Beatport’s Definitive History of Tech House
Beatport’s Definitive History of Tech HouseSeptember 3, 2021
As part of Beatportal’s series on the history of electronic dance music, Harold Heath explores the roots, rise and continued development of tech house, from the early ‘90s to today.
From its beginnings in the UK’s early ‘90s club scene to its 21st-century dominance of Ibiza, tech house has morphed from a broad, DJ-led underground scene into a sleek, hugely effective juggernaut of a genre, brushing aside all other contenders. Here’s how it all began.
Photo: Terry Francis, Nathan Coles, Eddie Richards (by Peter Ashworth)
The Early ’90s
So, what is tech house? Obviously, it’s a genre that sits somewhere between techno and house, but it’s also been influenced by Chicago house, Detroit techno, dub, minimal techno, electro house, and America’s West Coast house music scene.
In the early ‘90s, after the original acid house explosion, UK clubland quickly developed and mutated. On one hand, the rave scene rapidly morphed into hardcore with its ever-increasing tempos and “mentalist” aesthetic. The early ‘90s also saw the birth of the super-club and the rise of ‘handbag’ and ‘uplifting’ house, a sometimes beige, sunny, lightweight take on the house template. In response to these two trends, tech house arose as a raw alternative that rejected both the mentalism and high-octane euphoria of rave, and the commercial sounds of mainstream house.
UK DJ Eddie Richards is considered the genre’s Godfather. He and Mr. C DJed at Paul Stone and Lu Vukovic’s Clink Street RIP parties in the summer of 1988 in London, a tougher, rawer counterpart to the Balearic-styled Shoom events. Both parties were integral in introducing acid house culture and music to London. In many ways, the Clink Street parties set the template for the tech house events that emerged just a few years later. Richards became one of three residents, along with Terry Francis and Nathan Coles, at London’s legendary Wiggle parties in the early ‘90s, where — along with Mr. C’s The Drop parties and the Heart & Soul and Release events — the sound of tech house was incubated.
This was an underground scene that, instead of taking place in traditional nightclubs, happened in car parks, repurposed industrial spaces, studios, and other off-the-map locations. However, what’s most crucial about this period is that there were no actual tech house records. Instead, tech house was understood to be an approach to DJing.
DJs like Mr. C, the Wiggle DJs, Bushwacka! and others sped up US garage dubs and slowed down techno records. They paired progressive house with funky bass and older Detroit classics, repurposing a multitude of tracks to fit the context of their DJ sets. No matter what style, the music always had something in common — it was stripped down, had a decent low end, and often but not always combined the shuffle of Chicago with that stately musicality of Detroit, either in the tunes themselves or in the combination of a DJ mix. Tech house was an attempt by DJs to plough a resolutely underground furrow through the glam of ‘90s super clubs, to recapture the raw energy and edginess of the original acid house scene from a few years before.
“And On” is one such early, era-defining record. Released in autumn of 1993 on Plink Plonk Records by Mr. C and Jeremy Jones (working as Animus Amor), “And On” is most certainly a techno record — those pads are pure Detroit — but its pace and mood hint towards house. There’s also this F.U.S.E. remix of LFO’s “Loop,” which is also a techno record with hints of house in the percussion and melody. These early years were characterised by a great deal of genre-fluidity; Calisto’s “Get House” or Jark Prongo’s “K-Ucci” — both from ’94 — were big on the emerging tech house scene and are two extremely different records.
Mood II Swing’s killer “During Peak Hours” dub from ’92; this superb Joe T. Vanelli remix, and records like Murk’s “If You Really Love Someone” or Chez N Trent’s “The Choice,” while not strictly tech house records, are the type of sharp, edgy percussive US house tracks that would get plays at tech house parties. This is how tech house was created.
Photo: Asad Rizvi (by Rene Passet)
Photo: Mr. C
Mid to Late ’90s
By the late ‘90s, the UK music press began taking notice of tech house. And in 1997, Terry Francis won Muzik Magazine’s Best Newcomer award before the newly opened fabric nightclub made him their resident in 1999, signifying tech house’s arrival at the very heart of the UK’s club scene. So it was all but inevitable that UK producers of all stripes would begin making tech house records en masse. “Gobstopper” from ’97 by Housey Doingz (Francis and Coles along with the South London Strangeweather studio crew) is an early mix of house beats matched with a Detroit musicality. Likewise, Chris Duckenfield’s Swag remix of Hardfloor’s “Beavis At Bat” is another early UK tech house production.
Asad Rizvi began putting out his own precise, heavy-duty-yet-somehow-featherlight take on tech house in the mid-90s too, and from an impressive catalogue, the beautifully put together “Pearl Divers” from ’96 easily stands up today, as does the storming “Precision Spanner” from ’99. UK techno label Pacific released some sublime tech house records in the late ‘90s. “165 Drop” from Hot Lizard (Charles Webster, Gary Marsden, Paul Wain) is a timeless track, while the Hot Lizard remix of Slack City’s “Detox” from ‘97 is so big it can be seen from space.
The US influence was still very strong on the scene too. Charles Webster was releasing American-flavoured jams (under his Furry Phreaks moniker) like 1995’s “Gonna Find A Way” that proved particularly popular. As did deep house records like “Nothing Stays The Same” or Mood II Swing’s “Do It Again.” Straight-up filter-disco cuts like DJ Sneak’s “You Can’t Hide From You Bud” got plenty of spins, and “Ahnongay” from Inner City was huge too. 1995 was also notable for the release of “Ultrasong,” an absolute gem from Floppy Sounds, with an incredible remix by François K. It’s raw and moody, with a touch of Chicago jack — classic tech house.
Certainly in the early days, the rhythmic influence of Chicago — the tight, highly swung percussion, and the simple-yet-devastating sonic conversations between the kick, snare and hi-hat that proved so irresistible to dance floors — was a major part of tech house sonics. From its earliest releases, like Cajmere’s 1992 “Dream State” featuring Derrick Carter, Green Velvet’s Cajual label (and to a lesser extent the Relief sub-label) has been ever-present in tech house. Chicago’s Green Velvet pursued a darker vision with tracks like “The Stalker” on Relief, and of course his jack trax classic “Percolator” found young audiences over 20 years after its initial releases with Jamie Jones’ massive 2014 remix. Cajmere’s “Stay Around” feat. Terrance FM is a great example of the blending of ‘90s razor-tipped jacking Chicago drums and elegant Detroit pads.
The first wave of tech house in the late ‘90s was a golden era. Many tracks produced during this era still sound as effortlessly cool as they did when they first landed on UK dance floors. Take François K’s remix of Ame Strong’s “Tout Est Bleu,” or The Timewriter’s Letters From The Jester album. Klarky Kat’s “Custard Gannet” from the same year feels particularly prescient and something of its clean, efficient production and slippery synth riff clearly survived in tech house DNA to be revisited ten years later by records like M.A.N.D.Y. and Booka Shade’s “Body Language”. “Body Language” would then go on to influence the kind of pristine, stripped back Ibiza-tools favoured by DJs like Patrick Topping, Marco Carola and Solomun.
Along with DJs, UK record shops played a vital role in the expansion of tech house. Jazzy M’s Vinyl Zone in Fulham supplied many of the main players with their imports from the early ‘90s. Jiten Acharya and Paul Stubbs’ Croydon-based store Swag was was home to several influential tech house record labels, including London Housing Authority, Surreal, Pirate Radio, Uhuru Beats, 4Real, and Funkhose. Several tech house DJs and producers worked there too, and Liz Edwards (RIP), who was also an influential party promoter, accomplished DJ and a driving force behind the UK scene, eventually co-managed the shop for a time.
The Swag shop labels released music by artists like Gideon Jackson, Grant Dell, Daniel Poli, Dave Mothersole, Richard Grey, Affie Yusef, Canada’s Jay Tripwire and Haris, and released an impressive and era-defining catalogue. While Surreal released strong EPs like Terry Francis’ Took From Me, which took the sonic language of techno and married it to the funky swing of house. And although it might be surprising to hear in the modern context, it’s worth mentioning that producers like Asad Rizvi and Matthew Bushwacka! B also played and made tech breaks records that were a part of the first wave of tech house.
Bushwacka’s Plank imprint was home to some of the funkiest tech breaks ever committed to wax, including the monstrous “The Vison” from Bushwacka under his Makesome Breaksome non de plume. Makesome Breaksome was also responsible for this beautiful tech breaks remix and Layo & Bushwacka (working as The Usual Suspects) and produced one of tech house’s most underrated breaks anthems, the mighty “Nightstalkin” on Mr. C and Layo’s End Recordings. The late ‘90s also saw the emergence of Circulation, who would go on to release many deep and tech house classics including the stately “Turquoise.”
Meanwhile, outside of London, melodic techno records like Vince Watson’s “Mystical Rhythm” were still very much part of the tech house sound, and producers like Jamie Anderson were turning out 909 heaters like his “Rio Grande”. Drop Music in Nottingham was founded in ’98 and was home to the Inland Knights, who released under several names and put out jacking-flavoured, soulful tech house from the likes of Troydon, Kinky Movement and The Littlemen.
Over the years, the vocal side of the tech house genre has waxed and waned in popularity. But ‘90s tech house was home to some truly beautiful, soulful pieces of music, like the 20/20 Vision remix of Blaze’s “Lovelee Dae,” or Charles Webster’s unforgettable “Sooth Me.” And under his Presence alias, he released one of house music’s most heart-wrenching songs with Shara Nelson, “Sense of Danger”. However, the growing prevalence of minimal in the new millenium would sideline the vocal side of tech house for several years, and would take the emergence of a new cadre of global tech house superstars for vocal tracks to make a comeback.
Photo: Steve Lawler
As the millenium approached, the influence of American producers on tech house gradually began to strengthen, as the West Coast tribal sound grew in popularity. Launched in ’98, Grayhound was an early West Coast label, which helped create a hybrid house sound that fit in perfectly with what was happening in the UK. DJ Garth and E.T.I.’s “Disco Glory” was originally from ’96 but got a re-release via Grayhound in ’98 and is a clear precursor to the layers of highly polished percussion that would come to define tech house ten years later. Likewise, early Grayhound releases like Crosstown Traffic’s “Open Sesame” from 1998 and E.B.E.’s Incidental Tourist EP from ‘99 feature percussion-heavy, dub-influenced house tracks that presented a template for the emerging West Coast sound: layers of congas, bongos, timbales and all manner of percussion, an abstract sensibility and a healthy dose of white noise breakdowns.
Other US labels pressed forward with this take on tech house too, with players like Tango Recordings (established in 2000) and sister labels Detour and Nightshift, San Francisco’s Red Melon and DoubleDown releasing music from artists like Halo, Hipp-E, Onionz, Johnny Fiasco, Joeski and Chris Lum, all pursuing a dark, tribal vibe. The popularity of this sound in the early 2000s, epitomised by tracks like Halo’s “Primitive” inevitably led to more producers copying the basic tropes — tribal percussion, simple one or two-note b-lines and rushes of white noise — resulting in a codification of the tech house sound. As a result, some of the more eclectic elements of tech house were sidelined in favour of a more tightly prescribed sound.
The 2000s saw the Chicago jacking and West coast tribal elements of tech house being further shaped and moulded by the influence of minimal techno and electro house. Minimal’s gift to mid-2000s tech house was a new sense of cool detachment and restraint. Over the course of the decade, the raw, heavy-duty West Coast style tribal percussion gradually became more produced and polished until it was streamlined, shimmering and slick.
Get Physical Music was launched in 2002 with M.A.N.D.Y.’s Put Put Put EP, which featured a tech house-flavoured remix from John Tejada that combined tribal-esque drum loops with a cool, new detached sensibility. Get Physical mainly released electro house and minimal records in the 2000s, but it also released plenty of straight-up tech house, like the Jesse Rose remix of Riton & Heidi’s “Vejer”, tasty house/techno hybrids like “Home Again” from M.A.N.D.Y. and releases from Lopazz, Samin and DJ T.
By 2008, Get Physical were releasing records like the Gavin Herlihy remix of Dakar’s “I’ve Got That Feeling” and DJ T’s “Outbreak,” which featured percussion that had been buffed to perfection, the simplest of one or two-note synth riffs, and aƒ restrained drop after the breakdown, as though it doesn’t want to lose its cool. This particular trope was taken straight from minimal and would soon become synonymous with tech house.
Other key moments in the mid-2000s included the establishment of Claude VonStroke’s Dirtybird label and club nights that helped spread the newly developing tech house across the US. Likewise, Mark Knight’s Toolroom label was launched in 2003, and over the years has been home to many different shades of 4/4 including plenty of quality tech house.
The other key development in the 2000s was the influence of electro house. The D Ramirez mix of Bodyrox’s “Yeah Yeah” — with its huge electro house-ish riff — perhaps put off older corners of the tech house scene, but tech house was becoming more popular and being played in larger venues more often, leading many DJs to seek out big room tracks like this. You can hear the same process in releases like Trentemoller’s “Always Something Better” from 2006, which placed the big-lead sounds of electro house with crisp tech beats, driving tech house into a more ‘big room’ direction, prioritising massive, simple, gnarly synth riffs.
As already mentioned, M.A.N.D.Y. vs Booka Shade’s “Body Language” dropped in the middle of the decade and got plays from DJs across the house and techno spectrum. It was a cleaned up, stripped-down take on the tech house template, all precise beats, a simple, nagging riff and an air of sophistication, of cleanness, maybe even of European puritanism. Ten years on from tech house’s creation, it was a fresh and extremely successful sound. Steve Lawler’s ’08 “21st Century Ketchup” was also a key track. With its itchy, one-note synth riff, single-note bassline and taut, pinched sounds, it’s a minimal-flavoured track. But the beats, the builds and the breakdowns are pure 21st-century tech house. It’s not raw or jacking — it’s clean, tight and functional.
Though she now pursuing a more techno orientated sound, Nicole Moudaber’s “Radical High” on Lawler’s VIVa Music neatly sums up late 2000s tech house: crisp, rolling percussion with a one note b-line; the mood is cool, almost detached, and the breakdown, although it hints towards the epic, again resolves in an extremely low-key way, as though there’s no place for exuberance.
Photo: Green Velvet
By the end of the 2010s, all the musical elements were in place, and this streamlined, taut sound was proving to be highly effective in the big rooms of Ibiza super clubs. 2010 saw the launch of Spain’s elrow party, which eventually created a worldwide network of events that became instrumental in spreading tech house to the masses over the next decade. Ushuaïa and Privilege in Ibiza both moved to tech house post-2010 too. Jamie Jones and Lee Foss’s Hot Creations label launched the same year and quickly became a key player in the scene, with a decade-long streak of influential releases including dance floor slayers like Darius Syrossian and Hector Couto’s “House Is House” and anthems like “Benediction,” bringing vocals back to tech house dance floors for the summer of 2012.
Other vocal tracks did really well during this period too, including Art Department’s brooding “Without You” on Crosstown Rebels, the Jamie Jones Remix of Azari & III’s “Hungry For The Power” and Noir & Haze’s “Around” (Solomun Vox Mix).
Although much of his output has been techno and house, Joris Voorn was also an important producer in the evolution of 21st century tech house. Tunes like “The Secret” on Sven Väth’s Cocoon and his Nic Fanciulli collaboration “Together,” both from 2010, helped to define that big, bouncing, ruthlessly effective tech house sound. Producer, DJ and Saved label boss Fanciulli has also been a consistent presence in tech house DJ’s playlists. Releases like his massive remix of Loco Dice’s “Definition,” his own “Movin’ On” from 2012, and his party-friendly “Benediction” remix of 2014, provided another version of the lean, effective, big-room-targeted tech house aesthetic.
It was a sound that Fanciulli and Voorn were also pushing through their club nights like La Familia at Ushuaïa in the mid 2010s and one that proved hugely popular, and built on the success of ANTS at Ushuaïa, which regularly featured guests like Uner, Andrea Oliva, Butch, Davide Squillace, Steve Lawler, Tapesh, Yousef and more. With regular guests like Nic Fanciulli, Magda, Nicole Moudaber, Green Velvet and Yousef, Carl Cox’s parties at Space Ibiza were also vital in spreading the tech house across the island. And Liverpool’s Yousef himself has also been a crucial player in the tech house story. His production career and his long-running Circus night started in the early 2000s, and he launched his label, Circus Recordings, in 2009 with his debut album, A Collection of Scars and Situations, which helped set the imprint’s future tone: dance floor-friendly, percussion-heavy tech house.
The mid 2010s was also the period when Bronx duo The Martinez Brothers were dropping serious dance floor slayers, like their razor-edged remixes of Santos Resiak’s “A Better Light” and Green Velvet’s “Bigger Than Prince”, as well as their own material like 2015’s slippery “Tree Town”. Yorkshire’s Hot Since 82 contributed a percussion-heavy take on the tech house template, like his rolling remix of krankbrother’s “Circular Thing” or the driving, crisp beats and carefully engineered breakdowns of tracks like “Yourself” and “Bloodlines”.
Photo: Anja Schneider (by Patrice Brylla)
Photo: Joris Voorn
At its best, 2010s tech house was cool and sophisticated, but also bold and devastatingly effective. It was pristinely tooled dance music made for big rooms and expansive open-air summer parties — a confident and broad genre that could encompass straight-up jack tracks like Breach’s “Jack” on Dirtybird; sleek, chunky fair like Patrick Topping’s breakout smash “Get Beasty” or Steve Lawler’s retro-tinged, skeletal tech jam “House Record” — and it happily took over the world.
In the early days of tech house, the vast majority of the producers and DJs were male, and it’s still a very male-dominated genre. During the 2000s, however, more women began breaking through. Detroit raised, Berlin-based Magda turned her hand to many different flavours of 4/4 over the years, including this minimal-influenced, superbly-wonky tech house tune from 2005, through to her 2019 “Rattlesnake” release on Pets Recordings.
Germany’s Dana Ruh and Switzerland’s Sonja Moonear both have quality tech house records in their back catalogue. And Berlin-based Anja Schneider has released several quality tech house tracks over the years, including “Follow Me” and “It’s Like That” from her 2018 Run The City EP on Sous Music, as well as her 2018 remix of Francesca Lombardo’s “Spondylus.” Lombardo herself also dabbled in tech house from time to time on Leftroom, Echoe, Suara, Flying Circus, and Get Physical.
Steve Bug’s Poker Flat label was founded in ’98, and over the years would put out plenty of quality deep, minimal and tech house from the likes of Alex Niggeman, Mihai Popoviciu and Joeski. Chunky dancefloor tools like 2008’s “Fruitfly” by Vincenzo remixed by Steve Bug or the ruthlessly efficient “Street Therapy” by Alex Niggemann showcased a heavy, raw abstract vibe that did much to popularise tech house too.
The genre showed no sign of slowing down in the second half of the 2010s with original faces like Joeski, Green Velvet, Gene Farris and Silverlining continuing to release quality tech-flavoured house music, alongside a new generation of producers, each working on their own particular take on the tech house template. One by one, European countries succumbed to the genre’s highly effective dance floor charms.
Spain’s Dennis Cruz released “El Sueno” in 2018, and has gone on to become one of the biggest selling tech house artists in the world through tracks like his 2020 track “High” on Moon Harbour. Switzerland’s Dario D’Attis’ take on the genre paired finely-honed percussion loops with deep house warm pads and washes, like his Soul Vison re-rub and “Jack” release. Italian duo Supernova developed an accessible, melodic take on tech house, and founded Lapsus Music, a label that has released plenty of tech house since 2008.
By the mid 2010s, the scene was extremely healthy, with labels like Material, Avotre, Lost, Noir Music, Harry Romero’s Bambossa, Beta Rebels, Ovum, Tronic, Moon Harbour and Riva Starr’s Snatch! Records all flying the flag for tech house. And in a sign of how far tech house had come, throughout the mid-2010s, mainstream house labels Defected and DFTD put out plenty of music that fell into the accessible tech house bracket, featuring artists like Enzo Sifredi, Franky Rizardo, Josh Butler, Sonny Fodera, Dario D’Attis and The Deepshakerz.
Towards the second half of the 2010s, the genre’s global domination was consolidated by a rise in a more accessible, festival-sized tech house, influenced by the brash and brazen aesthetics of EDM and electro house. Long-time UK producers Chris Lake and Martin Ikin put out chunky tech house like Lake’s “Give Her Right Back” and Ikin’s “Headnoise” and “Hands Up,” which contained hints of Eurodance and EDM in their synthetic leads, in-your-face production and monumental snare-ridden breakdowns. Likewise, US producer John Summit’s brand of tech house features plenty of the white-noise laden extravagant breakdowns, snare rolls, and the Day-Glo fluorescent leads often associated with EDM and hardstyle.
Photo: Jamie Jones (by Emma Tranter)
Photo: Fisher b2b Chris Lake (by Andy Keilen)
No discussion of late 2010s tech house would be complete without a mention of Fisher and his huge 2018 hit “Losing It”, a track that seemed to signal the full capitulation of the world to big room, electro house-tinged tech house. It was a style that Fisher continued on tracks like “You Little Beauty” and “Wanna Go Dancing”. Global tech house act CamelPhat have put out music categorised as house, techno, and progressive, but they’ve also released some heavy-hitting tech house. There’s this year’s collaboration with Green Velvet on “Critical”, last year’s “Freak” featuring Cari Golden, the relentless “Electricity” from 2019 with Riva Starr and Mikey V, or their drumtastic “Solution” from 2018.
Manchester’s Solardo released their breakthrough track “Tribesmen” in 2016 on Hot Creations. Releases from the duo like “Be Somebody,” “Tango Wango” and “On The Corner” all use very different vocal samples to create memorable and contemporary tech house that has proved extremely popular. And Eli Brown is another globally successful producer who, aside from making heavy-duty percussive tracks like his huge “Sumatra,” releases hard-hitting tech house that’s often flavoured with the bombast and ultraviolet sheen of electro-house, like his “Legion”, “Desire” and “Searching For Someone.”
Photo: Solardo and Idris Elba (by Adi Adinayev for Insomniac Events)
Despite naysayers and doom-mongers, tech house continues to work its particular magic on dance floors around the world. If you go shopping for tech house, due to the sheer quantity of releases, you might need to plough through a few mediocre tracks to find the jewels, but artists like PAWSA, Detlef, Silverlining, Serge Devant, Davide Squillace and Michael Bibi have continued to develop the aesthetic and are still turning out ruthlessly effective tech house jams.
It’s been a journey of over 25 years, with a few peaks and troughs, but through it all, tech house has never failed to deliver the goods on the dance floor. It appears that its greatest strength is the ability to assimilate influences from new genres, whilst maintaining its structural genre integrity: tech house shows no sign of giving up any time soon.
Check out Beatport’s Definitive History of Tech House Playlist below.