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Written by: Matt Lillywhite
During the 90s, Detroit techno was considered to be a foundational pillar of music industry culture. With large talents such as Joe Smooth, Frankie Knuckles, and DJ Sneak, it quickly became the birthplace of techno as we know it today. With the rising mainstream EDM movement including artists such as Martin Garrix, Cheat Codes, Dillon Francis, and many more, there is certainly a proposition to be asked: is techno still within the realms of the underground? Due to the ever-increasing presence of social media within our lives, distribution of the techno genre is extremely frequent due to the inclusion of tracks in Spotify playlists, club sets etc. In this article, we’re going to explore techno in the modern day, and if it should still be classified as the underground of the music industry.
As genres get more and more attention, they typically become at risk of “selling out” due to the vast amount of producers wanting to become mainstream and generate revenue from their music. Although it’s almost undeniable that techno is on the rise once more, the typical scenario of producers “hopping on the bandwagon” may not be the case for techno. Due to the long-tail of producers around the world producing different genres of electronic dance music, it is unlikely that the majority will shift genres to techno due to the lack of a commercial appeal. Although the genre is great, many producers may view the situation as unnecessary due to the lack of promotional channels for techno, and the unsuitability for radio airplay.
South and Central American countries have typically had a strong electronic music scene. For example, Brazil and Argentina both have an extremely strong presence of electronic music throughout the territories. But with the globalization of music happening at an unprecedented scale, the genre is reaching multiple continents around the world. Whether it’s Europe, Asia, Africa, or even Oceania, people around the world are certainly beginning to develop an appreciation for the genre. What started out as essentially an extremely intimate genre has now risen above the ground to become one of the most respected genres in the music industry. With Boiler Room, and many more outlets showcasing techno artists in venues around the world, surely it’s respectable to say that social media has allowed techno culture to be spread around the world. But whether the genre becomes mainstream or not is totally dependent on people’s perceptions of the genre. Much of the mainstream consumer base does not have the appreciation of the snare backbeats or the electro and industrial origins that a typical fan of techno would have.
Techno is certainly a genre within the electronic dance music scene that provides a lot of diversity for artists that don’t want to categorize themselves into one particular sound. But in contrast, many mainstream artists are often considered a sell-out when they shift genres to try something new. For example, Martin Garrix received a lot of backlash when he shifted from big-room music into commercial EDM. Techno has always had a foundational acceptance within the electronic music community. A lot of genres are extremely limiting in terms of creativity due to their natural characteristics. For example, dubstep had a few months (or even a couple of years) of hype around the genre. However, it was quickly bypassed due to the fact that many people took a few elements of the genre and created a fully commercial track out of it. However, this is practically impossible with techno due to the extensively creative pallet offered by the genre. With the ability to have different sounds, rhythms, and so much more, one of the reasons that the genre has remained evergreen within the music community is due to its simplistic nature that can be transformed into so many different varieties of music – whilst still maintaining the foundational elements of the well-loved genre.
With techno gaining a lot of respect within the music industry, it is certainly very healthy as a genre in the electronic dance community. With the availability of multiple sub-genres (such as minimal techno, melodic techno, acid techno, and hard techno), the opportunity for music production within this genre is now more prominent than ever. Of course, the large democratization of the music industry has played a massive part in the growth of the genre. Companies such as the likes of FL Studio and Ableton have allowed almost anybody with an interest in music and a computer to take part in creating techno. With a giant influx of producers competing to be in Beatport (and other platforms) charts, it has allowed people from around the world to develop a strong interest in the genre. After all, music consumers are always looking for new and innovative forms of music to listen to at festivals or on their cell phones. As dance music continues to strongly influence the music charts, and pop music on a global scale, artists within the techno scene (and other genres) are constantly innovating their sounds to appeal to their core audience. Whether it be in an intimate club in Chicago or a festival in California, the sounds of techno may not be for every dance music consumer – however, they are certainly appreciated amongst the general audience.
Amongst the foundational cultural shift that the music industry is currently experiencing due to the merging of multiple genres, it is only fair to ask where techno music will be in several years time within the music industry. Will it still dominate the dance floors of dance music-centric cities such as Berlin & Chicago, or will it rise from the underground into the mainstream? Only time will tell. However, it is almost certain that the “traditional electronic music genres” of techno and house music will continue to influence the mainstream music community for multiple years to come. Despite the likes of big-room, dubstep & trap evolving on such a rapid basis, the evolution of techno music has been pretty stagnant over the past 10-20 years. Of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it is a pillar of dance music culture that should remain respected.
Yet again referring back to the original question of whether or not techno should still be called the underground of the music industry, it is purely opinionated based on genre preference and the evolution of dance music. However, it is a fundamental belief that techno shall always remain as one of the biggest cultural pillars within the overall dance music community.