Minimal techno is a subgenre of techno, often regarded as a more simplified form of its parent genre. It usually contains simple drums, a bassline, and the basic elements required to make a grooving track. However, just as with other genres, it has developed into something quite distinct since its conception.
The early 1990s saw the emergence of minimal techno. The so-called “second wave” of American producers linked with Detroit techno is frequently credited with enabling the genre to expand. Derrick May claims that although the first-wave musicians were taking advantage of their early international success, techno also served as an inspiration for many aspiring DJs and bedroom producers in Detroit. This generation includes producers like Richie Hawtin, Daniel Bell, Robert Hood, Jeff Mills, Carl Craig, Kenny Larkin, and Mike Banks.
A focus on minimalism emerged in the work of several of these artists. Robert Hood has described the minimal techno sound of this time as “a simple, raw” sound. Only core elements—drums, basslines, and funky grooves—are used.
Minimal techno tracks and musical characteristics
One of the earliest minimal techno tracks to gain recognition was Robert Hood’s timeless song “Minus,” released in 1994. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the globe, Germany developed its own techno scene. Labels like Kompakt, Richie Hawtin/M-Nus Plastikman’s, Ellen Allien’s Bpitch, and many more, popularized the style. Purists would not regard many of their tracks as such, but the broader dance world has labeled them and their entire sound as “minimal techno.” Major artists like Boris Brejcha do not claim to be artists of this genre, but they have acknowledged and voiced the impact of the style on their own compositions.
According to Philip Sherburne, the style employs two distinct artistic approaches: skeletalism and massification. According to Sherburne, skeleton minimal techno includes just the main parts, with embellishments employed primarily for diversity within the track. Massification, on the other hand, consists of an approach in which many sounds layer over time, but with little diversity in sonic characteristics.
Today, the impact of this genre is not only present in club music, but is also becoming more noticeable in mainstream music. A track’s tempo in the genre ranges between 125 and 130 BPM. Richie Hawtin recommends 128 bpm as the ideal tempo. Most early tracks, and many of today’s, used the Roland TR-808 or Roland TR-909 drum machine. Minimal techno, as opposed to minimal house, is less afrocentric and concentrates on midrange frequencies rather than deep basses.