Iconoclastic classics 

Detroit techno is a music that is perhaps steeped in too much tradition. The groundbreaking records and artists of the original era made such a global impact that the pressure to continually innovate became too much for some. The sounds are soulful yet austere, with fans of this music coming to Detroit as a musical Mecca from as far as England, Germany, France and Japan.

Many have followed in the tradition of techno, with perhaps too much respect for the work of the forefathers to tear it apart and bring it alive as their own. Yet there are some brave souls who broke with the crushing trappings of tradition and the acceptable boundaries of cool. These artists took the inspirations and individualistic attitudes of the forefathers to make music that continued the original concept of Detroit techno: to always be innovative and unique. By stepping outside the predefined notions of the music, some of these artists and their records have forever changed the course of electronic music. Here are a few highlights:

Dopplereffekt — “Pornoactress” — Dataphysix (later on Gigolo)

Its hard to imagine something less cool to the serious techno crowd than a crew from the east side of Detroit professing their perverted lust for mannequins on an EP called Fascist State. Dopplereffekt’s problem, of course, was that the music was impeccable and lyrics brilliantly stated (“watching you on the screen”), interpreting the roots of Detroit techno into a whole new outcome. Instead of faceless techno, you had conceptual fun and personality all over the music; instead of austerity you had a serious sound underscored with humor that resonated around the globe. These records have had a major impact on recent developments in techno, with the witty use of minimal lyrics, perfect beats and New Wave sensibilities making, for example, the Eurotrash sound of Gigolo records possible.

Shake — “Day of Reckoning” — Metroplex

A lifelong iconoclast, Anthony “Shake” Shakir has always made music that works outside the existing boundaries, usually with an approach that makes his music almost avant-garde, if only for his ability to predict how things will be done. On his Metroplex EP (and the whole Frictional catalog), he combines the mesmerizing beauty of tracks such as Carl Craig’s Psyche tune “From Beyond” with absurd amounts of bass and bizarre squeaky tones, practically inventing new musical languages. Recorded in the early ’90s but not released until 1993, this EP also features “5% Solution,” which is the first Detroit cut to use chopped-up breakbeats.

Carl Craig — “Bug in the Bassbin” — Planet E

Carl Craig got his international claim to fame working with Derrick May on the Rhythim is Rhythim live show (and on a track and a remix), as well as releasing some groundbreaking records on Transmat and Fragile as Psyche and BFC. Despite beginning within the techno canon, Carl has always been open-minded and irreverent in his music, continually pushing boundaries. One of the first major thresholds he crossed was the sampling of pre-existing music, which had long been considered taboo in Detroit, a city of auteurs.

In 1992 he released this song as the B-side of a bonus single that came with the first Planet E compilation, culled from easy-listening percussion records, and turned it into a unique workout. The track took on a whole new life when played by junglists in the UK at 45 rpm, where the song set the standard for what would become the jungle bass line for the next few years, changing the course of drum ’n’ bass.

Moodymann — “I Can’t Kick this Feelin’ when it Hits” — KDJ (later on Silentintroduction-Planet E)

Though Chic’s music was always decidedly nonpolitical, the group was co-founded by Black Panther Nile Rodgers. Taking some bits from Chic’s “I Want Your Love” and the middle of Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City,” Moodymann flips a phrase (“what am I gonna do?”) and turns this groove into a chilling statement about racism and inner city blues. Kenny Dixon Jr.’s use of repetition and creative samples takes him to the highest level of sampling existing material, twisting things into entirely new pieces the way only artists like Todd Terry and Carl Craig did before, yet he has the rare ability to add powerful emotions to the mix, giving even more impact to his music. KDJ, with his masterful DJ skills, is at the vanguard of Detroit artists who are making a new sound in house music that is being recognized globally. Watch for this to be a major source of inspiration for future generations of musicians and DJs from Detroit.

E-mail Pitch’d at [email protected]

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