So how much did Juan Atkins contribute to techno?

Here at Ears To The House, we were very pleased to discover that Juan Atkins reads our site. He joins an increasing array of DJs, producers, promoters and journalists who decry this site, yet always seem to know exactly what we’re writing about at any given time. Some of them are so keen to conceal their reading habits that they even subscribed to us!

As a sign of this site’s deep respect for Atkins, we thought we’d write about him a little bit more. Now, Atkins says he had a huge role in the development of the genre of techno – not only that, but he genuinely seems to harbour impressions he created the genre. Just ask Kevin Saunderson, who said this a few years ago…

In recent years, this narrative has become more and more embedded within Detroit. If the likes of Atkins are to be believed, techno essentially has black roots. And this part of the story is entirely accurate – but like with so many things in life, it isn’t the complete picture. This was something even Detroit itself acknowledged until just a few years ago.

According to the recent BBC Radio 4 documentary Techno: A Social History – narrated by mysteriously rising star Ash Lauryn – the Electrifying Mojo had a radio show in the city where he played significant amounts of music from artists like Prince, Kraftwerk and so on. The show had a large audience from the black community, but did not showcase music solely from one sector.

Kraftwerk were, of course, white Germans who did not make techno – but anyone listening to early techno records in the 1980s would immediately recognise the similarity with Kraftwerk’s music. Yet in recent years, as racial matters have increasingly come back into focus, the real story of the quite mixed race roots of Detroit techno is being whitewashed to suit a modern narrative.

And another thing which this narrative conveniently forgets is this question – where did the synthesisers come from? The Roland TR series of machines originate from Japan. The Korg MS-10 is also from Japan. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of equipment used by those around in techno’s infancy was from Japan. Yet the country is never mentioned by the likes of Atkins or anyone else.

Yes, there is little doubt that Atkins has done much for the genre he loves – no one can ever take that away from him. But the genre was the result of evolution rather than revolution – evolution which took parts in many parts of the world, sometimes in tandem with each other, and sometimes in isolation . This is how the world of music works and has always worked – and anyone seriously suggesting otherwise needs to stop believing their own hype…

Ears To The House Team

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