Born in 1980s Detroit of the infamous Belleville Three (Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson), the profoundly futuristic electronic sounds of techno were initially influenced by electronica, funk, synthpop, industrial music and, prominently, the flourishing house music movement in Chicago and New York.
As its tracks grew darker, slicker, faster and more experimental, techno garnered greater popularity. Jeff Mills’ WDRQ radio station broadcast the style to Detroit locals, while Juan Atkins’ Metroplex label gave an essential platform to techno’s early pioneers. It wasn’t long before the style escaped the confines of Detroit and the USA, gaining huge popularity throughout Europe – especially in the UK rave scene.
Japan’s contribution to techno was, at first, largely technological. Without the Belleville Three, techno wouldn’t exist – but without the technology of Japanese electronics companies, the genre would likely be totally unrecognisable.
The percussion hits of Roland’s TR-909 and TR-808 drum machines are some of the genre’s most characteristic sounds, while Roland’s TR-303 continues to define the basslines of acid techno, one of the style’s most significant subgenres. Likewise, Technics, another Japanese brand, has long been the industry standard for turntables – its sturdy designs cemented as firm favourites amongst techno DJs.
Ever since the days of Mills’ classic set up of three Technics turntables alongside a Roland TR-909, the history of techno has been indelibly tied to Japanese synthesisers and drum machines. But what about Japanese techno artists?
Former Denki Groove member Takkyu Ishino’s 1998 release Berlin Trax was a prime example of the mesmeric, dark and aggressive style popular among Japanese artists. The brains behind Wire Festival, a techno-focused event just outside of Tokyo, Ishino played a huge role in promoting techno in Japan, showcasing local legends and international talent to Japanese audiences.
Takaaki Itoh, a true veteran of the Japanese techno scene, has been producing and DJing techno for over 20 years. His deep, hypnotic and powerful style fills both his productions and DJ sets with raw loops, intricately layered rhythms and meticulously crafted textures. In 1994 he began throwing parties in Morioka, Iwate, greatly expanding the reach of techno in Japan.
Similarly iconic are DJ Nobu’s Future Terror parties in Chiba. Nobu’s own label Bitta has overseen the release some of the finest techno works by Japanese artists, while Nobu himself is famed for his immense dedication to his craft – and has earned global acclaim.
In recent years, stringent government regulations have severely damaged Japan’s nightlife sector. Despite the 2015 lifting of the infamous fueiho law, which banned dancing after midnight, recent years have seen the decline of Japanese club culture.
Yet the country’s burgeoning pool of techno talent still thrives, especially within its underground scene. The likes of Masafumi Take and Kannabi (co-founders of Katharsis Recordings), Ryogo Yamamori, Lemna, Wata Igarashi and many more constantly push the genre forward – with so many innovative artists experimenting within the genre, it’s only a matter of time before Japan’s clubbing scene is well and truly alive again.
Check out our Japanese Techno playlist!