Electronic Music 101: What Is Detroit Techno?

Techno started in Detroit, yeah... you should know that.
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David Ireland
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1997
Techno started in Detroit, yeah... you should know that.
Roland 909

The Roland TR-909 Drum Machine

Just as early House music was happening in Chicago and New York, there was another sound bubbling up in Detroit that was entirely different. The sound of Detroit was more futuristic and cold; it was the sound of a city in decay and drifting in outer space. 

In the 1980s, a group of producers began using Roland 909 and 808 drum machines with synths like the Yamaha DX100. They drew inspiration from the contemporary synth music of the time like Yellow Magic Orchestra and Kraftwerk but also drawing from the raw funk of Parliment and early Prince. 

This was the beginning of Techno as we know it today and in it's original form referred to as Detroit Techno for its origin and definitive sound. 

These guys were making music for the future, looking beyond their dystopian landscape but at the same time heavily influenced by it. You can hear the loneliness in many of the tunes, the empty streets and crumbling facades of a dying city. Why they did not incorporate some of this music into the soundtrack of Bladerunner, I will never know, big mistake because it was perfectly suited for it.

Derrick May bio

Derrick May 

You will always hear three names when talking about Detroit Techno, and they are Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson also known as the "The Belleville Three" as they all hailed from Belleville Michigan. 

These guys released some of the earliest material along with other pioneers of the time like Mad Mike Banks, Jeff Mills, Eddie Fowlkes, Octave One and many others. 

As the sound of Detroit migrated overseas, it began to fracture and settled into what we now just call Techno. The sounds of this new future music quickly gained momentum in Europe and only hovered in a disappointing holding pattern in the USA as the sound slowly but surely exploded across the pond. 

America was in the middle of embracing Hip Hop and wasn't quite ready for the sound of the Detroit's Techno, so many of the early producers traveled out of the country to gig and make a living, many of them moved out of Detroit altogether. 

To this day, there remains a definitive "Detroit" Techno sound that will always keep "Detroit" as it's prefix. It's silky future scapes, and raw funky percussion is just unmistakable and timeless. 

Here are some classic tracks along with some contemporary ones that preserve the sound of the funky future soul we call Detroit Techno. 

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