Styles & Forms | Techno | Dance

In the early 1980s, Derrick May was one of a triumvirate of techno pioneers in Detroit who began providing a soundtrack for the future. May was friends with Kevin Saunderson and Juan Atkins at junior high school in Belleville. Atkins turned them on to music by the likes of Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk and the sprawling Clinton/Parliament/Funkadelic funk beast.

The home of Motown, Detroit certainly was a funk city but its car industry also lent itself well to the motorik rhythms of Kraftwerk. The Detroit Belleville three were as inspired by Kraftwerk as Afrika Bambaataa was to make electro blueprint ‘Planet Rock’ in New York. They would sit around and dream up sci-fi phenomena and future possibilities, in music and in life. Atkins had already started making paranoid, synthetic socio-funk, first as Cybotron (together with Rick Davis) and then as Model 500. Once they began DJing on the social club circuit around Detroit as Deep Space Soundworks, they wanted to release their own compositions on vinyl.

The Detroit pioneers – who were soon joined by a fourth musketeer, Eddie ‘Flashin’’ Fowlkes – embraced the technological developments of the twentieth century as a means of empowerment and resistance against corporations that mass-produce new machines. Atkins actually described himself as ‘a warrior for the technological revolution’, and he was projecting so far into the future that he began developing a techno-speak dictionary known as The Grid.

The Detroit pioneers set up their own record labels (May: Transmat; Saunderson: KMS; Atkins: Metropole), and if Atkins’ music was eerily futuristic, Derrick May’s was splendidly symphonic. Recording under the name Rhythim Is Rhythim, he sampled recorded moments of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for his epic ‘Strings Of Life’ track. Meanwhile, under the name Inner City, Kevin Saunderson – with roots in Chicago, the most disco-minded of the Belleville boys – produced the uplifting ditties ‘Big Fun’ and ‘Good Life’ with vocalist Paris Grey, both of which went on to become international chart hits.

Burning Down The House

DJs started to play techno tracks in the US alongside early house records, but the compilation album that helped spread the sound far and wide was Techno! The New Dance Sound Of Detroit on Virgin. ‘We’re tired of hearing about being in love or falling out, so a new progressive sound has emerged,’ said Atkins at the time. ‘We call it techno.’

House still has its heart in 1970s disco,’ May observed. ‘We don’t have any of that respect for the past, it’s strictly future music.’ He would play techno on the radio in Detroit sometimes, but it was the fast cuts of The Wizard – a.k.a. Jeff Mills – on Detroit’s WJLB station that captured people’s imaginations. Meeting up with Mike Banks and Robert Hood, Mills formed the militantly minded Underground Resistance (UR), a project/label so covert it generated as much mystique as the semi-mythical, world-domination secret society the Bilderberg group.

Producing first the hypnotic ‘Energy Flash’ and then the...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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