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. The only thing lacking was DJs who could sing. 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 stopped using innovative sounds like the violin. 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.

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