In preparation for this years Movement Festival we decide to ask writer Mike Abu to give us a history lesson about just how deeply rooted Detroit is in electronic music.
THE BIRTHPLACE OF TECHNO
If you ask random people where “Techno” music originated from, nine out of ten would probably guess Europe. Afterall, it’s a sound that conjures up images of all night dance parties in the heart of Berlin, throbbing beats and flashing lights. With that picture intact, who would guess it came from Detroit?
But why not? It’s a metropolis with a reputation for music that rivals any city. Take Motown for instance. Detroit took soul and gave it the type of backbeat that encouraged universal dancing, creating a sound in the process that still resonates today. The city has a long history of industrialism too, and the decline the city once felt produced a reactionary urge to look forward to the future.
IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT, WHERE COULD TECHNO COME FROM OTHER THAN DETROIT?
The history of techno is tied to the history of the city, but like all art, it didn’t develop in a vacuum. Electronic music was not new in the 80s, and Kraftwerk in particular had been critical for laying the groundwork for what was to come. Their use of synthesizers and automated drums helped drive futuristic rhythms with repetition and style, and as DJs and record stores pushed their music, intercity kids became familiar with their work. Their fingerprints are everywhere, from hip hop to electro. (One only has to listen to Africa Bambaataa’s Planet Rock next to Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express once to see their influence.) It’s no surprise that Kraftwerk would make its way into the hands of kids in the suburbs and have a similar effect there too.
The city of Belleville is a small community less than thirty miles from Detroit. It was in this setting that a young Juan Atkins started experimenting with electronic music on a Korg MS-10 synthesizer his grandmother bought him. Widely considered to be the originator of techno, Atkins spent time listening to a mixed tape filled with a broad spectrum of music, and over time his style began coalescing into something unique.
Atkins often credits artists like Yellow Magic Orchestra, Telex, and the B-52’s for shaping his sound, but he also found inspiration in Alvin Toffler’s books The Third Wave and Future Shock. The futuristic novels revolved around the transformation from an industrial society to a technological one, where alienation and outdated automation would be replaced with energy and life, and they had a big impact on his interest in technology and progression.
“If you can picture or imagine what a UFO would sound like landing in your backyard or something,” Atkins explained, “these synthesizers made those sounds.” –Juan Atkins