Post-Techno : Perspectives beyond the black and white limits.

By Audio Pervert - 12/12/2021

Let's start by saying that the birth of Techno music was not a blessed event nor a revolutionary act. The global proliferation of Techno since the mid 1980's can be viewed as a continuum of youth culture - based on exponential technological advancement, futurist philosophies, recreational drugs and transformative social experiences inside industrial societies. The legacy of Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, Carl Craig and Jeff Mills is etched into Techno-sainthood forever. Much like Jimi Hendrix is to Rock & Roll, Muddy Waters is to Blues and Stevie Wonder is to Soul.  Given that a major part of popular music in america is dominated by white folks, yet the origins remain mostly african-american. Gospel came from the slave plantations, Jazz from the urban ghettos and Techno from the ruins of mass industrialisation. In effect, a tacit fealty has emerged about the african-american lineage of Techno as well. Through the last three decades, popular narratives, academia and documentaries have emphasised again and again, that Techno was an outcome technology, born in the urban industrial decay of Detroit and Chicago. 
Yet beyond the historicism, Techno has been constantly revised, in an age where technology and automation precedes identity, race and practice. The 'architects’ of early Techno were inspired by emerging european music, science fiction and notably empowered by the advent of affordable and intuitive synthesizers from Japan. Early Techno did not have any audible african-american aesthetics nor the 'plantation legacy' of improvisation. But of course machines do not have 'soul' which we human beings claim to possess. Economic and political investment has created a myth of racial separateness in Techno. We wonder, if the racial identity of Techno actually matters? Beyond idolatry and revivalism, what is actually 'black' or 'white' about Techno? This feature is exploring alternate perspectives about Techno as a global idiom. What is beyond the 4/4 outline of Techno? The changing discourses which expose the myths and hierarchy, created by the dominant narratives around Techno.

For many connoisseurs of Techno, the genre was a rupture from existing music and the advent of technology as a means of composition. A simple ontological extension that Techno is derived from technology. Yet the definition is insufficient, as we see (and hear) the deep legacy of experimentation and innovation based around music and sound, that takes place way before the advent of Techno. Micro-computing, audio synthesis, music concrete, sound-art, avant-garde western classical improvisation and automation, all of which predates Techno. This overlap of movements, ideologies and practices happening on the fringes of mid-20th century culture, gave way to an environment, upon which Techno music could be imagined and created. Funk and disco had already ushered the age of beats. Almost as if Techno existed way before the idea was forged within a 4/4 outline. That 4/4 rhythm of dance, as tribal or urban in practice, has existed for thousands of years. Hence the modern Techno DJ is almost like an ancient shaman creating heightened conditions, leading a collective experience based on beats, dance and intoxicants. Early Techno music sounds crude, naive and unrelenting, yet only in comparison with the fidelity, precision and speed that we take for granted today. With that logic, the top Techno banger from last year may feel vanilla tomorrow.

The following generation of producers and DJs improved upon the existing aesthetics, with greater sonic complexity and fidelity. Spanning two and a half decades (1985-2010) human imagination harnessing sound technology was blazing the frontiers of progressive music. The truly innovative and deviant artists lead the formation of sub-genres within Techno. By 2010, there were more than 20 different sub-genres under Techno and 3000+ labels in the western hemisphere. The subtle or obvious sonic differences aside, no one dared step outside the explicit boundary of 4/4. Doesn't matter if it's Acid-House or Psy-Trance or Nu-Disco, the quarter note kick is firm and foremost. Can one never create, less imagine Techno music in 3 or 5 or 7 beats? Worse, create Techno without that dominant repetitive 'boom-chic-boom-chic'. How will the pioneers, institutions and club audiences react to such blasphemy? Yet for how long can four kicks on a quarter note interval sustain this globally relevant youth culture. For how long can tempo (fixed time) excite us physically and mentally? As liberating as Techno music may feel collectively, as confined it can be in objective reality.
"A culture preserved is no culture at all..." (Mark Fisher 2010)

There was a time when almost every Techno producer or DJ wanted to live in Berlin or Ibiza. That migration resulted in homogeneity and mediocrity, eventually saturating the genre and it's appeal. Robbing the focus from the underground nature of Techno, and placing it in the realm of entertainment. The neoliberal image of the Techno DJ is mostly dressed in black and white, baptised by leading brands (software, hardware and fashion). Similar to the trajectory of Hip-Hop, the mythical representation and idolatry of the pioneer producers and visionary DJs dominates the written history of Techno. The stories remain cloistered around only black or white artists, that too an overwhelming majority of men. The sense of entitlement is tacit, but very strong. Western music media, bloggers, taste-makers and the propaganda mills amplify very little Techno from China, India, Russia, Africa, Middle-East and other parts of the world. Willy nilly the ruling class of Techno remains uninterested about the fate of the genre outside America and Europe. 
Take the example of DJ Mag, the leading propaganda mill of electronic dance music in UK and Europe. Without formal P.R. backing or label endorsement, the writers and reviewers of DJ Mag will not listen, less acknowledge the artist and the music. DJ Mag, Resident Advisor, Daily Beat and many such institutions are essentially revolving around hype, idolatry and nostalgia. Attention and content bestowed upon the popular cabals, the aggressive divas, fetishized imports, confabulations of the past, and the 'dinosaur daddies' of Techno, House and other forms of popular electronica. For a few hundred dollars, you can get flattering feedback or a promising quote, about your latest Techno album, from the big names and institutions.

Ripped out from it's erstwhile anti-establishment environment, Techno has been washed over, rebranded and transformed to fit mainstream ideals. The moral imperative has been muted. Techno is the new pop, or if you prefer rock & roll. Techno has also acquired it's place in the high alters of technology worship. The futurists insist on embracing cyberspace as a gateway and cybertime as lifestyle. In 1978 Kraftwerk envisioned a 'Man Machine' future. Techno, Blade Runner and Terminator followed that prophecy. Yet Techno and it's surrounding culture cannot sustain itself by mere replication, nor by myth creation, but by advancing technology - which has no particular loyalty to an era, race or identity. The "magician of Techno", Jeff Mills did manage to place the genre as contemporary high-art, as a purist. Yet only after embracing certain aesthetics of formal music, namely western classical. Super-stars like Ritchie Hawtins and Carl Cox, way past their apex, eventually rely on humongous visual spectacles and hype to justify their brand of no-brain Techno drills. The token white divas will take up their place, every now and then, yet under the men who own the biggest cartels of Techno. Even as dominant discourses are pegged on historicism, of Detroit, Chicago, Ibiza and Berlin, the next milestones and architects of Techno music will appear elsewhere. Invoked by a new generation of minds and bodies. The future of Techno will not be so binary, nor black/white and not to be found inside some 'Boiler Room'.

Techno enthusiasts often praise the genre (and culture) as being socially open, which also recurs in academic research, that DJs, curators and clubs enable a 'sense of community'. That very 'sense' starts to fall apart as we encounter the privilege one needs to gain access into all such communities and their corresponding spaces. The privilege, be it financial, institutional, racial or linguistic is but mandatory, to get access into the big existing meccas of Techno. Be it Berghain in Berlin, Fabric in London or Amnesia in Ibiza, access is based on wealth and profile. Yet that is dominant culture, business-as-usual across thousands of nightclubs and festivals. Techno cannot yield itself in open society while it booms inside exclusive and competing arenas of entertainment. Long gone is the era when warehouse parties and raves were hatched on inclusive ethics - when the future held wanton hope, and collective fantasy shaped Techno music gatherings. Most unlikely that energy will reanimate anytime in the near future. As super-clubs butcher Techno upon the treadmill of elitism, as festival curators and high-profile DJs collude for higher turnouts, profits and fame, late-capitalism devours Techno as homogenous entertainment. The lovers of Techno music are pushed to the margins and so is the possibility of a breakthrough. Hope is futile without resistance. The very dogma upon which Techno music and it's nascent culture was conceived.

Wether Techno will be liberated from it's hiatus or not is open to speculation. Audibly the conundrum of 4/4 has reached it's limits. The endless and identical practices have steadily undermined creativity and individuality in Techno. Ableton or Logic, hardware or software, this new synth or that old one, WAV or vinyl - insignificant iterations inside a binary universe. Yet these factors alone cannot exhaust Techno music and it's 'technoid' (part human part machine) energy. As the perceptions of Techno never stay fixed for too long, so shouldn't it's ruling order, aesthetics and output. As any kind of popular music, which does not evolve or give way to new possibilities, eventually collapses or implodes from within. Either way, for now Techno will continue to mutate, as technology continues to enhance and accelerate. The gravitas of Techno is not vested in perfection nor conformity, but in the power of imagination, dedication to the artform and the will to liberate. Techno will exist, as long as our collective presence gives it meaning. Till then, Post-Techno is incubating!

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