Ever wanted to hide records you really liked behind some you’d never buy, in the wrong genre bin, at your favourite record shop?
The modern obsession with minimal is a lot like that.
Over the past few years, the sunny environs of once freshly washed house-heads have been over-run by unironic and underage tie-wearing androgynes dancing to French electro thinking it’s indie rock, the moody prog heads of old grew up and went home to their wives and kids, and four-to-the-floor dance music woke up with a headache, took a look at itself in the mirror and decided to pull things back just a little bit.
Inventory was taken. Housey, organic hand-claps and funk samples were rounded up and dispensed with. Tracks full of multi-layered mid-range melodies dumped in old shoe boxes. Eye-opening progressive breakdowns were taken off the corkboard and thrown away.
In their place came a more hypnotic sound, incorporating the fat kicks and production trickery of modern house with some of the more dislocated bleeps and muted, staccato percussion of old school techno, all the while pulling track tempos down to a BPM under 130.
However, where techno’s beats were cold and lacking reverb, these new techier records maintained the big-room kicks and spacey sounds crowds had become attached to. It wasn’t so radical – they just removed a lot of the unnecessary fluff and put the focus where it counts, on the beats and the bass.
Let’s be clear: minimal techno is nothing new… it’s been the mainstay of techno producers like Richie Hawtin for a decade or more. But the new sound known as minimal has just as much in common with jacking house or the more linear end of sunset-era progressive house. It’s really, just… tech house. But like most good records, this new sound was something disparate DJ’s could actually agree upon without jumping too far from their own stated styles.
While it’s no surprise that many DJ’s from all over the spectrum already owned and played records like this and called them tech-house, a band of producers and DJ’s started to form around this sound. in Europe and in particular Berlin, home of techno, masses of quality tunes started bubbling to the surface.
Labels like Get Physical and Innervision became new favourites. In one particular example (and there are plenty), Ame’s track Rej was dreamy enough to capture the attention of club DJ’s looking for a way to replace big room drama with intrigue and the mainstreaming of minimal was on.
In the past year or so the term ‘minimal’ has been slapped on anything without an obvious strong percussive sound like a hand-clap, and all the while the sound itself appears to be branching out in new directions.
Deep house records are fattening their bottom end (check Jesse Rose tracks, for instance), eerie sci-fi trance melodies are squeaking into otherwise sparse german records, and all the while the harsh, farting electro basslines of modern big-clubland are gradually being pulled out of the mix. Techno is gaining back a bit of ground. Pretty soon, minimal will mean even less than it ever did. But house music is more exciting than it’s been in years… go on, ask a breaks DJ.
Which brings me back to my original point. Genrefying is such a stupid idea, even shit-talking it is a cliché. These techier records gained traction ‘cause they work. It doesn’t matter where in the shop you hide records like that – if someone picks them up, chances are they’re going to get played.