March 9, 2017

Dissection: Detroit’s Sound, Broken Down

We all know the story of techno’s humble origins on Detroit’s industrial streetcorners. Motor city’s roots factory roots curated the sound that would make its way across oceans and back. This laid the foundation for modern rave counter culture. The sound of Detroit techno has been through more than one round of refinement over the past 40 years. Spanning the range of electronic history, we can confidently say that the original innovators from the Michigan factory town have paved the way for club music as experienced today. The driving kicks and cosmic leads of techno all came from somewhere. Decades of obedient assembly line industry has unintentionally bred an alternative culture that’s anything but conformity.

The Belleville Three and the Founding of Techno

The sounds of early productions from techno’s founding trio were a cosmic-driven combination of synthesizers and samples all forced into the mix with turntable culture. Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May cut the first tracks as collisions between Kraftwerk leads and Prince vocals. The mechanical sounds of early Detroit electronic reflected the post-industrial monotony of the time. Techno arrived at nearly the same time as disco became house (just down the road in Chicago). The Belleville Three added their own mechanical take on the emerging club sound bred from the factory. The obsession with futuristic sounds of machinery are evident in early pressings on Atkin’s label Deep Space Soundworks. After selling 15,00 copies of Cybotron’s first single ‘Alleys of you Mind’, the sound was firmly embedded in the scene as a catalyst for club culture. Offering a modern alternative to the dive clubs of Detriot, techno grew through club collaboration and a myriad of local labels.

The Second Wave

By the late 80s, the sound built in Detroit had gone global. Those records first produced by the Belleville Three were finding their way into crates and clubs as turntablism became the output format for all things electronic. A new age of Detroit producers found their sound in the sets of the founding fathers at local venues like the Shelter and the Music Institute. House had already made the jump to Europe and the Detroit sound was packaged and ready to go. The sophomore class of techno embraced the genre’s fight; revitalizing the hardcore edge of industrialism to the ever-expanding techno scene. Those who had flocked to the dance floor for sets by Atkins, Saunderson, and May were now in the studio with a catalog of their own. Icons like Jeff Mills, Carl Craig, and Richie Hawtin pushed the boundaries of their predecessors armed with labels of their own.

A Global Sound

Throughout the EDM fiasco, the genre from Detroit has retained its poise. Adopted and adapted by techno’s sister city Berlin, the culture surrounding the sound has gone much further than synthesizers and independent labels. Arguably the most notable techno event in the world, Detroit Electronic Music Festival continues to champion the underground. Techno selektas from across the globe descend to pay hommage on Motor City’s hallowed ground. It’s times like these that showcase the Movement that a select few built.

The legacy of Detroit is strong in today’s global dance community. Driven from warehouse culture, these industrial sounds are the anthem of nacht. Artist-driven labels and collectives deliver the sound and experience on a level that’s out of this world. Broken down, the Detroit sound is more than just that, it’s a movement.