32 Best Dub Techno Albums Ever Made

Here it is, the Optimistic Underground list of the best dub techno albums ever made. Recently I realized there were no definitive lists or guides for ushering new fans into the genre I love most. The few I found were anemic, narrow, and boring; nobody was doing dub techno justice. So here I am, trying to do just that.

The magic of this genre is that its best and brightest examples are not only impressive musical monuments; they’re easy to love and loop and listen forever. This isn’t an academic compilation based on importance or history; it comes from a deep affection for a living, breathing sound.

Dub techno was born with such a defined aesthetic that many early examples sounded like they were from the same artists. Some of them actually were. In fact, you’ll see a few artists represented under different names on this very list. It’s not for a lack of options out there; techno artists tend to switch up identities as soon as they find a new direction in sound. So on a sensory level, for all intents and purposes, they really are distinct musicians. Basic Channel is not 3MB is not Maurizio is not Rhythm & Sound is not Moritz Von Oswald Trio is not Borderland… you get  the picture.

You may notice that this list holds many compilations standing in as albums. In a genre so deeply associated with the 12″ single format, many early dub techno artists became known to the wider world via compilation CDs. This is where the hermetic genre feel becomes an advantage: these compilations often evoke the feel and structure of planned album releases. They’re as cohesive as anything recorded in the album format and undeniable highlights for the genre.

Some of the biggest fans of dub techno are the ones who want to keep it pure, holding a very narrow range of sound as the platonic ideal, accepting little variation and dismissing anything that comes later. They hold up the few original masterpieces as paragons of the sound and dismiss anyone who came along in the following decades. These folks come at music with a prescriptivist attitude, battling for how they think music should be, rather than appreciating how it is. I believe they’re wrong.

When it comes to music, just like grammar, I’m always a descriptivist. I love when genres splinter into dozens of permutations as they migrate and adapt to their new environments. When it comes to dub techno, I hear masterpieces in every era, from the obvious touchstones of the 1990s on up through last year. This sound comes in more than one shape, a fact made crystal clear as we follow its timeline below. This list is arranged in chronological order so you can follow along from when the genre broke ground through the myriad branches that grew as it matured. Accordingly, the music gets weirder and more varied as time goes on.

For more exploration, try the 32 Best Ambient Albums and Every David Bowie Album Ranked lists or see the Optimistic Underground best of the year collection for a load of gems.

On with the list. These are the best dub techno albums ever made:

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David Bowie Is Dead // This Is What He Means To Me

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“Where the fuck did Monday go?”

David Bowie is actually dead. It feels strange to say this. More than any other artist on the planet, Bowie always seemed to move beyond mere mortals. To the world, he was larger than life. His work was timeless, always a step ahead and off to the side from everyone else. Even his most popular songs felt beamed in from another place, with a unique sensibility that could come from no one else. He is universally beloved by entire generations, despite remaining as weird as a man can be.

Infinitely more important to me, however, is the space he occupied in my life. David Bowie is the one and only artist to have been there all along. I mean this in the most literal sense.

He starred in one of the first films I can remember watching, Jim Henson’s dark fantasia Labyrinth. Despite playing the villain, he was a magnetic attraction. Enigmatic, beautiful, always a touch removed from the teenage heroine and the viewer alike, he was the spectral vehicle and its destination in one. As the Goblin King, he invited my young mind on a journey with the promise of adventure, tinged with a little fear and weighted by potential loss. There were high stakes for reaching out to take his hand, but the rewards unfolded past the horizon. I was smitten before I knew it.

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, past the peak of his commercial popularity, I swam in the echoes of David Bowie’s legacy. He was so far ahead of the game that I never quite caught up. My earliest radio memories were filled with older icons like Roy Orbison, The Beach Boys, and of course, Bowie. I would bicycle around my forested neighborhood singing Pretty Woman, I get Around, and The Man Who Sold The World. I had no grasp on time, never differentiating between oldies and current hits. The music simply was what it was, the soundtrack to my childhood, the intangible spirit in the air.

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