Tim Barr
Techno: The Rough Guide

By Tom Magic Feet

Rough Guides to house and drum‘n’bass have just been published and a similar tome for hip-hop is in the offing, so a Rough Guide for techno makes perfect sense, as does the fact that Tim Barr should be the man to produce such a book. The most prominent specialist techno journalist in the UK, there's no doubt that Barr knows his subject matter more than most.

The book itself is pocket-sized and consists of profiles of around a hundred and eighty artists, almost all of which were written by Barr (other contributors include well-known scribes like Dan Techno Rebels Sicko, Jockey Slut editor John Burgess, Sherman and Jonas Stone, although none contribute more than one profile each) accompanied only by a short introduction. Whilst it’s likely that Barr had no choice but to follow this predetermined format, all the same the lack of features about, for example, key labels, does present a serious dilemma. How can a guide to techno not include any in-depth discussion of the likes of Network, Warp, Tresor or R&S?

Indeed, the question of inclusion and exclusion is the book’s biggest problem overall and must surely have been Barr’s biggest headache when putting the book together. Of course, everyone has their own ideas as to what is and isn’t techno, but by what strange logic are The Prodigy included while Moby isn’t? Many frankly bit players (and some practical unknowns) are included – Nuw Idol, Desert Storm, Paul van Dyk, Havana, Mijk van Dijk, Darren Price et al – while the likes of Frankie Bones, Mike Dearborn, Gigi Galaxy, Adam Beyer, DJ Rush and Mike Paradinas, to name but a few straight off the top of my head, are absent.

Beyond the question of in/exclusivity, the individual profiles themselves are well-written, comprehensive and provide a good deal of hard information (although the addition of an index would have made navigating this information a lot easier). In addition, for those new to the music, all of the pieces helpfully provide suggestions for further listening.

That said, there is room for complaint here too. All too often, Barr – along with the other writers – fails to really extrapolate the wider significance of the individual artists and records and place them in any real context; that is, to define their places in the scheme of things and join the dots. As a result, it’s very unlikely that a novice reader could read this book and form an accurate impression of how the music has evolved over the years, where the turning points were and how it all fits together.

For example, both Autechre and Aphex Twin (whose profiles are written by Peter McIntyre and Tony Marcus respectively) have almost single-handedly opened up vast new perspectives on the broad church that is techno, yet this fact is not acknowledged in either profile. Rather, both artists are presented on the same terms as less significant talents as Oliver Lieb and Jam & Spoon. Basic Channel/Chain Reaction are another example of an act who have been massively influential, although you wouldn’t know it (or how or why) from this book. Amongst other achievements, Underground Resistance crystallised a new meaning for the word ‘underground’ and single-handedly introduced the whole ‘no photos, no interviews, just the music’ philosophy to techno (where do you think the aforementioned Basic Channel got it from?), but this goes unmentioned by Barr.

Maybe I’m being overly harsh. As I’ve said, Barr was undoubtedly limited by existing Rough Guides policy as well as more obvious constraints such pagination and space restrictions. There’s no doubt that he’s put together a very useful and readable book that covers almost every major artist in techno music, a book which I will no doubt refer to time and time again. And let’s face it, at just £6 it's pretty good value. So while this is in no way the definitive guide to techno, it is a pretty good rough guide all the same.
Share this page
Contributors retain the copyright to their own contributions. Everything else is copyright © Spannered 2015.
Please do not copy whole articles: instead, copy a bit and link to the rest. Thanks!