10 Years Of Tech House: Toolroom Records
Tech house: it’s techno and it’s house – what more is there to say? Well, behind this deceptively simple classification there are a multitude of definitions and experiences.
In this article, we’re going to show you our take on tech house. We trace the history of the genre, looking at its roots, how it rose to prominence and the Toolroom/tech house relationship. We also speak to Mark and Stuart Knight, D.Ramirez and Funkagenda who give us insights into key artists and tracks involved in forming the Toolroom tech house sound. And, after conducting these interviews and listening to all these tracks, we want to share with you just what it is about tech house that excites us so much.
The Roots Of Tech House
Let’s start by asking some fundamental questions: where did tech house come from? Who were the key players and what were the key tracks that laid the foundations for this sub-genre?
Originally formed through an amalgamation of techno and house back in the late ‘90s, tech house provided techno fans with a warmer, bouncier, more soulful sound, with a slower BPM than the techno that was around at the time. The sound developed rapidly and as a result of producers’ and fans’ desire for change, as D. Ramirez told us:
“I started taking notice of it around 2004. House had been kind of tribally up until that point; the Spanish stereo sound was very big – Chus & Ceballos, Supachumbo, those kind of people. I think that kind of ran its course and tech house came out of that… It was all the Europeans, mainly German guys, that were doing this sort of new music. It wasn’t tribal house, it wasn’t house, you know, it was tougher house but still funky… People like Tiefschwarz… Booka Shade, Steve Bug.”
The invention of tech house is symptomatic of one of dance music’s main strengths: its ability to evolve. By merging the two mainstays of dance music a whole new scene developed with new creative possibilities, preventing dance music from stagnating. Key proponents of the tech house scene included Derrick Carter, Stacey Pullin and Mr C, who DJed in clubs like The End in London. One key tech house track cited by D.Ramirez is M.A.N.D.Y. & Booka Shade’s 2005 hit, ‘Body Language’. This tune encapsulates the essence, not only of tech house, but also of dance music, merging genres to create something new, whilst providing the basis for further development, as can be seen through its many remixes and the samples pulled from it.
The tech house sound was still developing throughout the mid ‘90s to mid 2000s, but there was one landmark track, which sparked a series of events to ultimately change the tech house scene and that was D.Ramirez’s remix of Bodyrox’s ‘Yeah Yeah’. Heavily influenced by the likes of Booka Shade and Trentemøller, who were incorporating melody into the predominantly drum-focused progressive house of the time, and in possession of a Nord Lead 3 synthesiser, D.Ramirez’s astonishing rework of the track was a brilliant accident. Using Booka Shade’s ‘Mandarine Girl’ as a template, he incorporated lazy reverse claps and a rolling riff that continued throughout the track. His remix saw instant success, winning him a Future Music Award for Best Synth Sound and appealing to fans of all different genres of music, resulting in his vocal mix hitting the UK Music Charts at #2. But with success came imitation, which, it turns out, is not the sincerest form of flattery:
“Because it was so big, people started to try and copy it and it spawned this really cheesy version of electro house and everybody started doing it bigger and bigger and more and more cheesy and more and more big room” D.Ramirez, 2013.
What was an experiment fusing the sounds of influential and original artists with new technology became a pastiche, simplified and commericalised. Disillusioned with the electro revolution he had created, D.Ramirez sought solace in its antithesis, minimal, before settling on a more techy sound, a sound that would find a home in Toolroom.