Here’s my latest mixtape. I’m calling it Ecstasea for a number of reasons, firstly because I just like the way it looks, hovering there over the warm neon purple glow of an oilplatform in a roiling ocean. It’s also a cheeky punmanteau that neatly describes the music within: all endless liquid rhythm and blissful abandon. I had no greater ambition with this mix than to gather some of my favorite transcendental deep house and techno tracks and sequence them for maximum joy. No concept, no specific era – just a vibe that I know and love, riding beat crescendos and chill valleys up to an ecstatic, jazzy finale.
Hey, it’s 2020 and I’m back with a new mixtape. Emergence is a total immersion in decaying dub techno oceans and deep ambient fog, echoing outward over cold synth mountaintops and cavernous drum valleys and finally the warmth and comfort of home coming into focus.
Here we go:
Hi. Welcome to the Optimistic Underground list of the best techno albums of 2019. I’m just one person so this is the list of music I personally heard – and I know I missed a LOT. But I also heard an incredible amount of brilliant music. Far too much to fit on the 50 best albums of 2019, in fact. Because the two genres I listen to most, ambient and techno, composed a great deal of the albums I had saved over the year, I decided it would be a good idea to give them each their own list. So here we are.
Although some of these albums appear on the main list and some do not, consider them all equally and highly recommended for any techno fans. Also, while many of the albums on the big list could have been considered techno in the loosest sense, I went for a more focused attack here. These albums are (almost) all solidly, irrefutably techno music. It’s a vast genre that often bleeds into house music, ambient, and far more out-there sounds, but it centers on an instantly recognizable core that hasn’t changed much in the decades since it was born.
[Ambient fans: don’t miss the 20 best ambient albums of 2019.]
When there simply wasn’t enough room to include everything I loved in the year, I made a new list. A specific list. Here we go, in alphabetical order:
It’s October, my birth month. The time of the year when everything in Michigan melts into cold mush and outdoor summer adventure turns to quiet moments by the window, watching leaves fall on the wet grey world. When I think of autumn, I think of decay, decomposition, death, dissolving. There’s a kind of freedom in that sense of letting go. Giving yourself over to an experience, a long slide into the dark of winter, a plunge that turns gelid and snowblind before it ends.
I don’t romanticize this time with hot apple cider or maple brushed bonfires in the backyard, but I do have a sort of entropic affection for the way life near the forty fifth parallel changes so completely within a month. So I made a mix to kind of sound like how this time feels. Because I’m a total dork, I called it Hypersleep.
As I hastily but pretty spot-on wrote as my upload finished, it’s a deep dream dive from atmospheric future techno through a wormhole of ambient, drone, and new age, toward an altogether weirder, experimentally tinged genre-agnostic ending. These 80 minutes are meant to feel like one long freefall that gradually slows and transforms as it goes deeper and darker. The final pieces are so far from the first, stylistically & emotionally. Listen when you want to feel different than you do right now.
Press play to hear it now:
Fall into the zone. Techno gone weird, stoned, spaced out, turned into a sentient god of some sort. Lose track of time. Think about all sorts of crazy stuff. This is a journey through two hours of the most atmospheric, advanced species of techno today.
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.
On with the list. These are the best dub techno albums ever made:
When you’ve been deeply lost in the world of techno for years, it takes something really special to capture your imagination, hooking you for days, even weeks on end. Omonimo is one of those rare creations, a unified set of tunes that immediately leapt into the pantheon of great techno albums.