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.
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.