Techno 101: Drums

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Happy 909 Day & what better way to celebrate than to explore the tips, techniques and skills used in producing techno music.  From rolling techno drums to intricate end of phrase fills, all will be revealed below.

This article is the first in our latest series exploring the techniques favoured within different genres and will continue over the next few weeks.  First in our collection of techno tips is how to create immense techno drums, interesting arrangement ideas and mixing techniques that guarantee to work each and every time.  

What better place to start than to get in the mood by listening to the German industrial techno king himself, Len Faki: 

Techno Drums

The foundation of any techno production is the drums.  The size, weight and roll of the drums can literally make or break a track but one shouldn’t be overwhelmed.  We’ll cover the classic drum machines used, what samples to choose, drum sample layering, classic techno production techniques and everything in between.

Classic Drum Machines - Roland Tr-909

From the early days of Detroit Techno in the mid 80’s all the way to the modern sounds of Drumcode, Tresor, Ostgut Ton and more, one drum machine has been ever present; The world famous, Roland TR-909.

From the brutal rhythm driving open hi-hats to the pounding kick drums or snappy snares, the sounds of this iconic machine should never be overlooked.   This incredibly flexible machine has been an ever-present focus but offers a huge range of flexibility.  The video below shows the some of the sounds available and the techniques you can use to process them thus making them your own:

Obviously not everyone can afford this iconic beast (coming in around $2,000 for an original) but recently Roland released another area to their beautiful Boutique Range - The Roland Boutique 909.  An incredibly accessible and useful tool that could bring your productions to life: 

For a fraction of the price you can also explore our Vintage Drum Machines collection, all beautifully processed through our in house analogue mixing chain. 

Kicks

Arguably the most important element of any techno production is the kick drum.  We previously explored techniques used in creating a great kick drum in our previous blog article but we’ll go into some more techno specific tips below.

Tuning – Ensuring your kick drum is in the key of your track or in tune with your brass can do wonders in allowing the track to gel.  Recognising the pitch of a kick can be tricky so here’s the best way to proceed.  Tip:

  • ·      Try tuning your kick drum up 1 octave

  • ·      Tune the kick to your track

  • ·      Drop the kick down by 12 semi-tones (Octave)

Layering

Kicks

Layering drum samples is a great way to gain absolute control over each individual area of the final kick drum sound.  A great way to divide the kick is these following areas:

Subs – Below 80Hz

Main Body – 80hz-800Hz

Click / Transient – 800Hz+

Try using an aggressive shelf on an EQ to divide the sounds down into the desired frequencies.

Tip: Listen carefully to the effects of your EQ of choice.  Some EQ’s can affect the phase relationship and cause pre-ringing issues, especially with sub frequencies from aggressive filtering.  Our EQ of choice would be the Fab Filter Pro Q.

Samples

As previously mentioned in our 'Perfect Kick Article', whenever layering samples of a similar frequency it’s always worth checking the phase to check for any frequency cancelation. 

Snares

The sounds held within techno are predominantly quite industrial, intense and aggressive.  To create a great snare sound combining samples of different characteristics as well as containing slightly different placements can go a long way to creating the perfect atmosphere or hit. 

Off-Grid midi placement of snares adds interest and swing. 

Off-Grid midi placement of snares adds interest and swing. 

Try experimenting with a combination of drum-machines (909 / 808 / Linn), organic samples or foley hits for texture and claps for top end sizzle – The perfect combination for that brutal techno drum hit.

Fills

A huge amount of techno is written to a similar formula and arrangement to allow DJ’s to easily navigate the track and understand where they are in the composition.  Using fills at the end of phrases or loops allows easy changes in energy and also gives reference to where you are in the track.  Here are our favoured few:

Vocoder – Noise Riser

Ableton’s vocoder has any amazing feature where the ‘carrier’ can be set to noise.  Slowly increasing the wet/dry mix on the vocoder at the end of the bar increases the white noise level referencing the end of 8 or 16 bars.

Tip: Try increasing the ‘release’ of the Vocoder to use the noise effect as a white noise boost for the start of the next loop. 
Noise Risers made easy with the Vocoder in Ableton 

Noise Risers made easy with the Vocoder in Ableton 

HPF (High Pass Filter)

Filtering the drums towards the end of the section is one of the easiest techniques to execute but still one of the most useful.  A simple HPF on a filter or EQ can be a saviour for Dj’s when mixing in a club.  

It’s also an amazingly simple way to relieve some energy before adding a new hi-hat, percussion line, lead synth or begin breaking down for a calmer break down section of your arrangement.

Reverb

As with the vocoder, try automating the reverb send on your hi-hats to increase as you progress towards the end of 8 or 16 bars.  This combined with a HPF on the drums can be incredibly effective in shifting the energy towards the next drop. 

Tip: Try adding a side-chain compressor that is triggered from your kick on the reverb channel for extra control and movement.

So there it is, a few helpful tips that can take your techno productions to the next level.  As always, if you've anything that you think would be helpful to add, just get in touch. 

The Touch Loops team. 

Touch Loops