When the history of Detroit techno is told, most storytellers don’t get much further than the Belleville Three. The stories of the pioneers of the ’80s are indeed fascinating, but we can’t overlook the importance of their musical progeny in solidifying Detroit’s global reputation for originality and innovation. The early ’90s was a fertile period — the records from the second and third waves of artists found an incredible definition in 1993-94 as hardcore techno was nearing its end; house music and techno started to recombine; and funk found a non-sampled way to come through the music. This is the time — after Underground Resistance as well as Plus 8 had helped to re-establish Detroit’s reputation with a rawer, more aggressive sound — that some of the greatest alliances in techno split and each artist was finding new paths.
Here are five records from that period. Nothing short of inspiring, each release took big chances and you can feel the risk. These are truly pivotal moments in techno, establishing both new sounds and styles as well as worldwide reputations for many of Detroit’s techno elite.
Rob Hood — “Minimal Nation”
(2, 12-inch Axis, 1994, rereleased on M-Plant)
Rob Hood started off rapping over Underground Resistance live shows as Rob Noise and eventually worked with the UR project for the X-10X series. When he and Jeff Mills left UR in 1992 to form Axis, Hood really got going as a producer. In 1994, “Minimal Nation” was released and it had one of the largest impacts ever on the conceptualization of techno, helping to establish minimalism through Hood’s sonic purity. Here he found the perfect combination of hard, menacing rhythms and spooky ever-modulated bleeps, the perfect raw, modern techno with an artful grace.
Plastikman — “Spastik”
(Plus 8-Nova Mute, 1993)
Inspired by “Percussion Eleqtrique” and the hard parties he was throwing at the time, Richie Hawtin stretched the concept of the drum freak-out track to a whole new level. Using his psychedelic wizardry in making the sounds of a single drum machine and EFX unit come alive, this record embodies the spirit of those parties, plastic and all. This track crossed many borders, finding permanent spots in some of the world’s most influential DJs’ play crates, from house to techno. This was a fruitful period for Hawtin, as his electrofunk remix of La Funk Mob on Mo’ Wax in 1994 attests.
Dan Bell — “Losing Control”
(Accelerate-Peace Frog, 1994)
After pioneering a post-bleep fusion of Detroit with the classic Chicago techno of Robert Armani and Armando that came to be known as minimalism, Dan Bell found a way to make acid without a 303 by modulating his voice in “Losing Control,” which turns out to be one of the most innovative techno records of all time. Understandably a worldwide smash, this record took Bell and minimal techno to a larger audience, helping pave the way for much of what was to come from Germany in the late ’90s until now.
Paperclip People — “Throw”
(Planet E-Open, 1994)
Carl Craig was one of Detroit techno’s first cult figures, with his impossibly rare and brilliant Retroactive and Fragile releases. In 1994, he took his music to a much wider audience with the perfectly constructed epic jam “Throw,” formed from a half-bar groove. The record featured an innovative use of a sample as well as a then-quite original filtering that soon became the staple of French house. Later in 1994, Craig released 69’s “Sound on Sound” with the unforgettable “Filter King,” proving his prowess in making samples come alive. This record had an equal appeal to both house and techno DJs, opening many remix doors and giving Craig an accessible platform from which he would experiment throughout the ’90s.
Drexciya — The Unknown Aquazone
(2, 12-inch Underground Resistance, 1994)
This is Drexciya at the height of its aquatic powers, finding an incredibly diverse and individualistic sound while delivering one of the strongest black science-fiction albums ever made in any genre. The members of Drexciya were among the first in Detroit to openly wear their pre-techno influences on their sleeves, but this doesn’t make the sound retro. In fact, this is one of the most futuristic records on UR ever. With the proto-jungle of “Aquatic Jujitsu,” the quirky new-wave feel of “Take Your Mind,” the pure funk of tracks like “Manta Ray” as well as the dark techno of “Water Walker,” this is one of the most excitingly rule-bending records ever in the Detroit techno canon. This project — and this record — helped to inspire generations of electro producers in Detroit and around the world.E-mail Brendan M. Gillen at [email protected]