40 Years of Techno: What Defined A Genre





From Detroit sound to Berlin’s influential clubs and further to labels and artists that represent the genre. Here is the short text about the most important things in a 4 decades-long history of techno.

Music Radio delves back through nearly 40 years’ worth of interviews to discover how the changing face of technology has shaped the sound of techno. Read more here.

It’s hard to pin down an exact date that techno as we know it today was born; unlike some other genres, there isn’t one definitive release that can easily be singled out as the first proper example of techno.

It’s more accurate to say that, like both house and hip-hop, it emerged over the course of the early ’80s out of the roots of synth pop and electro, as a byproduct of the arrival of the first wave of truly affordable electronic instruments.

Even if the precise date is up in the air, you can certainly tie the birth of techno to a place – the city of Detroit – and a small circle of young Black musicians.

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If there is a single originator, it would undoubtedly be Juan Atkins. As a young man at the dawn of the 1980s, Atkins acquired his first synths – first a Korg MS-10, then later a Sequential Pro One – and began experimenting with creating tracks, resulting in a string of proto-techno releases under the moniker Cybotron with friend Rik Davis.

While quite simplistic in their construction, the earliest Cybrotron releases, such as 1981’s Alleys Of Your Mind, bear a distinct similarity to European synth acts such as Kraftwerk and Gary Numan, whose hit Cars had arrived two years previously.

We delve back through nearly 30 years’ worth of interviews to discover how the changing face of technology has shaped the sound of technoIt’s hard to pin down an exact date that techno as we know it today was born; unlike some other genres, there isn’t one definitive release that can easily be singled out as the first proper example of techno.

It’s more accurate to say that, like both house and hip-hop, it emerged over the course of the early ’80s out of the roots of synth pop and electro, as a byproduct of the arrival of the first wave of truly affordable electronic instruments.

Even if the precise date is up in the air, you can certainly tie the birth of techno to a place – the city of Detroit – and a small circle of young Black musicians.

If there is a single originator, it would undoubtedly be Juan Atkins. As a young man at the dawn of the 1980s, Atkins acquired his first synths – first a Korg MS-10, then later a Sequential Pro One – and began experimenting with creating tracks, resulting in a string of proto-techno releases under the moniker Cybotron with friend Rik Davis.

While quite simplistic in their construction, the earliest Cybrotron releases, such as 1981’s Alleys Of Your Mind, bear a distinct similarity to European synth acts such as Kraftwerk and Gary Numan, whose hit Cars had arrived two years previously.

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Atkins, along with close friends and fellow techno pioneers Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May, would absorb an eclectic melting pot of musical styles through Detroit’s legendary local radio stations and influential hosts such as WGPR-FM’s Electrifying Mojo.

The trio – informally dubbed the Belleville Three, after the suburb of Detroit they called home – have cited everyone from homegrown Motown icons to David Bowie, New Order, Parliament and even the B-52s as early influences. Despite the shared listening experiences, techno’s founders came from different places as musicians.

SEE MORE: Techno’s Origin is in Detroit

“I’ve been making music all my life, starting out with a guitar, then a drum set, but I didn’t really start experimenting with electronics until around 1978,” Atkins explained to Future Music in 1999 (FM80). “I hadn’t heard of people like Kraftwerk at that time, but I’d been working on demos, really early versions of tracks like Alleys Of Your Mind that were put together on cassette.

“At that time I had a basic mixer and a Korg MS-10, which was the synth that really developed my interest, introducing me to waveforms and oscillators. I’d just bounce between two cassette decks, taping from one to the other to create the overdub. There’s a real art to that.”

“I’d just bounce between two cassette decks, taping from one to the other to create the overdub. There’s a real art to that.”

Juan Atkins

 

For Atkins, an element of futurism and sci-fi played a role in these earliest musical experiments. There’s no doubt that this outlook was, to an extent, a reaction to the post-industrial landscape of Detroit, which had begun its much-discussed decline by the early ’80s. Atkins has cited the influence of American writer Alvin Toffler too, whose book Future Shock he’d studied as a teen, and whose writings inspired the fledgling genre’s name.

This tendency toward the futuristic would remain a running theme throughout techno and its numerous offshoots, found predominantly, for example, in the afro-futurism of later Detroit icons Drexciya.

By contrast, Saunderson, who grew up in New York and moved to Detroit later, was equally influenced by the soul and disco coming out of his home city. Through NYC radio he absorbed the likes of Chic and the extended remixes designed for the dancefloors of the iconic Studio 54.

Of the Belleville trio, Atkins was the first to release music, following up Cybotron’s debut with synth-pop indebted tracks such as Clear and Cosmic Cars.


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