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Juan Atkins (1962 - )

Related: American music - Detroit techno - Alvin Toffler - black science fiction

Juan Atkins: "Before house music, a lot of the DJs on Chicago radio were playing a lot of Italian imports because I think the Italians were the only ones that continued with the disco sound when it all died out everywhere else.

Biography

Juan Atkins (born December 9, 1962) is an American musician. He is widely credited as the originator of techno music, sometimes known as Detroit Techno since Atkins and techno co-creators Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson grew up in Detroit, Michigan.

Atkins has cited the radio show of Charles "Electrifyin' Mojo" Johnson as a musical influence. Electrifyin' Mojo, a Detroit DJ, played an eclectic mix of music including Kraftwerk, Parliament and Prince. Atkins and friend Derrick May created mix tracks for Electrifying Mojo to broadcast, then began to create original music.

At Washtenaw Community College, Atkins met Rick Davis, with whom he recorded under the name Cybotron. Atkins coined the term techno to describe their music, taking as one inspiration the works of futurist and author Alvin Toffler, from whom he borrowed the terms "cybotron" and "metroplex".

Atkins has used the term techno to describe earlier bands that made heavy use of synthesizers such as Kraftwerk, although many people would consider Kraftwerks music and Juan's early music in Cybotron as Electro. Techno is considered today as a specific genre.

Atkins began recording as Model 500 in 1985. He continues to produce his own and other musicians' records under the Metroplex Records label. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juan_Atkins [Jan 2005]

"Detroit's a very unique city,"

"Detroit's a very unique city," Atkins said, pointing to the town's auto industry '60s heyday, when good salaries flowed into both black and white households.

"Black kids had money, and it kind of created this attitude, almost bourgeois attitude, and you go to other cities and you don't find that. They wanted to hang out with themselves," recalled Atkins, 36. "They didn't want to hang with the kids from the projects. They needed their own music."

By the late '70s/early '80s, these kids found some of that identity in Italian disco and German art-rock, especially the hard, electronic, minimalist beats of Dusseldorf's groundbreaking Kraftwerk. A popular local radio DJ Charles Johnson, a.k.a. The Electrifyin' Mojo mixed up all sorts of European dance music and American new wave and funk.

According to Spin editor Simon Reynolds' well-researched book about the global dance-music scene, "Generation Ecstasy," a Euro fascination swept through Detroit in the '80s, elevating continental acts such as Front 242, Depeche Mode, and Meat Beat Manifesto as well as new-wave American groups such as Devo, the B-52's and Talking Heads to star status. The Euro attitude can best be summed up in the title of a recent song by Underground Resistance: "Afrogermanic."

(Of course, Detroit wasn't the only scene influenced by Kraftwerk. New York hip-hoppers like Afrika Bambaataa, the Miami bass scene of 2 Live Crew and 69 Boyz, and the early L.A. rap of N.W.A. and Ice-T also would take a few cues from the Germans. But much of the Detroit crew which fused the hard math of the European avant-garde with the future-funk of black America plumbed deeper into Kraftwerk's essence.)

There was also an interest in technology and the future. One of Atkins' favorite books of the era was Alvin Toffler's "Future Shock," and Atkins co-compiled "The Technospeak Dictionary." (The scene was also helped by the tumbling cost of technology, especially the Roland 808 and 909 synthesizers.)

Atkins maintains that even the economic hard times that befell Detroit after the auto industry's restructuring helped techno. "What happens now is that there's not too many things to do and places to go. You have a lot of people just sitting at home making tracks. It's unlike a city like L.A. or New York, where things are happening every night. We have time to sit at home and hone our craft."

TO THE WINDY CITY AND BEYOND

Detroit techno was merely a regional phenomenon put out on small labels until it started being lumped in with house music the better-known, silky, Philadelphia International-influenced sound coming out of nearby Chicago. House music was starting to generate a lot of buzz in Europe, and Europeans were sweeping into the City with Broad Shoulders looking for the next big thing. While there, they tripped upon Detroit.

"People discovered Detroit while they were in Chicago," Atkins said. "Detroit records were getting more heavily played in Chicago than Chicago records (because) we were doing innovative electronic records. Those guys were still emulating Philly International. We were coming from a whole new direction, and a lot of the DJs liked that."

The Detroit artists found a hungry audience in Europe, a continent that never fully took part in the anti-disco backlash that hit America in the '80s. In fact, dance music exploded in Europe in the late '80s, even ushering in what the English dubbed a second "summer of love" in '88. (That was helped along by the use of the drug Ecstasy, something that was not part of the Detroit ethos.) The liner notes to "Innovator," a double-disc Derrick May retrospective, even claim that without his "Strings of Life," the summer of love which outwardly was more about English acts such as 808 State, Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses never would have happened.

This brings us back to where we started: why America has ignored the sound. Detroit techno would appear to be part of the list of African-American musical contributions jazz, blues, Jimi Hendrix that aren't taken seriously in mainstream America until Europe embraces it.

There has been some recompense lately. Detroit makes up a significant chapter in Reynolds' book, and the genre was given its due in last year's documentary about dance music, "Modulations." Still, it remains unknown to most.

The easy answer is a racial one, though Atkins thinks that's only a small part. It may have more to do with the fact that American majors simply are at a loss as to how to market Detroit techno.

"I gotta believe that if we were a bunch of white kids, we'd be millionaires by now, but it may not be as racial as one may think," he said. "Black labels don't have a clue. At least the white guys will talk to me; they aren't making any moves or offers, but they say, 'We love your music and we'd love to do something with you.' But blacks don't even know who we are."

Cary Darling is an entertainment editor at the Orange County Register. He can be reached at carydar@aol.com or (714) 953-7866.

"I've always been a music lover,"

"I've always been a music lover," says Juan Atkins. "Everything has a subconscious effect on what I do. In the 1970s I was into Parliament, Funkadelic; as far back as '69 they were making records like Maggot Brain, America Eats Its Young. But if you want the reason why that happened in Detroit, you have to look at a DJ called Electrifying Mojo: he had five hours every night, with no format restrictions. It was on his show that I first heard Kraftwerk."

Atkins and 3070 called themselves Cybotron, a futuristic name in line with the ideas they had taken from science fiction, P-Funk, Kraftwerk, and Alvin Toffler's The Third Wave. "We had always been into futurism.

By 1985, Atkins hooked up with fellow Belleville High alumni Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. The three of them began recording together and separately, under various names: Model 500 (Atkins), Reese (Saunderson), Mayday, R-Tyme, and Rhythim is Rhythim (May). All shared an attitude toward making records --using the latest in computer technology without letting machines do everything-- and a determination to overcome their environment; like May has said, " We can do nothing but look forward."

The trio put out a stream of records in the Detroit area on the Transmat and KMS labels: many of these, like "No UFO's," "Strings of Life," "Rock to the Beat," and "When He Used To Play," have the same tempo, about 120 bpm, and feature blank, otherworldly voices --which, paradoxically, communicate intense emotion. These records --now rereleased in Europe on compilations like Retro Techno Detroit Definitive (Network U.K.) or Model 500: Classics (R&S Belgium)-- were as good, if not better, as anything coming out of New York or even Chicago, but because of Detroit's isolation few people in the U.S. heard them at the time. It took English entrepreneurs to give them their correct place in the mainstream of dance culture.

Like many others, Neil Rushton was galvanized by the electronic music coming out of Chicago mid-decade, which was successfully codified in the English market under the trade name "house." A similar thing happened in Chicago as in Detroit: away from the musical mainstream on both coasts, DJs like Frankie Knuckles and Marshall Jefferson had revived a forgotten musical form, disco, and adapted it to the environment of gay clubs like the Warehouse. The result was a spacey, electronic sound, released on local labels like Trax and DJ International: funkier and more soulful than techno, but futuristic. As soon as it was marketed in the U.K. as house in early 1987, it because a national obsession with No. 1 hits like "Love Can't Turn Around" and "Jack Your Body."

Juan Atkins in Wired Magazine

"Berry Gordy's Motown may no longer rule the airwaves, but Detroit has found a new beat. Since 1981 [on Fantasy records], the compositions of techno visionary Juan Atkins have sent shock waves through contemporary music. On the heels of the German group Kraftwerk, he and partner Rick Davis formed Cybotron, fusing austere European techno-pop with street-level funk. In 1985, Atkins formed Metroplex Records, not knowing that his unique brand of techno would soon inspire the anthems and soundtracks of the digital age -- the latest world music." --via Hot Wired Article & Interview 6.26.94

CDs

  • Wax Trax! Mastermix, Vol. 1 - Juan Atkins [Amazon US] 1. No Ufo's - Model 500 2. Nude Photo - Rhythim Is Rhythim 3. Sharevari 4. Disco Circus - Martin Circus 5. Lara's Theme 6. Another Dae 7. Prime Time - Rick Wade 8. Reborn - Walt J 9. Pace 10. Covextion [AA] - Convextion 11. Nature of the Beast - Black Noise 12. Their Voices - Pacou 13. Game One - Infiniti 14. Skyway - Infiniti 15. Sex on the Beach - DJ Assault 16. Inhibitions [Clear Horizons Mix] - Belizbeha 17. 7 - Maurizio 18. Starlight - Model 500 19. Klum

  • Clear - Cybotron [Amazon US]
    Juan Atkins and Rick Davies for Fantasy records in 1982
    1. Clear 2. R-9 3. Cosmic Cars 4. Enter 5. Alleys of Your Mind 6. Industrial Lies 7. Line 8. Cosmic Raindance 9. Salvador [*]

  • Classics - Juan Atkins[Amazon US]
    Compiling some of Juan's late eighties and early nineties best.
    1. No Ufo's (Remix) 2. Chase (Smooth Mix) 3. Off To Battle (Remix) 4. Night Drive 5. Electric Entourage 6. Electronic (Remix) 7. Ocean To Ocean (Instr) 8. Techno Music 9. Sound Of Stereo

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