Reviewing Techno: A Social History – Episode 3

Britain’s BBC Radio 4 are currently broadcasting a documentary called Techno: A Social History. Narrated by Ash Lauryn, the editor-in-chief at Ears To The House is personally reviewing the whole series. Here’s his review of the third and concluding part…

Anyone under the impression there is no link between dance music and politics is talking nonsense. This is something our site frequently writes about, and I’m pleased to see it’s a theme which resonated in this final week’s installment of Techno: A Social History.

Nastia’s voice was one of the first to be heard this week. She spoke about the revolution in Ukraine in 2013 effectively pushing out foreign DJs, meaning the local population had to take over to keep things going. As a result, the music began to change – something which appears to be happening once more in the country right now.

Indeed, much of this week’s episode had a distinctly eastern flavour – countries such as Georgia, Ukraine and Russia being heavily mentioned. Heading a little further south, Beirut’s club scene gets referenced, explaining how techno thrived in difficult circumstances – this series has certainly been successful in demonstrating how techno has a habit of doing that.

It’s also been successful, perhaps inadvertently, in pointing out these different strands of techno are all a little disconnected from each other – DJs from the Middle East rarely seem to appear in Detroit, for example. Unfortunately, the rest of the episode goes downhill from here on – perhaps it being the last episode made narrator Ash Lauryn feel all dewy-eyed.

Hence why Richie Hawtin started talking about the dancefloor being a space for “individuality and freedom” – tell that to the many groups whom it increasingly isn’t. And, of course, Lauryn couldn’t resist one more opportunity to squeeze in a reference to the Belleville Three as “innovators” – failing miserably to acknowledge the numerous others involved in the development of Detroit techno. Not that I expected anything else, of course.

As this was the final episode, I can now say a few things in summary. Firstly, politics was ingrained into techno from the beginning – it still is today in many places and it probably always will. Secondly, despite the promise by Ash Lauryn that Derrick May’s name would be mentioned numerous times in the documentary, it was not. Perhaps this is a sign his role in the development of techno is not as seismic as many – including the man himself – would have us believe.

I also note the Detroit DJs didn’t have as much to say for themselves as they usually do. The format of the documentary, concentrating on techno from a social point of view, was partly responsible for this – although it would have been good to see those originators grilled a little more on the history of the genre.

And as for narrator Ash Lauryn? She did a pretty good job on things – whilst also staying comfortably on the right side of her fellow Detroit DJs…

Reviews for part one and part two can be found here. The whole series can be listened to on BBC Sounds.

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