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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Basic Channel – Quadrant Dub

Quadrant Dub is one of the most transcendent pieces of music ever recorded. It stands as perhaps the most important dub techno recording of all, the pinnacle of an entire genre and a beacon for artists to follow for decades. Created in 1994 by Basic Channel, the German due composed of Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus, this 12″ has done more than stand the test of time; it charges onward, curating its own timeline outside of everyday reality.

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Gramaphone Records // Last Stop Before Fatherhood

I finally visited one of the best record shops in the country, a little place called Gramaphone Records, nested in the north end of Chicago. This place feels tailor-made for my tastes, focusing on house and techno, providing room for all the weird corners of electronic music that most shops tuck into a dark corner.

Gramaphone is a groove music mecca, and appropriately enough, the place where I found one of my personal holy grail records. I can’t wait to go back some day soon, when my life looks very different.

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Gr◯un土 – Vodunizm

djground-vonudizm

When I saw the name Gr◯un土 on a list of recently released albums, my first thought was to pass right on by. After all, there are countless indistinct artists with unpronounceable ascii-fun names. Then I saw the cover art and was intrigued. Something called to me. I found a stream of Vodunizm and a smile immediately crept across my face.

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