Harder, Louder, Faster: techno’s growing interest in the harder styles

Pictures by Annika Wallis

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We spoke to Belgian techno kingpins Farrago, Jacidorex, Massimo Mephisto, One Track Brain and Trish van Eynde about the ever-faster BPM of today’s techno.

The presence and popularity of hard, fast-paced techno has known a sky-rocketing surge over the past few years. At niche and not-so niche techno events, BPMs are easily creeping above 140 and beyond. Previously renounced subgenres like gabber, hardcore and trance now go hand in hand with a proper techno rave. How did all this happen? And is it a good thing? To find out, we dissected and discussed this remarkable evolution with some of Belgium’s established techno kingpins and ambitious neophytes.

It’s a rave-o-lution

For a genre often associated with scarceness or the foregrounding of machines over musicians, techno has one of the most compelling and profound human origin stories in modern music. It’s a genre that still reflects notes of its origins in Detroit, the fall of the Berlin wall (soundtracking the start of Berlin’s club culture), the legendary nineties in Belgium and, most importantly, a complete revolution in popular music culture.

According to Jeroen De Pessemier (The Subs, OTB Records), the groundwork for this evolution had already been done a long time ago. Referring to earlier successful releases by, for example, Bjarki and Vladimir Dubyshkin on Nina KravizTrip Recordings, De Pessemier isn’t surprised to see a gradually increasing tempo and energy injection in modern-time techno.

“Not to be smug about it, but we saw this one coming (laughs). It’s a development that’s not unique to techno. Similar things have happened earlier in many other genres too. To stand still is to fall behind. I’m convinced that it will always come down to safely guard over the right setting whilst performing. I notice when I play harder material, my audience starts to change too."

We’re currently in the middle of a new wave of harder beats, propelled by big artists like Amelie Lens, I Hate Models and Kobosil. - Jacidorex

“It’s a thing I also experienced with The Subs - as the electro sound became rougher and tougher - so did our crowds. To avoid creating an atmosphere in which not everyone feels comfortable, it’s important to maintain a healthy hard-soft balance in your sets. I’ll always try to give my set a transitional tempo storyline, and avoid fast-paced four-to-the-floor kickdrums throughout the entire set. Now that many other artists are hopping on the BPM-speedboat, I’m curious to see where this will end. Nevertheless, it’s exciting to realize that it’s now possible to include harder styles like hardcore in the mix without getting negative feedback afterwards. This trend is an opportunity which has come knocking at our door and I’m glad to have opened it."

Jacidorex welcomes the new trend too. The young Brussels-based artist who already made warehouses shake to their foundations with fast-paced techno before it was considered cool again. If the name of his record label didn’t already give it away (‘Neoacid’), the producer has a special place in his heart for rave material of the acid and darker kinds. “When I started making hardtechno and acid seven years ago, it was still rather niche and underground”, he explains. “Techno needed a reinvention, but I’m amazed to see where it is today. We’re currently in the middle of a new wave of harder beats, propelled by big artists like Amelie Lens, I Hate Models and Kobosil. This is such an exciting evolution."

“It's hard to tell exactly where this current evolution will end, though”, he continues. “There’s still room for techno to become faster and harder – and there’s even room for the genre to grow bigger than it already is. Obviously, there will always be two sides to the coin of taste, but like every trend, things come and go when the time is right."

The fast-paced and ravey trend we’re seeing now is no first-timer at all. It comes and goes like the tides. - Trish Van Eynde

Natural Cycles

“The audience for techno is more varied than ever before; clubs and festivals are packed with all kinds of people now”, explains DJ veteran Trish Van Eynde who’s been playing out since the genre first touched base on Belgian soil decades ago. “The fast-paced and ravey trend we’re seeing now is no first-timer at all. Believe me, it’s comparable with the cycle of nature or the world of fashion and cars. Every ten or twenty years, you notice a shift in experience and behaviour, which comes and goes like the tides. I’ve experienced this evolution the other way around as well, going from fast and loud records to a rather minimalistic and loopy vibe.”

“Speaking of where this will get us techno-heads and our beloved music, I strongly believe that we’ll end up at a certain point of saturation once again”, she continues. “I’m not saying techno won’t get any harder nor lose its fanbase. We’ll most likely get to a certain point where techno was roughly 20 years ago. Most of the current hyped sources of inspiration will be exhausted, and the focus will once again shift towards proper techno music."

I think it’s an interesting development because it opens doors to play multiple other genres that were off-limits a while back - Farrago

Farrago, one of Belgium’s most exciting export products in the global techno scene, agrees. “I’m guessing it has something to do with a new generation of fans getting access to affordable hardware and software”, he says. “In its essence, this is nothing new though. Styles always tend to evolve over time. It happened in the early ‘00s as well. Afterwards, some people took it too far, so as a form of counterculture, minimal techno became the in-demand genre. Evolution is natural, but you shouldn’t forget where the sound came from. Nevertheless, I think it’s an interesting development because it opens doors to play multiple other genres that were off-limits a while back. From 140 BPM and beyond, genres like dubstep or hardcore become easier to mix - and I love playing techno-inspired tracks in those genres."

Techno is increasingly becoming intertwined with many other genres - Massimo Mephisto

Of all Belgian nightclubs, Ghent’s Kompass has propelled the harder techno sound towards more ravers than any other venue. Owner Jens Grieten aka Massimo Mephisto agrees with Trish Van Eynde and Farrago about the hype’s novelty (or lack thereof). “It’s actually not that different from what we’ve seen 15 years ago when BPMs crept above 140 whilst nobody questioned it. Back then, music from artists like Adam Beyer and Chris Liebing sounded way harder than what they’re currently known for. Taking this variety into consideration, it’s important to realize that Belgium used to have different nightclubs, each covering a techno subgenre of choice. Hardtechno lovers, for example, have always been home at venues like Lagoa or Cherry Moon, so it’s definitely nothing new”.

“Lots of artists are indeed playing their techno harder and faster at the moment, but that phenomenon is not the only interesting thing happening in the scene right now. Techno is increasingly becoming intertwined with many other genres. Take disco and trance, for example, both genres which are currently experiencing a revival too, with artists like Palms Trax, Job Jobse and Ki/Ki on the forefront”.

Future Fortune

The common thread has become crystal clear. Techno has already gone rogue before, a phase that served as a feeding ground for new influences and subgenres. Now, it seems we’re heading towards a saturation point once again. You could actually compare it to any other natural cycle; to stand still is to fall behind, and this most certainly counts for today’s techno industry as well.

The good news is that there will always be a loyal fanbase for any kind of techno, whatever happens. The genre has always represented freedom and inclusiveness, and we should therefore welcome any direction a producer wants to take his or her techno in. More so, techno still continues to grow worldwide, so who knows which new developments we’ll hear in a few years’ time? If one thing is sure, though, it’s that techno will be back, bigger than ever, once our nightclubs open their doors again. Let the raves begin!