Dark Electronic Experiments

voxel records theremin music experiment

welcome to our latest update from the world of underground indie electronica. this month we found some experimental producers making music with a dark and moody edge, and the tracks on the playlist are tinged with styles that sculpt acid, techno, electro, dub-step and ambient into their creators’ own niche. have a listen!

First, we found Tabula Rasa which is from last year’s album SEUIL by ArtSaves. This has recently been given the remix treatment with brand new versions of most tunes. The original version of this particular track opens with a slow, haunting techno riff whistling behind bit-crushed percussion, but the rhythms slowly build as bass drum decay extends into an anchoring riff. The pace evolves by its rhythmical complexity, before a giant pad chops the track in two. The string synth signatures of this second movement intertwine into an echoing, ambient soundscape swollen with subtle motifs before fading into the gentle pick of acoustic guitar. This is a sophisticated production which is recommended for fans of Autechre and LFO.

Simplextro by Ring Theory launches us into a swamp of pacey effects from the outset. As the effects subside, the track breaks down into an innocent piano riff before reaching out its spiny tentacles to mash up the track with more effects wizardry. Whilst the production lacks the full bottom end typical of mainstream dub step, the adrenaline builds and nimble drum fills keep it true to the form. The production does well to encapsulate the simplicity of dub step into a more measured, electro context without mounting a full on and uncontrollable assault across the frequency spectrum.

The Time Will Never End by German producer n8front is introduced by a soft, steady heart beat from an electro bass drum accompanied by a sustained vocal pad. A breathy aqualung is sprinkled across the mix, before it breaks into a plodding, yet complex rhythmic shuffle. it is the lumbering variations in the percussion that drive the track, allowing simple sustained pads to breathe their mystery through it. The heavy rhythmical backbone sinks this track into the earth, and the lighter melodic tones to drift around it like mist.

Dark Ecstacy is the only track available from TiNO KREY on the Soundcloud stream. It opens with old-skool acid rave voices prodding a minor 3-note riff that is rendered by a howl reminiscent of the classic Korg M1 synth. The dry 808 drums add unadulterated authenticity, but the rhythms swing in and out of traditional acid and contemporary trap to give the whole arrangement its modern edge. If you’re looking for a bit of that retro rave spice then follow TiNO for any future tracks!

 


Stitching Glitch

staffie graffiti

The influence of glitch production has worked its way throughout the underground music community over the last decade or so, being used for a subtle tonal and rhythmical garnish and full-on abstract music concrete. This month we have selected a few tracks that demonstrate just how well it can be merged with other musical styles.

First on the playlist we have shared IT Breaks ME by Alecek. Bulgarian producer Alexander Ivanov kicks off with a dark and moody hip-hop shuffle, which anchors abrasive rhythms and tones that pepper the track with Gatling fire. A fluid bass persists the groove beneath, making this track a great example of contemporary glitch hop. Alecek has many more abstract and extreme examples of glitch production available on his stream – so we recommend that you don your Kevlar ear protectors and dive right in.

Glitch Hop (work in progress) is a track by the (presumably) Japanese producer Film, a.k.a Wataranai. Uplifting synth-wave riffs conjure Megadrive memories of Sonic the Hedgehog at a Power Puff disco, and the generally sugary complexion of the track is reinforced with skinny drums and playful pianos. There ain’t a lot of glitch or hop in this track, but it places itself beautifully right in the middle of chip-tune and synth-wave. Definitely one for a feel-good road-trip atmosphere.

Finally, we have Funky Feeling by Skank Spinatra. This is creation by UK-based producer Edward Clarke starts off with the as a simple combo of pure funk licks from guitar, drums and bass but then takes us on a journey through hip-hop and jazz before building into a crazy glitch breakdown. The blend of all these styles demonstrates a finesse worked expertly into a warm club vibe, making the track a welcome addition to your summer party playlist.

 


Dubstep: Psycho Acoustics

staffie graffiti

Many styles have evolved since technology has become more and more influential in music production. Our previous electronic music adventure took us on a tour of techno,  a groundbreaking genre that has since spawned many other sub-categories and heavily influenced club nights around the world.

For this article, we have investigated the roots of dub-step and the essence of its production. We wanted to get to grips with this relatively new genre, where it developed and how it combines with other music that circulates on modern turntables.

Dub-step is rooted in urban South London, rising in the early 2000s from this bustling hub of ingenuity like many other innovations before it such as grime, garage and break-beat. As with the development of techno, the style is very DJ-oriented, and combined influences from UK garage with deeper origins in dub reggae. The infectious and versatile two-step rhythms, heavy bass and masterful combinations of effects have become hallmarks of the modern dub-step record.

Producers and DJs of the style are devoted to urban themes, and are named with dark or monstrous tags, like graffiti, that convey the depth and power of the music. As we’ve discovered, the extension of the style to its graphic art draws interesting (but presumably accidental) parallels with heavy metal, and this feedback loop has recently produced even more interesting results.

Urban Roots

The general consensus is that the early artists were born out of Big Apple Records, a record store in Croydon (South London). The likes of Digital Mystikz, Skream, Benga, Loefah are just some of the key names that appear early in the music’s history.

Techno sounds merged with sparse, shuffling breaks, stuttering effects and deep bass synthesisers. A lot of the components from these early tracks are pure techno, but laced with thin traps that avoid interference with the detail of the deep bass riffs. It is the unpredictable nature of the ominous bass lines and climactic rhythms that forces the listener to move with their gut feeling and not rely on the predictable rhythms in other styles; and this is probably why the grooves are so infectious. The classic 2-step beat is less apparent in many earlier tracks, but the dub-step still rips up rule books written for techno or house, and drills down into the core factors that get crowds moving. The influence of dub reggae is definitely prominent in Digital Mystikz and Loefah as their music develops slowly from spacious and reverberating delays and doom-like deep bass drops, but is underpinned by the urban vibe supplied by the thin electro traps from tech like the old faithful 808 drum machine.

Dubstep Anatomy

Dub-step tracks tend to sit between 130 and 150 bpm in tempo. They often cue up at half this speed due to the tendency to omit the up beats, making the track appear slower. But this technique allows the producer to inject serious pace later in the track when the atmosphere has been built up. Clubbers will find themselves moving slowly before being hit with a wave of energy as the true tempo is revealed.

Tracks are quite brief – between 3 and 5 minutes in duration. This doesn’t allow much time to evolve, so abrupt changes are introduced regularly every 8 or 16 bars. This keeps the music exciting in a short timescale and doesn’t rely on the subliminal influences or lengthy atmospheres of techno or ambient.

The thick, syrupy bass of true dub reggae and jungle is ever-present in the bottom end, and if you can’t hear it on your iPod it will quake your bowels in the club. Whilst the bass and drums were surgically separated within the frequency spectrum for earlier tracks, modern dub-step employs speaker-shredding synthesisers wailing abrasive timbres, and exploits modulating filters, sirens and delays to the extreme.

A trademark of modern dub-step is the bass wobble or wub, where sounds are filtered to a rhythm, pulling and stretching the bass across triplets and quavers as well as the frequency range. On its own, this effect is something that can be easily programmed using modern production tools; but it is also something that can be created on the fly by the DJ if their rig is equipped with serious filter and overdrive effects. Much as kill switches have been used by DJs in the past to mix tunes together, modern DJ controllers allow effects to be scratched in as part of a live performance, much like hip hop.

As we mentioned, early dub-step tracks were careful to separate the drums and bass whilst maintaining a definite groove. Many modern tracks take the gloves off and throw acoustic, electronic and sampled breaks all over the spectrum for maximum effect. Bass and snare drums sound huge and weighty. Producers will more than likely use these to compress competing instruments or even the whole mix using a side-chain, and this makes modern dub-step far more aggressive than the original productions. A familiar bass drum sound can be traced back to the old Alesis SR16 which has plenty of bottom end but also a sticky, high-frequency attack.

Infectious Rhythms

Most dub-step records make use of the classic 2-step drum beat derived from UK garage, and this is often married with breaks, triplets and fills for maximum impact. This beat gives a slow, heavy, head-rocking vibe but can easily be doubled in time to inject energy and urgency. Dub-step producers use the power of this variation to attack the audience with waves of changing beats which only the most uninhibited are able to surf.

Dub-step also shares features with trap, using the thin, electronic trills of hi-hats. In current releases, this technique is often used during drops, but was used more continuously in earlier records. The use of lazy triplet shuffles further gives dub-step a more human and performance element, even though it is almost entirely electronically generated.

Psycho Acoustics

In addition to the rhythmical improvisation that continuously evolves throughout most dub-step records, the wall-of-sound effects are almost the polar opposite to something like techno or ambient. Whereas the melody within a techno track is implied by evolving timbres, dub-step overloads the frequency spectrum and is appealing in the same way electric guitar distortion is in heavy rock. The clipping of the signal induces all manner of frequencies and not just simple tones, and the effects will be perceived both physically and subliminally. The whole package is more likely to burst forth than chill out, so modern dub-step is not for the feint of heart.

Our survey of contemporary dub-step records shows the genre to be truly diverse. Roots dub-step very much carries the attributes of dub reggae with respect to bass and spacey delays plodding predominantly at lower tempos. Enter the new young ruffian of cousin bro-step, and we hear the trademark wow-filter, heavy metal tainted riffs and drum fills accentuating grooves that may otherwise have lain undiscovered.

Modern And Mainstream

The crew that grew from the seeds at Big Apple Records are still touring strong, but other players have entered the game and broadened the horizons. Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites by Skrillex represents an evolution of bro-step and glitch that has dominated the mainstream in recent years. Bands like Pendulum and The Prodigy could also be credited to some extent with getting punk and metal to permeate dub-step, or equally demonstrate its influence in other music. However, the urban core of dub-step is still the best place to score some awesome tunes.

The Nato Feelz track Showtime combines cinematic power with wub-laden filters and club-friendly drops to dramatic effect., and Energy by Front Artillery’s Dayskid hollers synthwave riffs through watery filters but still keeps a ska-tinged offbeat beneath tumultuous glitch finger-work. The reggae influence, more glitch and bold riffs combine in Bad Trip by Skitear (a.k.a. Blayd), and the stern wubbing in Joe Garston‘s Quickscope demonstrates a crossover of dub-step with popular melodic tech house.  

Everything Everywhere

To us, dub-step is a style that is well at home with laid back reggae and stripped back trap. It fits with breakbeat and jungle to bring energy; and can be refined to slot into heavy metal. The compatibility doesn’t end there, though. Our own crate digging has also revealed a harmony with glitch, when rhythmical accents are adorned with blasts of quasi-random effects and octave-leaping lead riffs.  The cheesy digital sounds of synthwave also often turn up in rude, bold melodies that are further beefed up by heavy filters and overdrive. And last but not least, dub-step influences have washed over many film soundtracks to accompany the visual intensity and action sequences.

Dub-step is probably one of the most diverse genres in terms of creative production dynamics in the world today. From the grime of basement clubs to the sheen of the stadium show, there’s something for any lover of the extreme. It’s music that’s less about soul and more about attitude.

Voxel Records producer Maze Car picked up the challenge of creating a demo track that tries to reflect this diversity. You can listen to it below, and read about the trials of its creation on his blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Wild Ambient Spaces

misty mellotron wilderness

Here we are again with a small collection of tracks we found whilst scouring the internet during May. The modern trip hop and ambient production techniques used in these tracks all conjure up a hint of wilderness and remote open spaces, so the combination of urban styles with organic influences makes these producers well worth following if you are hungry for laid back ambient and trip hop.

First on the playlist, we are lowered gently into iamforest‘s Hollie by tape-effected strings and vinyl crackles, before the crystal clear wave of drums, arps and pads spills across the soundscape. Each instrument, including the subdued vocal, takes a turn to dominate as the arrangement ebbs and flows between lolloping trip-hop and a frothing wall of dreamy sound. From the acoustic components this track seeds auras of peaceful wilderness, whilst still capturing the energy and buzz supplied by the subtle electronic tones.

Next up, spotted towhee by Melody Monroe opens with ambient whistles hidden behind a bassy, bold organ riff. Melody’s sultry vocal opens up the track as it breaks away into trance-like filter sweeps, and the energy of the organ rhythm continues to pick up the pace along with the percussion. Mountainous shapes loom throughout this music, which shows off contemporary, creative production skills alongside traditional songwriting talent. Get following for more!

Finally, Living Underwater by Marjen comprises four short discrete pieces in a similar vein, like nuggets of gold gleaming from the bed of mountain stream. The first section straight up infects us with the funk of a double bass and drum loop, peppered with climactic strings and whistles. Simple bass lines and fluttering echoes are present throughout each section as it is driven by delicate, captivating drum patterns. With all the karma of LTJ Bukem lazing in a sunny mountain rock pool, this spacious, ambient groove will have you laid back within seconds.

 


Quirky Grooves

Welcome to our run down of quirky grooves we discovered in the last month.

First on the playlist is Plastic Dreams by Kid Glow. The track opens with the grating dissonant tones of chip-tune synth, setting expectations for 8-bit retro chimes and trills. But instead, the tune rolls in an immense side-chained bass and shuffle, kicking a masterful groove on the off beat to form a weighty hip hop. Subtle space noises circulate as synth melodies become more sophisticated, but this is essentially a track that counters the simplicity of its riffs with the bold roundness of its timbres. Love that groove.

Kick the Wolf by Low Level Enemy is introduced by a child-like finger-prodded riff played on a prominent synth bass. As the rhythm section waddles along, dreamy reverberating synth arpeggios intertwine in the mix beneath. It is these airy melodies at stark odds with the weighty staccato of the drums and bass that form a perfect contradiction and make the track stand out.

Drone by The Shade Structure is introduced and underpinned by a slow, intricate acoustic drum performance; but it is the subtle myriad of individual electronic timbres that swarm underneath the warm and gentle vocal that give depth to this song. The lyrics eventually give way to many tracks of improvisation and electro wonderment to form this individual and experimental composition. Check out more of The Shade Structure’s stream for more bold experiments.

Finally, Burn Down The Disco is a track from the current EP Living Space Head Space by the Space Kiddettes, which is available now on Bandcamp and demonstrates the duo’s super-compressed hi-skool synth pop brand. A gawky synth riff drives a song peppered with simple percussion and a monotone pseudo-rap, and the result is truly appealing – like the sweet yet bitter sensation of lemon drops. Bis Ting Ting.

 


Mellow Sounds For Spring

spring sounds

This month sees us waving goodbye to a season, a financial year and a relationship with our neighbouring continent. It’s been a hard search for new music, but we’ve managed to find some mellow tunes for the spring time to help us chill out in the longer evenings, whilst remembering that it’s still dark in the morning for a while yet … !

First on this month’s play list is Reaction by the Australian synth pop pairing of Amos and Emily. The track opens with a gentle filter which slowly reveals the soft velvet of Emily’s vocal. A complex backing arrangement of fizzing pads, keys, and sticky bass complements the simplicity of the singing, and opportune drops are bridged by subtle well placed motifs. This is a well crafted arrangement which you might find yourself whistling to.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, New Yorker Philosofie entices us with her mellow Flavors. Soulful trills of percussion meander with crisp, subtly filtered vocal droplets, and lounge rhythms prod and sway subtly under a skillful composition of simple arps and keys. The whole package well produced, and brings to mind butterflies and blossom floating out of sonic hibernation, so this is something for the dreamy.

Finally, we found No Desire To Wake Up from Russian producer Vodiche‘s current album The Tunnel. The dark mood of the track is indeed reminiscent  of underground passageways as the simple, clean particles of sound glint and sparkle across the stereo image. Combined with the anchor of no-frills acoustic drum textures, this is definitely one for fans of Orbital or other moody IDM.


Music With Character

voxel records

Welcome to our latest update from down here in the indietronica underground …

The playlist opens this month with Jigsaw Puzzle Glue as they give synthwave the Seattle treatment with 3-2-1, the first track on the current album. A guitar riff intro is echoed by synth bells, before simple yet familiar drum textures introduce synth bass stabs and Leah Rosen’s subdued vocals. The 1980s timbres are sculpted skilfully, and emotion pervades throughout the arrangement. The track peaks with a cascading wall of synth arpeggios and reverberating harmonies, all of which combine into some really personable retro synth pop.

Next, we found Not A Sign by The Tablets, released to us by boutique Brooklyn label Mon Amie Records. Immediately, we are pounced upon by this pacey pop punk with short stabs of hard-panned guitar distortion. A dirty synth wanders deep within the noise, and in all The Tablets’ bold production is both exciting and uncomplicated. This small label also provides a home for other interesting talents – why not try BreastMilk‘s Nite Life for shades of Add N to (X) and a shadow of Sheep On Drugs …?

Good Cool records introduced us to Questions About The Jungle by Seedge. A playful intro of synth noodling drops into a percussion track that shuffles with the riffs along with occasional decoration from the vocals. Whilst markedly less sinister, there is a slight feel of NIN’s Closer within this track, although it is certainly no emulation. The groove is compelling, and the mixture of synth parts is stimulating, so it’s definitely worth checking out the rest of the Seedge stream.

Finally, we have Ironface by Basic Printer on Newlywed Records. The track combines 8-bit and synthwave instrumentation with softer pads and leads, which add a gentler dynamic to complement the beautifully growling bass. Jesse Gillenwalters’  indie pop vocal sits comfortably against the serrated edge of chip-tune buzzes, and the experimental arrangement make this an adventure in synth pop with a subtle hint of the Sergeant Pepper.

 


Fresh New Sounds

voxel records pixel headphones

Welcome to our round up of new tracks discovered in the internet this month. Wrestling with the search engines in the online music community has proved challenging, but we have still managed to pull together a small clutch of tunes by underground producers that stand out from the crowd.

Meanwhile, resident producer Maze Car has been researching another genre of electronic music to accompany our next Electronic Music Adventure, following on from our deconstruction of techno back in December. Which style of music will we choose …? Watch this blog over the next few weeks to find out!

First up on the playlist this month is Chemistry by tv room, which presents us with some really fresh production techniques. Eli Ganem produces 8-bit bedroom hip-hop that carries melodic emotion and quirkiness together in perfect harmony. Game fx pitch and echo around a soft, restrained vocal; and voluminous stabs of well sculpted synths add an extra dynamic. The small collection of short songs on the tv room stream make for similarly intriguing listening, and this original writing is sure to find favour with followers of other experimentalists like Moloko and Broadcast.

Next, we found James Pond by Japanese theremin master Kuritez. This short piece is introduced by synthesised droplets that set the mood of water falling on water. Subtle percussion opens up the production as it continues to swell with analog bass, subtle bells and acoustic piano stabs. The drums mature into weighty band-limited bass and snare as the brighter layers of delayed, staccato synth arps continue to play off each other before the music submerges once more. Innovative sounds.

Finally, Jet Jazimov introduced us to Women Of Mars,  which, somewhat ironically, represents synthwave coming of age. Much music of this genre places its tongue firmly in its cheek and only aims to mimic the sound of the 1980s arcades and garish graphics. This track, however, harnesses romantic timbres and chord sequences above soft jangling guitar to produce a sensitive and genuine song. The wavering guitar progression and complementary synth interplay polish the track off sweetly. True.


Experimental and Left Field Music

voxel records experimental and left field music

We’re here again to share with you some of the best experimental and left-field music we discovered this month. It has been a difficult year with the loss of so many influential musicians, but they leave us a positive and enduring legacy as we move into 2017.

First on the play list this month is Sakana by Japanese outfit Macaroom. This is the first track on the album Home Phone TE, which is available for download on Bandcamp. A chip-tune organ intro soon gives way to light, sugary vocals which soar above cascading waves of acoustic percussion and jazz horn. The rest of the album is well worth exploring, as it applies this mellow and organic texture to a sweet combination of glitch, chip and jazz.

Next up is Polyamorhythm by performers JPTR. This uncomplicated arrangement of vocals and percussion develops a marching band into a vintage disco funk vibe, as the vocals are layered across harmonies, registers and lyrics to create their own poly-amorous finale. This track, like other recent work by JPTR, is soulful, provocative and simple in its construction.

Team Dream by High Five Spaceship is a track that illustrates the creativity and diversity of Christopher Bingham‘s London collective, whilst still being immediately accessible. The long string intro segues into a throbbing bass and stumbling trip-hop percussion, where each sound is meticulously selected and sculpted with an immaculately captured vocal duet. The track is almost obsessively laid-back and is definitely one for followers of Massive Attack.

The last track on our Soundcloud playlist is Troll Stomper by Aytch. This is a track we discovered recently on Orfium, although it is actually from the EP Assuming Ultimate Form dating from way back in 2014. We’re not sure how we survived without Aytch – this glitch hop spits spiky, shuffling beats and raw bass which messes with your brain and body to glorious effect. Twist, turn and twitch through the rhythms and check out some of the more recent stuff on the Aytch stream.

Finally, we found Chewing Gum by 1Voct. This simply, electronic adventure begins with a slow analogue sweep that bristles with a shade of distortion before the hard-knock drums and bass line develop. The purity of the sound is addictive, and the almost melancholy improvisation of modulated leads is crammed full of taste. We were unable to track down anything else by this producer, but you can show your love by downloading this track for free. More please!


Formula Techno

Techno Music Mind

 

Here at Voxel Records, we spend a lot of time listening to new and interesting music, and we fill the pages of our blog with words trying to describe the experience. Transforming music into words is something that one could argue is pointless, because music refreshes the parts of the soul that words cannot reach – or at least it does so in a different way. Does anyone know what dark neurofunk cinematic dnb actually is …?

Words are still useful, though. You can probably scan a blog like this for a flavour of sound, without needing to gorge on the hours of tunes that we did in order to write it.

In the first of a series of adventures, we aim to explore the music behind the label of techno that is applied to music by journalists and record stores. What attributes music to this category, where did the genre originated and what it has become …?

Techno Origins

The general consensus is that techno was born in the clubs of Detroit in the early 1990s, where early synth sounds peddled by the likes of Kraftwerk and Moroder were melded with Afro-American funk and jazz. On the face of it, detecting traces of funk and jazz in today’s techno tracks is pretty hard – so perhaps our investigations will shed a bit more light on that aspect.

The term techno is most likely coined because the music was constructed from regimented and synthetic sounds, generated by nightclub warhorses like the Roland TR-808 drum machine. Even in the 90s though, this technology was retro enough to be picked up cheap at a yard sale – probably because it was totally shit at sounding like an acoustic drum and couldn’t replace a good drummer. But as history has taught us, one man’s shit drum is another’s percussive demigod. Nowadays, these wee beasts change hands for astronomical sums.

Whichever way you look at it, techno was something that people could dance to in a club without the need to bring in a large disco entourage. The tempo and key of two tracks could be synchronized easily, allowing DJs to play a crowd non-stop, and all night long.

New Originals

The early days of techno produced classic tracks that may sound rather puny today, but at the time made bold statements and got people moving to a new arrangement of sounds and rhythms. Richie Hawtin’s Plastikman guise brought us Spastik: This is little more than a weedy drum workout to some ears, but at its conception it was ground-breaking, and from this stem much did grow.

Within the simple burbling staccato of Carl Craig’s Sandstorms, rhythms play with each other and develop organically. This is where a jazz influence can be detected, albeit in a regimented and computerized form. Taking a simple one or two bar lick, repeating it, and developing layers and undertones over a constant groove is a hallmark of techno.

Another key piece of technology in the early days was the sampler. However, these digital recorders could hold little more than a drum loop or a vocal hook, so hardware synthesizers still provided most elements of the music, as can be heard in KGB’s Stark.

A dark minor key was also an ally to many early tracks – Joey Beltram’s Energy Flash shows how sinister monotonic prods control the mood. It is safe to say that melody and chord progressions were not a priority for early techno producers.

A generation of producers like Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson are now considered techno pioneers, all of whom are now international superstar DJs.

Techno Production

Let’s get our hands a bit dirtier now. There are some tell-tale attributes that define a techno track, and these prevent it from slipping into other nearby classifications like house or trance.

In terms of tempo, techno tracks tend to tick between 120 bpm and 140 bpm, although hard techno gets a rave up towards 150 bpm. This kind of speed means that even the slower tracks are sufficient to get the blood pumping.

Tracks are usually longer than 5 minutes and will sometimes run to 10, which lets the clubber soak up the development of a track. A novice listener may easily be fooled into thinking that the tracks eke out the minutes by monotonous repetition, but good techno producers will always keep some aspect of the music changing and developing throughout.

Melody is not a feature of techno music. This may be because it is easier to mix tracks with little variation in pitch and tempo when there is minimal adjustment available on the decks; but it also allows the producers to manipulate the listener through other musical dimensions. Some tracks may have long chord progressions, but these would be verging on the trance – techno tries to stick to extremely simple, monotonic rhythms. Those productions that venture into the melody will either exploit automated arpeggios, or ham-fisted three-note stabs.

Rhythms are usually anchored around the ubiquitous 4-to-the-floor bass drum pattern. This is keeps the pace, and allows other percussive motifs to be developed as the track progresses; usually with hi-hats. It is rare to hear a snare drum in techno. The tones of the bass drum and hats are split evenly across the frequency spectrum, but a snare drum just takes up too much bandwidth. As a result, the snare drum can distract the listener from other more subtle variations within the music.

The weapons of choice for drums are the tinny 808 and 909 drum boxes, but these offer quite a wide variation in sound. A techno bass drum often defines the character of the track, ranging from hollow, open acoustic emulations to tight, clicking pulses.

The final ingredient is timbre, and here it is common to hear synthetic bells, pulses and pads. There is quite a lot of sonic breadth, though, ranging from organic, tribal instruments through to hollering analog Junos and whistling digital Korg M1s. Modern tracks also exploit all manner of effects in the form of filters, delays and distortion to twist and turn the flavour of simple base sounds. The aim is to find textures that can be intertwined, generating subliminal undertones that mysteriously ebb and flow within the mind. The techno producer will identify these hidden pathways, and exploit them as the track develops. This explains why a good production becomes mesmerizing whilst still being minimal.

The technique also influences the arrangement of the track. Long periods will be spent building the mood from layers of synths and percussion, and whilst not much has really changed, the listener has been taken on an epic journey. Lengthy ambient drops reset the mood so it can be taken in other directions. Such intermissions are drawn out and not predictably placed by drum fills, crescendos and risers like they are in dub-step and trance.

Modern Techno

The base form of techno has moved on much in the last twenty-five years. Cutting-edge producers experiment and cross over with other styles. A quick quasi-scientific, pseudo-random cross-section of on-line record boxes provides a good state of the nation report.

The rumbling, rolling drums and bass of Artefakt build up into a simple melody that drifts like a cool breeze on a warm summer night, and this ticks all the techno boxes. Conversely, the sticky, vinylized drums, speech synthesis and clanky acidic bells of Bjarki are abstract and eccentric.

Somewhere in between the subliminal and the computerized fits Dr. Double Face, where 8-bit monotony is also present, but somehow these non-musical tones overlap and collide into some happy accident. Some offerings from Gemini offer funkier shuffles with boxy drums and cheesy riffs, showing that modern techno loves to ride the technical limits of sound processing.

Ever present, though, is the technique of building percussive patterns and minimal melodic content, as is demonstrated by recent Illektrolab releases which border on the abstract with fizz and bubble.

Compulsive Sounds 

From this deconstruction, we have found that a jazz influence still lurks beneath the unadventurous melodies of techno. Instead of virtuoso musicianship, the frequency spectrum itself is where the magic lies. The listener can be wholly enveloped by slowly changing atmospheres over a long period of time, becoming wrapped up in the moment and carried along by friendly forces. The euphoria induced by this combination is somewhat inevitable, because the qualities of techno appeal to ancient, tribal and subliminal receptors deep within our human brains. So, whilst the music may be simple and repetitive in construction, it has the power to affect us much more deeply than we might expect.

The human body responds both physiologically and psychologically to the deeply penetrating frequencies of the bass drum. In the social context of the club, this constant rhythm, the evolving timbres and accompanying light shows explain why many find that the music breaks down boundaries and unifies people.

The genre of pure techno is probably more capable of inducing trance-like symptoms than music that is assigned the modern (commercial) label of “trance”. Where trance tends towards melodic and timbral feelgood factors, techno exploits the rhythmical and the subliminal.

There is a whole bunch of science about all this, but in short, techno affects your brain and body, and this can be as pleasurable as you want it to be. Despite the face-value monotony and slow variation, you may find it helps your mind expand and your body move. Whereas the sub-genre of “hard techno” may be designed for infectious, high energy clubbing, the experimental and pure forms of techno open up many dimensions.

The Red Six Production

To put research into production, we set about playing around in the RedSix studio, enlisting the help of Voxel Records‘ resident producer Maze Car. You can read about how he created the track on his blog – and the result is free to listen and download right here: