Today, the German city of Berlin is synonymous with techno music, but the genre actually had its origins in the American industrial town of Detroit. Yes, that’s true, the Motor City is also the home of techno. In the 1980s, musical pioneers such as Ken Collier and others took the pumping beats coming out of the disco scene and began to create their own soundscapes.
Detroit is perhaps best known for being the home of the American automobile industry and for being the home of the Ford Motor Company. When Henry Ford began using assembly line techniques to build cars and trucks in the early Twentieth Century, a thriving industrial industry sprang up in Detroit, attracting workers from all over including many African-Americans from the South.
By the 1980s, the automobile industry had declined, and Detroit began to develop problems with unemployment and crime. This was the depressing atmosphere that techno came out of, and DJ’s and musicians recreated the industrial sounds they heard in the Detroit factories and set them to beats to create a new kind of music.
Drum machines and synthesizers
Early Detroit techno artists were also influenced by European techno artists such as Kraftwerk. One characteristic of industrial music was to use drum machines to create rhythms. Doing so had the advantage of not having the noise and expense of recording an actual human drummer and gave more control of the overall sound to the DJ or producer creating the track. Musicians became adept at programming their own beats, and the metronome qualities of the drum machine gave techno its own unique heart. The synthesizer was replacing the electric piano as the keyboardist’s instrument of choice in modern American music, and techno artists used it to create new sounds for their new music.
Influence on German artists
While the Detroit techno pioneers were largely creating music for one another to listen and rave, the new industrial sounds were not lost on overseas audiences. In Germany, in particular, American techno music struck a chord with many people perhaps because of its drum machine and synthesizer sounds that were also popular in German electronic music. Whatever the case, the Tresor Club in Berlin became a hot nightspot and its owners played techno music and invited American techno artists from Detroit to perform. Eventually, an independent techno scene blossomed in Berlin, morphed into the broader genre of electronic music and is still thriving today.