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, shared many coffees, 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. They used tons of unique sounds in their music, like classical violin samples or trumpet or saxophone music and on the site I will look at all of that as well as 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:

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