Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Machine-generated 'dance music', less soul- and gospel-influenced than its Chicago neighbour called house, a Detroit-based revolution that was more an escape from than an embrace of that city's Motown tradition: Juan Atkins (one of three inventors, with Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson all alumni of West Detroit's Belleville high school) proclaimed himself 'more interested in Ford's robots than Berry Gordy's music'; May with the unlooked-for eloquence characteristic of techno pioneers said his idea was 'like George Clinton and Kraftwerk stuck in an elevator'. The genre flummoxed major labels, because the records were created by shadowy engineers playing with computers, sequencers and synthesizers rather than by pop stars who could be marketed in the usual way, yet provided an enduring and perversely soulful soundtrack to the fag end of the twentieth century. From '85 onwards, the three musketeers of Belleville High released influential records on Transmat and KMS labels as Model 500 (Atkins) Reese (Saunderson), Mayday and Rhythim is Rhythim (May). The latter's 'Strings Of Life' '87 was a good example of techno's huge matrix of possibility, the simplest textures of keyboard and 'strings' (synth sounds) woven into a complex and hypnotic fabric. Techno: The New Dance Sound Of Detroit had a huge impact in UK '88 on 10 (a Virgin offshoot label); the hit singles took a little longer (usually on 12]im[ vinyl with very plain sleeves and labels, another thing the majors couldn't understand) but Saunderson's jaunty crossover outfit Inner City (with vocalist Paris Grey) had a UK no. 1 with 'Good Life' '89, and Techno soon spread world-wide, appropriately to Europe given the infl. of Kraftwerk and the eurodisco of Giorgio Moroder, and eventually even to the Far East (the Goan trance scene) and New Zealand. It also locked in with existing electronic traditions in Ghent, where releases on the R&S label incl. Selected Ambient Works '85--92 by Cornish maverick the Aphex Twin (Richard James), who had been making bizarre music on home-made instruments since his early teens. Frankfurt became a techno centre (the Hardfloor production team of Ramon Zenker and Oliver Bondzio) as well as Sheffield, whose pioneering Warp label released compilation Artificial Intelligence '92 (also featuring Aphex Twin). Techno mutated in opposite directions simultaneously into mellow ambient (see House; strongly influenced by Brian Eno) and the dark, ever accelerating 'Ardkore (which in turn mutated into Jungle), whose most populist exponents, the Essex-based rave evangelists the Prodigy, had a no. 1 UK album The Jilted Generation '94 and single 'Firestarter' '96. A series of UK practitioners, Orbital, Underworld and Leftfield among them, walked the line between these two extremes to produce albums Untitled '92 and Insides '96 on Internal, Second Toughest In The Infants on Junior Boys Own '96 and Leftism '95 respectively, which were thought-provoking as well as danceable, representing the cutting edge of UK pop music '93--6. Live performances (especially Orbital at Glastonbury Festival '94--5 and Albert Hall '96) proved that use of computer technology and absence of traditional instruments was no bar to storming traditional rock strongholds. Back in Detroit, Jeff Mills began as half of Underground Resistance, went solo with his own Axis label and created a new repetitive intensity, minimal yet alternately frightening and hypnotically soothing (compilation The Other Day on React had '92--7 tracks). See also House and Jungle.