In the mid-90s, a new sound was slowly developing in electronic music. Partially in response to a considered dumbing-down of techno, artists started to create a new sound. One that was more ambient and abstract, leaving behind a lot of the beats and danceability that techno had in the rave scene. Artists like Aphex Twin, Autechre and Mu-Ziq all create albums that defined this new sound, which was often called electronica or IDM,or intelligent dance music.
While this kind of music can be beautiful and interesting to listen to, artists have forgotten that techno music has its roots on the dance floor and getting people to move. In a sense, it’s gotten to be to smart for its own good and interesting only to serious and academic fans.
Lately, though, a new genre in techno music has started to surface. It takes the sounds of electronica – the cold, precise, futuristic synth sounds of electronica – and combines it with the beats and rhythms straight out of house music. Not for nothing is this new sound being called tech-house, and it and it’s practitioners are starting to get a lot of attention. In fact, Spin magazine even did a new piece on the sound in their latest issue.
To get a sense of what this new sound is all about, and to see how on earth these disparate styles can come together in a way that actually works, check out two new albums, Low Life (Engine Recordings) by Layo & Bushwacka! and Himawari (Medicine) by Swayzak. Both serve as great primers into the new world of tech-house.
Of the two, Himawari by the British duo Swayzak (which took its name from actor Patrick Swayze) leans more to the techno side. It’s a very minimalistic-sounding album. The beat is the standard 4-on-the-floor house rhythm, but with the sparse accompaniment around it. It has a very hypnotic feel to it. Often a song only has a few melody lines that sound cold and precise, but adds to the hypnotic feel.
The opener Illegal has a very dark sleazy feel to it, the beats are distorted slightly and there’s a pulsing synth-effect. It has the effect of wandering through a dark tunnel. The album also has an early ’80s sound, with cheap Casio keyboard-esque sounds, on songs like State of Grace, another hypnotic house tune. It’s a much colder sound than would normally be heard on a dance floor, but the stripped down sound on Himawari adds to the hypnotic feel.
Low Life by Layo & Bushwacka! has a warmer, funkier sound than Swayzak creates. This is music that would fit in on any late-night packed dance floor and the whole album has the vibe of a sweaty club. The tech-side of the sound comes through the equipment the duo use to create their music.
Again, the sound is very precise and relies heavily on the futuristic tones created by synthesizers. Songs like Spooked and Dead Man Walking have a very computer-enhanced sound to them, unlike the sample-heavy music of artists like Fatboy Slim. This isn’t computer geek music though. The beats and rhythms will definitely get you moving and have a sweaty physical feel to them. By the time you’re done, you can feel the layer of sweat on you.
Electronic music is one of those styles that lends itself well to classification and sub-classification infinite. This new sound of tech-house though definitely deserves recognition for its uniqueness. As long as it’s sound keeps getting defined by albums like these, expect 2000 to be the year tech-house gets big.