Techno music, as it was envisioned by its core originators, was always supposed to be futuristic. It was supposed to look beyond the work-a-day world and into one where technology and organics came together to create a form of music that was not possible in the past. This, at least, was the thinking, the creed. Whether it really belongs as part of a mythologized electronic creation story, or whether this sort of thinking really had an impact on the development of the music is neither here or there. Often the story is as important than the truth, sometimes more so.
I don’t think it really matters whether or not it’s true. What I like is the conceit, the coupling of the music with the philosophy, even if it was just a way to explain and make sense of the abstract nature of the music – an interpretation of the clangs and bleeps and whirs and bangs and squelches formulated at a later date partly for outsiders to find something to latch on to, partly for the rest of us to latch on to, to make our own. House music, the beginning point of so much in our little electronic world, which had its undisputed role in techno’s birth (undisputed in that it did indeed have a role, very much disputed in exactly how much for the traffic and influences were not one way; Detroit played its own role in Chicago as Chicago did in Detroit), was like disco before it; a movement that essentially wore its heart on its sleeve. It still does, and its meanings are often far more open regardless of how deep they might be. House music never seemed to need or want the complexity of philosophy that techno quickly acquired.
The more immersed I became in techno, the more surprised I was that the rest of the world still refused to see what seemed obvious. Its qualities, a music with a powerful sense of place and time, a music with an ability to conjure entire worlds out of nothingness or to soundtrack the ignored parts of our own, the stranger parts of the everyday and the commonplace, was unmatched by any other music, certainly since the heyday of classical. I used to – still do, in fact – get a little bit bugged by sci-fi movies which layered the visuals with the creaking histrionics of rock when there was an entire universe of sound out there that summed up and matched everything the director was attempting to achieve. Show me a vision of a dystopian mega-city, and I’ll play you some snarling, acidic gutter techno. Show me visions of a frozen world shrouded in shadow and orbiting a distant white dwarf and I’ll play you some fragile, endlessly ethereal ambient built from field recordings that sound like recordings of radio bursts from the dawn of time.
For some, UR, Drexciya, Jeff Mills and others, the philosophy thickened into manifesto which combined social realism and riddled esoteric thought with the sci-fi trappings until it seemed as complete and considered as any literary mythos. You may not know what a Lardrossan soldier is, but you still know what a Lardrossan soldier is. An important, probably unintended, side effect of this is that it fostered a feeling of belonging – the inner secret beliefs of your gang; initiated into the mysteries, and bestowing the skeletal frequencies with the flesh of meaning.
Techno is nearly 30 years old now. By the time rock music had reached that birthday it was already a decade past punk and into the comfortable corporate era of MTV and stock options. There are plenty of people who will line up to tell us that techno has sold out, that those early beliefs in futurism and sci-fi, in soundtracking new worlds and states of being, have been usurped by other concerns and by the constant regurgitation of old sounds and modes of making music; that the modern fad of recording on ancient analogue equipment instead of newer, bleeding edge technology points to a genre that is treading water. Maybe some of that is true, and it is certainly also true that there is a lot of contemporary techno that seems little more than an homage to techno’s glory days. But techno and electronic music, as a movement, continues to evolve at a dizzying rate far beyond that of other mediums. The problem perhaps is not so much that techno is standing still but, rather, because our world is now advancing so maddeningly fast that it is no longer possible for techno’s futurism to outrun it, and the dreams of tomorrow are being hunted down by the concerns of today. When we live with both feet in the future, the future itself begins to feel like a bygone age.