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Darkstep (also referred to as tech and techstep) is a subgenre of drum and bass that emerged in the mid 1990s.
It is characterized by a dark, sci-fi mood, near-exclusive use of synthesized or sampled sound sources, influences from industrial and techno music, and what some writers have described as a “clinical” sound.
Although described as having a “techy” feel, techstep’s relationship with techno should not be overstated. It shares the technique of creating a high-energy collage from abstract, synthetic noises, including samples, bleeps and squelches: it rarely uses instruments that have not been processed by effects.
Similarly, quantized drum-machine kit and percussion sounds are favored over naturalistic human breakbeats.
However, it usually adheres to drum and bass norms in other regards, especially in terms of musical structure, with the emphasis on the “drop”. Techstep saw jungle music’s obsession with bass change from aiming for low and deep to exploring timbre, artists aiming to outdo each other with ever more distorted and “twisted” bass sounds.
Techstep developed from jungle music and hardstep around 1996.
The name of the genre was coined by Ed Rush and Trace, who were both instrumental in shaping the sound of techstep.
In this case, “tech” did not indicate a relation to the smoother style of detroit techno, but to the rawer, more caustic hardcore sounds that were popular in Belgium in the earlier part of the decade. Techstep was a reaction to more virtuosic and more pop musical elements in jungle and drum ‘n’ bass, which were seen as an adulteration of “true” or “original” jungle.
Instead the genre was infused with a simpler, colder, “whiter” European sound that stripped away all R&B elements, and replaced them with a more techno and hardcore sound, and ideological influences like youth anti-capitalism movements, and dystopian films like Blade Runner and Robocop. Many of the original techstep producers branched off into the neurofunk style.
Early pioneers of the style include Trace, Ed Rush, Dom and Roland, Future Forces, Optical, Fierce, Ram Trilogy, Technical Itch and Source Direct. No U-Turn Recordings and especially No U-Turn Black, Prototype, Moving Shadow, Metalheadz and Renegade Hardware were all important labels in the development of the style.