How to DJ Techno Music in 2023
Whether you would like to become a DJ for a hobby or professional career, learning how to mix different styles of electronic dance music will help you demonstrate your ability to adapt to different audiences and live performance scenarios.
And when it comes to electronic music, few genres are more influential and timeless than techno. This style of music has been around since the 1980s, and while the genre has evolved considerably over the years, it still has a distinctive sound and flavor that sets it apart from other styles of electronic music.
Furthermore the unique qualities of techno music can influence how you incorporate such tracks into your mix, such as how you sequence your tracks and transition from one track to another.
In this article, you will learn about the origins of techno music, who the key players are in the genre, and the advanced mixing techniques that you can use to create more seamless and cohesive mixes.
The foundations of techno was established during the 1980s by Detroit artists Derrick May, Juan Atkins, and Kevin Saunderson.
Techno is often characterized by its long track lengths, loud and repetitive beats, dark and moody atmosphere, and emphasis on drum machines, synthesizers, and samples as opposed to live instruments.
Know who your audience is and the intent behind your mix before you start mixing techno music.
Use DJ mixing software like DJ.Studio to ensure that your mixes are seamless in terms of tempo, harmony, and framework.
Origins of Techno Music#
The foundations of techno were first established by electronic music pioneers such as Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, Yellow Magic Orchestra, and Giorgio Moroder.
Moroder’s work with Donna Summer, especially the disco classic ‘I Feel Love,’ was notable for establishing the characteristics that would define techno music. These included the strong use of repetition, hypnotic and pulsating bass lines, long track length, and subtle but effective use of filters to modulate the synth sounds.
It was these qualities that would influence Detroit techno pioneers Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson. The advent of electronic instruments such as the Roland TR-808 and TR-909, which were more affordable and accessible than previous instruments, made it easier for everyday people to experiment with electronic music. And that is just what the Atkins, May, and Saunderson trio did.
In 1981 Atkins formed the duo Cybotron with Richard David and released the single ‘Alleys of Your Mind/Cosmic Raindance’ which helped set the blueprint for techno moving forward. In May 1987, May released the single ‘Strings of Life’ under the alias Rhythim is Rhythim, which was hugely successful in the UK and became an anthem for the 1988-89 self-proclaimed ‘Second Summer of Love,’ receiving regular airtime in the local clubs and raves.
Then in 1988, Saunderson released the hit single ‘Big Fun’ under the alias Inner City with lead vocals by Paris Grey, further transitioning techno from the underground to the pop landscape.
With the Detroit sound spreading to the UK and other parts of the world, new styles of techno would be established, including hardcore (spearheaded by the likes of Joey Beltram), minimal (as evident by the work of Richie Hawtin under the alias Plastikman), and gabba, to name a few.
The success of albums by Madonna (Ray of Light) and Bjork (Post, Homogenic) would bring techno to the American mainstream, along with releases by The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy, whose big beat and rock ‘n roll sound were perfect for stadiums and arenas.
What Defines Techno Music?#
In order to properly incorporate techno into your mixes, it is important that you have a basic understanding of its unique musical qualities.
This is because techno is different from other styles of electronic music. It has its own unique sound, choice of instruments, structure, and even track length. So when combined, these elements will influence how you create techno-specific DJ mixes, and how you incorporate transitions into your mix as well.
Here are a few traits that give techno its unique sound.
The foundations of techno were established by electronic music pioneers like Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder, who both relied on repetition to really stretch out their ideas and drive a consistent, pulsating rhythm in their music.
This philosophy has largely remained true in techno to this day. A typical techno track will use repetition in every way, including the percussion, bass, melodies, riffs, and sound effects. It is very common for sections of a techno track to be one or two bars in length, and then repeat for most, if not all, of the track’s length. This helps put the listener in a hypnotic, almost trance-like state, hence where the origins of trance music came from.
Dark and moody#
While there are exceptions to the rule, most techno tracks have a dark, moody atmosphere. They can still be light and upbeat, but less so than other styles of electronic music, such as house and dance music.
This is because most early techno music was made in Detroit, by artists who were situated in what was – at the time – a boom in the manufacturing sector. These artists were surrounded by the sounds of warehouses and factories, giving the music a cold, mechanical, and robotic feel.
The use of reverberation and delay also helps give techno its moody atmosphere, by creating a sense of space and depth in the overall mix.
Long track lengths#
Techno is renowned for having tracks with a long length. These tracks can last anywhere from 6 to 8 minutes or more. This gives the music time to gradually build up, introduce new instruments, evolve the sound of those instruments, and then fade out. This also makes techno perfect for DJ mixes. Why? Because it gives you a chance to transition from the master track to the next track, without the risk of too many instruments conflicting with one another.
How to Start Mixing Techno Music#
Now comes the most important part of being a DJ that specializes in mixing techno music. How do you incorporate techno into your mixes? That depends on a lot of contributing factors: your choice of tracks, transitions, effects, and mix length.
Other factors include the expectations of your audience and the intent of your mix. Are you pre-programming a DJ mix as background music for a corporate function? Or are you doing a live performance for a high-energy dance party? Let’s take a closer look at the techniques to use when mixing DJ music.
Choose a Framework#
When djing techno, consider the framework of your mix. The framework relates to the energy levels of your mix, which can fluctuate from high to low.
A ‘high’ energy section could be faster in tempo, have more instruments playing at once, and be higher in volume. While a ‘low’ energy section could be slower in tempo, have less instruments playing at once, and be lower in volume. The shape of your framework can be as simple or complex as you like, and there are a few popular frameworks that you can use as a reference.
A Hill framework is when you reach the peak intensity of your mix at the halfway point, and then spend the rest of your mix lowering the intensity of your mix. The Ramp framework is where you gradually build up the intensity of your mix, and then maintain that intensity for the duration of your mix. You can also do the opposite, where you start with a high-intensity introduction and then boil it down to a low-intensity moment, where you will stay for the duration of your mix.
Lastly is the Wave framework, an advanced type of framework where your mix goes up and down in intensity multiple times in your mix.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for which framework you should use in a mix. But if you are a beginner then start with the Hill or Ramp framework first, and then progress to the Wave framework when your skills and confidence increase.
Transitions and Effects#
There are all kinds of transitions that you can use to spice up your DJ techno mix. Since most techno tracks tend to be long in length, and have slow build ups and build-down moments, you can use this to your advantage to gradually transition from your master track to the incoming track, without the risk of overloading the audience with too much instrumentation.
You can also use the filter knobs to modify the low, mid, and high range frequencies. For example, if you are transitioning from one bass-heavy track to another, then you could set the incoming track's bass to zero. Then, as you gradually crossfade from the master track to the incoming track, you can gradually increase the low frequency range of the next track, bringing back to the normal range once the transition is complete. This way, there is a reduced risk of the two bass frequencies from clashing, resulting in a more pleasant and seamless transition.
When you use DJ software like DJ.Studio, you can automate this process by drawing horizontal lines that tell the software when to modify a specific parameter. In the case of the previously mentioned example, this would involve not just gradually lowering the volume of the master track playing and increasing the volume of the next track, but also setting the low frequency range to zero and have it gradually rise to its normal setting once the transition is complete.
If you want to add the element of surprise when you mix techno music, then you could have a more dramatic transition with a Stop/Start effect. To do this, wait until the last bar of the master track is about to play. Then automate the volume to rapidly decline to zero at the start of the last bar, replicating the effect of pressing the Stop/Start button on real DJ equipment. Then, once the last bar is played, your chosen section of the next track will immediately start playing.
Mixing in Key#
Mixing in key is a relatively new development in the world of DJing. This involves using DJ software that has harmonic mixing.
Here, you can upload tracks into the DJ software, and it will then automatically scan it and determine what the key is. This same technology can also accurately determine the tempo of a track, making it easier to match tracks with the same (or similar) key and tempo.
When you use DJ.Studio for mixing techno, you can use the Automix function to have the DJ software automatically rearrange the order of your tracks, based on their compatibility in terms of tempo and key. DJ.Studio uses the Camelot Wheel from Mixed in Key to decide if tracks are compatible. The colors of the Camelot wheel, also give you visual insight into the key of a track and compatibility with other tracks.
Better still, if DJ.Studio identifies any major key/tempo discrepancies in your mix, then it will scan your DJ music library and recommend alternative tracks to replace, taking out the guesswork of swapping two tracks.
By incorporating harmonic mixing into your process, you will have an easier time mixing techno tracks that are compatible, both in terms of tempo and harmony.
Master the Art of Techno DJing#
With over 4 decades of history and influence on EDM, techno is a timeless genre, one that is still popular to this day even in the face of more popular genres like house, dance, and dubstep.
Whether you are learning to DJ as a hobby or a professional career, learning how to start techno mixing is a great way to enhance your skills, adapt to different live performance scenarios, and attract a new kind of audience. With enough practice, you may get to a point where you can seamlessly incorporate techno into almost any kind of mix, regardless of what genre of electronic music you are dabbling in.
After all, experimentation is a big part of establishing your unique identity as a DJ. Your choice of music, and how you blend different genres together, is the key to helping you stand out from the rest and establish your brand, if that is a direction that you wish to pursue. And even if your goal is to just have fun, then techno is a great way to raise the energy of your mix and add a sense of variety to your mix.
FAQs on DJ Mixing techno music
- What are the origins of techno/electronic dance music?
- What defines techno music?
- How do you mix techno music?
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