I think we are approaching a very important time for techno fans state-side, and in the context of this post, more specifically in Chicago. Before I continue, I should make it clear that I am discussing proper techno, and not the dance music catch-all usage the term is often applied as. It wasn’t long ago that catching some of our favorite techno artists in our city was a rare treat. In between those opportunities, we were left to admire the talent-stacked line ups being offered overseas. The more ambitious among us dreamed about those same type of events landing stateside.
This isn’t saying that techno hasn’t been around, as it clearly has. Originating in Detroit, a city Chicago has always shared inspiration with, its has been present in our city since its inception. This should come as no surprise as the city that birthed house music, a genre that shares many similarities and influences upon the genre. Even some of the earliest ‘rave’ flyers you can find featured techno-heavy line ups, with very young looking photos of some of our favorites artists to this day.
However, as dance music saw a re-emergence to popularity state-side, it seems some of the genres that were a foundation in its origins, such as techno, house and drum and bass, saw much smaller increases in popularity. Their growth was often overshadowed by the explosive growth of the mainstream side of dance music, often categorized as ‘EDM.’ Behind EDM was an incredible amount of marketing and promotional efforts which resulted in attracting many entrants to the industry. Quite simply, it became big business, the results of which were a complete bastardization of dance music, where theatrics and personality took a front seat to the actual music. Many of Chicago’s event offerings certainly fell in line with these state-side trends, with most of the bigger production events catering to this market.
During this time, techno continued to remain in the shadows, with an almost counter-culture like following behind it. Behind its scenes were few promoters and artists that kept the genre present along with loyal fans who flocked to those generally smaller-scale events. Yet, it wasn’t about the numbers to many of these promoters, it was about the scene they were fostering. While they hoped it would continue to grow, their passion kept them focused on quality over quantity.
As the growth of EDM has started to slow, we are begining to experience a shift in dance music. Many of the fans that were introduced to dance music via EDM are starting to look beyond its instant gratification in search of something more. This trend is most easily identified in the line up announcements of events that were historically very EDM-orientated, which have been welcoming a growing amount of tech house artists, perhaps the most mainstream digestible of what I consider the core dance music genres. Behind this trend, with near certainty, has been a lot of the same money and promotional efforts that drove the growth of EDM.
As a result, tech house has begun seeing a large increase in popularity. Unfortunately, with that growth came many of the same criticisms, most notably a cookie-cutter approach to track production. As the genre continues to see growth, many have begun identifying the similarities between its popularity and that of EDM. These associations can be seen identified in articles such as 6AM’s ‘Tech House: Is It The “New EDM”?’, Ibiza Voice’s ‘For The Record: Is Tech House the New EDM?’ and Dave Clarke famously identifying it as ‘EDM Light’ in his talk with Pulse Radio. In Dave Clarke’s exposé, he specifically identifies the ‘market-driven’ approach (in contrast to music driven). The increased popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed and even mainstream-orientated markets such as Las Vegas are beginning to offer residencies to artists such as Jamie Jones and Solomun. Similarly, EDM artists such as the infamously cringe-worthy Carnage began tweeting about their desire to perform an ‘extended’ tech-house set. By no means am I criticizing the genre as a whole, rather, I am merely identifying the fact that the quality is beginning to take the back seat to quantity and marketability.
At the same time, techno has certainly also experienced a recent state-side growth. I would identify this as the result of two different influences, one admirable and the other less than desirable. The first comes from the passion-filled promoters that have been putting their all into growing their scene. They put their money and effort on the line through each event, slowly attracting new entrants to the genre’s appreciation. As they begin to experience the reward of their hard work, they continue to push their offerings to the next level, pushing closer to the vision they always held for events in our city. It was only a few years ago that I was told “You can’t sell techno in Chicago.” It is the refusal to accept that comment as fact that has allowed such promoters to grow.
The second influence upon its growth, identified previously as less than desirable, has come from the exploration of marketability for techno, by some of the same driving forces behind the growth in tech house and EDM. The effects of this influence can be clearly identified by many of the genre loyalists, from dance music media’s continual bastardization of the term techno (such as YourEDM tweeting about Carnage and Steve Aoki making ‘techno bangers’), to event promoters purposely blurring the lines between tech-house and techno in their marketing and to the rise in repeat ‘festival techno’ bookings. In addition, on the fan side, a rise in culture-based gimmicks have begun to plague the genre’s social media presence, including cringe-worthy commentary on how ‘techno’ one can be and social media personalities spending more time taking photos of their ‘techno outfit’ than actually enjoying the music.
When I began this article, I stated that we are approaching an important time for the genre. As a committed genre fan, I hope for nothing but continued growth for techno. I would love to see more and more people begin to find an appreciation for the music and allowing for our scene to grow. At the same time, however, there is also reason to be concerned. As the genre continues to grow, so to will it’s attention for the purposes of marketability. This is already beginning to foster throughout the United States, and again, specifically within Chicago, where mainstream-orientated clubs and event promoters are beginning to experiment with techno event offerings. While I don’t believe techno is at risk of the same pitfalls of the mainstream-orientated dance music genres, it isn’t far-fetched to believe that some of their criticisms may become applicable as the growth continues.
Let this opinion piece be a call to action for genre loyalist and new-comers alike. Let us set a standard for what our scene will foster with its newly found attention.
Support your independent promoters. (For those that need clarification, this goes beyond asking for guest list and appearing for the last hour of the headlining artist’s set). Independent promoters have been the background of our scene’s growth and continued presence. As more established and well-financed EDM event brands seek to exploit the rise in popularity, let us vote with our dollars and support those who have the scene’s growth in their heart. Let’s reject the trend of the festival techno circuit, often featuring the same artists playing a watered down representation of our music, and support our tastemakers, those striving to deliver you new and unique experiences in music.
Continue to be critical. If there is one thing techno die-hards have been stereotyped for, it is certainly their elitism. While elitism towards genre new comers is absolutely unnecessary, remaining critical of the music challenges it to be continually innovative. Lets embrace the increase in popularity for where it can take us, but reject any efforts to make it cookie cutter. Both our artists and our fans need to not only hold our music to high standards, but also ensure it remains the focus.
Reject genre bastardization. The term techno is a reference to a specific genre and not a catch all term for anything four on the floor. As EDM media sources continue to label their artist’s tracks erroneously as techno, pay them no attention. Any source that doesn’t know the genre well enough to properly label it should not be your source for genre news. On the topic of the media, lets reject sources that focus on click bait orientated news, and support those that our a proper representation of the genre.
Support your local producers and DJs. Let us be a scene that knows for fostering its growth from within. Become familiar with your local producers and DJs and support their growth as artists. It wasn’t too long ago that some of our favorite artists were playing to an empty room. Be a part of the community that provides a platform for their success. Explore the offerings of artists in your city, both new and well established.
Ignore gimmick and trend. Lets avoid techno becoming simply a fashion statement of the month. This includes everything from discussing ‘techno’ as if it was an adjective to following fashion trends. It seems social media is plagued with commentary about ‘how techno’ one is or thousands of photos of all black ‘techno uniforms.’ Remember that gimmicks are the background of the marketing focus of EDM, let us not fall victim to the same distractions.
Focus on the Music and Never Stop Exploring. The increase in popularity of a genre often leads to a extreme growth in the number of new artists. While this often leads to an influx of less than innovative releases, it also gives rise to significantly more creative thought. There is a lot of pleasure in discovering a new artists yourself and finding a strong appreciation for their music. Continue to explore the genre and uncover these new personal highlights. In addition to the satisfaction brought to you by the discovery, you will also continue to keep your opinion independent, rather than simply becoming a fan of what is “in” for the moment.
Overall, techno fans, artists and event promoters should celebrate the recent influx of popularity the genre has experienced. However, let us not get lost in it and allow the genre to be taken away from its roots. We should continue to demand and offer only quality and reject the efforts of those who do not prioritize it. We are facing an important time for techno fans, but also an exciting one. Personally, I look forward to the future of techno in the United States and the opportunities for growth it receives. Let’s embrace it properly and show new comers what this genre has to offer.