Detroit Techno History

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Techno is a form of electronic dance music that emerged in the Detroit area during the mid-to-late 1980s. Stylistically, techno is generally repetitive instrumental music, oftentimes produced for use in a continuous DJ set. The central rhythmic component is most often in common time (4/4), where time is marked with a bass drum on each quarter note pulse, a backbeat played by snare or clap on the second and fourth pulses of the bar, and an open hi-hat sounding every second eighth note. The tempo tends to vary between approximately 120 to 150 beats per minute (bpm), depending on the style of techno. The creative use of music production technology, such as drum machines, synthesizers, and digital audio workstations, is viewed as an important aspect of the music's aesthetic

The template for a new style of dance music was primarily developed by three individuals most closely associated with the birth of Detroit techno as a genre is Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May, also known as the ("The Belleville Three"). The three, who were high school friends from Belleville, Michigan shared common interests as budding musicians, "mix" tape traders, and aspiring DJs.

They also found musical inspiration via the Midnight Funk Association, an eclectic five-hour late-night radio program hosted on various Detroit radio stations, including WCHB, WGPR, and WJLB-FM from 1977 through the mid-1980s by DJ Charles "The Electrifying Mojo" Johnson. Mojo's show featured electronic music by artists such as Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra and Tangerine Dream, alongside the funk sounds of acts such as Parliament Funkadelic and dance oriented new wave music by bands like Devo and the B-52's. Mojo played all the Parliament and Funkadelic that anybody ever wanted to hear. Those two groups were really big in Detroit at the time. In fact, they were one of the main reasons why disco didn't really grab hold in Detroit in '79. Mojo used to play a lot of funk just to be different from all the other stations that had gone over to disco. When 'Knee Deep' came out, that just put the last nail in the coffin of disco music.


Despite the short-lived disco boom in Detroit, it had the effect of inspiring many individuals to take up mixing, Juan Atkins among them. Subsequently, Atkins taught May how to mix records, and in 1981, "Magic Juan", Derrick "Mayday", in conjunction with three other DJ's, one of whom was Eddie "Flashin" Fowlkes, launched themselves as a party crew called Deep Space Soundworks.


During the late 1970s-early 1980s high school clubs such as Brats, Charivari, Ciabattino, Comrades, Gables, Hardwear, Rafael, Rumours, Snobs, and Weekends created the incubator in which techno was grown. These young promoters developed and nurtured the local dance music scene by both catering to the tastes of the local audience of young people and by marketing parties with new DJs and their music. As these local clubs grew in popularity, groups of DJs began to band together to market their mixing skills and sound systems to the clubs in order to cater to the growing audiences of listeners. Locations like local church activity centers, vacant warehouses, offices, and YMCA auditoriums were the early locations where underage crowds gathered and the musical form was nurtured and defined.

Juan Atkins cites the phrase "techno rebels" in Alvin Toffler's book The Third Wave as inspiring him to use the word techno to describe the musical style he helped to create.

Ironically, Derrick May once described Detroit techno music as being a "complete mistake...like George Clinton and Kraftwerk caught in an elevator, with only a sequencer to keep them company."

See NSC Records - The Ron Murphy Story


Obscure Music History