The history of hardtechno

If you have been following genres in Dance music for a while, at one point or another you’ll notice the same evolution time and time again: at a certain point – in the never-ending quest to push boundaries and reinvention – things go harder, faster, stronger.

Techno is no exception: while the founding fathers in Detroit often still sounded pretty melodic, the clash of the Detroit producers with Belgian and German Electronic Body Music, New Beat and early styles injected a much harder, raw sound.

It seemed like for the first time, a global genre had stood up and input had come from everywhere and anyone. All producers bounced ideas off each other and pushed to come up with the next thing. Canadian (or Detroit) based labels like Hawtin’s Plus 8 or Probe injected high tempos, distorted beats and relentlessly screaming sawtooth synths. In Europe, R&S caused a bit of an earthquake with releases like Joey Beltram’s “Energy Flash” or Second Phase’s “Mentasm” and in the wake of R&S came a massive surge of labels like Bonzai and Reload. Holland’s Rotterdam scene was – and still is – the birthplace of Hardcore and to this day remains a breeding ground for top-notch Hard Techno. Frankfurt also added an uncompromising vibe with people like PCP (aka The Mover) but also the ultrafast paced Trance of the early 90ies. The UK had a massive Rave scene, fueled by the first Summer of Love that spawned Acid and soon after the massive Breakbeat and (later) Jungle scene…

So, in short: soon everyone was trying to make the hardest record around, often to the discontent of the first generation of producers like Frank De Wulf or Derrick May. However, the cat was out of the bag. As tempos gradually went up and sounds became harder, the genre that was called Techno fell apart, spawning amazing subgenres like Hardcore, Hardtek or the German Schranz where people like Chris Liebing, Rush, Sven Wittekind and more where the new kids on the block.

Although Techno and all these derivatives paved their own way to some extent, one might argue that it is in fact still one big family called Techno, something that UK Techno DJ Rebekah also emphasizes:

For me it’s just techno and in the 90s it all sounded hard to my delicate ears! All I will say is that I was drawn to the more harder sounds even back then, Woody McBride and Joey Beltrams JB3 alias were amongst the producers I loved. I also collected vinyl from Billy Nastys Tortured Records label which was leaning towards the tougher end.

As the years progressed, as a sort of counterreaction, a part of Techno returned to slower BPMs and more focus on subtle sound design. The Berlin sound became more prevalent in 2000s with Djs like Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock leading the way and reuniting the minimalistic aesthetics with Techno again. The harder sounds went a bit to the background (not to use the U word) but their fans remained all the more dedicated and its fanbase slowly but surely solidified in specialized record labels, clubs and events. The focus on the harder side of things grew a new scene championed by concepts like Katharsis, Rotterdamse Rave or Twan’s “Rimbu”:

From a very young age I was drawn to the older genres. My first encounter with music was Gabber, when I was just 16, and that obviously had an impact on me from early on, especially after I visited my first events. That influence is still very present in the sets that I play today. Something about those older genres just creates a sense of togetherness among their fans, and that always was what attracted me in the music. And that vibe is also still the aesthetic of our Rimbu and Repossession concepts.

It ultimately created a foundation for the new generation of harder producers and DJs that we see today. But rather than just focusing on being the hardest, these producers also bring innovation, new combinations and sounds to the table that help to keep things fresh and interesting – avoiding rehashing formulas for too long. A great mix of new blood and established artists like Hector Oaks, Rebekah, Paula Temple, Blawan, Dax J, Orphx and many others took to the center of the stage and gave Techno in general a new lease on life in recent years.

Twan: On the one hand, I do feel I missed out on something, but in general I’m quite happy with the current movements in the Techno scene. So in the end, the general feeling that I have is one of excitement towards the future and curiousness in the things to come.

- Article by Didier Beydts