Microhouse, buftech or sometimes just minimal, is a subgenre of house music strongly influenced by minimalism and 1990s techno. Microhouse shares some common elements with less intense deep house, notably low pulsating basslines and long-lasting crashes, however they both diverge on the tempo and on the presence/absence of vocals.
Microhouse has its roots in the minimal techno, bitpop (both developed in the early 90's), and house (developed in the early 80's) genres of music. Its first echoes appeared in a glitch album by German experimental artist Oval, in 1993. Like many contemporary electronic genres, Microhouse has many influences, most notably techno and the "click and pop" garage house that has emerged from Yorkshire Bleeps and Bass (or "Bleep"), bitpop and minimal techno. Contrasting with tech house, which is often thought of as 'house with techno melodic elements', microhouse is more aptly described as 'housey minimal techno' – a marriage of the funky and groovy backroom house elements with bitpop and the driving, repetitive sound of techno.
The first microhouse track to gain mainstream popularity by a non-glitch artist was Isolée's 1999 anthem, 'Beau Mot Plage'. However, microhouse did not begin to rapidly build in popularity until the early 2000s with the advent of record labels such as Kompakt, Perlon, Spectral Sound, Fabric, Telegraph and Force Inc. The term microhouse is usually credited to music journalist and DJ Philip Sherburne, writing for the magazine The Wire in 2001, to describe, according to Stelfox, "the spectral, hypnotic interpretation of classic Chicago grooves emerging on labels such as Perlon, Kompakt, Playhouse, Ongaku, Klang Elektronik and the Mille Plateaux family of imprints-most notably Force Tracks and Force Inc- at the turn of the millennium."
Microhouse strips house music down to a more minimal and sparse aesthetic, in the same vein as tech house. Its relationship to house and tech house music can be compared to the relationship between minimal techno and the harder techno genres. Like house and techno, microhouse is built around a 4/4 time signature. A noticeable difference between microhouse and house is the replacement of typical house kick drums, hi-hats and other drum machine samples with clicks, static, glitches, and small bits of noise, which more often than not are stretched out and last longer in drops. Microhouse artists often experiment with different forms of sampling to achieve this effect.
One characteristic feature of microhouse is the use of sampling: extremely short ('micro') samples of the human voice, musical instruments, everyday noises and computer created wave patterns are arranged to form complex melodies (such as can be heard in Akufen's "Deck the House"). Vocals in microhouse are often simplistic, nonsensical, and monotone in nature, although some artists, such as Matthew Dear, combine singing with microhouse production. This is one of the main characteristics of microhouse compared to deep house, for example, which tends to preserve full vocals and features slower tempo (going to as low as 115 BPM in some songs, compared to the usual 130 BPM in microhouse).
Microhouse is somewhat obscure when compared to other genres of house and techno, but several cities including Melbourne, Berlin, Cologne, Paris, Montreal, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago, DC and Portland have budding scenes, and with the minimal techno boom of the mid-00s, is now gaining great popularity in German, French, Canadian, Italian and Spanish clubs. Mainstream tech house records and CDs will occasionally have microhouse or minimal reworks of tracks. On top of this, several tracks have become major club hits over the years, and a few others have even gained European radioplay.