Features

Can we please stop calling tech house techno?

ITM’s resident music nerd ANDREW WOWK has a bone to pick: tech house isn’t techno.

Right now, it’s techno’s time in the sun. And with that comes a whole lot of house – especially tech house – being labelled as techno because it’s the plat du jour, while tech house has become somewhat of a dirty word. This is due to a lot of lifeless, generic music being pumped out by bandwagon hoppers a few years back when tech house had its turn to be the “in thing” (also see: trance, dubstep, and funky house for other examples from history).

Why? The lines between genres are becoming increasingly blurred. And as certain styles come into vogue, either in the mainstream or amongst the “more credible underground”, others take their turn sitting in the back seat.

What typically accompanies this is producers, DJs, labels, promoters and punters calling related – but definitely different – genres of music by whatever label can earn them some cool points, because apparently looking credible is more important than just being genuinely passionate about whatever style of music you’re into.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on tech house. But it’s not techno. Just like an apple isn’t a banana, or red isn’t green”

Now, it’s more than just semantics, pedantry or being an elitist chinstroker that is an issue here. Tech house and techno are fundamentally different styles of music, which means that whatever it is that appeals about them to their fan bases, is also different.

What makes tech house enjoyable to listen and dance to, is not necessarily the same as what makes techno enjoyable to listen and dance to. Lumping them together under a single name only serves to alienate fans, DJs, producers, and promoters of both styles, as more often than not, people aren’t on the same page as each other when the word “techno” is mentioned.

A DJ who actually plays techno can easily end up playing for a promoter who labels tech house as techno (and has a following of punters who do the same) and as a result plays to an audience who have zero interest in their music. The same can easily happen in the reverse with a tech house DJ. Scanning through new releases as a techno DJ or putting out a new release as a techno producer can be a total nightmare, as actual techno gets lost in amongst all the tech house.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on tech house. Tech house is great, and huge shouts out to the people still labelling their music as tech house and pushing the style, even though the term may have developed a stigma around it. But it’s not techno. Just like an apple isn’t a banana, or red isn’t green. So to help clear up the issue, here’s a few cliff notes on the difference between tech house and techno. Bear in mind that these are generally true differences, not unbreakable rules.

Tech house is a type of house. Techno is techno.

The name says it all: tech house. English is structured in a way that we put adjectives before nouns. So tech [adjective] house [noun] means “house music with techno influences.” Just like tech trance means “trance with techno influences” or deep dubstep means “dubstep that is deep.”

Tech house takes common musical aspects and production styles of techno, such as heavier, grittier basslines and more mechanical, metallic percussion and injects them into the overall structure of the usually more groove-based and/or melodic genre that is house (in particular progressive house). Techno on the other hand doesn’t do that second “injecting into the overall structure of house” part, but it has a fundamentally different overall structure.

Example (Tech House):

Example (Techno):

Tech house rolls, techno pulsates or slams

Next time you listen to a tech house track, take a moment to stop and think about how it “feels”, as esoteric as that instruction may be.

If you were to put a pen in your hand and just draw whatever your hand does, I’d bet money on you drawing something that looks kind of like a repetitive, undulating set of hills and valleys – rounded tops and bottoms, a smooth, free-flowing line that is like “rolling” your pen across the page.

Do the same for a techno track. It’s much more likely to end up either looking something like a hypnotic spiral, a complex network of neurons, or big dots where you’ve hammered the pen into the page repetitively.

There are a lot of reasons for these differences (e.g., how the percussion is programmed, the use of breakdowns etc.), but they’re minutiae which aren’t really important in demonstrating the point your drawings will make when it comes to the “feel” of these two styles.

Example (Tech House):

Example (Techno):

It’s all in the vocals

Because it’s a type of house, tech house frequently (though not always) includes vocals. However, because it’s a type of house influenced by techno, those vocals frequently (though not always) tend to deviate away from the more song-like vocals of “pure” house music, and instead are chopped into samples, processed through effects, and the like. You won’t often hear a full verse-chorus vocal in a tech house tune, but you will likely hear some sultry female coos or sultry male spoken words.

Techno rarely (though not never) contains vocals, and those vocals are almost never in the song-like style of house. They are usually spoken word pieces, robotic sequences produced electronically through vocoders or synthesis, or obscure samples (usually from sci-fi movies/radio plays/TV shows etc.). The subject matter is also frequently darker than in tech house.

Example (Tech House):

Example (Techno):

If tech house is like the middle of a continuum, techno is the end point

If you think of house and techno as two ends of a continuum, tech house sits, unsurprisingly, right in the middle. Consider the prior three points and their examples.

Often, tech house feels like that warm, colourful middle ground between house and techno because it is. Tech house is usually grittier, tougher and chunkier than house, but not as much as techno. Tech house rolls more than house (which typically swings), but doesn’t pulsate or slam in the way that techno does. Tech house doesn’t fully deviate away from the soulful style of vocals typically employed in more “pure” house, but vocals rarely quite reaches the sparse, machine-like, or even demonic level they do in techno.

Example (House):

Example (Tech House):

Example (Techno):

While it is certainly true that there are plenty of tracks out there that might be called one genre but take the primary elements from another and muddy the rather simplistic, reductionist descriptions offered above – and that’s without even getting into things like ambient techno or hard house – you can definitely take the above as a clear indication that tech house and techno are not the same, and in fact are two styles that are quite easy to distinguish from one another.

So next time you want to tell someone what kind of music you play, produce, listen to or put on at your parties, just tell the bloody truth. You’ll get more credit for being passionate about something, rather than trying to get street cred by snaking the name from something else.

Andrew Wowk is a Sydney-based writer and DJ. You can argue with him on Twitter