Thursday, April 5, 2007

The term "techno" is derived from "technology". Music journalists and fans of the genre are generally selective in their use of the term, careful not to conflate it with related but distinct genres (i.e. house, trance, hardcore). At the same time, the term "techno" is commonly generalized to refer to all forms of electronic music.

Techno is a form of electronic dance music that became prominent in Detroit, Michigan (some argue that it may have been born in Europe) during the mid-1980s with influences from Chicago House, electro, New Wave, Funk and futuristic fiction themes that were prevalent and relative to modern culture during the end of the Cold War in industrial America at that time. Following the initial success of Detroit Techno as a musical culture — at the very least on a regional level — an expanded and related subset of genres in the 1990s emerged globally.


Techno was primarily developed by "The Belleville Three", a cadre of men who were attending college, at the time, near Detroit, Michigan. The budding musicians – former high school friends and mix tape traders Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson – found inspiration in Midnight Funk Association, an eclectic, 5-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 heavy doses of electronic sounds from the likes of Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, and Tangerine Dream, among others.

Though initially conceived as party music that was played on daily mixed radio programs and played at parties given by cliquish, Detroit high school clubs, it has grown to be a global phenomenon. High school clubs such as Snobbs, Hardwear, Brats, Comrades, Weekends, Rumours, and Shari Vari 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 innovative DJs and eclectic new music. As these local clubs grew in popularity, groups of DJs began to band together and market their mixing skills and sound systems to the clubs under names like Direct Drive and Audio Mix 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 the underage crowds gathered, and where the musical form was nurtured and defined.

The music soon attracted enough attention to garner its own club, the Music Institute at 1315 Broadway in downtown Detroit. It was founded by Chez Damier, Derrick May and a few other investors. Though short-lived, this club was known internationally, for its all night sets, its sparse white rooms, and its juice bar stocked with "smart drinks" (the Institute never served liquor). Relatively quickly, techno began to be seen by many of its originators and up-and-coming producers as an expression of Future Shock post-industrial angst. It also took on increasingly high tech and science-fiction oriented themes.

The music's producers were using the word "techno" in a general sense as early as 1984 (as in Cybotron's seminal classic "Techno City"), and sporadic references to an ill-defined "techno-pop" could be found in the music press in the mid-1980s. However, it was not until Neil Rushton assembled the compilation Techno! The New Dance Sound Of Detroit for Virgin Records (UK) in 1988 that the word came to formally describe a genre of music. Some European techno fans, however, credit the genre name techno to German DJ Talla 2XLC who allegedly used it as a specific music genre label in his record store as far back as 1982, while "The Belleville Three" didn't happen before the mid-80s. Talla's band Moskwa TV had often been featured on Midnight Funk Association, the inspiration of "The Belleville Three".[citation needed]

Techno has since been retroactively defined to encompass, among others, works dating back to "Shari Vari" (1981) by A Number Of Names, the earliest compositions by Cybotron (1981), Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's "I Feel Love"(1977), "From Here to Eternity" (1977), and the more danceable selections from Kraftwerk's repertoire between 1977 and 1983. These electro-disco tracks share with techno a dependence on machine-generated beats and dance-floor popularity.

In the years immediately following the first techno compilation's release, techno was referenced in the dance music press as Detroit's relatively high-tech, mechanical brand of house music, because on the whole, it retained the same basic structure as the soulful, minimal, post-disco style that was emanating from Chicago and New York City at the time. The music's producers, especially May and Saunderson, admit to having been fascinated by the Chicago club scene and being influenced by house in particular. This influence is especially evident in the tracks on the first compilation, as well as in many of the other compositions and remixes they released between 1988 and 1992. May's 1987–88 hit "Strings Of Life" (released under the nom de plume Rhythim Is Rhythim), for example, is considered a classic in both the house and techno genres. At the same time, there is evidence that the Chicago sound was influenced by the Belleville Three — allegedly, May loaned Chicago-based house musician Keith "Jack Master Funk" Farley the equipment to make the classic track "House Nation"; early Detroit techno records reportedly sold well in Chicago; and Atkins believes that the first acid house producers, seeking to distance house music from disco, emulated the techno sound.


tomoltk said...

Great piece. I would disagree that there is any significant consensus that believes techno did not come directly from the Belleville Three. Although some zealots may be able to show that somebody else used the term they can't show that this person had any significant influence on the genre. Sharevari is arguably proto-techno rather than modern techno but it is definitely Detroit. Your readers can watch a video of that track and being played on a Detroit dance show on TV in 1982 here

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