Turntable Record Players And Vinyl Discs Start DJs Off

Do you ever wonder how other DJs first get into the field? I know I do. I especially think about how different it must be for today’s DJs, compared to some of the pioneers. Today’s DJs probably start with their iPods or their laptops or some other electronic method. I bet many of them have never even seen a turntable record player. Perhaps they’ve never seen vinyl records. But that is how many of us older DJs got our start, isn’t it?

vinyl turntable record player

A vinyl turntable player

And I don’t mean we started spinning records on a record player. Of course we did that, but I’m talking about even before that. What was the first thing we did? In my case, I destroyed my dad’s record player. I broke his needle. You can probably guess how.

Yup, I took one of his (admittedly crappy) records and I decided to spin it. I put it on his regular old record player and treated it like a DJ turntable. I scratched the shit out of that Harry Belafonte record. I rubbed it back and forth to try to make cool noises but obviously, the needle was not meant for spinning. The record was destroyed. The needle was also shot to hell. A few hours later my ass was spanked to hell. I deserved it, I suppose. (I needed this post on things not to do to record.)

turntable record player needle

The needle of a record player

I wonder if those great Detroit techno DJs did the same thing. Did their forefathers also have an extensive vinyl record collection? Did they also ruin one of those records along with the needle? I like to imagine they did. Maybe that’s what I should’ve told my dad when he found out. Maybe I would’ve been able to sit down the rest of that day.

What about, Cassettes? Were those are big in your house? I know in mine they weren’t. We had a cassette player as a part of our stereo system, but no one ever used it. My dad had a huge vinyl collection and then when DVDs became popular, he bought a lot of those. In fact, most of his music is still on DVDs. I bet he still has all his vinyls too, but I don’t think he has a record player anymore. I’m not sure, now that I think about it. I have to ask him. Of course, he might lie, if he still remembers what I did to his last record player.

So what am I trying to say here? Nothing, really. This is just one of those rambling posts, where I write down whatever is in my head. But I guess there’s a little bit of a point.

Let’s not forget the old school methods. Sure it’s great that we can mix together thousands of tracks that are all contained on a tiny little USB stick. That is so much more convenient than having a huge box of vinyl or a bunch of CDs, but there was something nice about those old records, too.

If you get a chance, practice spinning some records on an old-school turntable. Even better, if you get a chance, just listen to some music on vinyl, on a record player that is meant for listening, not for spinning. Give it a try. People do say it’s the best way to listen to music.

music store selling vinyl records

An old-school record store

I don’t really agree with that, but there are many who do. They say music on vinyl is how it’s meant to be listened to. They love the crackling of the needle in the grooves and the other flaws of this music storage method. Personally, I like digital files for their cleanliness and their flawless sound. To me that is more enjoyable.

But some just like nostalgia. Some people always think the original ways are better and they never get used to the new ones. And even though I don’t agree, I do think there is something nice about listening to a vinyl record at times. That’s why think you should give it a try. Just don’t try spinning it.

For all things vinyl, check out this Subreddit.

The Second Wave of Detroit Techno DJs

Everybody is familiar with the original Detroit artists like Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Blake Baxter, Chez Damier, etc. I’ve written extensively about the Bellevue Three on this very site. There’s a reason for that. These guys put Detroit on the electronic music map. Not just that, they brought techno music to the masses. In fact, many say, they made techno music a recognizable genre. All of today’s electronic dance music, the rave culture, and so many other musical things we take for granted, came at least in some part from Detroit and from those great pioneers. But not many people know that Detroit’s music scene didn’t stop there.

A few years after those guys, once techno had begun to really take off in other parts of the country, Detroit enjoyed a second wave of famous DJs. By this point everyone was aware of the musical revolution out of Detroit and rave culture was in full effect in Europe. This is when DJs like Jeff Mills, Carl Craig, Octave One and many others made it big.

Detroit DJ working a mixer

A DJ at work mixing his set in a Detroit club

The second wave of Detroit DJs took movements like the acid house movement, which came from Europe and was a result of Europeans adding crazy beats and drugs to the original techno sound, and took it to a new level. They turned this into a really harsh kind of music. It was hard-core and characterized by strong riffs and a feeling of an industrial wasteland. It was kind of a brutal type of music. It went over well though.

These tracks had names that fit their styles. There was a track called ‘predator’ and another called ‘elimination.’ DJs sped up their music more and more, until the tracks had a ridiculous pace. Dancing to them became impossible for anyone who is not mentally ill or on speed. People dancing to these tracks looked ridiculous and if I tried to do it myself, I felt ridiculous. Clubs that played this type of music simply were no fun. The people who went to these comes were no fun either. They were just as aggressive, loud and obnoxious as the music itself. Luckily it did changed. Eventually all of this evolved to a minimalist progressive techno sound. This newer sound was much more to my liking and much more pleasant to the year. The people enjoyed this type of solder also much more pleasant to be around. It was just a whole another atmosphere.

And finally, in the year 2000, Detroit had its first electronic music festival. These modern bastardizations of the original raves are everywhere these days. It only makes sense that Detroit got on the bandwagon. I believe in those days they were called the Detroit Music Festival, but they go by a different name today. Yes, they still exist, but the music is nothing like it used to be. These EMD festivals simply are too impersonal. People don’t go to meet other people, they go to watch the DJ like he’s the spectacle.

So how do we feel about the second wave of Detroit artists? Personally, I’m not a huge fan. I love the original Detroit artists and anyone who likes electronic music owes them a huge debt of gratitude, even if they don’t like their music. The second wave of DJs from Detroit, however, took the beautiful music from the first and, in my opinion, destroyed it. They sped it up too much, they made it too hard, they just took it too far. You know when you do something a lot and you get desensitized to it and then you need to do it twice as much to get the same effect? That’s what happened to Detroit music (you can find some suggestions for second-wave tracks here).

What was once a great and wonderful movement became something far less. But there are many people who love that new style. In England especially, hard-core techno is much more popular than I would like it to be. I have never enjoyed those extremely hard beats. I am more of a trance type of person. I like the music to relax me and to put me into an alternate state. I don’t want it to jar me, to make me violent or to make me angry. I don’t want to have to dance like a maniac. That is no fun.

Juan Atkins, A Founding DJ of the Detroit Techno Sound

Juan Atkins (Juan on Facebook) is credited as the founder of techno music along with Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. When I say techno, I of course mean Detroit techno. These three musicians attended high school together in a suburb of Detroit Michigan called Belleville. Because of this, they are often referred to as the Belleville Three.

DJ Juan Atkins

Model 500, AKA DJ Juan Atkins playing music

All three of these DJs are black I realize that sounds a little strange and is probably not something I should, or even need to, point out, but you’d be surprised how many people seem to think that Mr. Atkins is Hispanic. This is just a wild guess, but it might have something to do with his first name. Anyway, Juan is not a Latino; he is an African-American.

Music was in Juan’s blood from an early age. His father was a concert promoter and Juan learned how to play the bass, the drums, and even a little guitar, when he was quite young. When he was 16, he heard electronic music for the first time and this changed his life forever. He later said the sound reminded him of UFOs landing and he soon gave up playing the other instruments and switched to the synthesizer. It was an analog synthesizer and he began recording with cassette decks and a mixer. Here is some of Juan’s work on Beatport.

Juan is actually the one who taught Derrick May how to mix and together they launched a group called Deep Space. They created mixes and got them on a radio show in 1981. Saunderson joined them in their Deep Space Soundworks venture and the three of them even started a club together in the downtown area of Detroit where local DJs could get together to network and socialize.

These guys together formed a group called Cyberton and recorded a few successful tracks. The type of music they played would eventually become known as techno. One of the bandmates, a guy named Rik Davis, wanted to take this group in a different direction. He wanted to play rock music or something very similar to it, while Atkins and the others prefered to play electronic music. Due to this, Atkins left the group in 1985. Who knows why he decided to leave the group he started, but he did. We can’t really criticize him, can we? He has been hugely successful ever since.

Atkins next went on to found a record label called Metroplex. The other members of the Detroit Three, a.k.a. the Belleville Three, all recorded tracks on Atkins’s new label. Atkins himself recorded a single called “No UFOs” which was a huge hit in Detroit and in nearby Chicago. Following this hit, he created a number of other techno tracks that set the stage for everything to come. These tracks earned him the nickname “The Godfather of Techno.” It wasn’t long before Juan Atkins’ music crossed the ocean and made it big in Europe.

I know I’ve been calling his work techno, but Atkins earlier stuff was more commonly called electro. The truth is, I hate all these little labels that try to distinguish between slight differences. I hate even more, the pretentious people who insist on the various little labels. The main point to take away from this is that Juan Atkins developed a new genre of music that was called techno. This genre relied on heavily layered soundscapes that were all very rhythmic.

The Detroit techno sound is very distinctive and is famous. It is one of the precursors to all of the electronic dance music, also known as EDM, we hear today. The three founding members were all black, and as I mentioned above this is probably something that should not be mentioned, but it has to, really. I feel the fact that they were black heavily influenced the way their music sounded. They took elements from soul music, from R&B, from funk and of course from European electronic music like Kraftwerk. They melded these elements and created a new sound. They created they style known as Detroit Techno and they are three of the world’s most famous DJs as a result.

More info on Juan Atkins can be found on Wikipedia.

Detroit Techno DJ Kevin Saunderson

I have already introduced you to the Belleville three, the three DJs who are credited with founding the Detroit techno sound. The first one I talked about recently was Derrick May. The other two are Kevin Saunderson and Juan Atkins. Together these three revolutionized the electronic music industry and put Detroit music on the map once again.

Detroit DJ Kevin Saunderson

Kevin Saunderson playing a DJ set

Today let’s look at the second of these three great DJs. Today let’s examine the life of Kevin Saunderson. Kevin was actually not originally from Belleville. Instead, he was born in Brooklyn, New York. He moved to Belleville in Michigan, just outside Detroit, at the age of nine. It was during his time at Belleville high school that he met the other two DJs who make up the Belleville three.

But even before this, he had music in his life. Growing up in Brooklyn he was exposed to the music of the streets there and it made a lasting impact. It can be heard in his sound to this day. The influence of Brooklyn is definitely there in his mixes and it is something that is much less detectable in his two friends. Of course they were influenced by Kevin and the whole Detroit techno sound has some Brooklyn influences, but these are definitely the most notable in Kevin’s music.

Kevin Saunderson became friends with the other two in high school, but at first they did not necessarily get along. He actually had a bet going with Derrick May and when Derrick lost the bet, he decided not to pay. Kevin punched him in the face and knocked him out cold. Somehow this altercation developed into a lifelong friendship.

Unlike the other two guys, Kevin became a DJ a bit later. He first decided to pursue his original interests and went to university to study communications and also to play football. This was at Eastern Michigan University, so it was not a large program and he was not a superstar, but he was a pretty good athlete nevertheless. During this time, he watched Derrick and Juan Atkins go through the process of creating a musical track and this awakened his interest in DJing.

The three of them and always been interested in music and listened to a lot of it in high school. They then played around together and made their own music, but after high school it took Kevin a while to get back into it. Once he did, the other two showed him the ropes and taught him how to DJ and how to produce songs and he was soon making his own.

At first glance it would definitely seem that Kevin was nowhere near as prolific as the other two founding members of Detroit’s techno scene, but that is not entirely true. They did generally have bigger tracks and more of them, but Kevin had a lot more than you might think. The problem is that he created them under various pseudonyms. In fact, he had over 20 different names under which he created music. He even has a bass line named after him, the Reese bass from his full name :Kevin ‘Reese’ Saunderson. To me the fact that he used so many pseudonyms shows that he was the least worried about fame and really just did it for the love of the music.

Even today, he continues to produce and release great music but more importantly, he uses his label to bring along new talent and to get the next generation interested in music and get them creating some of their own. He has not lost his interest in athletics either. He sponsors several youth baseball teams and helps kids both through athletics as well as music. He will go down in history as one of the creators of the techno sound for the work he has already done, but he is nowhere near finished and will likely add several pages to the historical documents that will illustrate his life.

For more on Kevin Saunderson, check out the Wikipedia article.

Derrick May – a Founder of Detroit Techno Music

Derrick May was one of the founders of the Detroit techno music scene. Along with two of his high school friends, he formed the Belleville three, a group of DJs that are considered the founders of this style of music.

DJ Derrick May from Detroit

Derrick was an only child and was born in the city. His friends began experimenting with electronic music early and created this new style of house music that included futuristic and robotic elements and has since become known simply as techno.

He and his friends met when they were 14 although they did not always get along well. Derrick was actually punched in the face by his friend Kevin because he refused to pay what he owed from a bet. The bad blood did not last long and the two became friends soon after.

Derrick first got a song that went big in 1987 and a song entitled strings of life was one of the biggest hits to come out of Detroit at the time. It blew up in Europe and was in part responsible for the appropriation of black culture by white kids all over the world. For some reason the Detroit sound became hugely popular across the Atlantic Ocean.

Derrick May went on to do a lot of things. He had the Detroit electronic music Festival and did a lot of other stuff. I don’t feel like researching right now, so I’ll just make some guesses and basically make stuff up. I imagine he traveled all over the world with his trusty decks and his mixer and played clubs everywhere he went, spreading his style of DJing far and wide.

Everywhere he went outside of Detroit, he was welcomed with open arms and asked to set up his turntables and get out his record collection for just one night. He would usually oblige and whip whatever crowd was in front of him into a frenzy as they danced the night away to his insanely popular mixes.

Every time he mixed one song into another, he expertly matched the beats using his pitch setting and when he maneuvered the channel faders to slowly make the transition from one track to the other, the crowd generally didn’t even notice. He was that good. They also didn’t notice how he manipulated them with the music, how he got them dancing when he wanted them to dance, he got them screaming when he wanted them to scream and how he had every single person in the club going home that night thinking they had just witnessed one of the greatest moments of their lives.

He was able to do all this simply by choosing good music, but it helped that he also played it well. He knew how to mix music as he had been DJing for a long time. He taught himself how to become a DJ, but since then he has helped many other people learn to mix music. He doesn’t run an official DJ school or anything, but people come from far and wide to learn how to DJ at his feet. I’m actually surprised he never started his own website to help people become DJs, like this page and other similar sites you’ll find all over the Internet.

It seems to me he missed a business opportunity there and could’ve made even more money. I’m not sure if that ever mattered too much to him though, but he also could’ve made a lot more fans happy and spread his craft to the world. And I do believe that this mattered to him and still does matter to him. As one of the founders of techno music and the Detroit style of electronic music, you could even say its, in a way, his responsibility to continue to spread this style of music around the world.

Detroit’s place in DJ and Electronic Music History

I figure the first post on the site should explain why I chose Detroit techno and Detroit area DJs for my focus. It’s simple. Detroit is where techno began. Sure, electronic music was already pretty widespread and was especially popular in Europe, but in the US, house music was not hugely popular yet. The Belleville three in Detroit changed that. These three DJs created a style of music that was different from Chicago house and they named it techno.

A Detroit area DJThe Belleville three are Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. Together they created this new style of music that was characterized by the use of analog synthesizers and drum machines. The sound was very industrial, with futuristic and robotic themes, reminiscent of the auto industry that was so prevalent in Detroit.

These three were middle-class black youths, but their music crossed racial boundaries. In a city characterized by violence and especially violence between races, the techno parties that started springing up all over the place were some of the few gatherings that were peaceful. Even today, this is still true. Of course, there were, and still are, many other talented musicians in Detroit and you can find a listing of some on MTV’s website.

Detroit house music, in other words Detroit techno, is very similar to Chicago house. In fact, most people probably wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference. There are differences though, but they aren’t really that important and indeed, many clubs in both cities used to play both styles of music interchangeably and few people ever noticed. Who cares, really, when you’re having a great time.

The Belleville three were high school friends from Belleville, Michigan. They got together and listened to music and soon started creating electronic tracks in their basement. Pretty soon these tracks were in high demand at clubs around the city. Ironically, Derrick May himself said that Detroit techno was a complete accident, simply a mishmash of different types of music they were listening to at the time.

Despite that, once their music hit the Detroit streets, it was all over. They began getting radio time and before long, they got requests to license their music in the UK, where electronic music was huge. They were reluctant to do so due to the drug scene in the UK, but money won out in the end. Even today, they still speak out against drugs and say they are not necessary to listen to this kind of music.

The town of Belleville is actually a suburb of Detroit and its location played a big role in the formation of this type of music. Because it was located a bit outside the city in a middle-class neighborhood, that is what allowed them to create the relatively peaceful parties in an otherwise very un-peaceful city. In fact, while blacks and whites alike enjoyed these parties, it was middle-class blacks and whites. Lower-class people were simply not welcome. The parties were closed and they couldn’t get in. That goes for lower-class people of all races.

Even though blacks and whites enjoyed these parties, they started as mainly middle-class black affairs. It was only a bit later, when white families fled the inner-city for the suburbs, often moving into what had previously been all black middle-class suburbs, that the parties became more racially integrated. This is a huge factor in the popularity of Detroit techno around the country and, indeed, around the world.

This style of music played such an important role in spreading electronic music around the country and around the world and also played an important role in the rave culture of the 90s, that I felt it deserved a website in its honor. On the site I will look at the individual DJs who started the Detroit scene and I hope to also feature some photos of the Detroit streets from back in the day. Even if I can’t get those, I’m sure I can at least find some current photos, although the streets of Detroit no longer look anything like they did back then.

More info on the city of Detroit can be found on the city webpage: https://www.detroitmi.gov/