Trust the Europeans to take something and make it more efficient. Whilst the Techno that originated out of Detroit was about groove and soul, the continental take on Techno music was all about the polar opposite – energy and drive.
With the rise of ecstasy, the more harder, synth-driven music from the continent satisfied the raver’s hunger for music with a payoff that was more instant and direct. Most European techno records consist of no more than 2-3 key elements, usually with one key motif running throughout which would be fed through a variety of mind-mangling effects and filters until it sounded as if the whole track was turning inside out.
At the heart of the European sound was the tiny country of Belgium. Well-renowned for its chocolate and beer, Belgium became just as famous for its distinct brand of techno with many prolific labels including Music Man, Beat Box and Dance Opera. However the undisputed powerhouse of all these labels was the mighty R&S which is still going strong today after 30 years.
Various artists on the early R&S roster included the likes of Joey Beltram, Model 500, CJ Bolland, Dave Angel, and Aphex Twin. With names like that its easy to understand why R&S was on another level to every other label at the time – They had a knack for signing artists who were visionaries rather than imitators. Never afraid to push boundaries and try new ideas, R&S has since branched out into practically every field of electronic music since and consistently been looked upon as a seal of quality throughout its entire history. Drum & Bass wise, dBridge is the most recent producer to have released on the label, which is unsurprising since D-Bridge and his Exit label are arguably the most forward thinking force in D&B today.
The effect European Techno had on the scene from the rave era through to the current day is undeniable. Certain sounds have become so ingrained in the producer psyche that it’s easy to forget that ‘Mentasm’ stabs are so called because of the Beltram release of the same name. Other stabs will also be instantly recognisable to D&B crowds including Outlanders ‘Vamp’ and T99’s ‘Anasthasia’ (of which a brilliantly shit performance from TOTP can be seen here). The vast majority of these stabs originated from the legendary Roland Alpha Juno II, which is demonstrated here by Danny Byrd who is like a kid at Christmas after forking out £400 for an original model.
Unlike the UK, there was clearly big money behind European Techno. Most labels had a prolific output and full picture sleeves with every release. They were also mastered and engineered in professional studios which is just as well since practically every stab or synth would end up being sampled and re-sampled in makeshift bedroom studios by breakbeat hardcore artists here in the UK. In fact I would hazard a guess that if it wasn’t for Belgian Techno (and the Alpha Juno II) over half of UK breakbeat hardcore tunes would have never happened. For example until I put the 1991 mix together I never realised that the breakdown in D.O.P.E’s darkcore classic ‘When I was young’ is lifted straight from Sub System’s ‘Jai Peur’, and that’s just for starters…
At its height of popularity here in the UK, Dj’s including Grooverider, Carl Cox, Top Buzz and Easygroove would play sets that were probably up to 50% European Techno. For UK producers, their crowning glory would come a little later when they began combining breakbeats with the sounds of Europe. Once we in the UK had got our shit together, breakbeat Hardcore went on to take the rave scene by storm in 1992.