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Origins: Seven Milestones That Made Techno Music
24 Apr '2024
From Detroit to Europe and back again, we examine the rich history of Techno from its conception to today
Origins seven milestones that made techno music

Techno is nothing new, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon either. While the genre’s origins are disputed by some, its sound is immutable, and the new X sample pack captures the quintessential essence of Techno for you to implement in your own productions.


From the artists who laid the foundations more than half a century ago, to those who continue to fly the flag for the genre today, let’s take a look at the foundations, conception and evolution of the global genre that is Techno.



1974: Kraftwerk - Autobahn


The formation and innovation of Kraftwerk





While this first milestone isn’t exactly the inception of Techno music as we know it today, it’s a fundamental part of the genre’s history. In early 70s’ Germany, Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider formed the band Kraftwerk, largely considered as the pioneers of electronic music thanks to their radical use of electronic instruments. Said instruments included custom-made vocoders, drum machines, synthesisers and sequencers.


It’s fair to say that albums such as Autobahn (1974) didn’t exactly form an exact blueprint for preliminary versions of Techno, but the repetitive nature and sonic aesthetic of Kraftwerk’s productions certainly resemble the kinds of tones and textures we’d expect from the genre today. It’s also worth remembering that until this point, music had been made almost exclusively with “real” instruments, so they were truly pioneering a new sound at this point.



1985: Model 500 - NO UFO’S


Introducing the Belleville Three





Meanwhile, across the pond, Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson had heard the groundbreaking bleeps and bloops of Kraftwerk, along with Euro Disco kingpin Giorgio Moroder and other artists who were experimenting with primitive electronic instruments at the time. Inspired by what they heard, the Detroit-based artists formed The Belleville Three.


After hearing rumblings about the burgeoning House scene (for which Frankie Knuckles was partly responsible), the trio ventured West to Chicago to see what all the fuss was about and returned with the classic 4/4 drum patterns of House fresh in their minds.


They took inspiration from the instrumentation and sound design that was happening in Europe, as well as the drum patterns and repetitiveness of Chicago House. The result was what many consider to be the origins of Techno. With that in mind, Juan Atkins is widely regarded as having created the first Techno track under his Model 500 alias, with the 1985 song NO UFO’s.



1992: Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92


The Many Guises of Techno





At this point, Techno was splintering off into various styles and interpretations. While we can’t go through each and every subgenre of Techno, it’s important to note that the various forms of the genre that were forming at this point were as a result of its popularity. Not only that, but the evolution of digital audio tools in the 90s made music production infinitely more accessible, which opened Techno up to new waves of innovation.


Acid Techno was just one of these subgenres, with the heavier side of Techno being catered to by Hardcore, the more gentle side being occupied by Ambient, and the delayed, bass-heavy characteristics of Dub music inspiring the subgenre of Dub Techno.


Geographically, Detroit Techno remained true to its industrial roots. Meanwhile, the European branch of the genre contained more melodic elements, akin to the Kraftwerk influences discussed earlier on. Not only was Japan the source of some of the most important instruments in Techno, but they had their own take on the genre too. Today, you only need to look through the various offshoots of Techno on Beatport to see how many iterations there are.



1993: Plastikman - Sheet One


The Roland TB-303





As we’ve already touched on, the arrival of new and exciting electronic instruments catalysed the Techno genre. The Korg MS-10, ARP Odyssey, Roland TR-808 and TR-909 are all fundamental in shaping the sound of Techno over the years, but at least in the world of synthesis, no one piece of hardware had more of an influence on Techno than the Roland TB-303. It’s remained so popular over the years that there’s even a day dedicated to its existence.


After the initial commercial disaster that was the Roland TB-303, House artists could pick up used units on the cheap. Artists like Sleezy D and Phuture began to push them to their limits, at which point the complex sequencer and highly resonant filter paved the way for the Acid House subgenre. Once again, the Techno scene took direction from House, and artists infused harder Techno productions with the otherworldly squelching Acid basslines of the TB-303.


Plastikman aka Richie Hawtin put the TB-303 to good use on his 1993 track Sheet One, in which the traditional 4/4 Techno kick is combined with deep droning basses and of course that resonant lead sequence on top. 



1996: Jeff Mills - The Bells


The Roland TR-909





Once again, the clever people at Roland had a helping hand in this next milestone, this time with their TR-909 drum machine, a piece of hardware that will remain synonymous with Techno for the rest of time. The 909 is known for its dense and impactful kick, snappy snares, metallic hi-hats and percussive toms.


Mills wasn’t the first artist to utilise the TR-909 in the Techno domain. In fact, much of the House and Techno scene in Chicago and Detroit were using one in the late 80s and 90s. We’re using The Bells as an example for two reasons. Firstly, Jeff Mills has a reputation for being the ultimate operator of the 909, and secondly, The Bells has reached almost household-name levels of notoriety in the world of dance music.


The distorted TR-909 drums, looped repetitive patterns and slightly ominous bell sounds form a track that is quintessentially Techno. In terms of how the masses perceive Techno today, The Bells is an exemplary model for the genre.



2006: Rui Da Silva - Touch Me


Techno meets Trance





A decade after the release of The Bells, we’re moving from classic Detroit Techno to the more Euro-influenced side of the genre. The noughties brought with it a new wave of music that simultaneously straddled Techno, Trance and even Pop music.


Artists such as Eric Prydz, Basshunter, Tiesto, Robert Miles and even Daft Punk were all responsible for some of the best-known Techno of the late 90s and noughties. The huge supersaw synths, commercial vocal hooks and Trancey melodic progressions gave Techno a new-found fame, particularly in Europe where Techno had always erred on the more melodic side.


These super-polished and vocal-heavy dance anthems, along with the UK’s dubstep scene eventually found popularity back in the States, and are now kept under the controversial umbrella term of EDM, which is a discussion for another day.



2020: Daniel Avery - Dusting for Smoke


The Techno of Today





As is evidenced by the vast range between the last two examples, the term Techno is considerably less specific today than it used to be. This might explain the popular use of subgenres such as those discussed today, as well as more contemporary examples including Minimal Techno, Peak Time Techno, Hypnotic Techno and so on.


Of course, many tracks operate within a distinguished subgenre, and some take influence from the various states of Techno over the years, and then add a modern touch. One such track is Daniel Avery’s Dusting for Smoke, which possesses the classic driving 4/4 drum pattern, some ambient-esque pads and an arpeggiated 303-style bassline.


Whether you’re a Techno purist longing for the industrial sounds of Detroit Techno, or you want to amalgamate elements of the genre into your productions in other styles of music, the X sample pack is packed full of high-quality royalty-free samples ready to drop into your DAW.





How was Techno created?

The electronic music genre of Techno was born out of European electronic music and the House music scene that became popular in Chicago, Illinois. It is widely considered to have originated from Detroit and The Belleville Three, consisting of Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson.


What makes a song Techno?

Techno is characterised by a regimented and often hypnotic drum pattern with a 4/4 kick drum. It heavily features electronic instruments such as synthesisers and drum machines and is generally intended to be danced to in large clubs and at festivals.


What music influenced Techno?

Key influences of Techno include European experimental electronic artists such as Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, and Giorgio Moroder. Other influences include early Chicago House music from the likes of Frankie Knuckles, Marshall Jefferson, Ron Hardy and Jesse Saunders.




You can grab our Techno Essential Bundle today to supply yourself with all the Techno sounds you need to delve into the past, present and future of the genre.