Every periodic dalliance between electronic music and the mainstream brings with it its own period-specific genre misnomer.
For now, we seem to have settled on the mostly acceptable catchall EDM (electronic dance music), but for many years after the emergence of techno in the late ’80s, and well on into the ’90s, any type of electronic dance music was labeled, often derisively, as “techno.” That wasn’t accurate, of course, as techno — along with many other longstanding styles of electronic music — is itself a sub-genre, with its own lineage of micro-genres, each with their own specifications, ranging from hard, to minimal, to ambient, to Detroit, to tech house, and on and on. You could spend a lifetime dissecting the minutiae of each — and certainly many fans do.
Is techno still misunderstood? Absolutely, says Jason Donnaruma, 38, of Everett, who records and performs techno under the moniker Monktec. “It's pigeonholed. People think everything is techno, a lot of people think tribal house is techno, or electro is techno. I hate to pigeonhole anything, but the word ‘techno’ has been used for the wrong style. A lot of people do that. It’s not their fault, they just don’t know.”
Techno as a whole was born out of the Detroit scene in the ’80s and is distinguished by a repetitive 4/4 bass drum beat with syncopated snare and high-hat rhythms, a tempo of roughly 130 to 150 beats per minute, and its often dark textures.
“Electronic sounds, nothing too polished, fat bass lines, and not so much anthems, but something with a groove,” as Donnaruma describes it, are all on display throughout the bevy of releases from Monktec, including his most recent, “Dead Weight” on the Brazilian label EchoDeluxe Recordings. “Not With Words” is a rush of static, haunting vocal samples, and an incessant groove that conjures the shadowy colors of dark techno. The title track has the takeoff ascension patterns of a trance track, but without ever crossing over into a bright sense of uplift. Cross-fading bullets of noise whir overhead in increasingly chaotic rhythms; it sounds like two armies taking shots at one another across a twisted battlefield.
It’s images like that that place Monktec’s music, for the most part, in the dark techno camp, and what makes him a fitting match for CVLT, the recurring party at Machine, where he’ll perform this Saturday.
“I wouldn’t call all techno dark,” he explains. He also produces more minimal techno, like last year’s release “I’m Not Your Salvation.” “It depends on the artist’s interpretation of the song. Some songs have dark elements to it, long scary-type intense sounds; those would be considered dark. I would kind of put my style in dark minimal techno. Sometimes I’ll do a heavy techno track, sometimes cutback. I make whatever I feel, I don’t try to stay with one style, sometimes I’ll do a tech-house track. I’m all over the place.”
Being all over the place has garnered him releases on numerous labels throughout the world, about 10 originals in total, and 20-plus more remixes. Another of his most successful was a release on the Argentina label Concepto Hypnotico. Most of his support, and fans, come from elsewhere around the world, he says. His next release will be a minimal techno EP called “Red Room” on a new label, Black Vault out of Colorado, and others on Redukt, Dark and Sonorous, Lung Filler, and Silent Hell.
While his music has caught on in pockets of the underground techno scenes throughout the world, a surprising lack of attention in Boston almost inspired him to quit performing here, he said; he plays regularly in New York City. “On the other side of the planet, in Europe, techno is like pop music here. I’d be better suited in Berlin, but I’m in Boston.”
Logan Hudson, one of the promoters behind CVLT (and a DJ under the name El Poser), is a big champion of Monktec’s sound. “What I found unique about Monktec’s music and philosophy was that he is a producer of great integrity,” he explained. “He makes music he believes in and that speaks to him. He loves this music and its aesthetics and produces it for no other reason than these passions. He does not seem particularly concerned with popularity, wealth, or even with making people dance, which is often the primary goals of the average electronic dance music producer.”
That’s what made him a natural booking for CVLT, he said. “I love discovering new talents of this caliber, and particularly artists who focus on darker aesthetics as both Monktec and CVLT do. I feel dark aesthetics resonate with a lot of people in our community these days as a lot of people are going through tough times and looking for ways to express how they feel. In this way darkness is not necessarily a negative thing but rather a positive outlet.”
The show on Saturday should help to increase Monktec’s profile here in his hometown, and couldn't have come at a better time. “Up until about a week ago, I had given up trying to play in Boston,” he says. “I didn't feel the scene was ready for techno. But I was pleasantly surprised when I met Logan. He was all excited, and I was like, ‘I'll give it a shot.’ ”
Boston-based producer André Obin, who was named electronic artist of the year at the 2012 Boston Music Awards, has announced the release of his debut LP, “The Arsonist,” out March 19 on Sky Council Records. The first single and title track, a tightly wound bass-forward synth missile, can be heard now at www.soundcloud.com/forcefieldpr/andr-obin-the-arsonist. . . . Providence’s AraabMUZIK
releases a new mix tape today called “For Professional Use Only,” available for free today at www.sound
cloud.com/araabmuzik. The first track, “The Prince Is Coming,” showcases the electronic/hip-hop producer’s dense rhythmic manipulation, and is as packed with hard edges as his last standout track (“Streetz Tonight”) was wide-open and bright. A proper follow-up to his 2011 record “Electronic Dream” is reported to be in the works, with collaborations with such big names as Skrillex and Diplo. . . . It’s a Boston twofer with Durkin’s remix of hometown R&B heroes Bad Rabbits’ track “We Can Roll.” The remix chops up the smooth flow and bounce of the original into something slower and more hypnotic without stinting on the powerhouse vocal. Check it out at www.sound
gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @lukeoneil47