A Brief History of Techno in Detroit

Movement Festival
Movement Festival | © Robert Emperley / Flickr

Though many people associate techno music with the dance floors of Europe, the futuristic dance music that became known as techno was actually pioneered in Detroit, where it’s still celebrated to this day.

The Belleville Three

In the 1980s, three high school friends from Belleville, Michigan, began making music with the idea of combining the influence of electronic artists such as Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder and funk bands like Parliament and Prince. Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson were inspired by the music spun on Detroit’s late-night radio show The Midnight Funk Association by its DJ, Charles “The Electrifying Mojo” Johnson.

The “Belleville Three,” as they would become known, began to DJ in the city, producing their own tracks and mixes. Recording in different combinations and under various guises and labels, an underground scene grew around the three and other pioneering acts, including Mad Mike Banks, Jeff Mills, and Eddie Fowlkes. The string of groundbreaking techno singles began with “Alleys of Your Mind” in 1981 and peaked with hits like “No UFOs,” “Strings of Life,” and “Good Life” in the mid to late ’80s, which sold thousands of records and were heard on dance floors across not just the U.S. but Europe too.


With international success, they branded their dance music as techno for the first time in 1988 in order to differentiate it from other styles, such as the Chicago house that was also popular in Europe. The name was representative of the industrial and futuristic sound they had created, which was heavily influenced by and reflective of their city.

At the same time, the key players in Detroit techno opened a club, The Music Institute. Although it was short-lived, many of the club’s patrons would emerge as the second wave of Detroit techno in the early 1990s.


In 2000, the Detroit Electronic Music Festival was created to celebrate the city’s techno heritage, with many original Detroit techno artists involved in its ongoing organization. It was renamed Movement in 2003 and remains an annual pilgrimage for techno fans from around the world.

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