Tuesday 13 April 2010

What Is Slow Techno?

What is slow techno?Yet another new fangled music style or actually something of note?

Sub genres emerge constantly in the world of electronic music. By definition, techno is a futuristic style that is known for having a high BPM count, so how can such a contradictory 'slow' variant exist?

Pioneers of the genre from Derrick May to Richie Hawtin to Chris Liberator are renowned for their unique takes on techno and are behind many innovative tracks within the scene. From the screaming acid of Hardfloor to the dub heaviness of Rhythm & Sound to the pounding beats of D.A.V.E The Drummer - techno has always evolved through many guises. Slow Techno is causing a stir due to how it manages to capture new ideas and fuse exciting styles such as dub and ambient. You can expect to hear such tracks being played by a wide range of DJs such as Scuba, Mary Anne Hobbs, Erol Alkan, Richie Hawtin and Gilles Peterson.

A clear definition of 'slow techno' can only be arrived at by first understanding exactly what 'techno' music is. It is generally accepted that the Detroit legends Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson and Eddie Fowlkes are the 'fathers of techno.' However, it is clear that this sound is an evolution from electro and electronic works by the likes of Kraftwerk and Cabaret Voltaire. To clearly define the sound of techno, it is best summarised as:
  • Machine sounding.
  • Electronically produced.
  • Futuristically minded.
  • Contains a 4/4 rhythm.
  • Has a tempo of 128bpm upwards.
From this definition, we can clearly see that 'slow techno' will contain the majority of these elements but the tempo will be sub 128bpm. Can having such a fundamental attribute missing from the new style actually be relevant or is this a horrible abuse of this classic style?

Tempo is such a core element in defining dance music. Breakbeat music is a very good example of this. Hip-hop and downtempo are generally the slowest of the breakbeat styles, followed by big beat, dubstep and nu skool breaks in the middle range of tempos with drum & bass occupying the fastest end of the spectrum. Finding such clarity in the 4/4 styles is not so obvious. House and techno are the main categories in 4/4. House music has many offspring sub genres but the tempo ranges do not fluctuate that wildly. Hard House and techno are generally faster than any of the other four to the floor styles.

One school of thought is that slow techno is an attempt by producers to cross their productions over with the hyped and in favour dubstep sound. It is a plausible theory as monetizing music sales becomes increasingly difficult for independent and underground artists. A marketing spin can be essential in an industry flooded by thousands of download releases every week.

Other opinions seem to suggest that slow techno is much like the short lived 'dad-house' genre, in that the crowd is older and therefore highly paced, adrenalin fuelled beats are not so desirable to the more mature listener (and the producers are often a bit older too).

Neither of these ideas are conclusive or can be completely responsible. It is just as likely that some creative, innovative producers and DJs are trying to push the boundaries and are therefore experimenting in the region of tempo. We applaude any such attempts and are excited by what is clearly a new emerging sound that can open up intriguing possibilities and create fresh experiences.


  1. "Slow techno" isn't a new thing. Look back to the early 90s and it was very common in Great Britain; a lot of the more ambient stuff (what eventually became known as IDM by the less educated) had tempos well below 128bpm. Yeah, I think it's safe to say this is just another attempt to pigeonhole, and it's a pigeonholing of already existing music.

  2. Also, virtually all "dance music" is 4/4. The only exceptions are maybe some very highly experimental DnB. You may be referring to syncopation, but a lot of techno is syncopated too. I don't think such extreme "this is this and only this" pigeonholing is appropriate, ever.