Techno City: The history of the Detroit techno scene comes to London and ICA this Summer


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Are you a fan of techno and planning to go to London this Summer, then we have a real treat for you. The Detroit techno scene will make its first real appearance in the fine rooms of London’s Institute Of Contemporary Arts. ICA has announced a new exhibition on Detroit techno.

Running from July 27th through September 25th, Detroit: Techno City will chart a timeline of the genre’s development from its 1970s origins to the early 1990s. It will explore how a generation was inspired to create a new kind of electronic music, focusing on the Belleville Three—Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson—and other techno pioneers like Blake Baxter and Eddie Fowlkes.

So what better way then to start off this techno journey then with Juan Atkin’s classic track “Techno City” – as a tribute to this great initiative from ICA. Juan Atkins bought his first analogue synthesizer, a Korg MS-10, and began recording with cassette decks and a mixer for overdubs. He subsequently taught Derrick May to mix, and the pair started doing DJ sets together as Deep Space. They took their long mixes to Mojo, who began to play them on his show in 1981. The 1982 single “Cosmic Cars” also did well. Cybotron recorded their debut album, Enter, and were soon signed to Fantasy Records. One track, “Clear,” struck out in the direction that Atkins would pursue with what would later be called his “techno” music. The song took Kraftwerk-like electronic elements and fused them with club music.

Atkins considered Cybotron’s most successful single, “Techno City” (1984), to be a unique, synthesized funk composition. 

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For the first time in the UK, this exhibition charts a timeline of Detroit Techno music from its 1970s origins, continuing through to the early 1990s. The genre has its origins in the disco parties of Ken Collier with influence from local radio stations and DJs, such as Electrifying Mojo and The Wizard (aka Jeff Mills).  As Stereoklang reported on earlier Jeff Mills is a chapter in himself and it is fair to say that the round up of artists that will be featured at ICA really has been the foundation of the Euro club scene ever since, only equaled by the electronic pioneers Kraftwerk.

The exhibition explores how a generation was inspired to create a new kind of electronic music that was evidenced in the formative UK compilation Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit (10 Records, 1988). Using inexpensive analogue technology such as the Roland TR-808 and 909, DJs and producers including Juan Atkins, Blake Baxter, Eddie Fowlkes, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson formed this seminal music genre. Although the music failed to gain mainstream audiences in the US, it became a phenomenon in Europe. This success established Detroit Techno as a new strand of music which absorbed European tastes and influences. This introduced a second wave of DJs and producers to the sound including Carl Craig, Richie Hawtin and Kenny Larkin. Here at Stereoklang many of these artists have been frequently played in the stereo recently, especially the works of Kenny Larkin – who actually was featured in a very good interview recently, you can watch it below:

Perhaps one of the more interesting parts to the exhibition is that they will also explore the cultural cross-pollination between American and European techno, ushering in the second wave of Detroit techno DJs such as Carl Craig and Richie Hawtin.

The display concludes with a focus on Underground Resistance, a collection of DJs and artists including Mike Banks, John Collins, Robert Hood and Jeff Mills. Their collective ambition was to challenge the commercial mainstream entertainment industry and re-establish Detroit techno music’s authenticity with an emphasis on the city as a source of inspiration.

To accompany the exhibition the ICA presents a season of online programmes featuring Detroit artists from the past and present on NTS Radio.

The ICA’s exhibition is one of many exhibitions on the subject of techno to have been announced over the past year. Frankfurt recently announced it was getting a techno museum, while a photo exhibition on the Berlin scene opened in London last October.