Many genres hanging under the wide umbrella of dance music incite strong feelings by the mere mention of their scene or sound’s name; dubstep, deep house, and EDM are particular signifiers that get punters all worked up. And then there’s tech house, which might have become one of the most triggering terms in dance music. If you’re confused or curious about what the hell tech house even is, then you’ve come to the right place.
The aesthetics and fashion of tech house may have developed a stigma and come to represent dance music’s normie core, but there are so many excellent DJs and producers within this intersection of house and techno that you simply can’t write the scene off.
House and techno tell an intertwined story. House may move you, but techno hits you. Tech house is what happens when you go for both. But unlike house or techno or trance, tech house isn’t as much of a codified scene but, instead, more of a general-verging-on-vague sound. It’s everywhere, seemingly, but hard to define, as it’s so diffuse and gauzy an idea. For all intents and purposes, it’s techno or house that doesn’t fit cleanly into one pure genre box or the other.
The term “tech house” started being bandied about in the ‘90s, after a decade or so of both techno and house maturing and overlapping with each other. In the broadest sense, it’s a way for the melodic and sometimes vocal elements of house to be hung over the harder edges of techno. Most tech house you’re going to run into will lie somewhere in that 110–130-BPM range. In my experience, tech house tracks are great at seductively unwinding in suspenseful arrangements, carefully building and unraveling. Tech house is usually a bit more dramatic and explosive than minimal techno and will often come with a seedy, sexy bassline as its underbelly.
At least one writer has argued that tech house isn’t techno, and I’d tend to agree. You’re likely to hear melodic chord progressions, and the overall vibe is—while often dark—still a lot less apocalyptic than melodic, no-frills techno. Some of the sounds of techno are used, but in a house frame, which is all to say: Tech house generally has more house in its DNA than, say, classic Detroit techno. It’s a rule of thumb, not an absolute.
This article in SPIN traces how the sound developed in London club the End, perhaps as a response to the idea of acid house wearing thin in the UK. The article cites Green Velvet’s “Flash” as an early influence on the style (and a reaction to fame-seeking DJs in the rave and “electronica” wave in the US).
DJs and producers like Mr. C, Mr. G, and “Evil” Eddie Richards helped spread the tech house gospel around the UK in the ‘90s. As the ‘90s turned into the 2000s, tech house naturally began to overlap somewhat with the rise of progressive house and minimal techno.
DJ/producers like Anja Schneider, Re.you, Rodriguez Jr., Shlomi Aber, Marc Scholl, Tom Flynn, Steve Bug, and Timo Garcia kept the scene moving in the 2000s, as superstars of the scene started to emerge by the end of the decade. The label Crosstown Rebels seemed to have one foot in tech house since its inception in the early ‘00s and is one of the most elastic imprints to really champion the sound.
In the past 10 years, dozens of tech-house-leaning DJ/producers have risen to prominence and become household names. Nina Kraviz, Dubfire, Pan-Pot, Solomun, Hot Since 82, the Hot Creations crew (Jamie Jones et al.), the Martinez Brothers, Tale of Us, Tini, Cassy, and Nicole Moudaber are just a small sample of a much wider and diffuse scene that is kind of everywhere. Most electronic festivals have some, if not a lot of, real estate devoted to tech house, as it’s the meat-and-potatoes cornerstone of 4/4 electronic music.
There are further obligatory names to check out if you’re curious about tech house: Seth Troxler, Maceo Plex, Joris Voorn, and even a lot of the output of the Feel My Bicep crew.
As tech house has come to the forefront, the sound has also invaded Ibiza and, along with EDM, become the signature sound of the White Isle. Apparently, “naughty tech house” has become a thing, too.
But not everyone loves tech house—not by a long shot. In some circles, the tag has become shorthand for milquetoast dance music. Some people find it cold and impersonal, like fast food or fashion V-necks (which, along with general douchiness, have somehow become irrevocably associated with the subgenre). There was even a tongue-in-cheek petition against tech house by a self-described “elitist prick.” But, as in so many of the styles and genres I’ve seen across the electronic and dance spectrum, you really haven’t arrived in the culture unless there’s a vocal backlash against what the musical scene is all about.
And both sides can be right. Is there—according to Sturgeon’s Law—a lot of so-so, ho-hum tech house floating around on digital download services? I’d be lying if I said there weren’t. But that makes the good stuff matter all the more. The aesthetics and fashion of tech house may have developed a stigma and come to represent dance music’s normie core, but there are so many excellent DJs and producers within this intersection of house and techno that you simply can’t write the scene off. Despite the lack of journalism or documentary coverage of the scene, it’s a cornerstone of modern clubbing and the electronic festival circuit.