For me, techno is based on exploring sounds and breaking the mould, so it’s very open to experimentation and I’d even say it’s only rule is to not follow any rules, at least that’s how I interpret the way the originators came to it. The beauty comes from finding order and character within these crazy experiments, so that they become recognisable pieces of music.
I like to approach it this way, always experimenting with new gear, with new ways to use instruments and effects processors, and mix that with the stuff inside the computer, to create something that keeps me inspired and interested.
Pick a small, limited selection of tools to work on a specific piece, and get crazy with them! Hardware, software or whatever, limiting your arsenal always enhances inspiration, that feeling of being overwhelmed with possibilities disappears, and you can focus on your art.
Researching the source of what you want to do is important. I often browse the internet for iconic presets on old synthesisers that were used on classics or favorites from the past, and then listen to those presets and try to understand how they were made or which way they were used. This is not an encouragement to use presets, quite the opposite, it just inspires me to start something based around my interpretation of that sound.
This is actually how ‘Moonrise’ from my Systematic Shades vol.2 on Systematic came about, I was looking for a classic sound on the old Korg M1 which was used many times in some amazing pop records from the 80s and early 90s, but I took it in a totally different and futuristic techno direction. I try to balance that with my own sound design to achieve a personal, conceptual sound, that will hopefully make sense to others.
Focusing on the low frequencies section is another important aspect of techno music, as most of it is intended to be enjoyed on a dance floor, and also to detach your thoughts from your conscience and get into a physical experience. I always spend a lot of time refining my kick drums and its relationship with the bass lines or other low end elements like toms, synths, etc. Using layering, compression, eq’ing and pitch, and most importantly, saturation.
I often play the tracks out for months before I think they’re good enough for a release, this is the only way to know for sure if it’s as effective as it should be, in my experience.
Last but not least, finding a trusted mastering engineer goes a long way. I’ve tried many over the years, and have done it myself for a long time as well, but I find that a second set of ears really helps to get the best out of any track, especially once you find someone that compliments your work effortlessly. Nowadays mastering isn’t as expensive, so I always recommend it to anyone trying to submit their demos to their favourite labels, or even just to play them out properly.