Today on the Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, at 3pm we finish our current KEXP Documentary series, Electronic Innovators, with a profile of the inventors of techno, The Belleville Three.
Techno was born in Detroit. The three creators of the style were known as The Belleville Three. Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson first met in high school, in the city of Belleville (west of Detroit) in the late 70s. When the 80s began, the three were all in Detroit and Juan Atkins taught the other two how to mix and DJ. Under the name Cybotron, Atkins was the first to release a techno single, “Alleys of Your Mind,” in 1981. The same year, Derrick May put out his first record, Let’s Go. Soon Atkins and May were asked to do mixes on Detroit’s Electryfying Mojo radio show, the one place in Detroit where you could hear alternative artists like Kraftwerk, Prince and pop bands who used electronic loops.
The Belleville Three were influenced by funk, new wave and disco. They were three DJs who started to make their own music on computers. The next Cybotron single was “Cosmic Cars” in 1982. This song was not only a local hit on the dance floor, but it would also become the blueprint for the new dance style, which would eventually be called “techno”.
In 1984, Kevin Saunderson started taking music more seriously. He wasn’t a trained musician, but he was interested in “four-on-the-floor” dance music. And in the next few years all three DJs released songs that took techno to another level, popular not only in the states, but also in Britain and the rest of Europe. The new sound was so unique that pirate radio and dancefloor DJs started to play it, creating a new kind of club culture. Derrick May’s 1987 single “Strings of Life” became a huge hit in the UK, making him famous. He was the first American techno artist to tour Britain, though Saunderson and Atkins were touring there soon after.
In 1988, Kevin Saunderson’s group Inner City released a single, “The Good Life,” which hit the top 10 in the UK and solidified techno’s place in popular music in Europe. But the style is still considered underground music in the U.S. In this KEXP Documentary story, Kevin Saunderson himself takes us through the history of the creation of techno’s first wave in Detroit.
KEXP Documentaries are created by Michele Myers. This series was co-produced by Decibel Festival‘s Sean Horton. Assistant Producers are John Felthous and Mary Janisch. Lesson Plans are created by Tiffany Grobelski and Michele Myers. Executive Producer is Kevin Cole. If you would like to follow along more closely in the creation of these radio stories, we post historical music facts, research materials, songs and videos on our Facebook page and on Twitter.