Drone techno is a fairly recent phenomenon, at least in name. However, it is fundamentally a combination of two genres which have a good deal of history: drone, and techno. In this short article, we’ll take a quick look at these two genres, and how they have been combined to form drone techno. Please accept that this is a vast subject, so we’re just helping you get familiar with the idea. My perspective is as an artist in this genre (Altstadt Echo), so while I am very knowledgeable on the subject, the information provided isn’t through an entirely objective lens.
Traditionally, a drone was a sustained sound (or group of sounds) devoid of any complex melodic content. Typically, it would maintain a single pitch for a very long period of time, or would change pitch at an extremely slow rate. While drone-based music was present in non-Western cultures for thousands of years (think of the didgeridoo music of indigenous Australians, as well as a great deal of religious music coming from India and the Middle East), it entered Western culture in it’s current form* via minimalist composers such as La Monte Young and Phill Niblock. These “classic drones” would last for hours, and tested the limits of the listener. They were intended to be challenging, but offered a reward to the listener by inducing previously unexperienced mental states. The next major iteration of drone in Western music came from popular groups like the Velvet Underground, whose violinist John Cale included drones in the background of their music. So let’s take a minute to listen to some drones before we move forward:
Indigenous Australian Didgeridoo Sounds
La Monte Young – The Second Dream of the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer
The Velvet Underground – Heroin
But the appeal of drones and awareness of their “usefulness” in music continued to grow. Since that time, drone music has expanded to other genres, including Krautrock, ambient, shoegaze, and even metal. But most importantly for us, drone music began to appear in techno. For the sake of this article, we’ll consider techno to be electronic music in the 4/4 time signature that primarily utilizes repetitive patterns of kick drums, snares, hi-hats, and claps in order to form a highly rhythmic, percussive foundation. With this in mind, we can define drone techno as:
Drone Techno: a style of techno that utilizes sustained sounds played over a 4/4 techno beat, often to achieve paradoxical effects in the listener’s perception of the passing of time.
In this definition, we reference the effect that the combination of drones and techno percussion have on the listener’s perception of time. The reason for this effect is that the drone often appears to be at a stand-still, while the beat rushes forward. The listener’s brain isn’t quite sure which of these to latch on to as the “primary” energy level for the track. A really great example of this comes from a track by Sandwell District, entitled “Feed Forward Test Session.” You’ll note the multiple drones in this track fading in and out at a pace that seems almost entirely unrelated to the rapid-paced percussion. The result is mesmerizing.
Sandwell District – Feed Forward Test Sessions
It is important to note that people were making drone techno far before it was referred to by this name. For instance, Aphex Twin’s famous track “Didgeridoo,” which was released back in 1992 combines elements from drone and techno. Furthermore, it is difficult to say whether the two genres of drone and techno were combined intentionally. It could easily be the case that the compatibility of minimalist genres let this develop organically without any sort of “plan.”
Altstadt Echo – 1948 / Concrete / Schaeffer (Original Mix)
Finally, here’s a list of contemporary artists making drone techno to explore. It’s important to note that many of these artists don’t use the term “drone techno,” and that not all of their songs will fit this description. And of course, there are many more artists we like that aren’t included here.
Recommended Drone Techno Artists:
- Giorgio Gigli
- Claudio PRC
- Cio D’or
- Milton Bradley
- Oscar Mulero
- Donato Dozzy
- Oscar Mulero
- Nax Acid
- Dino Sabatini
- Silent Servant
- Abdullah Rashim
- Luigi Tozzi (aka Tozzy)