ArticlePDF Available

Post-soul futurama: African American cultural politics and early Detroit techno

Authors:
  • Independent Scholar

Abstract

Techno is a globally successful genre of electronic dance music that can trace its origins to Detroit in the early 1980s, but it has been generally overlooked in academic, historical and critical analyses of 1980s African American music in the United States. This study will consider the cultural context of early techno, its relationship to European electronic music, the birth of the ‘techno’ genre in the UK, the founding myths and histories of techno, and its potential for helping us understand transformations in African American cultural politics in the ‘postsoul’ era.
1
Full reference details:
Albiez, Sean (2005) - „Post Soul Futurama: African American cultural politics and early Detroit
Techno‟ in European Journal of American Culture. Vol 24. No 2. 2005
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Post Soul Futurama: African American
cultural politics and early Detroit Techno
Sean Albiez
Abstract:
Techno is a globally successful genre of electronic dance music that can trace its origins to
Detroit in the early 1980s, but it has been generally overlooked in academic, historical and
critical analyses of 1980s African American music in the United States. This study will
consider the cultural context of early Techno, its relationship to European electronic music,
the birth of the „Techno‟ genre in the UK, the founding myths and histories of Techno, and its
potential for helping us understand transformations in African American cultural politics in the
'post-soul‟ era.
Keywords: Detroit, Techno, music, African-American, cultural, identity
Introduction
In 2003, the Detroit Historical Museum created a new exhibit, Techno:
Detroit's Gift to the World through which the visitor would „[l]earn the straight story of
how Juan Atkins, Eddie Fowlkes, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, four young
men from metro Detroit, created [Techno] and trace its early beginnings from local
Detroit clubs to its emergence as
a global sensation‟. 1
The 'straight story' of early Techno and its African American originators is well-
established.2 To summarise, this is a story where the 'godfather' of Detroit Techno
Juan Atkins, inspired by Detroit DJ Ken Collier and the musical eclecticism of local
radio DJ Electrifyin' Mojo, formed the electronic band Cybotron in the early 80s, with
Vietnam veteran Rick Davis. Cybotron explored Alvin Toffler's sociological futurist
Third Wave and Future Shock writings3, created a largely synthesizer and rhythm
machine based electronic music, and developed a philosophy that probed the
utopian/dystopian dichotomy of science fiction. Meanwhile, Atkins' nurtured and
inspired his younger Belleville school friends, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson.
With May he formed the Deep Space DJ partnership, undertaking a conceptual
exploration of the European electronic music they played. This informed the music of
Cybotron, and later the proto-Techno they independently produced. On leaving
Cybotron Atkins released tracks on his own label Metroplex, and alongside May‟s
work on his Transmat label, created the musical template for African American
Techno music that spoke to the bodies, hearts and minds of European dance
audiences in the late 1980s.
This study will consider Detroit Techno‟s origins, and explore the issues raised
when investigating the cultural sources, contexts, politics and identity of this music. A
central theme will be the exploration of Atkins and May‟s intense identification with
2
the synthesizer sound, and sonic and rhythmic innovations, of European electro-
pop/electro-disco (e.g. Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, Depeche Mode, New Order and
Giorgio Moroder) in the early 1980s. This is a significant factor in understanding the
identity and genesis of Techno. If Techno is African American music that cast it‟s
eyes and ears elsewhere than the urban ghetto, the church and the street for creative
inspiration, favoring „alien‟, „white‟ European sonic futurism, then this music is
arguably „post-soul‟, and apparently occupies a cultural sphere removed from
previous gospel and blues informed black popular musics. So, what is at stake in this
relocation of African American musical practices into a new creative and political
paradigm?
Surprisingly there has as yet been little sustained analysis of the ethnic
dimension and cultural politics of proto-Techno. Yet in Atkins et al’s observations on
the local and international response to Techno in this early period, there is continual
reference to racial themes and conflicts. For example, in the disinterest of white
Detroit club goers in black underground music,4 the class segregation within the
black club scene, and Techno‟s enthusiastic reception by predominantly white
musicians and audiences in Europe.5
Though Techno has been previously identified as a post-soul construct by
Cosgrove6 and Eshun, it has not specifically been addressed in the light of critical
work by writers exploring contemporary African American music and identity, the
post-soul „intelligentsia‟ and the „post-soul aesthetic‟7. If Techno is indeed exemplary
of the post-soul aesthetic, it now seems important to attempt an analysis of its origins
through the filter of such work.
The commercial „invention' of Techno as a discreet genre by British Northern
Soul enthusiast Neil Rushton (in collaboration with Atkins and May), for the 1988
Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit British compilation, and the embrace of
Techno by European audiences also raises questions around Detroit‟s „ownership‟ of
the genre. The Techno exhibit and the city backed annual Detroit Electronic Music
festival, has claimed this music (that has little popular or critical attention in the USA)
for its „hometown‟. However, in making sense of early Techno it is crucial to move
beyond this claim by identifying how musical production in Detroit, and elsewhere, is
caught up in the global and trans-Atlantic flows popular culture. In exploring how this
transforms notions of the African American and local identity of Techno, we are led
onto fundamental issues and debates in the cultural politics of black popular music in
the USA.
Detroit: broken promised land
There is little space here to convincingly attempt to portray the complexities of
the industrial, social and cultural decline of Detroit in the post-1945 period.
Nevertheless, as it forms the social and cultural backdrop to this study, it is important
to at least briefly indicate some of the most relevant aspects of this decline.
Detroit in the early 20th century had been an American and international
symbol of modernism and industrial achievement. Perhaps representative of this
were Diego Rivera‟s Detroit Industry murals, created in the 1930s at the Detroit
Institute of Arts. The murals celebrated the energy and optimism of industrial Detroit,
and the black and white industrial workers as heroes of modernity. The murals
portray the optimism of the city's past, suggesting,
We dream of a world to meet our individual and communal needs,
physical and emotional and spiritual, and then we make the tools that
3
… will help make those dreams real. As the world changes, we invent
new tools … [and] fashion a world closer to our ends, invested with
meanings and purposes of our own creation.8
However, by the latter 20th century, Herron portrays Detroit as the by now
clichéd symbol of American urban post-industrial decline stating,
Detroit stands for an America that is over: the America of gas guzzlers
and factories and downtown and department stores and above all the
America where people believed that the good of the country and the good
of General Motors were inextricably linked. That America, and the city that
stood for it, are exhausted so that Motown now seems apropos of nothing so
much as failure.9
Detroit from the late 1950s onwards was in a state of decline that not even periods of
US economic recovery could halt.10 It was the home of the big three of America‟s
motor industry (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler), but the limited focus of its
economy meant the city was hit hard by a post-1950s downturn. As Herron indicates,
its industrial, commercial and urban infrastructure was decimated in this period. Many
companies and employers left the city after the civil unrest of July 196711.
Furthermore, white, and to some extent black, middle-class flight to Detroit‟s suburbs,
left an impoverished, mainly black inner city population.
Welch et al12 map and explore the racial aspects of the demographic changes,
stating that from the 60s onwards Detroit became an increasingly majority-black city,
(from 70% white to 80% black)13 whose schools, police and city government were
dominated by African Americans (though corporate Detroit was still on the whole
white). This seemingly progressive trend was as much a result of population change
as it was of the civil rights reform that was meant to provide new opportunities for the
USA's African American population. In fact, as Smith argues, despite progressive
anti-discrimination legislation, Detroit's black population had to fight long and hard for
its gains due to the 'chronic patterns of racial discrimination' in the city.14
The suburbanization of Detroit (and America) was profound in the post-war
period, and by 1992, 48% of US citizens lived in suburban areas, with 29% urban,
and 23% rural. The population shrinkage of Detroit in the 1970s alone was 21.3%15
with the population halved from 2 to 1 million by the 1990s. This resulted in an
abandoned downtown area and widely experienced inner city decline.
Herron argues that Detroit's post-industrial collapse meant it took on an
important symbolic role for 20th century America, suggesting „Detroit ... has been so
thoroughly humiliated by history, so emptied of the content, both material and human,
that used to make this place mean, that it becomes questionable whether the city still
exists at all in a practical sense‟. He goes on to further contend that
Outside of war, or some sort of national emergency, it's hard to imagine
anything especially anything domestic and urban that people could
agree on and get behind, except, perhaps, for the wish to keep “Detroit”
from happening to the place where they live.16
Sicko suggests that „Detroit‟s symbolic and final straw' was the Motown record label‟s
relocation to Los Angeles in 197217. He argues that the loss of Motown as a
business, employer and generator of black popular culture was almost as hard to
4
deal with as the decline of Detroit‟s car industry. Nelson George goes further in his
assertion that the loss of Motown impoverished the regionalism of all African-
American music, arguing that
Motown‟s relocation to Los Angeles had a profound effect on black music.
Following Motown‟s lead, top r&b musicians from Chicago, New York,
Memphis, New Orleans, Atlanta, and later Philadelphia, migrated to LA,
since that appeared to be where the action in black music was now centered.
In the process, much of the regionalism in black music was lost. The
“Detroit sound”, the “Chicago sound”, the “Memphis sound”, all became
part of the current state-of-the-art studio perfectionism of Los Angeles-based
black pop.18
Motown's relationship to the African American cultural politics of Detroit are
profound, despite the notion that Motown represents an integrated 1960s 'sound of
young America' with a cross race, perhaps 'de-raced', identity. Smith argues that
Motown's relocation to Hollywood was more than musically 'symbolic'. She argues
that Motown was deeply enmeshed in the black civil rights struggle of the 1960s, and
as such by leaving Detroit, a cultural political center was lost. More than the 'Detroit
Sound' the city lost its internationally recognised 'Detroit Voice'. Smith states that
'[t]he Motown Record Company's status as Detroit's most famous cultural producer
and eventually the country's most successful black business must ... be understood
in political terms regardless of whether or not the company or its artists perceived it
as such.19
Therefore, in a city that by the 1970s was widely held to be a post-industrial
wasteland, and that had lost the main vehicle for it's black cultural 'voice', what new
dreams would now meet the needs of a city and people divested of their industry and
black cultural center? Moreover, what would be the new "Detroit Sound"?
‘Enter’: Techno Originators
The recent Techno exhibition suggests Atkins et al, like Berry Gordy Jr of
Motown, were originators of a globally important African American music. Yet, in the
growing number of American publications that have addressed post-industrial and
post-soul black musics, Techno is conspicuous by its absence. Hip Hop, due to its
American and global success, high visibility and lyrical immediacy is widely
discussed and its cultural significance debated.20 In US writing on black popular
music in the 1980s to the present, Hip Hop has stolen the show. With Eminem's
success and through the film 'Eight Mile', Detroit itself is now becoming more
associated in the popular imagination with Hip Hop. On the other hand, for rock
audiences Detroit is mainly synonymous with Iggy Pop, the MC5, and currently the
White Stripes and Electric Six. Techno is only one strand of the diverse musical gifts
Detroit has given to the world, but arguably it was „given‟ to the world as the USA
was far from interested.21
Atkins et al were the key movers in early Techno. Apart from Fowlkes, they
lived in Belleville, a mainly white, small town/suburb 30 miles from Detroit. They were
relatively affluent and had benefited from the wealth creation of previous generations
hard labor in the motor industry and elsewhere. In the wider Detroit area by the late
1970s, the cultural capital most prized by the middle-class segment of the African
American post-soul generation, whether in music or fashion, was European. Atkins
claims this was a specific attempt by middle-class black youths „to distance
5
themselves from the kids that were coming up in the projects, in the ghetto‟.22 They
formed exclusive and elitist high-school social clubs, some with European names
(Charivari) and others stylistically aspirational (GQ Productions). Sicko maps this
scene, highlighting the social antagonism between middle-class „preps‟ and working-
class „jits‟ and the efforts made by party organizers to enforce this divide.23 Within
this milieu, Atkins and May, and later Saunderson and Fowlkes became DJs and
musicians.
The music of the Detroit party scene was also crucial to the social segregation
of the groups. The local DJ, the Electrifyin‟ Mojo, had an important part to play in
propagating a taste for „alien‟ European musics by Numan, Kraftwerk, Alexander
Robotnick, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Ultravox, the Human League, Telex, New
Order and Depeche Mode.24 This music was central to early Techno and Atkins and
May specifically drew inspiration from it. But how does this link raise questions about
race, identity/identification and African-American cultural politics. To analyze these
issues, this study will first consider the proto-techno of Cybotron in early 80s Detroit,
and the founding „manifesto‟ of the genre, Cosgrove‟s „Seventh City Techno‟.25
Cybotron: early Techno and black science fiction
Cybotron (Atkins and Davis) came to the attention of British audiences as a
band caught up in the early Electro milieu. Their appearance on two 1984 British
Streetsounds albums26, Crucial Electro with 'Clear' and Electro 4 with „Techno City‟,
resulted in the band‟s association with other beatbox and synthesizer based US
„electro-funk‟. Cybotron shared many European and funk influences with New York
and Miami based Hispanic and black Electro (Bambaataa, Warp 9, Jonzun Crew,
Key-Matic), an obsession with science fiction and futuristic technologies (arcade
computer games, Star Wars/Trek) and perhaps a desire that in the future race would
no longer be an obstacle to overcome. This futurist desire for equality and freedom
was an escapist fantasy based on a very real recent history of arguably ineffectual
civil rights reform in a polarised and segregated Detroit, but in Bambaataa‟s Zulu
Nation, it was a communitarian, multi-cultural ideal that was actively promoted.
Cybotron, however, had a different set of creative priorities, and produced a
conceptual, 'progressive' music that drew from the futurist postindustrial Third Wave
theory of Toffler, Davis' interest in Zoharian mysticism (the key book of classical
Jewish Kabbalah), funk and the synthesizer oriented European electro-pop of
Numan, the Human League and Depeche Mode. Cybotron, unlike much early
Electro, did not want to „escape‟ through a utopian black space program, but instead
looked to the earth-bound urban future and the utopian/dystopian dichotomy of
„Techno City‟ - a mythical Detroit based on the extreme class segregation of Lang's
Metropolis. „Techno City‟ was an accurate rather than speculative portrayal of class
and racial segregation in Detroit, and as Atkins asserts ' [y]ou gotta remember, we
were brought up on this racial conflict thing, instilled in us since we were babies ... If
you're a kid in Detroit, [you might] never even have to see a white person, unless
they're on TV. The closest association I had with people outside my race was when I
started traveling to Europe'.27 This was also true of Atkins childhood. Even though he
grew up in a predominantly white Belleville, he developed friendships with May and
Saunderson partly through a sense of ethnic solidarity in this environment.
For Cybotron, the final frontier was a future post-industrial, cybernetic Detroit
rather than a distant galaxy. Atkins suggests the key conceptual aim of Cybotron was
supra-human transformation through 'interfacing the spirituality of human beings into
the cybernetic matrix'. The band 'conceived of [Detroit's] streets or environment as
6
being like the Game Grid. And Cybotron was considered a "super-sprite" ... [which] ...
had certain powers ... that a regular sprite didn't have'.28 This transformation was
perceived as a radical technological break with past racial and class conflicts, with
Cybotron siding with the us of the masses against the them of technocratic forces of
global capitalism, and conservative and reactionary politics. As Sinker suggests,
early Techno's conceptual project was perpetrated by 'wharf-rat individuals seizing on
the most up-to-date technology, to combat some ever more monolithic, globally
interlinked InfoTec state ...', and who were 'Cyberpunk come to life, by turns
grindingly bleak (as chroniclers of the present) and deliriously optimistic (as
harbingers of the future)'.29
Cybotron's music is often teleologically identified as a stepping-stone on the
path to Techno. Listening to 'Alleys of Your Mind', „Industrial Lies‟, „The Line‟ or
„Clear‟ from the album Enter (1983) - later renamed Clear (1990) - the music is
dominated by hard, heavy, syncopated and four-to-the-floor drum machine beats,
funk bass lines, light synthesizer lead lines and stabs, arpeggiated metallic,
percussive sounds and an amount of rock rhythm and lead guitar. The vocals are
introverted, spoken, shouted and infrequently sung and the lyrics are politically and
conceptually grounded. The music indeed has elements of what later became
Techno, but when listened to alongside, for example, the Jonzun Crew it has clear
continuities with Electro of the period. Electro similarly relied on a heavy use of hard
beatbox rhythms and almost purely electronic instrumentation, but one of the key
differences was the lack of any discernible conceptualism in the rap oriented vocal
performances.
Eshun suggests that the vocals of Cybotron, and later Atkins (Model 500), are
derived from white European 'passionless' or soul-less vocal styles, arguing,
The M500 voice hollows the soul into an affectless, traumatised void.
The mouth is a hole through which the soul drains away. No UFOs has
the ominous imminence of whiteness synthesized out of Bauhaus, Depeche
Mode and Gary Numan30
He goes on to state '[t]he import accent means singing like an alien in American' and
'[to] listen to Cybotron is to hear the Brit voice making Techno's alienation from
America audible'.31 Atkins and Davis imagined driving through the streets of a future
cyber-Detroit, but existed in a trans-Atlantic imaginary sphere of dystopian/utopian
musical and technological fascination. Kraftwerk's robots, Numan's electric friends
and John Foxx/Ultravox's 'I Want to Be A Machine' all parallel Cybotron's intellectual
engagement and exploration of the body/technology interface, that exists beyond
notions of locality and authenticity in what would shortly become known as
cyberspace.
Cybotron's fascination with electro-pop and Euro whiteness can also be found
in 'Alleys of Your Mind' (that bears a close resemblance to Ultravox's 'Mr. X'), and
'Industrial Lies' which musically explores territory somewhere between early Ultravox,
Pink Floyd, Bowie and Tubeway Army. Through the creation of a black/white electro-
funk Cybotron mark a negotiation and subversion of whiteness and black cultural
expectations.
In the soul era black musicians were expected to „look within‟, to speak from
the black African American soul rather than entertain „white‟ modernity or the post-
human, dislocated, intellectualism of science fiction. However, whether Cybotron‟s
post-soul theoretically informed futurism, Key-Matic‟s „Breakin in Space‟, or Sun Ra
7
or the Jonzun Crew‟s „Space is the Place‟ there is a tradition of black musicians who
have used science fiction fantasy as a strategy to reconsider the past and present
through what Eshun calls „sonic fictions‟.32 Jonker argues that „Futurism in black
music has been about addressing an experience which is alienated, uprooted,
decentered but positive; it is a waking to the irretrievability of home‟, and therefore is
embedded in the post-slavery condition of African Americans.33
Black musical futurism recognizes the alien-ness of the post-slavery
experience of the Black Atlantic while acknowledging the problematic essentialism of
the myths and goals of Garveyist and more recent forms of Black Nationalism.34 In
response it produces a positive future oriented perspective untied from the past,
the imagination is set free. Yet in looking to the tropes of science fiction, Jonker
argues that paradoxically, Cybotron and other black American musicians recognize
and reproduce „the American racial psyche‟, when he states that
The recurring scenarios that dominate sf … themes like alien-ness,
colonization and technology as a disciplinary epistemology indicate that sf
reflects the American racial psyche. Sf mirrors the silent history of the New
World, and the alienation of the black populations forcibly taken there.35
‘Postcard from the Future’: Cosgrove’s ‘Seventh City Techno’
The Detroit club scene (by the mid-80s centred in the city‟s derelict downtown
area), and the music of Atkins and May, came to the attention of British clubbers by
1987 through its association with Chicago House (both artists had Chicago club
connections). May‟s 'Strings of Life‟ and Atkins‟ „Off to Battle‟ appeared in clubs and
on radio shows in northern cities such as Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham by
late 1987. At this point, „Techno‟ did not exist. That is, it had yet to be differentiated
as a genre. However, Stuart Cosgrove‟s article „Seventh City Techno‟, that gave US
Techno a UK originated identity, appeared in The Face in May 1988 and contains a
set of key early pronouncements on the genre. In the article and related sleeve notes
to Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit36, Cosgrove‟s polemic about Techno‟s
originators and their attitudes to the past have become founding myths that are
overdue for analysis. In the sleevenotes, Cosgrove claims that „The new
grandmasters of Detroit Techno hate history‟ and that Atkins is „an articulate enemy
of Motown‟s supreme being‟, Berry Gordy. These claims are backed by interviews for
the earlier „Seventh City Techno‟ article. This 'anti-Motown' stance relates to one of
two key positions sketched out in the Cosgrove article and revisited many times since
by Techno historians. The problem is that these historians then fail to explore the
broader implications for Techno's position in US black cultural politics. This has
resulted in a perhaps too simplistic view of Techno's perceived desire to break with
the (African-American) past, and a misinterpretation of the ethnic dynamics at the
heart of Techno‟s US origins.
Firstly, Cosgrove claimed that „young Techno stars have little time for the
golden era of Motown‟, supporting this argument with Atkins' statement that 'Berry
Gordy built the Motown sound on the same principles as the conveyor belt at Ford‟s.
Today they use robots to make their cars and I‟m more interested in Ford‟s robots
than Gordy‟s music".37 Atkins later angrily refuted the perhaps selective and overly
enthusiastic appropriation of this statement. He felt his views were „not properly
documented‟, and forcefully stated 'Believe me man, I‟ve got top respect for Berry
Gordy and Motown and I would never say anything to denigrate what he did. For a
8
black man in America to achieve what he did in that era was a hell of a feat and I
take my hat off to the man‟.38
Cosgrove, in creating a thesis that emphasizes the innovatory futurism of
Techno, rides roughshod over the sensitivities of the black American racial and
personal subjectivity of Atkins. This controversial thesis lingered in later writing on
Techno, with Sinker stating „Techno … explicitly and contemptuously refused
community with Motown and motorcity gospel [in favour of] Gary „Me, I Disconnect
From You‟ Numan‟.39 Though there is some evidence to suggest Numan was more
important musically to Juan Atkins than Motown, no disrespect was intended to the
symbolic achievements of Gordy, and Atkins very specifically acknowledges the key
role of electronic and synthesizer experimentation by Bernie Worrell (Funkadelic) and
early 1970s Stevie Wonder in his music. Furthermore, to cast European electronic
music as an escape route for black musicians from the USA's racially antagonistic
environment is to create a comforting story that perhaps helps European writers
excise memories of the colonial enslavement of Africans, recasting Europe as a post-
industrial sanctuary.
The second founding statement is May‟s description of Techno; „[t]he music is
just like Detroit, a complete mistake. It‟s like George Clinton and Kraftwerk stuck in
an elevator.'40 This statement has come to be an opaque mantra that is invoked
whenever Techno history is told. Shallcross suggests it reduced the complexity of the
genesis of techno, resulting in an emphasis on Kraftwerk's cold electronics over local
„funk‟ influences, when funk itself had always been a forward looking, technologically
sophisticated music.41
The idea that both Detroit and Techno are mistakes perhaps unwittingly
suggests that implicit in Techno is its „mis-take‟ of its European influences. Lipsitz
argues that „[e]specially in issues of identity … “mistaken” ideas often contain
important insights … we must … be open to the kinds of knowing hidden within some
“incorrect” perceptions‟42. The „mis-take‟ of Techno was to re-imagine Kraftwerk, but
more particularly, the British electro-pop of Numan, Depeche Mode and the Human
League with an intellectual seriousness that these artists usually failed to encounter
at home. In Britain, Numan particularly suffered at the hands of the tabloid press and
rock critics, turned off by his artificiality, sci-fi techno-dystopian imagery, sexual
ambiguity, aloof-ness, alien-ness, „queer-ness‟, and his 'funkless' whiteness
precisely those qualities that Atkins, Bambaataa and others identified and found
fascinating in Numan. The incredulity still met with in Britain when Numan or
Depeche Mode are identified as black musical icons emphasizes what was perceived
by British music journalists as this „mis-take‟. Of course, it should be noted that the
British, through familiarity, might well have 'mis-taken' this music, and that we should
not privilege the views of elements of the British public as the only correct „take‟. Still,
the appropriation of British synthesizer music in Detroit clearly located it in an
interpretive framework unimagined by its creators.
As Neal argues, there is a perceived incongruity in the African American
attraction to „queerness‟ due to twentieth century Black Nationalism being founded on
a heterosexual masculine discourse.43 This discourse could perhaps be challenged
by the 'queering' of black music. This view is implicit in Vincent's disdain for disco
oriented versions of funk that 'destroyed the integrity of black music'44. But in Italo-
disco (Alexander Robotnick) and the British synthesizer bands, Electro and proto-
Techno musicians identified with music that in other contexts was central to a gay,
and white „teen-pop‟ experience. This is also worthy of note due to the relatively
„straight‟ history of „hetero-sexual‟, drug free Detroit Techno which was caught
9
somewhere between the gay disco-philia of early Chicago House, and the techno-
philia of New York Electro that also operated in and around the gay scene. This
identification is perhaps symbolic of the deconstruction of received identities in
Techno‟s „post-soul aesthetic‟, and has interesting implications in relation to Huey P.
Newton‟s suggestion that „for some African American men it has been difficult to
separate their racial pride from their anxieties about their black masculinity‟45
As has been noted, Shallcross suggests that the African-American funk roots
of Techno need amplifying. Additionally, the European influences (British, Belgian,
Italian and German) also need further analysis. Not least because in 1978, prior to
May's iconic maxim, Brian Eno in an „essentialist‟ but revealing comment on his
music suggested that he would like to create a musical marriage of “stiff, totalitarian”
rock with the “fluid, sensual quality of black music”. Anticipating May, he considered
that
I think it would make a saleable combination if Kraftwerk employed Parliament
or the other way round … if you had the Parliament group playing bass, and
Kraftwerk playing the drums. There would a cross-cultural hybrid, especially
if everybody stuck to their guns.46
This would coincidentally work as a founding definition of Techno. It is also important
that it comes from Eno as Ultravox, Devo, Numan and John Foxx, key early
influences of Techno, were either produced or inspired by him. However, Eno‟s
assumptions are problematic and reproduce what Gilroy identifies as a „pernicious
metaphysical dualism‟47, fundamental to the white mind/black body dichotomy
common in popular assumptions and critical analyses of black musics. In a later
comment on his earlier statement, May emphasized the duality and antagonism that
the elevator scenario would engender saying,
You can imagine Kraftwerk and George Clinton stuck in an elevator with one
keyboard between them … they are both looking at each other … nobody
wants to talk, nobody wants to even associate themselves with each other.
George is laughing at them and they are looking the other way … when the
[elevator] finally opens out comes this sort of funky metal smell … and the
keyboard is sort of flipped inside out.48
However, the creative, cultural and ethnic antagonism May imagined is not apparent
in Kraftwerk‟s attitudes to black musics. Kraftwerk, like Eno, admired James Brown,
Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic and in 1977 Ralf Hutter argued to Billboard,
„Electronics is beyond nations and colours … It speaks a language everyone can
understand.‟49 Kraftwerk had always had a multi-ethnic following in the USA, and in
1996 Hutter indicated
We have always played in different situations, in different countries,
different cultures and of course when we were playing … in America,
there was always a large part of the audience which was dancing, the
black audience, Hispanic, hispano-American … Electronic music
is really a world language, it is the music of the global village.50
As such, the antagonisms highlighted by May would seem to be informed by an
African-American experience of conflict and segregation that white European
10
musicians recognized, but felt surmountable due to a long history of white fascination
with African American Jazz, Blues, R & B and Soul.
Cosgrove recognized the inherent sense that Techno was an attempt to break
past ethnic ties and such older notions of black identity, suggesting
Techno is probably the first form of contemporary black music which
categorically breaks with the old heritage of soul … Detroit refutes the
past. It may have a special place for Parliament ... but it prefers tomorrow's
technology to yesterday's heroes. Techno is a post-soul [my emphasis] sound.
It says nothing to the Lord, but speaks volumes on the dancefloor.51
Despite Atkins‟ later refutation of his „anti-Gordy‟ statement, Techno was a music that
apparently attempted to dislocate and deterritorialise itself, in looking to European
electronic music, to new musical forms and technologies and „western‟ futurist
political theory. However, Techno was not a rejection of African American heritage
but an attempt to engage with and consider the „full meanings of black identity‟52 in a
post-industrial, postmodern, post-soul America. Atkins et al. grew up in an America
that was experienced through day-to-day racial antagonism and they were well
aware of calls for black communal unity in the face of white discrimination. However,
Atkins in particular adopted and adapted what was viewed by some as the most
„white‟ of „white music‟, in an attempt to creatively reconfigure his „raced‟ identity and
personal political priorities. Cosgrove seemed more than a little surprised that
Visage, Depeche Mode and the Human League could be the inspiration for Techno.
The Village Voice would have been even more astounded as in 1981 it suggested
Visage are a fine example of what happens to culture when the government
takes a sudden conservative turn, as in Thatcher‟s Britain or Reagan‟s
America. Decadent, narcissistic, sexist, prurient, ignorant, racist, the New
Romantics are all dressed up with nowhere to go but right.53
For Atkins', and early Electro, British synthesiser and European electronic music had
a discernible soul and funk that was not always immediately apparent to white, liberal
American or European audiences. Though Kraftwerk are widely recognized as a key
inspiration for Electro and Techno, Numan for one is perhaps unfairly overlooked.
Electro pioneer Afrika Bambaataa emphasized this saying
Gary Numan. Man he was dope. So important to us … When we heard that
single, “Are Friends Electric?”, it was like the aliens had landed in the Bronx
… We were just throwing shapes to this tune, man … More than Kraftwerk,
Numan was the inspiration. He‟s a hero. Without him, there‟d be no electro‟54
In 2001, Atkins provided further evidence for this claim by suggesting that the only
artist he is now interested in remixing is Numan.55
Arguably, then, Atkins created a progressive future „post-soul‟, in which he
actively „de-raced‟ and deterritorialised his music. Commenting on his post-Cybotron
choice of the name Model 500, he suggested „I wanted to use something that
repudiated an ethnic designation …‟.56 Atkins‟ refuted the constriction of cultural
production informed by tradition, the past and racial conflicts that required musicians
to look to „the street‟ rather than outer space for inspiration, and his anti-essentialist
stance continued in his adoption of other pseudo-names (Infiniti, Output and Channel
11
One). McRobbie suggests „the logic of anti-essentialism is precisely to look forward
to no longer being black … and science fiction futurism provides a fantasy metaphor
for the escape from racial categorization'.57
But in debates in black cultural politics, such escape is viewed problematically,
particularly if the resources deployed are of white and European origin. Atkins
however undertook an active process of re-invention not only of himself, but also of
his sources and the context that he worked in. The geographically and culturally alien
nature of Numan and Kraftwerk was precisely what made their music useful as a tool
of alienation, enabling a detached critical and creative process. Lipsitz argues that
identification with the alien is a strategy that enables a reconfiguration and re-
affirmation of identity, noting that
Even when listeners and readers have been ignorant of the exact
original and local meanings of …[music]… they have often
displayed advanced understanding about how they could use
resonances of an “unfamiliar” culture to “defamiliarise” their own
culture and then “refamiliarise” themselves and others with it on the
basis of the new knowledge and critical perspectives made possible
by cultural contrast.58
Eshun, in discussing the 'Afro-Futurism' of black musicians such as Sun Ra, George
Clinton, Drexciya and Cybotron suggests that these artists were not only attempting
to detach themselves from traditional and dominant expectations of 'black music',
they also wanted to deconstruct the notion of an essentialist black voice, arguing,
„[t]he mayday signal of Black Atlantic Futurism is unrecognizability, as either Black or
Music. Sonic Futurism doesn‟t locate you in tradition; instead it dislocates you from
origins'.59 However, though Techno arguably attempts to escape racial designation,
there is simultaneously a clear racial dimension to the transformative agenda of the
music. It is informed by a progressive desire to move beyond essentialized
'blackness'. But this is a political act that encourages black cultural expression to
break free from what may be regarded as the conservative, self-imposed limitations
and closely guarded musical borders of Hip Hop and R&B. The process of ethnic
dislocation is central to Techno, but what is at stake in this transformation of black
musical identities?
Techno and the Post-Soul Aesthetic
Techno is designated „post-soul‟ by Cosgrove, with Eshun suggesting it
developed in a '[p]ostsoul Era ... characterized by an extreme indifference towards
the human'.60 But what are the implications in the identification of this music as the
product of a postmodern era after the human, Black Nationalist discourse, Civil
Rights, the Black Power Movement and notions of a unified black community? If
Techno is produced by an African-American „post-soul generation‟, what are the
implications? George, and more recently Neal, have attempted to map and critique
the post-soul moment, with Neal arguing that
[The post civil rights period] … produces a post-soul intelligentsia, a
generation of urban bred black intellectuals born during the waning moments
of the Civil Right/Black Power movements, raised on the rhythms and
harmonies of 1970s soul but having come to maturity [in the] 1980s and
embracing the oppositional possibilities of urban and hip hop aesthetics,
12
mass media, and popular culture as vehicles for mass social praxis.61
Atkins and May can certainly be identified as, in Gramsci‟s term, organic intellectuals
who formed a parallel critical path to the post-soul intelligentsia, but were not part of
the University educated middle-class grouping Neal specifically identifies (e.g. Rose,
George, bell hooks, Greg Tate and Trey Ellis). However, Techno has a tenuous
relationship to the „urban and hip hop aesthetics‟ invoked by Neal, in that the music
being almost purely instrumental has little in the way of overt critical social or cultural
commentary. After Cybotron‟s early Electro futurist manifestos, Techno diverged
considerably from Hip Hop by remaining on the whole, vocally silent.
George suggests that the „post-soul‟ moment can be mapped in an aesthetic
and attitudinal transformation of African-American cultural expression, suggesting
[In] the last 20 years or so, the tenor of African American culture has changed
[from] the we-shall-overcome tradition of noble struggle, soul and gospel
music, positive images, and the conventional wisdom that civil rights would
translate into racial salvation ... [to] a time of goin‟-for-mine materialism,
secular beat consciousness, and a more diverse, fragmented, even
postmodern black community.62
Arguably, Detroit Techno celebrates a counter-hegemonic, collective politics, but also
in its solitary musical production (Atkins and May generally created their music alone
and released it on their own labels) a creative individualism that does not conform to
the conventions of black musical expression. However it is far from clear that this
translates into the conspicuous materialism of R & B and Hip Hop artists.
Early Techno, by reaching beyond traditional ideas of black community, did
result in a reframing, diversification and fragmentation of notions of „blackness‟. Trey
Ellis in 1989 identified the change in the 'tenor of African American culture' as
characterized by „a New Black Aesthetic … that shamelessly borrows or reassembles
across both race and class lines‟. In the New Black Aesthetic, a fundamental shift in
the cultural production of blackness eradicates “old definitions of blackness” that
“show us the intricate, uncategorizable folks we had always known ourselves to
be".63 Although Neal and Gilroy64 agree such a New Black Aesthetic had some
evidential credibility among the black middle class intelligentsia, they both argue that
Ellis is too ready to celebrate a „progressive‟ and narrow field of middle-class success
without recognizing the alien nature of this experience for many African Americans.
As such, Neal prefers the notion „post-soul aesthetic‟ (PSA) to denote a moment
where diversity and postmodernity are embraced in black cultural production without
suggesting that older discourses of black nationalism/community are redundant. He
recognizes the real iniquities in the black American experience and the importance of
examining their complex representation in Hip Hop, R & B, soul and neo-soul artists
(e.g. Meshell Ndegeocello, Bilal, Jill Scott, Jaguar Wright, R. Kelly). Yet even though
he pushes at the boundaries of recent Hip Hop obsessed musical and cultural
analysis, in his broad discussion of the sub-genres of black American styles, Techno,
which is exemplary of the PSA, fails to be acknowledged in any form.
Neal later goes on to develop the notion of a PSA by invoking Mama Soul‟s
term, „Newblackness‟ and explains this is
a “blackness” that is defined by a radical fluidity [allowing] “conversation”
within “blackness” across genders, sexualities, ethnicities, generations,
13
socio-economic positions, and socially constructed performances of black
identity … it is the “language” of a blackness that many black folks had been
afraid to embrace for a fear that somehow it was a reduction or erosion of
blackness.65
Techno musicians in the 1980s seemed to be simultaneously engaged in a locally
inflected and trans-Atlantic conversation within and beyond blackness. However, it is
difficult to find any evidence that Techno directly questioned patriarchal norms or
acknowledged the male dominated assumptions of its music, science fiction
discourses or techno-philia. So no matter how far black science fiction cast its
speculative eye, as McRobbie66 suggests, women remained mainly on the
dancefloor.
George further suggests that though there has also been a constant and
distinct Black Nationalist discourse in African American Hip Hop culture, celebrating a
black working class, ghetto life, he finds that
many young-gifted-and-black post-soulers practice integration without
anxiety … many attended predominantly white schools and took their access
to mainstream opportunities for granted ...Their experience, especially if it was
not informed by [a] romantic ghettocentric identification, makes race
consciousness less central to their being.67
This characterization to a greater or lesser extent applies to Atkins and the pioneers
of Techno. It is clear that whatever their relationship to other urban black musics in
the US, they clearly felt 'race consciousness' or an overtly 'raced' identity was largely
irrelevant to their music, though not necessarily irrelevant to their lived experience in
the United States. The suburban upbringing of Atkins, May and Saunderson and the
demarcated Detroit party scene meant that black communal solidarity was
questioned and explicitly dismantled by proto-Techno. Neal could be speaking about
Detroit and the first Techno generation when he argues that
Perhaps no structural development delineates the emergence of the post-soul
generation better than the postindustrial transformation of black urban spaces
[that eroded] the already precarious status of the black working class,
which, coupled with the incidence of black middle-class flight, provides the
impetus for the radical transformation if not demise of the traditional black
public sphere … fracturing the post-soul generation…68
Indeed, Techno in its early elitist club culture drew away from traditional notions of a
unified black community and in this way contributed to a „fracturing of the post-soul
generation‟. However, proto-Techno was clearly part of a black middle-class
subculture or scene that it was of and in. It was culturally and historically produced in
1980s Detroit no matter where the futurist conceptualism of Atkins and May took
them. To overstate the 'post-human' dimension of early Techno that they
conceptually explored is to conflate the intellectual imaginary of the music with the
lived 'human' experience of 1980s Detroit. McRobbie argues that
[Eshun] eschews the outdated conceptual world of a black politics forged in
community and „universal love‟. One might legitimately ask, who is the subject
14
of this music if not part of some (albeit „post-human‟) community or
collectivity? Is it not the case that dance music has created a „new
community‟?69
In Detroit and the early Techno scene, the „subject of this music‟ was a
defined, largely black, sub-community/culture with a developing infrastructure. When
Techno traveled elsewhere in the late 1980s, new Techno communities and networks
operating beyond US borders and across Europe developed. These were transient
communities formed in the „ecstasy‟ of the dance moment, through the „socially
experienced perception‟ of the rave experience that could be described as a „we-
feeling‟, „collective corporeality‟ or „Uber-Ich‟ – a perception of shared
transcendence.70 These temporary communities (or what Bey would call 'temporary
autonomous zones'71) were the generator of new modes of collective perception and
action, resulting in an implicit critique of everyday life and explicit political action over
governmental attempts to suppress the scenes; most specifically in France and the
UK.72
However, in the cold light of day, this festive and carnivalesque transformation
of life in European Techno rave culture was only fleeting and symbolic; and though
the entrepreneurial spirit of early Detroit pioneers perceptibly changed the lives of
key participants (May, Atkins, Saunderson and Carl Craig among others later gained
global recognition and financial success through homespun Techno production and
record releases), it is debatable whether early Techno had any great effect on the
lived conditions or cultural political outlook of African-American party goers. That is,
the early 1980s Detroit party scene did not result in the same kind of transformational
rhetoric common in discussions of 90s rave culture. Detroit's politicized and fiercely
independent Underground Resistance (Jeff Mills and Mike Banks) are perhaps the
exception that proves the rule.73 When the Techno scene did develop in the USA in
the 1990s, it has a predominantly white identity and did little to breach color lines.
In discussing the black/white dichotomy between early Techno and European
electronic music, it is important to acknowledge Tagg‟s anti-essentialist arguments on
the designation of any music as essentially „black‟, „Afro-American‟ or „European‟.74
However, we also need to recognize that the „incorrect‟ discourses that designate
Techno as black, white or otherwise are the means through which participants and
audiences made sense of it. For example, Techno is not acknowledged as a black
genre by (m)any African-American writers on popular music, demonstrating that the
black/white dichotomy firmly remains in African-American cultural discourse.75 The
continual reinforcement of this dichotomy results in elements of the African American
„community‟ finding it difficult to come to terms with notions of „difference‟, hybridity,
and integration, and as Techno is clearly produced trans-nationally and inter-
culturally, it does not seem to qualify as „black music‟. If a music does not function for
African American audiences as black music,76 and if the labels who release the
music of, for example, Atkins, are European (R & S - Belgium, Tresor - Germany), in
what sense is this music American or black?
As such it can be also argued that „black‟ Techno and „white‟ electronic
musicians were involved in an 'imagined community'77 in the 1980s - a dispersed
network creating a „sonic futurscape‟78, working towards similar goals trans-
nationally, inter-culturally and beyond any notion of locality in an imagined futurist
de-raced cultural sphere? Taking a global perspective, Stiegler suggests that in
opening up and linking ethnic identities, Techno resulted in a „conquest and loss of
territory‟ and an „irresistible process of deterritorialisation‟ which suspended ethnic
15
differences that were rooted in a territory. 79 This only really applies if we ignore the
US context in favor of the European development of Techno culture.
So in what sense can we „re-territorialise‟ Techno in discussing its history and
American identity? Though Detroit was Techno‟s „home‟, how is its identity inflected
when we acknowledge that Detroit is traversed by global media, and economic and
cultural flows that disturb and subvert notions of territorialisation and cultural/ethnic
specificity?
Detroit Techno? cultural identity in a globalising world
Techno is the perfect travelling music …80
To argue that early Techno did not „belong‟ to Detroit is not an attempt to claim
Techno for Europe or to wrest it from the pioneers of the music. It is an attempt to
suggest that theories of the „information society‟ and Toffler‟s „post-industrial‟ Third
Wave central to Cybotron, Atkins‟ and May‟s early conceptualism, and to theories of
globalisation, raise questions as to how and where cultural production can be located
in a globalizing world. Gilroy acknowledges the importance of reconsidering the
origins and routes of culture asking,
How are we to think critically about artistic products and aesthetic codes
which, though they may be traceable back to one distinct location, have been
changed … by their displacement, relocation, or dissemination through
networks of communication and cultural exchange?81
In the case of Detroit Techno, we can trace how music „outside‟ was adopted,
adapted, „refashioned and given new meaning‟82 within a specific location and
historical juncture by Atkins and May. However, we also need to recognize that the
sources of the music were both global and local, and that Detroit was obviously not
immune to developments in emerging global communications and resultant cultural
flows. Furthermore, due to the complexity of these flows it makes little sense to posit
Techno as either African American or European. It contains elements of both, and
through its influences, has connections to a complex range of musical practices
across the fields of popular musical creativity. Therefore it is important to consider
Connell and Gibson's argument that
Everywhere music is played and consumed, it contains multiple networks.
Cities are nodes in international media scapes centres of production and
retailing and hosts to multi-cultural communities and their diverse musical
texts and spaces.83
Due to Techno‟s hybrid origins, and its complex relationship to issues of race it is
difficult to specify its ethnic identity. However, despite the inherent networked
complexity of contemporary culture, music has demonstrable points of origin and
scenes that clearly develop idiosyncratic identities.84 Connell and Gibson suggest
that although musical production is embedded in 'international media scapes' and
global cultural networks it is also simultaneously geographically located. They argue
that
Despite globalisation, transnationalisation, international migration and the
16
commercial underpinning of music, each musical genre, in every place,
required at least some local identification, and had its own internal musical
structure, its particular technology, performative contexts, and social and
political environment.85
Considering this, Techno‟s identity arguably exists somewhere between its Detroit
origins and its contemporary global reach. Despite its American origins, it is still is a
minority taste in comparison to R&B and Hip Hop. It could be argued that Techno as
a widely understood genre came to fruition in the early 1990s in the UK, the
Netherlands, Belgium and Germany86 and its musical elaboration in this context
further removes it from its original 'performative contexts' and 'social and political
environment'. As such, it is easy to understand how American audiences may view
Techno as a European music.
In 1997 Atkins argued that African American audiences think of Techno as
essentially white and European, and his exasperation with this suspicion of musical
forms that do not conform to traditional templates and expectations is marked. In his
statement that black American‟s have „been brainwashed for so many years that
when a change comes up we still act like we‟ve got chains on …‟,87 Atkins clearly
locates his own artistic struggles within the wider context of the black American
experience, suggesting physical shackles have been replaced by intellectual
intransigence. This obduracy is the result of a brainwashing process about which
Atkins is vague, but the implication is that it is internally adopted by African
Americans as much as externally imposed by „white America‟.
'Ocean to Ocean': Conclusion
In examining Techno's origins, it is important we move beyond utopian claims for new
color-blind social formations or communities that were made in the European rave
scene, so that we can analyze more effectively the socio-economic and cultural
dimensions of the US origins of Techno in Detroit. Arguments that Techno opened up
new hybrid, inter-ethnic and inter-cultural identities are barely born out when the cool
reception given to Techno by black and white audiences in the USA is taken into
account. Techno's futurist theoretical conceptualism cannot escape the lived
experience of African-Americans in the USA or that of its pioneers. It is clearly the
product of a post-soul moment peculiar to the post-industrial late twentieth century.
As such, in considering black science fiction and Techno, we should not be tempted
to inflate the transformative potential of its escapist rhetoric. We should acknowledge
that wherever Techno's sights were set, it was always an attempt to make sense of
the American post-soul and postmodern experience through music. Above all,
Techno was embedded in wider debates in black cultural politics in the period, and
this tells us a great deal about the continuing racial polarization of American popular
culture. Despite the widespread appeal of Hip Hop and R&B for white audiences, the
intractable boundaries of these mainstream African American popular musics
arguably result in forms closed to the potential of cultural transformation through
embracing hybridity, inter-cultural exchange and the fluidity of identity. Techno may
be a model of such fluidity that relates to its status as an emerging 'world' music, but
it has yet to be widely acknowledged as a potentially radical African-American music
in its homeland.
Footnotes
17
1. Anon., „Techno: Detroit‟s Gift to the World‟, Exhibition web site publicity text,
http://www.detroithistorical.org/promo-techno/index.asp.
2. See Simon Reynolds, Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture,London: Picador,
1998; Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction, London: Quartet, 1998; Dan Sicko,
Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk, New York: Billboard, 1999; Tim Barr, Techno: the Rough
Guide, London: Rough Guides, 2000.
3. Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, London: Pan, 1971. and The Third Wave, London: Pan, 1981.
4. The nature of the „raced‟ environment of early techno is highlighted in May‟s description of racial antagonism in
Detroit clubs - particularly at the Liedernacht club, when trying to introduce „black underground sounds‟ to a
predominantly white, Anglophile, indie audience. See Stuart Cosgrove, „Seventh City Techno‟, The Face, Issue
97, May, 1988, p.88.
5. In 1997, Atkins‟ stated „It was crazy to see that many white kids dancing to the music I was playing. I thought
this could never happen in the US … that thing in itself blew my mind‟. Mike Shallcross, „From Detroit to Deep
Space‟, The Wire, Issue 161, July, 1997, p. 21.
6. Cosgrove 1988.
7. See Nelson George, Buppies, B-Boys, Baps and Bohos: Notes on Post-Soul Black Culture, New York: Harper
Collins, 1992.; Mark Antony Neal, Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic, London:
Routledge, 2002. and Songs in the Key of Black Life: A Rhythm and Blues Nation, London: Routledge, 2003.
8. David Cantwell, „„Detroit City‟: The anatomy of a record‟, The Journal of Country Music,Vol 23.2, 2003, p. 43.
9. Jerry Herron, AfterCulture: Detroit and the Humiliation of History, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993,
p. 203.
10. Robert A. Beauregard, Voices of Decline: the Postwar Fate of US Cities, Oxford: Blackwell, 1993, p. 230.
11. Suzanne E. Smith, Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit, London:Harvard
University Press, 1999, p. 244.
12. Susan Welch, Lee Sigelman, Timothy Bledsoe, and Michael Combs, Race and Place: Race Relations in an
American City [Detroit], Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
13. Mike Rubin, 'Techno: Days of Future Past' in P. Shapiro (ed.). Modulations: A History of Electronic Music -
Throbbing Words on Sound, New York: Caipirinha Productions, 2000 p. 112.
14. Smith, p. 10.
15. Beauregard, p. 238.
16. Herron, pp. 14-15.
17. Sicko, p. 60.
18. George 1992, p. 174.
19. Smith, p.11.
20. See Tricia Rose,„A Style Nobody Can Deal With: Politics, Style and the Postindustrial City in Hip Hop‟ in A.
Ross and T. Rose (eds.), Microphone Fiends: Youth Music and Youth Culture, London: Routledge, 1994, pp. 71-
88.; Bakari Kitwana, The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture, New
York, Basic Civitas, 2002.; Neal 2002 and 2003; George 1992 and Hip Hop America, London: Penguin, 1998. The
lack of any acknowledgement of Techno in the writing of African-American authors is strong evidence of its
cultural marginalization.
21. The lack of success of electronic music in the US market until the emergence of the 'Electronica' genre in the
late 1990s is evidence of this ambivalence. UK bands Prodigy, Fatboy Slim, Underworld and the Chemical
Brothers were successful in the mid-1990s in the USA. These largely white „Electronica‟ artists were influenced by
Atkins or May‟s early Techno releases.
22. Reynolds, p.5.
18
23. Sicko, pp. 39-42.
24. See Sicko, pp. 87-91; Simon Trask, „Future Shock: Juan Atkins interview‟, Music Technology, December,
1988. http://www.forcefield.org/mt_ja.html.
25. This was the first article to acknowledge „Detroit Techno‟ in the UK, though it had been played in clubs and
dance music radio from 1986 onwards, particularly by northern DJs such as Stu Allen in Manchester.
26. The Streetsounds mix albums, released by Morgan Khan, made Electro widely available to black and white
British audiences. Their effect on British youth culture has parallels with the import of R&B records into Liverpool
in the early 1960s. However, white British soul fans whether 'traditionalists' or 'jazz-funkers', despised Electro.
They did not appreciate that Electro drew from street funk, hip hop, Latin music, Jazz fusion and British
synthesizer music. Arguably it was closer to previous Afro-American fusions than the seventies disco and soul
preferred by sections of the white soul audience.See David Toop, „The Beatbox Bites Back‟, The Face, Issue 49,
May, 1984, pp.45-49.
27. Reynolds, p. 56.
28. Reynolds, pp. 9-10.
29. Mark Sinker, „Loving the Alien‟, The Wire, Issue 96, February, 1992. http://www.thewire.co.uk/out/0598_1.htm.
30. Eshun, p.109.
31. Eshun, pp. 100-101.
32. See also Paul Gilroy, Between Camps: Nations, Cultures and the Allure of Race, London: Allen Lane/The
Penguin Press, 2000, pp. 327-356., also indicates that the African-American fascination with science fiction
themes and iconography is central to the discourse of the Black Nationalist doctrine of the Nation of Islam and the
writings of Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan.
33. Julian Jonker, „Black Secret Technology (The Whitey on the Moon Dub)‟, CTHEORY, Vol 25, No. 3, Article
117, 2002.
34. See Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, London: Verso, 1993.
35. Jonker 2002.
36. Various Artists, Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit, London: Virgin/10 Records, DIXG 75, 1988 (vinyl
album)
37. Cosgrove, p. 88.
38. Shallcross, p. 19.
39. Sinker 1992.
40. Cosgrove, p. 86.
41. Shallcross, p. 21.
42. George Lipsitz, Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism and the Poetics of Place, London:
Verso, 1994, p. 162.
43. Neal 2003, p. 5.
44. Ricky Vincent, Funk: the Music, the People and the Rhythm of The One, New York: St. Martins Griffin, 1995,
p. 214.
45. Neal 2002, p. 6.
46. Brian Eno qtd. in Eric Tamm, Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Colour of Sound, New York: Da Capo,
1995, 18-19.
47. Gilroy 1993, p. 97.
48. Sean Bidder, Pump Up the Volume, London: Channel 4, 2001, p. 81.
19
49. Barr, p. 126.
50. Pascal Bussy, Kraftwerk: Man, Machine and Music, London: SAF, 2001, p. 115.
51. Cosgrove, p. 88.
52. Neal 2002, pp. 6-7.
53. Village Voice qtd. in James Truman, 'Adam Ant and the Selling of Blitz Culture', The Face, Issue 15, July,
1981, p. 6.
54. Afrika Bambaataa qtd in Martin James, Fatboy Slim: Funk Soul Brother, London: Sanctuary 2002, p. 62.
55. Taylor 2001.
56. Trask 1988.
57. Angela McRobbie, In the Culture Society: Art, Fashion and Popular Music, London: Routledge,1999, p.153.
58. Lipsitz, p.161.
59. Eshun, p. 00[-001].
60. Eshun, p. 00[-005].
61. Neal 2002, p. 102.
62. George 1992, p. 1.
63. Trey Ellis qtd. in Neal 2002, p.111.
64. Gilroy 1993, p. 236.
65. Neal 2003, p. 13.
66. McRobbie, pp. 144-148.
67. George 1992, p. 6.
68. Neal 2002, p. 120.
69. McRobbie, p.152.
70. Tim Becker and Raphael Woebs, ''Back to the Future‟: Hearing, rituality and Techno‟, World of Music, 41 (1),
1999, p. 70.
71. Hakim Bey, T.A.Z: the Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism.New York:
Semiotext(e)., 1991.
72. See Michel Gaillot, Multiple Meaning Techno: An Artistic and Political Laboratory of the Present, Paris: Dis
Voir, 1998.; Jeremy Gilbert and Ewan Pearson, E., Discographies: Dance, Music, Culture and the Politics of
Sound, London: Routledge, 1999.
73. Sicko, pp. 141-151.
74. See Philip Tagg, „Open Letter: „black music‟, „Afro-American music‟ and „European music‟‟, Popular Music, 8
(3), 1989, pp. 285-298.
75. Vincent, p. 214-215, explicitly claims disco and its appropriation by black musicians made black music 'whiter'
and contributed to the widespread late 1970s success of disco as opposed to black funk. George suggested this
was 'a retreat from the beauty of blackness' (qtd. in Vincent, p. 210). Vincent says this was to the detriment both
of funk and rock music, and therefore arguably supports a segregationist perspective.
76. Portia Maultsby, „West African influences and Retentions in US Black Music: A sociological study‟, in I.
Jackson (ed.). More than Dancing: Essays on Afro-American Music and Musicians,Westport: Greenwood Press,
1985, pp. 25-58.
20
77. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities:Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism,London:
Verso, 1983.
78. Sean Albiez, „Sounds of Future Past: from Neu! to Numan‟ in T Phleps and R Von Appen (eds.), Pop Sounds:
Klangtexturen in der Pop und Rockmusik, Bielefelder, Germany: Transcript- Verlag, 2003.
79. Stiegler qtd. in Gaillot, p. 40.
80. Jon Savage, „Machine Soul: A History of Techno‟, Village Voice: Rock and Roll Quarterly Supplement,
Summer, 1993. http://www.music.hyperreal.org/library/machine_soul.html.
81. Gilroy 1993, p. 80.
82. Jon Connell and Chris Gibson, Sound Tracks: Popular Music, Identity and Place, London: Routledge, 2003, p.
191.
83. Connell and Gibson, p. 160.
84. Tony Mitchell(1996), Popular Music and Local Identity: Rock, Pop and Rap in Europe and Oceania, London:
Leicester University Press, 1996. and Global Noise: Rap and Hip Hop Outside the USA, Middletown: Wesleyan
University Press, 2001.; Andy Bennett, Popular Music and Youth Culture: Music, Identity and Place, Basingstoke:
Macmillan, 2000.
85. Connell and Gibson, p. 191.
86. Sicko, pp.171-178.
87. Shallcross, p. 22.
Bibliography
Anon., „Techno: Detroit‟s Gift to the World‟, Exhibition web site publicity text, 2003.
http://www.detroithistorical.org/promo-techno/index.asp. Accessed 5 August 2003.
Sean Albiez, „Sounds of Future Past: from Neu! to Numan‟, in T Phleps and R Von Appen
(eds.), Pop Sounds: Klangtexturen in der Pop und Rockmusik, Bielefelder (Germany):
Transcript-Verlag, 2003.
Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of
Nationalism, London: Verso. 1983.
Tim Barr, Kraftwerk: From Dusseldorf to the Future (with Love), London: Ebury Press, 1998.
Tim Barr, Techno: the Rough Guide, London: Rough Guides, 2000.
Robert A. Beauregard, Voices of Decline: the Postwar Fate of US Cities, Oxford: Blackwell,
1993.
Tim Becker and Raphael Woebs, “Back to the Future‟: Hearing, rituality and Techno‟, World
of Music, 41 (1), 1999, pp. 59-71.
Andy Bennett, Popular Music and Youth Culture: Music, Identity and Place,
Basingstoke:Macmillan. 2000.
Hakim Bey, T.A.Z: the Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism,
New York: Semiotext(e), 1991.
Sean Bidder, Pump Up the Volume, London: Channel 4, 2001.
21
Pascal Bussy, Kraftwerk: Man, Machine and Music, London: SAF, 2001.
David Cantwell, „„Detroit City‟: The anatomy of a record‟, The Journal of Country Music, Vol
23.2, 2003, pp.38-44.
Jon Connell and Chris Gibson, Sound Tracks: Popular Music, Identity and Place, London:
Routledge, 2003.
Stuart Cosgrove, „Seventh City Techno‟, The Face, Issue 97, May, 1988.
Cybotron, Clear, Berkeley: Fantasy Records, 1990. FCD-4537-2. 1990. (CD)
Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction, London: Quartet,
1998.
Michel Gaillot, Multiple Meaning Techno: An Artistic and Political Laboratory of the Present,
Paris: Dis Voir, 1998.
Nelson George, Buppies, B-Boys, Baps and Bohos: Notes on Post-Soul Black Culture, New
York: Harper Collins, 1992.
Nelson George, Hip Hop America, London: Penguin, 1998.
Jeremy Gilbert and Ewan Pearson, Discographies: Dance, Music, Culture and the Politics of
Sound, London: Routledge,1999.
Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, London: Verso, 1993.
Paul Gilroy, Between Camps: Nations, Cultures and the Allure of Race, London: Allen
Lane/The Penguin Press, 2000.
Jerry Herron, AfterCulture: Detroit and the Humiliation of History, Detroit: Wayne State
University Press, 1993.
Martin James, Fatboy Slim: Funk Soul Brother, London: Sanctuary, 2002.
Julian Jonker, “Black Secret Technology (The Whitey on the Moon Dub)”, CTHEORY, Vol
25, No 3, Article 117. 2002.
Bakari Kitwana, The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American
Culture, New York: Basic Civitas, 2002.
George Lipsitz, Dangerous Crossroads:Popular Music, Postmodernism and the Poetics of
Place, London: Verso, 1994.
Angela McRobbie, In the Culture Society: Art, Fashion and Popular Music,London:
Routledge,1999.
Portia Maultsby,„West African influences and Retentions in US Black Music: A sociological
study‟, in I. Jackson (ed.), More than Dancing: Essays on Afro-American Music and
Musicians,Westport: Greenwood Press, 1985, pp. 25-58.
Derrick May, Innovator, Detroit: Transmat/Fragile Records, TMT-2 CD. 1998. (CD)
Tony Mitchell, Popular Music and Local Identity: Rock, Pop and Rap in Europe and Oceania,
London: Leicester University Press,1996.
Tony Mitchell (ed.), Global Noise: Rap and Hip Hop Outside the USA, Middletown: Wesleyan
University Press, 2001.
22
Model 500, Classics, Belgium: R & S Records, RS 931 CD. 1996 (CD)
Mark Antony Neal, Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic, London:
Routledge, 2002.
Mark Antony Neal, Songs in the Key of Black Life: A Rhythm and Blues Nation, London:
Routledge, 2003.
Simon Reynolds, Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture, London:
Picador, 1998.
Tricia Rose, „A Style Nobody Can Deal With: Politics, Style and the Postindustrial City in Hip
Hop‟, in A. Ross and T. Rose (eds.), Microphone Fiends: Youth Music and Youth
Culture,London: Routledge, 1994, pp. 71-88.
Mike Rubin, 'Techno: Days of Future Past', in P. Shapiro (ed.). Modulations: A History of
Electronic Music - Throbbing Words on Sound, New York: Caipirinha Productions, 2000, pp.
108-127
Jon Savage, „Machine Soul: A History of Techno‟, Village Voice: Rock and Roll Quarterly
Supplement, Summer 1993. http://www.music.hyperreal.org/library/machine_soul.html.
Accessed 5 August 2003
Mark Sinker, „Loving the Alien‟, The Wire, Issue 96, February 1992.
http://www.thewire.co.uk/out/0598_1.htm. Accessed 5 August 2003
Dan Sicko, Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk, New York: Billboard, 1999.
Mark Shallcross, „From Detroit to Deep Space‟, The Wire, Issue 161, July, 1997, pp. 18-22.
Suzanne E. Smith, Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit,
London: Harvard University Press, 1999.
Philip Tagg, „Open Letter: „black music‟, „Afro-American music‟ and „European music‟‟,
Popular Music, 8 (3), 1989, pp. 285-298.
Eric Tamm, Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Colour of Sound, New York: Da Capo,
1995.
Karen Taylor, „Juan Atkins May be the Godfather of Techno, But He‟s Still Da Man‟, 2001.
http://www.virginmegamagazine.com/default.asp?aid=75B. Accessed 5 August 2003.
Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, London: Pan. 1971.
Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave, London: Pan. 1981.
David Toop, „The Beatbox Bites Back‟, The Face, Issue 49, May, 1984, pp.45-49.
Simon Trask, „Future Shock: Juan Atkins interview‟, Music Technology, December 1988.
http://www.forcefield.org/mt_ja.html. Accessed 5 August 2003.
James Truman, 'Adam Ant and the Selling of Blitz Culture', The Face, Issue 15, July, 1981,
pp.6-7.
Various Artists, Crucial Electro, London: Streetsounds. 1984.(vinyl album)
23
Various Artists, Electro 4. London: Streetsounds. 1984. (vinyl album)
Various Artists, Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit, London: Virgin/10 Records, DIXG
75, 1988. (vinyl album)
Ricky Vincent, Funk: the Music, the People and the Rhythm of The One, New York: St.
Martins Griffin, 1995.
Susan Welch, Lee Sigelman, Timothy Bledsoe and Michael Combs, Race and Place:Race
Relations in an American City [Detroit], Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
... Από σύμβολο του φορντικού οικονομικού μοντέλου και κέντρο της βαριάς αμερικάνικης αυτοκινητοβιομηχανίας, έγινε τις δεκαετίες μέχρι και το 1980, τοπίο ερειπωμένων ουρανοξυστών και εγκαταλελειμμένων συνοικιών. Το κέντρο της πόλης είχε χάσει το ένα τρίτο του πληθυσμού· είχε χάσει το 50% των επιχειρήσεων· και με την έκρηξη της ανεργίας, είχε εκτιναχθεί και η εγκληματικότητα (Shapiro 2000, Albiez 2005. Σε αυτό το τοπίο γεννήθηκε η Techno. ...
Article
Full-text available
H Techno μουσική και τα rave πάρτι έχουν απόλαβει τεράστια αναγνώριση στην Αθήνα της λιτότητας και της κρίσης. Αυτή η έκρηξη αναγνωρισιμότητας της «ηλεκτρονικής χορευτικής μουσικής» συνοδεύτηκε και ίσως υποστηρίχθηκε από την αντίστοιχη ανάπτυξη των μέσων κοινωνικής δικτύωσης. Το κείμενο διερωτάται για το κατά πόσο η πρόσφατη αναγνώριση της ηλεκτρονικής μουσικής στην Αθήνα συνδέεται με την αυτοδιαχείριση, της εικονική έκφραση και τη δημοσιότητα που επιτρέπουν τα κοινωνικά δίκτυα, και διερευνά την επιθυμία για καλλιτεχνική πρωτοπορία, τον πειραματισμό με τον τρόπο ζωής και τον κοσμοπολιτισμό, ως ζωτικής σημασίας στοιχεία που όχι απλώς καθορίζουν την κουλτούρα της ηλεκτρονικής μουσικής αλλά αποτελούν άξονες διαπραγμάτευσης του μύθου της προόδου και της προσωπικής καταξίωσης. Από την εποχή της διαμόρφωσης της ηχητικής της ταυτότητας στο Ντιτρόιτ και στο Βερολίνο του 1980, η Techno μουσική απέβη ένα ηχητικό παλίμψηστο εγγεγραμμένο με μνήμες της λιτότητας, της επιθυμίας για δημιουργική έκφραση και της διεκδίκησης του μποέμ τρόπου ζωής των πάρτι. Στο πλαίσιο αυτό δηλαδή, η διερεύνηση της κουλτούρας δικτύωσης στην ηλεκτρονική μουσική, αποκεντρώνεται από τις σημασιολογικές βεβαιότητες της «δημόσιας αναγνώρισης» και της «προσωπικής επιτυχίας», και καταδύεται στις τεχνικές υποδομές των ψηφιακών και οπτικοακουστικών μέσων για να συλλάβει το πώς εντυπώνονται τα φαντάσματα της τεχνολογικής προόδου.
... "When the weather's crappy you don't feel like going outside, you go into a basement and make a lot of noise to take out your frustration." Another example might be Detroit, with its industrial history refracted through the lens of Afro-futuristic techno (Albiez 2005). Processes that create styles are complex though, as well as being transient and fluid. ...
... Early proponents of house leaned heavily on the Chicago record store "Importes, Etc." for source material to work from and social connections to build on (Matos 2015;Rietveld 2011). Early innovators of Detroit's techno scene first became acquainted with house music by visiting this store in the early 1980s (Matos 2015), taking inspiration from this material and presenting a decidedly afro-futuristic take on it (Albiez 2005). Whether as places of consumption or production, work thus far on record stores is qualitative in nature and situated at the store level. ...
Article
Music consumption imbues a city's neighborhoods with a character all their own, contributing to a vibrant and dynamic map of urban cultures. Brick‐and‐mortar music retailers remain an important site for this consumption, persisting despite challenges posed by digitization. But the landscape of contemporary cultural consumption has been shaped by urban inequality over time. Using a unique dataset of record store locations derived from city directories, and census tract data from the Longitudinal Tract Database (LTDB), this article presents maps and regression results that suggest that the current pattern of music retail has undergone radical shifts between 1970 and 2010 in the cities of Milwaukee, Chicago, and Detroit. Record stores were once more highly clustered in predominantly black areas than they are today. An analysis of record store failure further suggests that in the period between 1980 and 1990, record stores outside of majority white areas had significantly higher probabilities of failure than those within them. This study contributes to scholarship on cultural consumption and urban change by accounting for how segregation shapes the retail landscape.
Article
Full-text available
Over the past twenty years, Black Atlantic Afrofuturism has been the dominant theoretical frame for thinking about the significance of Drexciya’s aquatically themed techno music and mythology. Yet there have been few analyses of Drexciya from the perspective of ecology, of the ocean as a marine environment. Through a semiotic analysis of Drexciya’s 1993 EP Bubble Metropolis, this paper moves the discussion of Drexciya in the direction of ecocriticism and blue cultural studies, or more broadly, the blue humanities, in order to interpret the stories it tells about an imagined ocean. What do these stories mean? Why are these stories important now? Through the production and circulation of oceanic narratives that encourage listeners to imagine, wonder about, and groove to the ocean, Drexciya’s music and mythology can be understood as a form of “pre-emptive activism,” which designates indirect activist modes that inspire people to care about places, such as an ocean, that they take for granted or ignore. By imagining oceans full of sound, Drexciya fostered a tacit form of marine environmentalism in the 1990s. With oceanic ecosystems on the edge of collapse as a result of the climate emergency, all forms of marine activism, from the direct to the indirect, have gained a new sense of urgency. We need to listen to Drexciya now more than ever.
Article
Focusing on Alexander Kluge’s short film Chicago im Zeitraffer (Chicago in Time Lapse), this article inserts his work with moving images into a larger genealogy of the city symphony film. Elucidating his relationship with the historical cinematic avant-garde, as Kluge borrows and departs from both László Moholy-Nagy’s urban vision and Bertolt Brecht’s conception of urban capitalist modernity, the article shows that Kluge’s film reorients time-lapse cinematography and opens up a new form of perception. By incorporating transnational techno music, the film suggests a concept of body and subjectivity that appears as a consequence of an increasingly voracious capitalist modernity while embedding a sense of obstinacy and self-propulsion. Nonetheless, the film’s reliance on transatlantic techno risks excluding the Black musical and social contexts that inspired it. Throughout the article the “loop,” or the traffic circle (Kreisverkehr), is understood as a governing metaphor that helps explain Kluge’s vision of contemporary urbanity, historical connectivity, and musical influence.
Chapter
After the British marketing of Detroit’s take on electronic dance music in 1988, with the compilation Techno! The New Sound of Detroit, techno music has been interwoven with a particular representation of this North American city. Resonating internationally with other electronic dance music scenes, a unique mythology of Detroit techno draws new audiences to what was the capital of the Fordist automobile industry. Opening the discussion with Movement, the electronic festival central to Detroit’s annual Techno Week, we argue that Detroit and its citizens activate techno music to promote the renaissance of this once powerful industrial metropolis. It is shown that techno dance music has articulated the technoculture since the late 1980s: in other words, it signifies the lived experience of culture dominated by information and communication technologies in a city that had partly morphed into a post-industrial ruin.
Article
While the connection between geographic space and art has been thoroughly examined in the case of rap music, the study of this relationship in the case of techno has not progressed beyond the assertion that machine-like techno music with minimal human presence reflected the industrial production which characterized automobile manufacturing in Detroit. However, this ignores the fact that many of the early pioneers of techno, including Juan Atkins and Derrick May, actually grew up outside the city, in the suburb of Belleville, Michigan. This stands in contrast to the story of the origins of rap music, with the musical form and its producers coming out of the South Bronx. This article compares historical accounts of the origins of techno and rap music to show how race interacted with place, as well as with social class, to produce two different musical styles. Using ideas presented by the anthropologist Mary Douglas in her book Purity and Danger, I explain the unique characteristics of the two musical styles as ritualistic attempts to preserve or create social order in the face of these conditions. © 2018
Chapter
Full-text available
Das Sound-Design bildet in der Popmusik eine entscheidende Komponente der kreativen Gestaltung und des ästhetischen Empfindens. Nicht der Ton macht die Musik, sondern dem Sound verdankt die Popmusik einen Großteil ihrer emotionalen Wirkung und ihres kommunikativen Gehalts. Zugleich ist Sound ein wichtiges Mittel zur sozialen Positionierung von Musikern und Hörern. Im vorliegenden Band wird erstmals der Versuch unternommen, dieser weitreichenden Bedeutung von Sound auf die Spur zu kommen und damit einen wichtigen Beitrag zur bislang ungeschriebenen Sound-Geschichte zu leisten - mit Beispielen, die von den Beatles und Stones über Kraftwerk, Ramones und Nirvana bis hin zu Blumfeld, den Strokes oder zur so genannten Weltmusik reichen.
Article
Techno, one of the latest phenomena of western youth culture involving music, has in the meantime found a place in sociological discussions within Germany. This article addresses the debate within these discussions on an immanently ritual dimension of this music and its theatrical setting in reference to techno as a culturally defined listening event.
Book
Experiencing disco, hip hop, house, techno, drum 'n' bass and garage, Discographies plots a course through the transatlantic dance scene of the last last twenty-five years. It discusses the problems posed by contemporary dance culture of both academic and cultural study and finds these origins in the history of opposition to music as a source of sensory pleasure. Discussing such issues as technology, club space. drugs, the musical body, gender, sexuality and pleasure, Discographies explores the ecstatic experiences at the heart of contemporary dance culture. It suggests why politicians and agencies as diverse as the independent music press and public broadcasting should be so hostile to this cultural phenomenon.
Article
1. Introduction: race and residence 2. Race relations in Detroit, 1968-92 3. Black-white social interaction 4. Perceptions of racial discriminations 5. Black racial solidarity 6. White racial prejudice 7. Opinions on urban issues - the schools and the police 8. Conclusions.