There is no hyperbole in play when we say tech-house is the most divisive genre in all of dance music history. Not only is it contentious in the way that people either love it or loathe it, but just putting together this list sparked heated debate in the Mixmag office over what actually is and what isn’t tech-house.
As with all musical genres, tech-house has evolved uniquely. It is no longer a sub-genre of what was once simply known as the marriage of techno and house, it is its own beast with its own sub-genres to boot. Naughty tech-house, Euro tech-house, deep tech-house – all these labels containing its own sets of artists, sounds and parties that overlap in name only.
We should have seen it coming. Nathan Coles, Terry Francis and Eddie Richards, founders of iconic club night Wiggle, coined the term from two already fairly broad genres in house and techno. It implied the combination of both styles’ best components to create one Optimus Prime-level construction of good music. House with heavier basslines and drums, and techno with more melodic pads and smoother grooves.
So that’s our starting point. But as mentioned earlier, the evolution of tech-house and its various strands also need to be explored to paint the full picture of where we’re at in 2017. From roided-up stringlet lads at We Are FSTVL to the European bourgeoisie sipping cocktails in Tulum at sunset, everyone’s enjoying it, but who invented it?
Terry Francis & Giddy Jackson 'Blue Wig'
We would be absolutely remiss to not include a track created by Terry Francis & Giddy Jackson on Wiggle Records, so this is an easy place to start. Released in 1999, all the elements of the modern day tech-house banger is here. A simple repetitive loop, a brooding and bouncy bassline, the bpm and the slow addition and subtraction of various drum elements. It’s even got a faintly whispered vocal in the background, an element favoured by producers of the tripper variety of tech-house.
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LFO vs Fuse ‘Loop’ (Fuse mix)
The rave organ is an absolute tech-house staple. You know the sound; it was probably made most famous by Robin S’ ‘Show Me Love’ in the early 90s and it saw a resurgence with the likes of Bicep and Waze & Odyssey in the early 2010s. It’s the soundtrack to as many warehouse raves as it is glitzy clubs and in 2017 it’s reached a point of saturation similar to that of Love Island think pieces. But back in 1995, LFO and Fuse used it to punctuate an otherwise fairly morose tune. The rave organ stabs make this track and put it among the original Detroit techno staples it was inspired by, and tunes from future producers it inspired.
Booka Shade ‘Body Language’
Yes we’re aware this list is titled ‘pre-2005’ but this tune was released in 2005 and its impact on tech-house is huge. From the football-chantable main riff to the plodding drums, Body Language would eventually influence the kind of shimmering, warm weather tech-house that people like Solomun and Kölsch would become known for. It’s quite dubby, it’s quite trippy and it’s looking to wrap you up in a big, warm trance on the dancefloor.
Calisto 'Get House'
A masterclass in stripped-back workouts for the dancefloor, Calisto’s ‘Get House’ from 1995 is the perfect example of OG tech-house. Booming bass, skippy drums, repeated vocal and dubby waves of synth fly by to create a trippy and danceable atmosphere. And when that acid line comes in, a common occurrence in tech-house tunes of old, it becomes perfection.
Musk Men ‘I Never Thought’
Entering deep tech territory here, Musk Men's 'I Never Thought' was a Wiggle night staple. It's by far the most chill of all these tracks and the only one with an extended vocal section courtesy of a Sade sample. How did it shape tech-house? It showed that the genre could employ a soulful direction and still maintain peak dancefloor energy.
We go all the way back to 1993 for this absolute jam which has perhaps played the biggest role in elevating naughty tech-house to what it is today. While the original is definitely bumping, it’s the remixes of the Cajmere classic that really take the cake. Riva Starr’s in 2010 stands out, but it’s Jamie Jones’ remix which paired the vocal with an updated bassline that deserved to be in detention it’s so naughty, to kick start our favourite sub-genre of tech-house. So yes, while the original may not be strictly tech-house, there’s no denying it’s lineage in the creation of this popular sub-genre.
Housey Doingz ‘Gobstopper’
Another Wiggle caner from the mid-90s. It begins with a bit of borderline electro before dropping in that four-to-the-floor rhythm we’ve all come to know and love. That was the brilliant thing about these early tunes, they weren’t afraid to be experimental, such was the febrile scene they were coming up in. ‘Gobstopper’ absolutely pulls the experimentalism off, bringing in eerie pads, a guttural vocal and underlining it all with that back and forth bassline that never fails to rock an elrow crowd at four in the morning.
Silicone Soul 'Chic-O-Laa' (H Foundation remix)
A borderline funky house tune released at the turn of the millenium, H Foundation's remix of Silicone Soul was a move towards bridging organic instruments with more metallic soundscapes, while retaining that funky bottom end. It was also big on those steamy build-ups that have come to define every drop heard in a tech-house club today.
Mr C 'Tech House'
I mean, the proof is in the pudding, right? Mr C’s 2002 album ‘Change’ had various bits of early tech-house goodness but it’s the track literally titled ‘Tech House’ that takes the cake. As owner of iconic club The End, a tech-house haven, and one of the originators of the genre we couldn’t leave out this beauty that also tips its hat to trance to make for an earlier precursor to that pristine sounding Eurocentric sound experienced in the late 00s.
Luciano & Quenum ‘Funky Daddy’
Perhaps a controversial inclusion but Luciano and his Cadenza imprint are powerhouses in the tech-house game today and deserve to be acknowledged for the primalistic rhythms they’ve made such a staple of the genre. ‘Funk Daddy’ was on the first ever Cadenza release and laid out a clear blueprint for the label. While it’s heavy on the leaky water tap minimal sound, you can’t deny there’s plenty of bumping and grooving going on deep down. The track lurches with house swing and is packed with flittering techno blips and blops. Sounds like tech-house to me.
Louis Anderson-Rich is Mixmag's Digital Producer and once went on a five-day tech house cruise. Follow him on Twitter