A fascinating window into the deep roots of techno music and its humbly little-known Detroit origins.
The documentary High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music explores the origin of techno music as born from the hub of Detroit. A collection of interviews from those at the forefront of the genre provide an intriguing picture of how this futuristic genre was born and evolved, with particular focus on a renowned trio of creators at the heart of its trajectory.
Contemporarily one thinks techno music and visions of an indulgent European music scene are conjured; for many it would come as a surprise to discover the original doyens of this music form came out of Detroit. In its opening scenes, High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music details the urban environs and aesthetic from which the special brew that is techno arose.
Race riots from 1967, ‘white flight’, the recession of the 1980s, industrial change and its consequent economic and social upheaval are seen to ‘provide food for people’s imaginations in a way that no other site does’; techno music is seen as both an almost expressive cry amongst these circumstances and a means to beat ennui by appropriating emerging technology into a rhythmic form. Scan 7, masked producers of a techno collective, quip that the city has three incredible natural resources: freshwater, salt and techno. As for the term ‘techno’ that classifies this music influenced by raw spaces and made with raw systems, it was derived from Alvin Toffler’s phrase ‘techno rebels’.
Following a light-hearted segue of beat-boxing to clarify the various species of techno, interview snippets provide anecdotal and firsthand accounts that follow the careers and influence of the music form’s progenitors, each donned with a telling moniker. Juan Atkins, the Originator who first dabbled with the form and coined the term techno; Derrick May, the Innovator, equipped with an opinionated artistic temperament, resourceful in staging late night dance-a-thons, and passionate about techno reaching the mainstream; and Kevin Saunderson, the Elevator, both a style hybridist and personable figure spreading the word on techno. Through the micro chapters that focus on the trio, we are provided insight not only into the rise of their own careers and techno as an art form, but refreshing injections of the personal: Derrick and Kevin recall the tale of fistfight when they first met that cemented their close friendship, and Derrick recalls Juan’s mentoring.
There is also a dark part to the story that involves fourth man Eddie Fowlkes and his sidelining due to strained circumstances, and infighting among the core players as their road becomes paved with commercial success. However, these sides to the story are only lightly treated and leave one wishing there was some deeper digging.
High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music rounds out the scene-building by touching on other factors critical to the genre’s evolution, including the radio jock Electrifying Mojo’s influence playing their beats amongst Prince and Peter Frampton tunes, and the establishment of The Music Institute, the club that first provided a public outlet to dance to techno beats.
The interviews are spliced with scenes of DJs in action and crowds immersed in the music, as well as archival photos to add some extra dimension to the piece. The numerous interviewees provide a rich picture of Detroit’s techno music story, and the varied personalities involved, but the technique does seem to tire by the film’s last third; some tighter editing might have benefited the documentary.
High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music provides a fascinating window into the deep roots of techno music and its humbly little-known Detroit origins, and the building of the aura that surrounds the genre; though the first documentary to take on this scope of subject, you may be left wanting just a little more.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music
Director: Gary Bredow
USA, 2006, 60 mins (Sydney premiere)