In Holland, Joris Voorn, Edwin Oosterwal, Darko Esser, Benny Rodrigues, Legowelt and clubs such as Transport, Studio80, Melkweg, Paradiso, Chicago Social and the legendary Trouw, plus large-scale festivals such as Lowlands and Awakenings were breathing new life into the scene. Labels such as Delsin, Voyage Direct, Slapfunk, and VBX.
Dutch techno culture has remained strong and healthy up until today with Dekmantel Festival, which is widely considered to be one of Europe’s premier electronic music festivals. The Amsterdam Dance Event perhaps the best representation of Holland’s healthy electronic music scene. The annual conference, networking event and multi-venue festival draws in hundreds of thousands of visitors every year demonstrating the country’s position as a global powerhouse, with each new generation producing talent that keeps the heartbeat of techno pumping.
Spain has maintained a constant output of techno talent, Coyu, Uner, Affkt, Edu Imbernon, HD Substance, Hoax Believers, Kwartz and Ramiro Lopez among them. On the club tip Goa Fabrik Madrid, Mondo Disko, Razzmatazz and Nitsa have been at the heart of Spain’s techno scene, alongside festivals such as Monegros, DGTL Barcelona and the Off Week parties, which take place while Sonar is on. American techno powerhouse Maceo Plex, AKA Maetrik, migrated to Spain. From his early Maetrik cuts like “Paradigm House,” to huge early 2010s Maceo Plex tracks such as “Your Style,” “Under The Sheets” and “Conjure Balaeria,” his technical skills and innate funk make him one of the most respected producers in the world.
Not forgetting Ibiza, where techno established an influential stake on the island. Circo Loco, Richie Hawtin’s ENTER, Marco Carola’s Music On and, of course, Sven Väth’s Cocoon night, still representing. Ibiza was always a key destination for dance music fans, but it saw a massive upsurge in seasonal tourism during the 2010s as EasyJet and Ryanair launched cheap flights to the White Island, many of the island’s rave tourists coming from the UK.
In Britain, techno once again becomes the flavour of the day, as acts like Mr. G (who was one half of The Advent), Trevino, Dense Pika and Alan Fitzpatrick, along with newcomers such as Rene Wise, Dax J and Rebekah became household names, while Adam Beyer’s Drumcode began an upward trajectory that would span the decade. Beginning with his 2010 Drumcode Halloween party at Tobacco Dock, Beyer’s reign as techno’s dominant force owes much to his massive success in the UK, where he still regularly throws massive, sell-out shows.
Photo: Joseph Capriati
Photo: Mr. G at Printworks, London
Nina Kraviz came through in 2012 with a series of well-received tracks, “Ghetto Kraviz” one of her most distinct cuts. The Russian selector has maintained her career at the highest level ever since she broke through in 2012. In 2014 she launched her label трип (Trip), conceived as a home for a wide range of techno styles, from experimental through to straight-up industrial bangers. The catalyst behind Nina’s ascendence was her ability to construct potent DJ sets, conjuring up forgotten gems from the past and splicing them with exclusive new material from an assorted cast of techno innovators. Her agility on the decks is complemented by her originality as a producer, as heard on more recent releases like “Desire”, “Pochuvstvui” and “I Want You” — and that her label has become one of the most stylistically daring in techno is a testament to Nina’s musical fearlessness and depth of knowledge.
Another techno powerhouse who emerged in the 2010s is Nicole Moudaber. The Lebanese artist fled her country and became immersed in London’s underground, flourishing initially as a promoter, before turning her hand to DJing and producing. Now one of the foremost artists in the techno world, Nicole’s label, parties and radio shows are part of her MOOD branded empire. Her debut album Believe landed on Adam Beyer’s Drumcode in 2013, with tracks such as “Movin’ On” and “Fly With You” among the LP’s eight solid cuts. Later, she collaborated with Skin from Skunk Anansie to produce “Someone Like You” and “You Like This”, along with “See You Next Tuesday” with C