Detroit techno  

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"The guy who really laid the blueprint for Detroit Techno [...] was Electrifying Mojo. Mojo was a Vietnam war veteran, he was a radio man in Vietnam, he did DJing for the troops, and that's where he learned all the different types of music from around the world, and when he got back from Vietnam, he brought that to Detroit, that perspective, so we got to hear progressive rock up next to Falco, Euro synth pop. Of course he introduced Kraftwerk, which for Detroit was huge, he introduced Prince, George Clinton, all these great synth artists that used synthesizers for bass lines and stuff." --Mark Fisher interviewing Mike Banks[1]

"The irony of Anglo-Euro synthpop is that, for all its whiteness (DAF loved disco but prided themselves on not sounding black), it had a huge impact on black America. DAF and their offshoot group Liaisons Dangereuses influenced the embryonic black electronic sounds of Chicago house and Detroit techno, while Kraftwerk almost single-handedly inspired New York electro."--Rip It Up and Start Again (2005) by Simon Reynolds

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Detroit techno is an early style of electronic music originating from Detroit, Michigan, USA in the mid-1980s. A distinguishing trait of Detroit techno is the use of analog synthesizers and early drum machines, notably the roland TR-909 for its production or, in later releases, the use of digital emulation to create the characteristic sounds of those machines.




The three individuals most closely associated with the birth of Detroit techno as a genre are the "Belleville Three"; Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May. (More specific readings on the Belleville Three). These three high school friends from a Detroit suburb would soon find their basement tracks in dancefloor demand, thanks in part to seminal Detroit radio personality The Electrifying Mojo. Ironically, Derrick May once described Detroit techno music as being a "complete mistakeā€¦like George Clinton and Kraftwerk caught in an elevator, with only a sequencer to keep them company."

Detroit techno music was originally thought of as a subset to Chicago's early style of house. However, some critics believe that the Detroit techno movement was an adjunct to the house music. (Named so for the new style of music played at a Chicago nightclub called "The Warehouse"). Although producers in both cities used the same hardware and even collaborated on projects and remixes together, Detroiters traded the choir-friendly vocals of House with metallic clicks, robotic voices and repetitive hooks reminiscent of an automotive assembly line. Many of the early techno tracks had futuristic or robotic themes, although a notable exception to this trend was a single by Derrick May under his pseudonym Rhythm is Rhythm, called "Strings of Life." This vibrant dancefloor anthem was filled with rich synthetic string arrangements and took the underground music scene by storm in May of 1987. With subtle differences between the genres, clubs in both cities included Detroit techno and Chicago house tracks in their playlists without objection (or much notice by non-audiophiles) from patrons.

Geographically in a Detroit sense, the "Eight Mile" concept, like the segretory stigmata of Watts, The Bronx or South Chicago is still true in southeast Michigan. Even the Belleville Three lived outside the city limits, yet their influence and magnetism in loft apartment parties, after hours and high school clubs, and late night radio united the listeners of progressive dance music from above and below Eight Mile Road. Even infamous, Techno-friendly regular hours clubs like The Shelter, The Music Institute and The Majestic among many others were the incubators for progressing the Techno movement from basements and late night radio onto the dancefloors of the world.

Racial and Socio-Economic Issues

During the first wave of Detroit techno scene of the 80s, huge parties were held with upwards to fifty or more competing DJs. Most of the early party-goers were made up of middle-class black youths. However, as Detroit experienced heavy economic downfall, many of the middle-class white families fled to the suburbs in what is called the "white flight" of the early 70s while middle-class black families were displaced by the degentrification of once securely middle-class black districts. Socially and geographically, it is important to note on a local level, that Detroit Techno as a genre created a newfound, integrated club scene in Detroit that had not been felt in a general sense after the Motown label moved to Los Angeles. Television programs like TV62 -- WGPR's "The Scene" featured a racially and ethnically very mixed selection of dancers every weekday after school, but the playlist was typically jammed with the R&B and Funk tracks of the day, like Prince or the Gap Band. Breakouts like Juan Atkins "Technicolor" under his Model 500 moniker eventually found their way onto The Scene, and helped to explode the burgeoning local Techno underground with validity for the urban high school set, college radio programmers and DJs from Chicago to London, and beyond. Also, the advent of huge circuit of local parties in Detroit spawned a number of DJs to compete on such an intense level requiring week long preparation for a party event. As a result of its popularity, these club parties had an impact on the social scene of the city's youth and demographic.

The club scene was as much in transition as the city they were in. From "industrial boomtown to post-Fordist wasteland", the decline of the auto industry brought forth Detroit's economic downfall and with it came the degentrification of the middle-class black areas. The wide-spread popularity of techno across socio-economic and racial lines also led to a mixing between West Side and elite high school youths with ghetto and gangster "jits" (abbreviation for "jitterbug"). Unfortunately, the economic problems of Detroit and the prevalent social apathy and desolation led to a proliferation of gun violence within clubs and by 1986, the techno club scenes were wrought with gun shootings, fights, and acts of violence further compounding the sociological and economic recovery of Detroit.

This wave of violence, economic collapse, and socio-communal atrophy extensively affected the Detroit techno themes. Still influenced by the same Euro sounds, Juan Atkins and Rick Davis formed Cybotron producing Detroit hits like "Alleys of Your Mind", "Techno City", "Cosmic Cars", and "Clear" before signing onto the Fantasy label. However, Cybotron's dominant mood of tech-noir and desolation played into describing the city's decline. "But for all their futuristic mise-en-scene, the vision underlying Cybotron songs was Detroit-specific... from industrial boomtown to post-Fordist wasteland, from US capital of auto manufacturing to US capital of homicide." (Simon Reynold, "Generation Ecstasy.") By the end of the first successful wave of Detroit techno, the city's center had become a ghost town and the techno landscape was evolving into a more hardcore, militaristic frenzy of drug-infused rave and trance scene.

Second wave

The first wave of Detroit techno had peaked in 1988-89, with the popularity of artists like Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, and Chez Damier and clubs like the Shelter and the Music Institute. At the same time, the European rave scene embraced the Detroit sound, thanks to Kool Kat Records's release of a number of Detroit records. May's "Strings of Life" achieved anthemic status in 1989, several years after its recording.

Once Detroit Techno became a full-fledged musical genre, a second generation of regional artists developed into techno icons themselves; Jeff Mills, Richie Hawtin (aka Plastikman) and Carl Craig to name just a few. Mills began his career as "The Wizard" on Mojo's nightly broadcast, showcasing his turntablist skills with quick cuts of the latest underground tracks and unreleased music from local labels. What began as a Europhile fantasy of elegance and refinement, ironically, by the early 90s, British and European techno transformed into a "vulgar uproar for E'd-up mobs: anthemic, cheesily sentimental, unabashedly drug-crazed."(Reynolds, Simon Reynolds, "Generation Ecstasy.") Detroit turned Teutonic electronic music into its own variant of acid house and techno. The result was a harsh Detroit hardcore full of riffs and industrial bleakness. Two major labels of this sound was Underground Resistance and +8 who mixed 80s electro, UK synth-pop and industrial paralleling the brutalism of rave music of Europe. Underground Resistance's music embodied a kind of abstract militacy by presenting themselves as a paramilitary group fighting against commercial mainstream entertainment industry who they called "the programmers" in their tracks such as "Predator", "Elimination", "Riot", and "Death Star". Similarly, +8 label was formed by Richie Hawtin and John Aquaviva which evolved from industrial hardcore to a minimalist progressive techno sound. As friendly rivals to Underground Resistance, +8 pushed up the speed of their songs faster and fiercer in tracks like "Vortex". However, it was the drug-fueled dynamic of Ecstacy and amphetamine abuse that drove Detroit's hardcore techno scene to the extremes of "brain-dead brutalism". What had started as a value system of elegance over energy, restraint over abandon shared by "purists" of traditional Detroit techno evolved through mutation into a mind-spinning, hardcore mix of trance, jungle, and bleep-and-bass.

In the mid-to-late 1990s, Detroit Techno producers experimented with extended aural soundscapes featuring sparse, ambient underscores punctuated with sporadic, cyclical periods of percussion. Extended length vinyl projects like those under Hawtin's Plastikman facade are particularly clear examples of this period. Atkins "Sonic Sunset" CD in 1994 also delivered this new tradition of Detroit techno. This new variant also included new connections to African percussions. The racial politics of Detroit Techno gave rise to a new form of African-America expression, "the link to African drumming and its emphasis on polyrhythms can't be ignored." (Philip Sherburne, "Digital Discipline: Minimalism in House and Techno)." One such example by a white artist, Richie_Hawtin, is "Afrika" which produced a connection between African drums and percussion with Techno minimalistic programming.

On Memorial Day weekend of 2000, electronic music fans from around the globe made a pilgrimage to Hart Plaza on the banks of the Detroit River and experienced the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival. In 2003 the festival management changed the name to Movement, then Fuse-In (2005), and most recently, Movement: Detroit's Electronic Music Festival (2007). The festival is a showcase for DJs and performers across all genres of electronic music.

Presently Detroit has a genuine techno/rave scene with a varied cast of dedicated Djs, producers, promoters, fans, and dancers. No other city in the United States has an underground techno party scene as vibrant and fiercely protected and respected as the techno party scene/community in Detroit.

Detroit area producers

Detroit area record labels

See also

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