Since the dawn of techno; artists, regions, technology etc, have left their imprint on the genre creating something altogether new. Sub genres of techno have been sprouting ever since and have ranged from being quite recognizable to the source or being drastically different. One genre that has made an impact on the dance world is minimal techno.
Minimal techno is a branch of techno that is… well… minimal. Consider minimal techno a more stripped-down version of its parent genre. It typically only consists of drums, a bassline, and bare minimum essential elements to create a grooving track. However, just like with all genres, the minimal techno tracks have evolved into something entirely different since its birth.
Very little melody is involved in this subgenre as the focus is more repetition and subtle changes within the bare elements used. Minimal techno tends to be less about massive risers and drops, but more about groove. Not to say there aren’t minimal techno tracks with huge drops, but to it’s core minimal techno is all about getting you to groove. Another key characteristic of minimal techno is that it also tends to have a “trippy”, trance inducing, and hypnotic element to it as the listener is drawn to one or two sounds to get lost in as the track either evolves the sound slowly or tension and release is built with the sound.
In an interview with Red Bull Music Academy, minimal techno pioneer Robert Hood states:
“It was to draw… Sort of like trance music. This is REAL trance music. I don’t know about that other stuff… This is the real deal. It was hypnotic.”
Robert Hood on minimal techno’s hypnotic quality
Watch Now: “Robert Hood on The Making of Minimal Nation”
Detroit artists Robert Hood and Daniel Bell are often credited for pioneering this style of techno in the ’90s. At the time harder higher tempo techno sounds like Gabber.. Or “Gabbah” (depending what accent you rock) was becoming the rage, and minimal techno was a way of bringing back tracks to a more groove focused sound like with the original Detroit techno. Robert Hood’s 1994 classic track “Minus” was probably one of the first fully recognized minimal techno tracks:
Meanwhile on the other side of the world, in what is now considered one of the hot spots of techno, Germany was developing its own techno scene. Labels such as Kompakt in Cologne, Richie Hawtin/Plastikman’s M-Nus in Berlin, Ellen Allien’s Bpitch in Berlin, and so many more were championing the minimal techno sound.
Listen Now: Plastikman “Plasticine”
Like everything else, the genre of minimal techno has taken a life of its own and has evolved into something completely different than what it was back in the 90’s. Today many tracks that are considered minimal tend to use a heavy simple groove bass line typically with an emphasis on the “off beat” or the “tz” of “untz”.
Listen Now: Comah & R3ckzet “Rotor Blade”
Purists probably wouldn’t consider tracks such as Comah & R3ckzet “Rotor Blade”, but the general dance community have associated the tracks and its overall style as now “minimal techno”. Even if you don’t think the track is a minimal techno track you can see how it somewhat has the core principles and elements of the classic minimal tracks. Massive artist’s such as Boris Brejcha do not claim to be a “minimal techno” artist but have definitely claimed and expressed the influence of minimal techno onto their own tracks. All things considered it goes to show how impactful this genre is even to this day.
Many of the below artist’s may not create what is considered minimal techno any longer, but definitely at one point in their career they were known for those hypnotic grooves that were called minimal. Here are a few notable artist’s who carry or have carried the minimal torch:
Not enough can be said about this artist and his contribution to the landscape of techno music. The pioneer of minimal techno still tops the charts to this day in the raw hypnotic category. Even though his sound has evolved over time, he still considered the authority on minimal techno.
As part of the second wave of Detroit techno artists to emerge in the early 1990s, the Canadian producer became the leading exponent of minimal techno thanks to his work as Plastikman and as the head of the iconic Plus 8 label he began with John Acquaviva. In 1998, Hawtin launched M-nus Records and then in 2012 introduced the world to his ENTER. concept, an experimental event series that took Space Ibiza by storm and was then replicated at events throughout the world.
There’s no other artist able to distinguish themselves quite like Ellen Allien has. No one else has been able to obtain such notoriety with the unique style that she brings. Ellen has been able to differentiate herself from the rest, making her a legend in the techno community. Ellen is your favorite DJ’s favorite DJ; the influence to many artists that we look up to today.
Born in Santiago, Chile in 1970, Ricardo Villalobos made a name for himself as a DJ and electronic music producer during the late ’90s. His foray into music started in 1994 when he released his first record. He has come a long way since, making waves in the minimal techno and microhouse electronic music genres and becoming one of the most respected names in the underground dance music circuit.
Beginning his career in the early ’90s as a part of the Grammy-winning duo, Deep Dish, Dubfire – real name Ali Shirazinia– has established a pristine reputation as a DJ, live musician, and label-head of Sci-Tec Digital. Never confined by any definition of house and techno, his list of collaborations in the studio and behind the decks is as impressive as it is diverse, including fellow tastemakers like Nicole Moudaber, Paco Osuna, Hot Since 82, and even tech-house wunderkind, Fisher.
Once again the definition of minimal has drastically changed over the years. Many argue newer tracks that have the minimal techno label are not in fact minimal techno (sound familiar?). However here are a few minimal techno tracks that are undisputed representatives of the genre.
Listen Now: Plastikman “Spastik”
Although “Spastik” has a high energy pace and uses a quite a bit of percussions throughout, it’s really only 3 elements being featured at one time: Kick, hat, and a running snare. The track evolves over time with breaks from the kick and effects on other elements, but really only sticks to the 3 elements. The listener is pretty much just paying attention and gets lost to one element (the running snare) as the track evolves.
Listen Now: Robert Hood “Minimal Minded”
“Minimal Mind” is also another track that uses just a few elements, but has more of a focus on the evolvement of a single note synth “stab” or short quick note. The stab gets louder and clearer throughout the track and also becomes quieter and more muffled to have the listener follow giving the track that hypnotic feel.
Listen Now: Dubfire “Emissions”
“Emissions” has more that “modern” or now widely used off beat bass line on the “tz” of “untz”. The track also has you follow a high end percussion noise that grows and evolves through out the track. Like many other minimal tracks, the focus is more on a groove and hypnotic sounds to get lost in.
Minimal techno is a bastion of techno that tries to bring artists and listeners back to how the genre began: A grooving style of music that people can get lost in. It’s a slow burn style of music that doesn’t necessarily create huge moments and drops, but take listeners on impactful journeys. Today the genre has changed or maybe is even mislabeled now, but if you go back to the original days and original principles you can see why the artform of minimal is so important to dance music.