by Dave Fox
One of the biggest revolutions in music came sometime during the late 1980s and the early 1990s. While all of the previous generations of musicians usually relied on “conventional” instruments, the evolution came with what we now know as electronic music.
What was previously done using analog synths has now become easier using digital or “virtual” instruments. Entire bands and even orchestras eventually got replaced by unimaginably long lines of ones and zeroes.
Well, not exactly replaced, but the movement became big, eventually giving birth to many different genres, subgenres, and has even found its way into other styles of music.
But one of the most famous movements, or many THE most famous genres, is techno music.
Of course, this is a broad term and many different artists and bands delved into this music in one way or another. The 1990s are pretty much remembered after techno music in one way or another.
However, what we’re interested in here is downtempo music and its “flirting” with techno.
Well, things are kind of complicated, so we’ll need to dive deeper into this topic and explain when “downtempo” actually means, what techno music is, and how these two movements work together.
Yeah, it seems a bit geeky, but guess what – we’re music geeks here! And we believe that it’s extremely important to have everything defined.
After we’re done with this, we’ll bring you a list of what we consider to be the best downtempo techno artists or just downtempo artists that mingled with techno music just about enough that they could be placed in a list like this one.
“Techno music” is a pretty broad term. However, there are some particular traits that define this genre and make it one musical and cultural whole.
The genre traces its roots to the mid-1980s and the overall development of music made by some digital units. It was the so-called “Detroit techno” scene where it all started.
To be more precise, it emerged in Belleville, which is a suburban area in Detroit. The vibe is still strong there today.
While it’s open for discussion, many authors and music lovers claim that these artists were heavily inspired by Kraftwerk, a legendary German group that brought the world of music upside down back in the 1970s. In fact, the very term “techno music” originated in Germany in the 1980s among the fans of this Detroit movement.
But how can we define this genre? Well, the most important musical trait is that it’s in 4/4 time signature almost all of the time, with the beats per minute laying somewhere between 120 and 160, with occasional ventures into faster territories with some specific subgenres.
For the main beat, we originally had some specific drum machines, like Roland’s TR-808. Eventually, it turned into an abundance of different samples.
However, the same formulation still remains – a simple bass drum on every beat, with the addition of hi-hats, snares, and other drum components or samples. In almost all of the cases, the bass line is pretty straightforward, often following a simple yet catchy chord progression.
As time went by, it found its way into pop, rock, and metal music. At the same time, we had both cheerful-sounding techno music, as well as darker-sounding stuff. The melodies on top are often simple and repetitive, and some would also describe them as “minimalistic.” However, minimalistic techno is a movement on its own, but we’ll get to that some other time.
Anyhow, although the term “techno” is kind of old now, the genre is pretty widespread even to this day. You’ll have anything from underground performers and up to big names using these same principles in making their new music.
In some way, the downtempo genre name is pretty self-explanatory. However, the exact genre boundaries are not as strict or defined compared to some other examples.
We could explain it as a combination of electronic music, that actually traces its roots to techno, with some ambient and experimental stuff.
In most of the cases, we have little to no vocals, although you can find some artists that are more or less defined as downtempo but that have vocals in most of their music. Such is the case with a group like Portishead, who are often defined as downtempo trip hop.
However, many would not even define downtempo as a strict genre, but rather a stylistic movement within electronic music. It’s usually any type of electronic music that’s laid back and that has a more or less steady or slow tempo.
This is why some also use terms like downtempo chill, downtempo ambient, or downtempo electronica music.
The melodies and chord progressions follow this chilled-out vibe, and they usually bring no tension to the equation but are more “static” and catchy in their nature.
While it’s hard to define in detail, there are still some well-established downtempo artists.
Aside from Portishead, we also have Thievery Corporation, Flume, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Helicopter Girl, Boards of Canada, and others. However, you’ll also have other weird mixes, like downtempo deathcore, which adds intense and laidback elements into one.
With some similar traits, it was only a matter of time when the downtempo techno would become a thing. However, we’d rather describe it not as a clear and strict genre, but as a movement or subculture within techno music.
After all, techno is more of an established genre in many ways, so downtempo techno would just be a more narrowly defined movement.
It’s techno that’s interwoven with all the things downtempo – slightly slower tempo, chilled-out bass lines and melodies, and the overall mellow vibe.
And there are actually artists that could be defined with this loose downtempo techno definition.
While it’s not a very defined movement, we looked into some of the elements of both techno and downtempo and found the best artists that can represent this chill-sounding music.
So if all this sounds like something you might like, or if you just like geeking out about music and finding out more about new artists, sit back, relax, and check out this list.
Coming from the German city of Cologne, Olaf Dettinger, simply known as Dettinger, is one of the examples of how we can get a great downtempo mix with techno music.
But although he’s still active as a performer, he only released two albums, “Intershop” in 1999 and “Oasis” in 2000. Although his music goes more towards the (loosely defined) downtempo chillout style, there are some clear examples of techno music as well.
He’s not that big of a name, but his music is a feast to anyone who’s really into vintage vibes. Imagine tape-style saturation combined with electronic music.
In some way, it reminds us of the so-called vaporwave movement, although it’s way more minimalistic than that. It’s really laid back and can really help you chill out and relax. It can even help you fall asleep if you need help with that.
Going deeper into this whole chill downtempo path, we also have Voices From the Lake, a duo from Italy, featuring Donato Scaramuzzi and Giuseppe Tillieci.
These two experienced and talented producers got together sometime in 2010 and have finally released their self-titled debut full-length album in 2012. Unfortunately, this was their only full-length studio record, but they also had a few smaller releases over the years.
Be that as it may, Voices From the Lake is a very talented and innovative duo that merged techno with the downtempo movement, creating their own unique style in the process.
They’re not like a super popular techno group, but they’ve made some amazing music on their self-titled debut album. In fact, their very name “Voices From the Lake” describes their style pretty well.
Although we can hear the beats in the style of old school classic techno, they’ve added a mysterious and kind of an eerie vibe to their work.
Any of the tracks from their one and only album are great, although we’d argue that “In Giova” really stands out, especially for the list like this one.
Although we defined downtempo techno as a more laidback style of music with no tension in songwriting practices, in some cases, a carefully added intense section can work pretty well here.
Such is the case with French musician Mike Lévy, better known under his stage name Gesaffelstein.
Starting his career in the late 2000s, he perfected his craft over the years and has even collaborated with some of the biggest names in the world of modern music. The list is pretty diverse and includes Daft Punk, Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, and none other than Jean-Michel Jarre.
Of course, he has released his own music, including two full-length records and plenty of EPs that we could roughly define as downtempo psy trance.
His work is pretty unique and is a bit more intense compared to some other downtempo stuff. Nonetheless, it still has its mellow vibe to it.
Coming from Manchester, England, Andy Stott has been making electronic music since the mid-2000s.
Between 2006 and 2019, he released six full-length albums in total, all diving deeper into mellow and chill waters of techno music.
Ever since his beginnings on debut record “Merciless,” we could hear some laidback downtempo elements in his overall classic techno-oriented material.
Of course, he developed over the years, ultimately bringing a new twist to his music. However, there has always been the same downtempo vibe in his music.
In many ways, we could also draw some parallels to industrial techno as well. But one thing’s certain – Andy Stott is a very creative artist who always loved to go into territories where no one dared to enter before, ultimately pushing the boundaries of the genre.
To fully understand his music, we need to clear up the very meaning of the stage name that Alex Zieliński chose.
In Somalian language, Riyoon means “dream,” which is just about the perfect description of his music. Coming from Warsaw, Poland, Alex is not exactly the super popular mainstream artist in techno music. However, his music is worthy of all praise.
If we were to speed up Riyoon’s music, we’d get some sort of energetic yet relaxing techno house music. But with its overall slower tempo and other elements, Riyoon enters the territory of what we could define as downtempo techno.
Although a relatively younger musician, he clearly knows how to make the good stuff. If you’re into downtempo stuff, you just can’t go wrong with Riyoon.
For quite some time now, Belgium has been home to techno, trance, and house music. But an artist like Peter Van Hoesen is just something else.
In fact, as a young teenager, he was so talented that he began exploring music through a few different instruments. Eventually, he focused on becoming a DJ and a music producer.
One thing led to another, and he began developing his own unique style in techno music. Mostly inspired by German and Belgian underground scene, he eventually got into territories that we can define as downtempo.
But with more modern elements in it, in some way, Peter Van Hoesen’s music can be defined as downtempo house or downtempo deep house genre. He has three albums so far, as well as a few more EPs under his belt.
French musician Kevin Rodrigues began his musical journey at the age of 3. But after many years of hard work, he finally found his true passion in electronic music.
Giving himself the stage name Worakls, he eventually grew to become one of the most appreciated DJs in France and Europe.
After releasing several EPs and singles, Worakls finally launched a full-length studio album “Orchestra” in 2019. He’s always been interested in exploring mellower sides of techno music.
All of his works and remixes are very well thought of. And as his album suggests, he’s never been shy to implement actual orchestral instruments in his music.
If there was a modern artist that we could single out as the boldest and most ambitious one, Worakls would definitely be one of the top choices.
Thanks for reading! Did we miss anyone? Leave a comment below.
Downtempo – A Guide to the Great Artists and Their Best Songs and Albums
About Dave Fox
Recorder of many songs, haver of many albums. Dave (AKA Young Coconut) has been making music for the past twenty years or so, of varying genres and degrees of quality, to the dismay of listeners and algorithms everywhere. He’s also in the Suburban Bicycle Gang with Jerry Grey.
Dave has a keen interest in studying all aspects of music history, especially experimental / genres like jazz, krautrock, drum n’ bass, and no wave.
Here’s his Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/1v3iPVEXzurahTI2Tm4Tpm
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