Techno is a genre not necessarily geared towards the album format. Optimised for dancefloor impact, it's a pacey, breathless style primarily presented in short, sharp and hard-hitting records that keep the tracklist trim.
But over the years some artists have dared to push the scope of what a techno record can be, unleashing full-length albums that can equally tease out breath-taking intricacy and go full pelt with the bangers. From ambient-indebted to funk-fuelled to adrenaline-charged sounds, here are our picks for the 10 best techno albums released in the 90s (in no particular order).
1 Porter Ricks ‘Biokinetics’
A fug of harsh fuzz courses through this record, imbuing it with a striking intensity. But it’s fair from just harsh noise: The intricacy of the music is incredible, it simultaneously washes over you like a tidal wave and holds you in an intimate stranglehold. A steam-roller in musical form. Amongst the vigour there’s moments of elation, like the reverberating chords on ‘Port Gentil’, but what makes it so special is the unadulterated abstractness, techno that transcends a 4/4 beat and warps the sound into uncharted territory.
2 Model 500 ‘Deep Space’
The originator. Juan Atkins is a key player responsible for inventing techno, and naturally the original don has produced one of its finest records. Inspired by the post-industrial landscape of Detroit and an interest in futurism, Atkins’ early work is sweeping and unearthly, transcending the confines of urban decay. ‘Deep Space’ under his Model 500 moniker takes listeners into orbit with a finely-crafted but hard-edged selection of tracks. We owe all of the releases on this list in part to Juan.
3 Aphex Twin ‘Selected Ambient Works 85-92’
Aphex Twin’s music has always escaped classification, but the floor-primed power featuring among the spacey beauty has us filing this one under ambient techno. It’s a completely spellbinding record, that journeys through ecstatic beauty (‘Xtal’) to a soul-searching deepness (‘Tha’) to gurgling acid ('Green Calx’) to pulsating atmospheres (‘Ptolemy’) to synth-pop fun (’Delphium’). Across its breadth the tracks share an otherwordly energy, causing the kind of deep introspection where it feels like the weight of the universe hangs broodingly on your mind. A truly transportive masterpiece.
4 Underworld ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’
Vocals in techno are a reasonably rare proposition, but when done well their impact can be monumental. Underworld’s ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’ was a game-changing release, that shifted many perceptions of what techno could be. It was techno music that people called ‘songs’ rather than ‘tracks’, with raw human vitality coursing through its fist-pumpinh duration. The album's ability to rock an industrial warehouse and also be fun belting out in a karaoke booth with your pals is also a refreshingly enjoyable aspect - ‘‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’ is universally banging.
5 Luke Slater ‘Freek Funk’
If you’re going to release a 16-track techno album, you better make damn sure every track is potent to keep listeners locked in. Luke Slater delivered such a record with his 1997 epic ‘Freek Funk’. ‘Bless Bless’ is perhaps the archetypal track for the LP’s title (despite the eponymous ‘Freek Funk’ also featuring), backed with rattling but robust percussion like some possessed funk band are helming the beat. ‘Filter 2’ and ‘Origin’ are ravey whirpools that resemble getting sucked into a throbbing sweatpit; ‘Score Four (Black Cloud Over Zin Vortex)’ and ‘Zebediah’ are all fraught atmospheres and spacey textures; ‘Time Dancer’ is a peak-time head-spinner. Luke Slater released this album under his given name rather than his Planetary Assault Systems alias, but regardless, it sounds like an invasion from an off-world colony of dance freaks.
6 GAS ‘Königsforst’
When it comes to crafting deeply textured sounds that resonate with the sublimity of a thousand stunning sunrises, Wolfgang Voigt is pretty much unparalleled. Every track here is untitled. Voigt lets the music do the talking. And what a story it tells, unfolding with an astounding depth of emotion, constructing vast worlds in its soundscapes that you could get lost for days in. It’s both deeply psychedelic and entrenched in natural feelings, like viewing a scenic panorama through an uncanny filter.
7 Orbital ‘Orbital 2’
Orbital steamed through a very productive purple patch during the 90s, and each of the five LPs they put out in the period could make a claim to feature in this list. But their second eponymously titled effort of the bunch, referred to as ‘The Brown Album’ is our pick. Opening with a trippy vocal loop “where time becomes the loop” repeated over and over, it invites listeners into the immersive world Orbital construct over the 10-track runtime. ‘Planet Of The Shapes’ is asphyxiating and frantic; ‘Monday’ has a pleasant swinging energy; listening to ‘Remind’ is like dissolving in a vat of acid; ‘Halcyon And On And On’ combines choral majesty with pumping beats; ‘Lush 3-1’ and ‘Lush 3-2’ are stadium-sized hand-raising set closers. With most track lengths bordering on 10 minutes and real diversity on show, this one’s a real epic.
8 Plastikman ‘Sheet One’
Richie Hawtin is a leading proponent of the notion “less is more”. Over the course of this early Plastikman album, the minimal master constructs mind-bending music, relying on sparse arrangements and fine use of the Roland TB-303. The artwork was designed to look like a perforated LSD tab, so realistic looking it once led to a roadside arrest in Texas from a keen-eyed cop spotting the CD case in a car - it’s a fitting front. This album is whopping, jewel-case sized trip, underpinned by squelching, petrochemical feeling.
9 Carl Craig ‘Landcrusing’
Hailed as a leading figure in Detroit techno’s second generation, Carl Craig took the baton from his pioneering forerunners and ran full pelt into continued innovation. His 1995 album ‘Landcruising’ is mindblowing. Packed full of infectious rhythms, rugged foundations, mind-altering spirals, it’s an irresistible outing that asserts you can load an album with non-stop bangers and it works a treat. With track titles like ‘Technology’, ‘Science Fiction’ and ‘Mind Of A Machine’, this is firmly embedded into the roots of techno, and set a blueprint that few producers could match.
10 Move D ‘Kuntstoff’
An underrated gem. The chair adorning its artwork perhaps indicates it’s techno to listen to at home rather than the club, but make no mistake, the music contained within is impactful. ‘In/Out (Initial Mix)’ has the blissed out quality to send your headspace spiralling to nirvana; while ‘Nimm 2’ is an intoxicating mover that gets rolled out by the likes of Pender Street Steppers, and ‘Hood’ is a proper chugger. Opener ‘Eastman’ weaves through shimmering synths and odd flecks of electronics, and closer ‘Xing The Jordan / Seven’ fades out with a warped growling voice above head-spinning noise. Move D is far better known as a DJ than producer, but this album is clear evidence of the extent of his music-making capabilities.
Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Staff Writer, follow him on Twitter