Tech-house has been collapsing under its own weight over the last few years, a genre often parodied for its staleness and stagnant blends:
What do I mean by Tech-house? No doubt, different people have different definitions. I would term it as not ‘dark’ enough to be techno yet too sleek and metallic for house with the hi-hats being very to the fore in the mix alongside a big, rolling bassline. It’s more of a holistic, mood-related definition as house, techno and tech-house have similar enough bpm’s. Here’s an example of the genre’s current mustiness:
My god, you’d nearly need a glass of water after listening to all of that (I’m making a big assumption assuming you made it all the way through)! Drier than a sand-sprinkled ryvita. The hi-hats and overall percussion just sound so dead and bland. The nonsensical vocals and random synth flourishes add nothing, Okay, the bassline has a bit of flavour, but the excitement quickly wears off. And it’s somehow garnered 1.2m views… Judging from the multiple drug and Ibiza references in the comments section, it would seem this number is mainly drawn from the hordes of eighteen-year-olds who head to Ibiza after their exams then come back self-proclaimed house music experts. Jesus, think for yourselves will ye?! Someone actually tries to defend the track: ‘This is the most played track in Ibiza.’ Cool story bro but this that doesn’t save it from what it is – a boring as hell track. I wouldn’t be able to stomach a whole set’s worth of this…. I’d sooner head home early. At least Marco Carola’s infamous ‘Play It Loud’ had a bit of a groove!
Maceo Plex had a knack for making this kind of formula semi-interesting when he first rose to popular attention at the beginning of the 2010s but four/five years later, now it just sounds tired and devoid of soul. There is some stuff going around now that would qualify as belonging to the categories ‘tech-house’ and ‘interesting’ but most of it would be more closely associated with techno or deep house – darker and smokier a la Mr G let’s say.
You need to rewind the clock back to the early to mid-00’s in order to see this genre flourish – The Timewriter, Terry Lee Brown Jr., Craig Richards, Terry Francis, Steve Bug all in their inventive prime. And of course, my man Joris Voorn. These guys had soul… and for the most part still do! Better known nowadays for his OCD mixes (check that tracklist on Fabric 83!), in 2004 Voorn blessed us with a glorious, polished, diverse assortment of tech-house gems.
The album opens with an interlude: a surreal warning of impending ecological destruction from a voice that sounds like it’s been beamed down from above by some alien starship to caution us of our profligate ways. ‘Awakening’ gets the album off to an achingly beautiful start, a musing synth heralding us into Voorn’s sun splotched dreamscape. The arrangements in this cut are spectacular, creating a contrasting yet intriguing mood of both novelty and nostalgia – welcome to Voorn’s account of Detroit techno’s ‘Future History.’
Although an album, the tracks blend in well together to create a sense of fluency, ‘Distant Moment’ bringing the beat in, before a gorgeous synth melody is introduced after the 1.10 mark, quiet and subtle at the start before growing in confidence and building to a joyous salvo.
Prepare yourselves, the next one is an outright beast: the meteoric ‘Incident.’ It starts out as a brooding bass stomper, before a funky, almost latin-flavoured trumpet steps in, adding a flourish to the groove. A fantastic moment next – from nowhere an oldskool, ravey piano struts in and is left to belt out merrily on its own before the bass and percussion romp back in. One of his best.
‘Skyshopping’ saunters in afterward, a lovely interplay of two synths, one providing a danceable rhythm, the other like some warm, celestial air horn, egged on by giddy percussion. ‘Year Of The Monkey’ switches the tempo down a bit, a staggered double handclap providing some early momentum ahead of a drowsy synth being introduced at 1.20 which is soon accompanied by another detuned, stuttering, drunken companion, creating a loose, dark, unhinged feel.
‘Believer’ arrives next, its main draw being its inquiring, fluctuating synth radiating out like the searchlight of some distant, flashing pulsar. Halfway through, it heaves and lurches, a warped, full-bodied handclap gravitating around it. ‘Don’t Believe Everything You See’ starts out with some drums to set the rhythm before a swooning, woozy synth pierces the senses before bowing out to allow the groove to chug along.
‘Afterlife’ is a bealtess, ambient interlude, Voorn’s synth echoing out melodiously over empty space. ‘Clear’ is what Detroit techno would sound if it were adapted to suit space travel – the synths on this are lovely, pulsing and undulating with a real sense of movement. ‘It Ain’t Mine’ continues the space travelling vibe, a gleaming, icy synth eliciting the careful, awe-inducing discovery of new worlds. Voorn hits a sweetspot with the breakbeat here – very crisp and elegant.
Oooof! On ‘Bionic Man,’ Voorn breaks out into electro. If we were space travelling during the previous two tracks, we’ve now suddenly been beamed down into some alien disco, the dancefloor set alight to a buzzing, whirlwind beat, the track’s lush pads later inducing a knee trembling rapture.
‘Sweet Narcosis’ begins eerily before offering up a soft, dreamy ambient respite. ‘Rejected’ drops next – the moment we stop freaking out with the aliens and become enlightened through their more informed teachings. That’s the feeling I attach to this cut – a moment of realization, euphoria, your life changing for the better. A really special track.
The solemn dancefloor destroyer ‘Zeronine’ erupts afterwards, a tracks ringing in reverb with a subtle synth added in to funk up the bassline. If ‘Zeronine’ fires up the house, then ‘Shining’ burns it down! A track oozing with energy from the start, a buzzing headfuck of a synth bearing down on you, heaving bass and an eerie synth. There’s a lovely breakdown in the middle that allows some light to shine in before the dark bass strikes again, streaking the brightness.
‘Missing’ sees a cold futuristic synth oscillate and throb over a hard bassline, sure to entrance any club in the early hours. ‘Rhodes Interlude’ is another nice, soft ambient haze that grants the listener some welcoming breathing space ahead of the title track which is a lovely way to effectively end the journey, gorgeous synth melodies glistening astride a rolling beat. Now it is a beautiful track but it has clearly borrowed heavily rom Carl Craig’s classic ‘Chicken Noodle Soup’ – the breakbeat and four tone pad are exactly the same. No harm in updating a classic but Voorn should have provided some reference to the former instead of trying to pass it off as his own work which is the impression I gather.
So here we have a kick-ass, driving, soulful, shining and varied example of tech-house done right. Voorn never sounds dry, dull or trite like much contemporary reincarnations of this sound, creating an undeniable masterpiece – it still retains its ridiculous 4.70+ rating on Discogs.
Standout Tracks: ‘Incident,’ ‘It Ain’t Mine,’ ‘Bionic Man,’ ‘Rejected,’ ‘Shining,’ Future History’