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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32 Best Ambient Albums Ever Made

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Here it is, the Optimistic Underground list of best ambient albums ever made. Inspired by all the discussion surrounding Pitchfork’s list of the genre, I decided to lay out my favorites. This is a sound that I’ve been in love with my whole life, so the only problem was narrowing it down.

Lots of people like ambient music for lots of reasons. Some love to fall asleep to it. Some are fascinated with the granular detail of slow songs. Some enjoy the way that it can dilate time, shifting perception for vast stretches.

I love it for all of these reasons, and for the way it can utterly transport my mind in a way that frees me to have all sorts of thoughts, the kind of ideas that spring up during a long bike ride or a mediation session. Ambient music is contemplative music, for all intents and purposes. It’s music to think about, and think to.

As of right now, I can’t imagine setting a strict order for these albums. So they’re not numbered. Some are definitely more beloved than others, but the important thing is that these are all incredible works of music that deserve your attention. Every single album here is a defining example of the power and possibility of ambient music.

For more exploration, try the 32 Best Dub Techno 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 ambient albums ever made:

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What I’m Into This Week (9/18 – 9/24)

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So it goes and so it goes, and in some bleak moments, the world seems a bit more abrasive this year. Sometimes I retreat entirely into art and fiction, absorbing as much beauty and weirdness as I can before having to emerge to responsibility. It’s inevitable, it’s cathartic. It’s where things change.

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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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Rod Modell and Michael Mantra – Radio Fore

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Photo: Marie Staggat

I’ve been familiar with Rod Modell via his Deepchord Presents Echospace project for several years now. 2007’s The Coldest Season is often cited as a monument of dub techno; icy beats, muted atmosphere, and warm rounded analog bass flesh out an album that bumps against the limits of control.

His second Deepchord album, Liumin, is one of my favorite techno releases of all time. This time the beats are more pronounced, evolving from broken radio tuner waves into a futuristic cityscape stomper.

However, I’d somehow missed his absolutely blissed-out meditation music, crafted with Michael Mantra over a decade ago. Listen to this half hour of pure alien serenity now:

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Deepchord Presents Echospace – Ghost Theory [hypnotic video]

I stumbled across this ominously bespoke track today while falling through a youtube hole. Understated dub techno sprawl from Deepchord Presents Echospace.

I began following an Intrusion link from a fine German friend, stepping through the nocturnal Detroit world one related video at a time.

This might be one of the more tightly controlled meditations from Deepchord Presents Echospace, but it’s ventilated, heaving, and not a little bit spooky despite itself. This video  highlights the sort of mindscapes you’re bound to fly over with this tune on high volume. Dark, specific, filled with cavernous negative space. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

If you find yourself falling, just look around.