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Issue 17 Out Now

Techno Evolution

Photo by Bill Bernstein

Black people have a long documented history of working in automotive factories. Significantly in Detroit known as the motor city. The workers of these factories turned generational work into soulful music. Techno (also known as house music) was born from machinery and decay of the city around them. Three pioneers of techno music known as the Bellville three: Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson, started and continue to be at the forefront of black house music.

Juan Atkins taught Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson the essence of dj’ing. Born in Detroit and attending Bellville High School, the Bellville Three met there through similar interests in Kraftwerk, Parliament, and the B-52’s.

Techno is derived from the world around its creators. The sounds of machinery manifesting into synthesizers and drum machines, placing a soul behind the soulless clanging of metal. Giving way to an infectiously soulful genre.

This influence of machinery is seen in the Bellville Three’s early work under the group name “Cybotron” and a solo project by Juan Atkins called “Model 500”.

Over the years techno has taken a change from its original roots. Traditionally techno is created from self-expression through programming drum sequencers and learning how to play piano for synthesizer keyboards. Now you can push one button, and there’s a techno track.

The downside of this watered-down craftsmanship is that anyone can make the music now, taking away its industrial and soulful roots. Another way that techno has changed has been seen in the recent rise of samples making the music. Where in traditional black techno, there are no samplers.

In the black community and around the world, techno slowly became a white-dominated industry. Suddenly the music originated by black people, played in sacred black spaces such as the ballrooms mainly inhabited by black queer folk, has nothing to do with that.

Drexciya, a Detroit native techno artist, represents being black in the house music scene. The artist has a series of albums that revolve around slaves being thrown overboard where they make an underwater society.

Black creators similar to Drexciya are underrepresented in the genre. Black plights that influenced house music have gone commercial. Making the majority of the successful DJ’s white.

The history of where house music came from is widely unacknowledged. Leading to the black faces vanishing from the genre, forcing them to establish their own spaces where the music is respected and the creators are given what they’re due.


Admin. “7 Ways the Belleville Three Changed the Music Scene for e-v-e-r -.” Travel X Britt, 8 Nov. 2020,

Cohen, Ben, director. Techno City: What Is Detroit Techno? Youtube, Third Ear Records , 2000,

Simms, Sara. “The Belleville Three & How Techno Was Born.” Ask.Audio, Ask.Audio, 3 June 2017,

-, Sydney Grant. “The Black History of House Music.” EDM Identity, EDM Identity, 20 June 2020,


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