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.
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.