In Box

Techno’s Edge

Music lovers of yesteryear often waited weeks for a visit from the traveling salesman to get their hands on new music. Nowadays, one genre of music, generally known as techno, is breaking down frontiers — musical and geographical — faster than you can shake a glow stick. One reason is its musical structure. Daniel Chamberlin, ...

Music lovers of yesteryear often waited weeks for a visit from the traveling salesman to get their hands on new music. Nowadays, one genre of music, generally known as techno, is breaking down frontiers — musical and geographical — faster than you can shake a glow stick.

One reason is its musical structure. Daniel Chamberlin, editor of URB, a Los Angeles-based music magazine, explains that "the key element that makes this music more conducive to international popularity is its rhythmic, rather than lyrical base." This rhythmic framework allows an electronic music producer to innovate new music by simply overlaying or intertwining rhythms or samples of virtually any origin. And the fans of this genre prize obscurity. One example is the chart-topping hit by the British-Asian disc jockey Punjabi MC that melds centuries-old folk music from the Indian province of Punjab with the theme song of the once popular U.S. television show Knightrider. In the Western Hemisphere, a group of DJs out of Tijuana, Mexico — an area know as Norteño — fuses electronic beats with Norteño-style tubas, accordions, and guitars, creating a new subgenre called Nortec (Norteño-Techno).

Cross-cultural fusion has always sparked musical innovation. Also driving techno’s spread, however, is its portability: The DJ is virtually a one-man or -woman band, able to transport "live" electronic music to international fans much more easily than, say, a rock group plus entourage or an orchestra. Globe-trotting superstar DJ Paul Oakenfold has spun to crowds in China, Cuba, India, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. In 2002, the Liverpool club Cream transplanted itself to both Buenos Aires and Prague for outdoor festivals that boasted over 20 international DJs and drew in over 18,000 people each. In 1999, the Berlin Love Parade featured 1,500 DJs and drew in 1.4 million gyrating techno fans.

Chamberlin observes that the production side of the industry is rooted mostly in Western Europe and North America, but the musical influences and its fan base have no boundaries. Dom Phillips of the U.K. label Global Underground testifies, "We see ourselves as part of a Global church of clubbers linked by a shared commitment to the best underground dance music…. Global Underground… just happens to be based in Newcastle…. The Global Underground isn’t just us: It’s you too."

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