Best Downtempo Techno Artists

downtempo techno best artists

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.

German techno

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.

minig netlabels for psybient

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.

What is Techno Music?

“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.

Roland's TR-808

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.


What is Downtempo 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.


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Downtempo techno?

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.


Best Downtempo Techno Artists

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.

dettinger downtempo techno

Dettinger

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.


voices from the lake

Voices From the Lake

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.


gesaffelstein-return

Gesaffelstein

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.


andy stott faith in strangers

Andy Stott

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.


no mind's land riyoon

Riyoon

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.


Peter Van Hoesen

Peter Van Hoesen

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.


Worakls

Worakls

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

Downtempo – A Guide to the Great Artists and Their Best Songs and Albums

Right in the middle of the 20th century, the music started to change. And as the technology progressed, it seemed that, somehow, the music just followed.

And along with it also came the culture, fusing into one and delivering a whole experience. The period from the 1970’s to the end of the 1990’s was crucial, as so many different genres appeared.

What was previously thought impossible, or that was just unimaginable – it all suddenly came to life during this period.

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The one particular musical style that we’re interested in here is downtempo. This is actually a subgenre of electronic music, and it emerged sometime in the late 1980’s and the early 1990s’.

Of course, the exact lines are kind of blurry, but we’ll take some time to explain a few things about this style and find out more about some of the most important artists. So let’s get into it.

What is Downtempo Music?

So what is exactly downtempo music? Downtempo is a killer subgenre of electronic music, with little to no vocals and simple beats. It’s pretty laid back, just like ambient music, but it also has a beat you can groove to, unlike conventional ambient music.

Okay, look – that is kind of a lie. At the bottom of the article we have included several of the best downtempo artists and some of them include vocals, but for the sake of this brief introduction to the genre, and to help familiarize you with it, let’s go ahead and say that most downtempo music uses soft vocals for audible texture but not so much to tell a story.

We can kind of refer to it as ambient music with its own flavor, or a mix of ambient and EDM or trance. Some would maybe think of it as trip hop, but it’s still a bit of a different genre. We’ll get to that soon.

Partygoers, ravers, and clubbers will be familiar with this genre, as well as DJs, of course.

The music is a lot more chill than others in the electronica genre. Seasoned DJs will leave downtempo to the end of the set when the party draws to a close.

downtempo music

This music is also played in side-rooms of clubs or designated “take five” areas. The beats are slower and super groovy, perfect for a break from dancing or wrapping up a party.

Most clubgoers, whether they recognize and know downtempo or not, will automatically get the signal from this type of music that it’s late into the night.

If you’ve ever seen Portlandia, the theme song is a prime example of downtempo music with a chill beat that is easy to listen to and very enjoyable. There are some vocals but they’re airy and non-dominant.

Non-dominance is a good way to define downtempo. It’s got elements of ambient music and serves listeners the same way: it can be enjoyed either as a focal point or be ignored while still providing an atmosphere. It neither overpowers nor disappears.

It’s a beautiful genre for summer driving. You’ll also often hear downtempo in lounges. It’s great for a casual hangout with friends or any time you need to relax.

History

So where does the genre come from? To explain it, we’ll need to go way back to the old days. It all started with the synthesizer.

This instrument became more affordable to people in the late 1960s – early 1970’s and so musicians, being the experimental and curious artists that they are, ever-searching for the perfect tool for self-expression, fell in love with it.

We had the beginnings of ambient music in the 1970s.

Electronic music as we know it today really came into huge popularity in the early 1990s. The club scene brought in all kinds of new genres after the electronica ruled the sound systems everywhere because it didn’t require a live band and provided dancing crowds with non-stop movement to inspire their dancing.

It was obvious new experimentation with the synthesizer, which at the time had only been around for a couple of decades. There was plenty left to explore on that instrument with so many options.

Downtempo is usually played on a synthesizer as well as a drum machine and a few other things. Electronica is typically faster paced, and so downtempo was created not as an antithesis but simply as an alternative for lounge areas and chill-out rooms at festivals and nightclubs.

Dancers could go into these rooms and sit for a while, taking a break from the intense energy of the dancefloor and enjoying a drink. You’ll also notice somewhat of a hypnotizing element to downtempo, the same way electronica brings you in and holds you.

If we go digging a little deeper, we can see that the genre originated on Ibiza, which is a Mediterranean island that’s well known for its nightlife and electronic music. Tourists from all over the world come to Ibiza as a destination for this type of holiday. And downtempo music blends perfectly with the laid-back Mediterranean lifestyle and the beautiful scenery.

DJs have always known how to read a crowd (or, they should) and know how to bring up the energy and bring it down. On the island of Ibiza, where they party ’till sunrise, the DJs start playing downtempo to bring the crowd down after a full night of partying.

Here’s a “Best of Ibiza” chillout downtempo playlist if you want to feel a little bit of that vibe for a while.

Like we mentioned above, and downtempo is sometimes referred to as trip hop, taking elements from hip hop, drum and bass, and ambient music.

These are then combined together and played over a slower tempo. These days the music also incorporates more melodic instrumentals. However, no matter all the comparisons between downtempo and trip hop, these are still two distinct genres.

They take elements from one another, but they are still not the same thing. But quite often, you’ll see the genres interlapping, with many artists covering both in their body of work. This is, for instance, the case with Portishead. But we’ll explain it all below.

The genre has been around for about three decades now. Of course, it also saw its evolution over the years, especially during the 2000s and 2010s.

Some have even referred to it as “downtempo pop,” which is somewhat of an umbrella term for laidback music with slow tempos, mellow beats, and vintage-oriented synths.

Yes, the exact genre definitions are kind of loose, which is not uncommon for many different music styles. But the true lovers of downtempo know what we’re talking about and have more “feel” over the more precise definition of the genre.


The Artists

Now that we are familiar with the genre, let’s have a listen, shall we?

After some lurking and weighing, we dug up some of the best downtempo artists out there. Some were around for the advent of the genre and helped shape it, and some others showed up along the way and furthered the genre’s popularity by keeping it alive.

Of course, the genre has so many different great artists, but we can’t really have them all in one brief guide. The choice was not easy, but here’s the list that we came up with.

Thievery Corporation

Thievery Corporation has been around since 1995. This electronic duo has opened for Paul McCartney and worked with artists such as David Byrne and Wayne Coyne.

They bring an overtly political message with their music and actions, performing at the Operation Ceasefire concert and supporting human rights and the World Food Programme.

Visit the Thievery Corporation official website


Flume

Flume is a younger artist, born in 1991 and has been making music since 2004. He has risen to popularity rather fast, having remixed several famous songs by artists like Lorde and selling 40 000 tickets for his first national tour.

He is from Australia and his work incorporates many electronic elements from hip hop to dub. Here is his self-titled debut album.

Visit Flume’s official website


Blue Sky Black Death

Another duo on our list, Blue Sky Black Death hails from San Francisco, California. They produce their music with a drum machine, sampler, keyboard, synth, and guitar. They’ve been on the scene since 2003.

The phrase “blue sky black death” is a skydiving phrase alluding to beauty and death. They got their start making beats to rap over but soon gave up rapping to pursue producing. Below you can hear their third full-length album, Noir.

Visit the Blue Sky Black Death Bandcamp page


Kruder & Dorfmeister

Kruder & Dorfmeister get automatic points from us for their G-Stoned cover, which resembles the famous Bookends cover by American duo Simon & Garfunkel.

Peter Kruder & Richard Dorfmeister comprise this Austrian duo and have been making music together since 1993. They got their start playing big festivals and were instantly loved by the audience.

They have gone on to tour the world and continue producing music to this day. They’ve also put out their own solo albums and albums under aliases. They have at least 9 studio-recorded albums available.

Here is their first album, G-Stoned.

Check out the Kruder and Dorfmeister Facebook page


Samantha James

Samantha James stands out from others on our list for her vocal style. Many downtempo artists are producers and rarely feature vocals in their work. Rather the vocals are presented as a soft ambiance over the beat.

Samantha’s singing is incredibly soulful and gives a whole new life to this style of music. Coming from Los Angeles, she became involved with the underground dance scene there as a teenager.

She has been making music of her own since 2007. Her first single, Rise, was an instant hit in 2006 and she has since toured the world with her wonderful blend of electronic and soul music.

She has two full-length albums and has reached #1 on the US dance charts.

Listen to her first album, Rise, here:

Check out Samantha James on Om Records


Helicopter Girl

Helicopter Girl is a Scottish musician and has been active since 1993. She gives downtempo a unique spin incorporating elements from several genres, including dance music, indie pop, and jazz.

Helicopter Girl is widely revered for her vocal style and the lyrics offer a listening experience that speaks utter truth. Straight badass. You’ve just got to give a listen and experience this for yourself.

We’ve included a link to her video for Glove Compartment but we also recommend listening to her song Angel City.

Glove Compartment is mysterious and fateful; Angel City is rockier than everything else on this list, but the vocals are cool, calm and sultry, chilling you right out with icy proclamations.

Check out Helicopter Girl on Dharma Records


Portishead

Portishead are one of the better-known artists on this list. They remind us of Helicopter Girl a bit – with their infusions of other genres like indie rock laid on top of downtempo – and a bit of sex appeal.

This is music you can throw on for driving or grooving out at home and works just as well in a lounge setting. Portishead has been around since 1991, taking a brief hiatus from 1999 through 2005. They took up music again after the break.

They’re an English band, well known in this genre because they were one of its pioneers. Despite their dislike for press coverage, their music has been successful internationally.

There is no exact definition of their musical styles though, and you’ll find many different descriptions of their work. For instance, Rolling Stone magazine referred to them as Gothic hip-hop.

They’ve been around so long making this kind of music that they have been played in all kinds of underground clubs and gothic scenes. They’re considered to be one of the originators of trip hop music, but they’ve also pioneered downtempo at the same time.

However you define them, it’s pretty clear that their creative style was revolutionary. And even to this day, they still remain one of the most important artists of these genres, despite not being as active as they were back in the 1990s.

Visit the Portishead website here


Emancipator

Now going over to something more contemporary, we have Emancipator. Based in Portland, Oregon, he goes by the name of Douglas Appling.

He officially started his work back in 2006, releasing his debut album “Soon It Will Be Cold Enough” when he was only 19 years old. As of 2020, he has released 6 albums, 2 EPs, and 2 remix albums.

Making music for the sheer love of it, Emancipator also started his own label and has even formed his band Emancipator Ensemble that plays live with him.

Overall, Emancipator’s music is different compared to many of the artists we mentioned here. The further you go in his discography, you stumble upon a lot of different elements.

It’s a pretty thin line between trip hop and downtempo. Nonetheless, Emancipator is one at the frontier of this genre, pushing it into new territories.

Released in 2020, the “Mountain Of Memory” album is a great example of how he respects the old style while also adding in new elements to it. It’s really interesting how he also blends some elements of world music in there.

Check out Emancipator’s website here


Tycho

Coming from San Francisco, California, Scott Hansen started his music career back in the early 2000s. The first album under his name Tycho came out in 2006, and was titled “Past Is Prologue.”

The most exciting part is that he’s such a versatile musician, and he relies on a lot of “conventional” old school analog approaches. At the same time, he’s also a guitar player, which is the instrument that he adds to his music.

In addition, you’ll also find a lot of ambient sounds in his music, including random dialogues and even sounds of weather.

After releasing his debut, he became known among the lovers of both electronic and post-rock music. Many have also compared him with artists like DJ Shadow and Boards of Canada.

He first started performing all on his own, combining both analog and digital instruments and gears during live shows.

When things got more complex, he hired his own band. Now, he has 6 studio albums in total, with “Simulcast” coming out in 2020.

Visit Tycho’s website here


Boards of Canada

Of course, it’s impossible to avoid mentioning Boards of Canada on this list. This duo, consisting of brother Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison, has been active since 1986.

Although starting very young, it took them a while to actually release their official music. In 1995, they launched their debut EP “Twoism.” Between then and now, they have released a total of 6 EPs and 4 full-length studio albums.

Although regarded as part of the downtempo and electronic music movements, Boards of Canada added their own unique elements to their work.

Somewhat mournful and melancholic, their songs offer a different perspective on the genre. You’ll also hear a lot of psychedelic elements, ambient music, and even a genre referred to IDM, or “intelligent dance music.”

To explain it simply, their music instantly induces nostalgia, as if there’s some magic surrounding it. If you feel like going into downtempo, Boards of Canada are a good choice.

Visit Boards of Canada’s Bleep entry here


Alright, that’s all for now guys!  If you think we missed anyone or have any comments, leave them below.  Until next time!