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Top 10 Best Techno Songs
What is techno?
Techno is a diverse and culturally rich form of dance music which originated in Detroit in the 1980s. The originators were heavily influenced by the likes of Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder. The three men who are attributed with creating techno are Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson. Without these three guys, the songs on this list may never have come into existence. Since its inception in the 1980s, techno has grown, making its way across the Atlantic Ocean, and many now consider Germany, particularly Berlin, to be the current home of techno. However, techno has developed so much, and become so diverse, that there is often some ambiguity as to what techno actually encompasses. With many sub-genres, from minimal techno, to industrial techno, it has become an enigmatic genre.
One thing, however, is not ambiguous at all: techno is raw, powerful, and often inexplicably moving. It is hard to pinpoint what exactly is so endearing about the genre, as it is dark, gritty, and sometimes in your face, yet it has a character that is addictive, but not shamefully so.
The underground techno scene (as opposed to the commercial dance scene) is an inclusive community, which promotes a familial sense of belonging. The artists are not promoted as God-like superstars, as they often are in other commercial genres of dance music, but are respected and revered for their skills in their craft.
Below you will find what I believe to be the ten best songs in this genre. Bear in mind that this genre is extremely diverse. While I have attempted to pick songs which I feel best represent the genre, my own personal opinion plays a large part in the selection.
Who is your favourite techno artist?
1: Carl Craig - Sandstorms
Carl Craig is considered to be one of the most important producers of the second wave of Detroit techno. Here we have one of his best tracks, which gradually builds, and creates the enigmatic tension which is so characteristic of techno. As it builds beyond the squelchy bass of the intro we hear the layers of warm chords and synths building up. By doing so the song takes us on a journey, and does so without depending on any gimmicks.
This song is a great example of how techno can be both technical and soulful. It is not often that those words go hand in hand, but this genre, and particularly this song, shows that they can. Often when we think of something technical, we think of something which is mechanical and lifeless. Techno overcomes this stereotype, and this song is a perfect example of this.
Listen to "Sandstorms" by Carl Craig
2: Blawan - Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?
Blawan is one of the most exciting techno producers to come out of England in a long time, and is a personal favourite of mine. The vocal hook, which is also the title of the track, is the most exciting aspect of the song; it instantly grabs your attention. It is sampled from the classic Fugees track: “How Many Mics”. Of course, a song which asks us “Why they hide their bodies under my garage?” should make us feel uneasy, however, the hook matches the rolling bass and clanging percussion perfectly, creating an emotionally-driven hedonistic experience. The eerie screams and wails throughout the songs only accentuate the eeriness of the hook.
Overall, the song is dark, moody, and ultimately, ravishingly heavy. It is a perfect example of how something dark and brooding can still make it impossible for you to stay still. Every time I hear this track drop I cannot help but dance.
Listen to "Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?" by Blawan
3: Ben Klock - Subzero
Ben Klock, a German producer, is a modern-day pioneer of techno. Cementing Berlin’s status as the home of modern techno, Klock creates the industrial and powerful techno that Germany has become renowned for. "Subzero" is filled with brooding, industrial percussion, accentuated with an aesthetically alluring lead synth, which bounces around your consciousness. The heavy percussion and the lovely bouncy synth match perfectly to create a masterpiece.
"Subzero" is ultimately an altogether heavy affair. Heavy is a word which features a lot in techno. It is not soft or subtle, it is unabashedly powerful. Yet it it is a genre which is heavy while maintaining a sense of grace and purpose, as this song does through the melodic nature of its weight.
Listen to "Subzero" by Ben Klock
4: Jeff Mills - The Bells
Jeff Mills is one of the most influential and important techno artists to come out of Detroit. “The Bells” epitomises this importance, as it has one of the most recognisable melodies of the genre. Even if you have never knowingly listened to techno in your life, there is a good chance that you may recognise this song when the lead melody kicks in. The lead melody is a brooding arrangement of what sound like bells, and they cut through the track and immediately attract your attention.
It is such a clever track, which grabs your attention, without depending on gimmicks to do so. It depends entirely on its musicality and its integrity. This song shows how a song can be catchy, without being cheesy.
Listen to "The Bells" by Jeff Mills
5: Laurent Garnier – The Man With the Red Face
This song is for all those people who have criticised dance music as being “just noise”. Laurent Garnier, a French techno artist, here presents to us what I consider to be one of the best songs ever produced, not just in techno, but in dance music period. The moodiness it creates is unparalleled, and the feelings it invokes I cannot accurately describe in words.
It is hard to pick a stand out feature in this song, as they all work so well together. A jazz lover may pick the saxophone as the backbone of the track, while a techno purist may stand by the uncompromising percussion. In truth however, all features are as good as each other, thus the song perfectly shows how dance music can be a unity of all aspects of musicality and emotions.
Listen to "The Man With The Red Face" by Laurent Garnier
6: Moderat - Bad Kingdom (Head High Remix)
This is a great remix of a great song. Head High (also known as Shed), is another German techno innovator. Here he takes a really emotive song and gives it a backbone, to create a song that is heavy (there’s that word again!), as well as emotive. Don’t get me wrong, the original itself is heavy in meaning and power, and some of that weight in meaning is actually compromised in this remix. However, it is compromised to create a track that better suits a dance floor, which means this remix will get you moving.
It still retains some of the meaning of the original too, using the chorus of the original. What really stands out though on this remix is the percussion. It is powerful, yet creates a sense of melancholy too, which perfectly matches the vocals. It is very difficult to create a range of feelings and emotions through percussion, yet this song does so perfectly.
Listen to "Bad Kingdom (Head High Remix)" by Moderat
7: Sunil Sharpe - Let Christy Take It
This is undoubtedly the heaviest song on the list. This song is an example of what is known as industrial techno, and is an acquired taste, which is why this is the only song of this calibre that I have put on the list. Sunil Sharpe is an Irish producer and DJ, and is a true pioneer, pushing a sound that seems to have been invented for the phrase: “in your face”.
The song is as hard hitting as they come. The percussion is unrelentingly aggressive, and there isn’t much melodic redemption from that aggression throughout the track. This results in a dark and somewhat mystical listening experience. It is hard for me to explain why I love this song so much, other than that it is so heavy. As I said, it is an acquired taste. Some people may wonder how you could listen to this for a prolonged period of time. I can say first hand, having seen Sunil Sharpe live, that you can do so quite easily.
Listen to "Let Christy Take It" by Sunil Sharpe
8: Plastikman - Spastic
Plastikman is the alias of Richie Hawtin, a man who is like Marmite; you either love him or hate him. Regardless of that however, it is hard to deny that he makes good music. He is another producer who hails from Detroit, this time pioneering the minimal techno sound.
Spastik builds in intensity gradually as the track progresses, depending initially on a pulsating percussive snare before the main percussion kicks in. This track shows how a song can be built around purely percussion, without any melodic leads, chords or synths whatsoever. The initial pulsating snare acts as a sort of hook throughout the song, dipping in an out as various elements of the intricate percussion are added and removed. It is an extremely impressive track, that adequately shows the technical prowess of minimal techno.
Listen to "Spastik" by Plastikman
9: Underworld - Born Slippy
This song is an absolute classic. Some may not agree with me putting it is a techno list, arguing that it veers more towards trance. However, one cannot deny that it has a very techno-like feel, and I would argue that it is more techno, with a trance influence. It is probably the most recognisable song on the list, having featured in the 1999 film “Trainspotting”.
As soon as the song starts with that iconic first chord, all feelings of pain, sorrow, guilt and fear are washed away. The intro gradually lulls you into a feeling of ecstasy and serenity. The vocals accentuate these feelings, racing through your consciousness as you take it all in. When the song drops it contrasts sharply with the emotion-driven intro, yet does now shock you, rather it pleasantly surprises you. Masterpiece is a word that is thrown around a bit too carelessly, but I think it is more than acceptable to use it here.
Listen to "Born Slippy" by Underworld
10: Blawan - Getting Me Down
This is another great track by Blawan, which is not quite as in your face as “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under my Garage?”. The vocal is sampled from Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down”, and gives the song a subtlety which lifts the track. It still has clanging, gritty, percussion, but the vocal gives the track a nuance of playfulness.
Ultimately, it is the vocal which makes the track. Techno is a predominantly instrumental genre; however, this song shows that when done right, vocals can suit the genre very well. It also shows Blawan’s versatility; this song is considered to be his first proper techno song. Before this he made his own form of dubstep. Ultimately, “Getting Me Down” is an innovative track, by one of England’s most innovative producers.
Listen to "Getting Me Down" by Blawan
These are my top ten best techno songs, which I believe show the diversity and character of the genre. Despite their differences they all share the characteristics of the genre; predominantly the hard, heavy 4/4 percussion.
I hope you enjoyed this list, feel free to comment on my choices or add your own below!