Whenever I interview any of the hardcore and jungle OGs, they tend to bring up similar influences –producers from a Caribbean background will often cite listening to their parents play US soul and Jamaican reggae, whilst white British artists are more likely to mention the impact that hearing the Two Tone movement had on them as a kid (on a side note, I’ve had everyone from Liam Howlett to DJ Sy eulogise The Specials. I wonder if Terry Hall knows how much influence he had on a generation that went on to fuse reggae into hardcore, jungle and later dubstep- there was a whole swathe of white producers who, despite likely knowing a handful of Jamaicans at most, had been getting into the concept of mixing Jamaican rhythms with punk energy since their school days). Obviously the world doesn’t always fall into such neat categories – you’ll have a producer like Hype who loved the Specials but also spent most of his youth going to the Jamaican blues dances round Hackney, or someone like Darren ‘dBridge’ White who grew up with foster parents outside London and developed a love for Depeche Mode.
But outside of a shared love of the energy of reggae – if come to from different routes – the one thing that informs almost all of the first wave of UK producers is a passion for the hard dance coming out of Europe. The Detroit/Chicago/ New York influence is well documented and plain to see, from Ashley Beedle wholesale (and, tbf, openly) ripping off Strings of Life, to Bukem lifting the entire melody of Atlantis from Reel by Real’s Surkit. But the European side of things is less eulogised, despite being what gave hardcore it’s hardness – Detroit may have had the masters of computerised soul, but the Belgians and Germans really had it on lock when it came to making fucking ‘orrible noise. Without that vicious energy the UK rave scene would have been a very different place – it’s the darkness, almost as much as the breakbeats that separated the rave sound from the British house scene. So I’ve been thinking about this and checking out the various New Beat labels, which has bought me to Techno Drome International.
Other than the music and a few comments on Discogs, there’s almost nothing online (in English anyway) about Techno Drome International (TDI), so this piece is going to be built from detective work and intuition – forgive me if I make mistakes, and feel free to correct me in the comments. What I can tell from listening is that they released a lot of amazing music, none of which I’m familiar with, other than being convinced that a number of their tracks would have found their way onto early rave tapes, they’ve got that mix of rage, synth melancholy and harsh rhythm that fed into the emerging hardcore scene.
Here’s what I’ve been able to gather. TDI was run out of Dorchheim, Germany from 1987 – 1992. They were a sub label of German label ZYX (who have an illustrious back catalogue of their own, having released everyone from Italo pioneers Doctor’s Cat to electro don Egyptian Lover), and were set up to release the harsher, homegrown EBM and industrial sounds Germany and Belgium were producing at the time. The name was inspired by DJ Andreas ‘Talla 2XLC’ Tomalla’s TechnoClub, a night entirely dedicated to electronic music that Tomalla had run in Frankfurt since 1984. Tomalla has some claim to be the unsung herald of techno; Juan Atkins’ Techno City – largely recognised as the first time the term techno was applied to music – also came out in ’84. It seems fair to assume that Tomalla had heard Techno City and appropriated the term. If so he must have been one of the first worldwide to push it centre stage, and with some staying power; despite having switched through a few venues, TechnoClub is still running in Frankfurt to this day.
Tomalla was involved in the first release on TDI, Robotiko Rejeckto’s Rejeckto. As proto house goes, Rejeckto is the bomb – released in ’87, the A side is titled the Perfekto mix (I’d be interested to know if this was any influence on Oakenfold titling his label Perfecto a few years down the line) and is the more typical of the time – it’s a brooding synth stomper with a slightly vocoded, atonal vocal full of future menace. The dub on the flip side is moody, vocal-less and miles ahead – the synth pads sound like the sun rising on an android civilisation which is how pretty much all techno should sound.
Robotiko Rejeckto were made up of Tomalla alongside Ralf Henrich, also known as Rahen. The two had previously worked together as synth pop act Axodry, a lighter prospect with more than a touch of the Pet Shop Boys about them. As Robotiko Rejeckto they started putting together a tougher, stripped back sound that kept the Pet Shop Boys-style basslines of Axodry, but replaced the pop song structures with cyclical, hypnotic grooves and repetitive vocals. Just listen to the opening chords of Rejeckto (Retrospective Mix) for the blueprint of how to open an evocative techno banger...
Tomalla stayed with Robotiko for two further releases on TDI, and although neither had the power of Rejeckto, they’re still worth checking –the fact that Talla was involved in something that sounds so advanced as early as 87, and yet remains an obscure figure outside of Germany, feels like a massive oversight. It’s hard not to feel that if Robotiko had released out on Transmat they would have had a couple of RBMA articles written about them by now. Rejeckto was followed up by Umsturz Jetzt, a more aggressive, EBM flavoured track – the vocoder vocals are still there, just way more aggy. To my ears, the Aceed Mix still stands up pretty well – it sounds like the kind of thing that would have popped up on Colin Faver’s show in the late 80s
The final release the original line up of RR put out was Confusion, a bouncier number that mixes a hint of Nitro Deluxe in the nagging synth, mixed with the now familiar Robitiko mix of vocoder vocals and Pet Shop Boys bass. It’s a little less seismic than the first two, but a real grower none the less;
Tomalla had left by the time it was released in 1989, departed to form industrial acts with Markus Nikolai, first Pluuto then Bigod 20 – both of which released on Techno Drome. As Bigod 20, the group put out Acid to Body, a track that places itself in the acid world, despite the group having no access to a 303. You can hear them trying to emulate those 303 squelches with whatever keyboard they were using, coming up with something pretty interesting in the process. The stripped back B Side What Acid is a real nasty techno thudder, hi hats and toms driven up loud in the mix, and occasional bursts of the ‘eat em up – yum yum’ sample that would become a much loved nod and wink to pill munching ravers everywhere when borrowed for both Skin Up’s Blockbuster baiting Ivory and the little known Aphex Twin (recording as Power-Pill) hardcore banger Pac-Man
Other acts also shone on TDI in the late 80s – Tribantura, made up of Frank Rückert and Oliver Langbein knocked out the Lack of Sense 12”in 1988 – the opening tracks Lack of Sense and Legacy were very much in the Depeche Mode vein of dark hued industrial – perhaps more interesting is flip side Getting Hurt or Killed, which dubs Lack of Sense into a Detroit-esque epic of cyclical, hypnotic percussion that constantly scratches away at itself, making for an irritated minimal groove.
As the 80s rolled into the 90s, you can hear the sound of TDI developing in a similar way to the UK rave scene – except crucially, this was a sound without that reggae influence. Listening to their stuff is like engaging in a strange parallel universe; where would UK dance have gone without the Jamaican aesthetics? The most obvious answer is in the lack of sub bass – instead tunes such as Trust in 6’s Life in Ecstasy focus on trippy melodies, laying the foundation for the trance that would end up dominating at TechnoClub. That’s not to say the sounds aren’t still good – Life in Ecstasy’s instrumental mix is heavy, with the roughness of early synth programming giving it a life and pulse that still works today.
Other tracks from 1990 such as Base Scan’s Disco D echoed the bass and bleeps scene of Sheffield – in particular, I’d like to know whether Disco D or Tricky Disco was written first, because someone definitely came up with that high pitched bleep riff first…
Elsewhere Outdoor Theatre were putting together the kind of melodically complex techno that would be honed into stadium dance in the UK by the likes of Orbital and Underworld – this track L’Universe, tucked away on the B Side of their one and only 12” In the End of it All (the lead track being a fairly ordinary house jam), is exciting in ambition, if not totally convincing in execution – the opening arpeggios are pure reaching for the stars euphoria, and the piano that kicks in is house gold…
By the time the label shut up shop in ’92, they’d gone further and further into proto-trance territory, and to my ears lost the innovation that drove them in the 80s. Whilst the UK was exploring the potency of breakbeats, TDI was merely speeding up ideas that they’d had a few years ago, and layering up more synths. One cut from this end phase stands out for sheer brutish-ness though – Beat Bites Bit’s Exorzist –The First Chapter is a horrible assault of synth vamps (in fact I believe they may have given the world the 2 Unlimited – No Limits riff) and ridiculous horrorcore vocals. It’s kind of the goth version of toytown rave; totally, ridiculously cheesy, and none the worse for it...