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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Juan Atkins & Moritz Von Oswald – Transport

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When Juan Atkins and Moritz Von Oswald hooked up for a joint album in 2013, it seemed like a weird dream, the answer to an unasked question. These two legends seemed so far apart, physically and musically, yet somehow produced low-key dub techno magic.

Now they’re back with a followup that seems to strike an even better balance of their respective styles. It’s called Transport.

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The Field – The Follower

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It’s well into 2016 and suddenly The Field is back with another album in the exact same format as his earlier work, right down to the album art – what began as eggshell almost a decade ago is now a darker shade of black. Same bag of tricks, shuffled around. What surprise could there be? What’s the point?

The point, it turns out, is that he’s actually getting better at this, and has been for a while.

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Deepchord Presents Echospace – Liumin

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This is one of the best dub techno releases of all time. It’s a nighttime ride through the sonic world of an imagined Neo-Tokyo, on the bleeding edge of an inevitable cyberpunk reality. It’s a propulsive dream.

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The Field – From Here We Go Sublime

Two years ago, The Field (aka Axel Willner) dropped this masterpiece of maximized minimalism from the sky to explode notions of what infectiously catchy dance music can be built from.

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Pure, ecstatic, sustained immediacy.  This album hits your aural pleasure centers with laser precision from the first moment until the final echo wash.  Using clipped, compressed, shifted, exploded and otherwise modified samples to not only transmit a distinctly amorphous energy, but construct the beats – with each set feeling like micro-worlds unto themselves, tiny galaxies streaming by at high speed.  When Willner slows things down, as he does halfway though the aptly-named title track, eureka is the only natural response.

Grabbing throats and forcing attention, each song proceeds to evolve into a hypnosis-inducing pattern.  The best ones come on feeling hardwired into some primal wavelength in the hypothalamus, unrelentingly catchy until the last moment when elements unravel and a synth stab reveals itself as a pitched vocal, organ lines deflate into a rhythm bed.  An entire song tips over, unravels like a suture, and spills out The Four Tops.

Residing naturally at Kompakt,  his sound is pitched somewhere between the progressive ambient techno of The Orb and the ‘pop ambient’ of label founder Gas (Wolfgang Voigt); of course, to fully visualize you’ll have to imagine Willner floating in some sort of dirigible far above the proceedings.  Not to say that this is objectively better than either of those artists, of course – The Field simply aspires to loftier atmospheres than his forebears.

To put things laconically:  this is four on the floor dance music with enough inner life and microscopic detail to satisfy the deepest of psych connoisseurs, infused with the energy to keep a party stomping though it’s hourlong runtime, and entrancing to the point of total willing surrender.  So let go.  Put on those headphones.  Succumb to the kinetic charms.  From here we go sublime, indeed.

[check this grand record out at boomkat or, of course, amazon]