The complex history of minimal as a music genre 

Even though Simon Reynolds was using “minimal” as early as 1992 to describe Derrick May, minimal as a genre didn’t really come along until the mid-’90s. The term is used by anyone who listens to something that is electronic, not techno, not house, but somewhere in between. And even if that is a large space from which to choose just a name, it just goes to show that the constant evolution of electronic music makes it so much difficult for us fans to categorize what we actually listen to. Beatportal’s article “The new rise of minimal” shows different perspectives for the way the minimal genre appeared and evolved throughout the years and we are happy to bring it to you.
As Michaelangelo Matos writes in his book The Underground is Massive, Jeff Mills and Robert Hood had a conversation about how “rave was shifting into minimal.”
The steely rhythms and sparse orchestration of tracks by Detroit’s Daniel Bell and Hood’s Minimal Nation offered an antidote to the glow stick and JNCO Jeans “candy rave” aesthetic with something “stripped-down, polished, and rubbery.”
Titonton Duvante, a Midwest lifer, explains that minimal was a specifically American and specifically Black sound, “Minimal as far electronic dance is concerned… is mainly black kids with little cash getting discarded gear (Roland TB303, Casio RZ-1, Yamaha DX100, Boss DR 660) and seeing how much they push it. It is putting a beat track under a disco record for holding groove better and making your one unique jam.” And while this is certainly the start of minimal techno, this isn’t the minimal we tend to think of today. As Matias Nario, a Montevideo producer working under the moniker Muten, explains, “When you say ‘minimal’ now, you don’t think of Robert Hood.”
What usually comes to mind when we hear the words “minimal” aren’t minimal’s roots as a Black and American form, but minimal’s gentrification across the Atlantic in its second wave. Similar to the mid-’90s rebuttal of rave in Detroit, a focus on groove and elongated loops was a natural reaction to the hollowed emotional peaks and troughs of late ’90s trance and techno.
“After techno became a global phenomenon with its big raves [like] Loveparade, everything went back to clubbing,” Vera tells me. “I feel like the music was also becoming more intimate as well.”
Nowhere was this shift more pronounced than Berlin in the early 2000s as Richie Hawtin, Ricardo Villalobos, Luciano, and Mike Shannon moved to the German capital, pushing off-kilter samples and druggy rhythms. This new minimal was bespoke for the venues that opened in the early and mid-2000s, including Bar25 and Berghain.
While they were ostensibly universes apart, at least aesthetically, these clubs needed music suited to the open-ended party times that stretched across not hours, but days. Oskar Offermann, who moved to Berlin in 2001 and is now at the heart of Offenbach’s latest minimal scene, describes this second wave as “this big Plus 8/Minus hype when the Germans started calling it ‘minimal’ in the English way.”
But even with this English pronunciation, this second wave of minimal remained hard to define. As music journalist Philip Sherburne wrote in 2006: “The irony, of course, is that most of this music really isn’t minimalist at all, neither in terms of sound selection, rhythmic construction, or – and often, especially – arrangement.”
Some people I talk to take minimal’s diffuseness as a genre further, suggesting that all dance music is minimal. TC80, a Barcelona-via-Metz DJ and producer, tells me, “It’s not about sounding like Romanian techno or like the German minimal from the old days. You don’t need to stack layers and layers of sound, and that keeps a minimal aspect to the music.”
Ruh makes a similar point, describing how “less elements” in a track means “all the frequencies have space to breathe and shine. You can do this with any genre.”
Duvante goes further, tracing a genealogy all the way back to the start of the 20th-century. “My personal take on minimal is that the adage of less is more… From the works of Erik Satie, Philip Glass, Steve Reich on through to Daniel Bell, Robert Hood, Chicago acid tracks, Dance Mania and Relief Records.
All of these — I find both inspiration and admiration in the hypnotic nature of stripping to the bare essentials.” Thinking beyond production, Offerman suggests that the economy of minimal is what dance music has always aspired to. “The core of [dance music] has always been very minimal. So I would say the word goes along with the history of techno, they just belong together in a way.”
The rubberiness that Matos identified in Hood and Bell is not only a description of the timbre of bass, but of the genre itself.
Giammarco Orsini, an Italian DJ-producer, articulates this paradox in describing his own music: “My influences came from big artists that represent the [minimal] scene like Baby Ford, Daniel Bell, Ricardo Villalobos, Zip, Richie Hawtin, Thomas Melchior, and so on.
But in the end, [when] you make music you start to experiment, and the final result probably is way different from what you can consider a ‘minimal’ track, despite the fact that there are just a few elements playing together.”
Next article will focus on the infamous “Romanian effect”. You will just how big of an influence our DJs and producers have had in the history of the minimal genre. Reasons to be patriotically proud in 3.. 2..
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