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What is Wonky Techno?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 23, 2024
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Wonky techno is a sub-genre of techno music. It is characterized by using rhythm structures outside of the standard 4-4 time of techno music. It is often intentionally broken or interrupted, as a way of adding further discord to its flow.

Wonky techno draws from three major strains of electronic music: glitch, electro, and breakbeat. Although it is not the same as any of these sub-genres, each of them lend their own qualities to the overall feel of wonky techno.

Glitch music is a fairly rhythmic form of techno music. Instead of relying on more traditional beats, however, glitch is mostly composed of entirely computer generated noises such as clicks, scratches, and glitches. It rose out of naturally occurring problems in digital music, when the songs would glitch and create sounds that some people found musically interesting. Glitch began sometime in the mid-1980s, and was a full-fledged sub-genre by the early-1990s. Wonky techno makes use of many of the same glitch sounds that glitch music uses, although it tends to be much less rhythmic overall.

Electro music grew out of a subculture in the hip hop movement, and its use of artificial drum machines to lay down rhythmic tracks. Bands such as Kraftwerk brought electro to the fore in the 1980s. Wonky techno also uses drum machines for some of its beats, although in general they are more arrhythmic than in mainstream electro music.

Breakbeat is a large grouping of techno sub-genres. It includes most sub-genres that have irregular 4-4 patterns, unlike the consistent 4-4 beats of genres such as trance. Breakbeating began in hip hop in the late-1960s, where DJs would string together breaks to create new beats. In the 1990s a similar technique began to be used widely in the techno scene, particularly in rave music and its various sub-genres. Wonky techno may also make use of looped breaks, although it often will make them even more irregular by interspersing them with pauses or glitches.

The term "wonky techno" is thought to have originated as a classification of albums in a record store called Dragondisks, in London. "Wonky" is a fairly common description for things that are off-kilter or askew, so it is a fairly accurate description of the few techno bands that avoid traditional beats in favor of a more divergent beat structure.

Artists such as Si Begg, Jason Leach, Cannibal Cooking Club, Surfin’bernard, DJ Sueme, and Cristian Vogel are all members of the wonky techno scene, although their musical styles sometimes diverge wildly from one another. The wonky techno sub-genre is also sometimes called the no skool, reflecting the fact that it doesn’t adopt any particular beat structure like other schools of techno do.

Wonky techno covers a fairly wide spectrum for a relatively small scene. Some wonky techno has enough of a rhythmic structure to be quite danceable, and is in fact played in many clubs. Other wonky techno is nearly entirely arrhythmic, full of glitches and distortions. This type of wonky techno is meant more as an experimental genre, and is not well-suited for dance at all.

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Discussion Comments

By Engelbert — On May 05, 2011

@softener - Software/computer setups are definitely integral to this style of music but the hardware interfaces play an important part also. For example, programming drums in a computer sequencer by hand, clicking each note individually to make a beat, usually makes the drum beat sound very rigid, and well, computerized. The drop in price for USB/MIDI sample pad controllers which allows for artists to tap drum parts out by hand is a large part of what gives this genre the irregularities or off-timing in beats which can then be used to inform the structure of the rest of the song.

By softener — On May 05, 2011

I think with the increased use of computers to make music there's such a wide range of different sounds that are possible to create and genres like this stem from that. The ability to twist, distort and re-arrange different samples and synthesizers as well as sequencer features that allow you to change timing and swing - all of this on the fly in an almost improvised manner - can lead to some very complex styles of music which straddles the line between dance music and experimental. It'll be interesting to see where it goes from here, especially considering how there's already a lot of crossover in sound design between wonky and dubstep and with the increasing popularity of the latter who knows what kind of stuff people will be making a year from now. Exciting times for music!

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