About the film

Detroit is a city of struggle.

Historically, economically, and artistically, Detroit has had to fight for survival. And it’s had to fight even harder for recognition. The spirit of that fight is epitomized by GOD SAID GIVE ‘EM DRUM MACHINES, a documentary which traces the birth of techno music to its unlikely origins in the D.

Detroit’s African-American cultural roots cultivated musical movements like jazz, Motown, and disco. By the late ‘70s, DJs like Ken Collier were infusing underground clubs and public airwaves with radically danceable sounds, and in the early ‘80s groundbreaking technology like the infamous Roland TR-808 was falling into the hands of a new generation. The merging of these artistic and technological forces would bring about one of the most significant musical breakthroughs of the modern era.

GOD SAID GIVE ‘EM DRUM MACHINES tells the tale of the young visionaries who made that breakthrough happen. Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Blake Baxter, Eddie Fowlkes, and Santonio Echols were the vanguard of a new musical style they dubbed “techno,” which would soon become the most celebrated and profitable genre in the world.

And yet their names are largely unknown to most fans of that very genre.

Despite the best efforts of musical historians and journalists, the story of how a handful of black kids from Detroit invented techno has never fully been told. It’s a story of damaged friendships, mismanaged success, and broken dreams. But it’s also a story of inspiration. While the originators of techno may not enjoy the fame and fortune of those who cruised to success in their wake, they have seen their music touch lives around the globe. And they find comfort in knowing their creation will live on for generations to come.

Like Detroit itself, the artists who created techno struggle for survival and recognition. GOD SAID GIVE ‘EM DRUM MACHINES documents their fight, and hopes to help them achieve both.

The Pioneers

JUAN ATKINS

They call him “The Originator.” It’s a title earned not only from his groundbreaking work under the names Cybotron and Model 500, but also from the fact that he coined the term “techno music.” He melded the cosmic funk of Parliament with the synth-pop of Kraftwerk and served it up through his Korg MS10. And just like that, without even realizing it, a movement was born.

EDDIE FOWLKES

Eddie “Flashin’” Fowlkes discovered the art of DJing right alongside Juan Atkins and Derrick May, but he took it to the extreme by performing with turntables, a mixer, and drum machines. He dove into music production by building a recording studio in his bedroom, which ultimately resulted in his landmark single “Goodbye Kiss.” Released on Atkins’ Metroplex label, the song was crucial in defining the Detroit techno sound and Fowlkes as a legendary Detroit techno pioneer.

DERRICK MAY

They call him “The Innovator.” Through his high school friendship with Juan Atkins, May learned the ins and outs of both DJing and electronic music production. As his skills grew, so did his circle of influences, which included a healthy dose of house music from neighboring Chicago. In 1987 he and his innovative collaborators created one of the most influential records in electronic music history, “Strings of Life.” Now considered a classic, the song went on to gain the attention of European audiences and record labels, which put him on a course for musical immortality.

BLAKE BAXTER

Dubbed “The Prince of Techno” by his peers, Blake Baxter released his first songs in 1987 with Saunderson and was later featured on Virgin’s groundbreaking “This is Techno!” compilation, which solidified techno as its own genre. Baxter was poised for stardom. But life happened and as Atkins, Saunderson, and May became the breakout sensations, Baxter traveled down his own path.

SANTONIO ECHOLS

Santonio Echols first made a name for himself as a collaborator with Saunderson in the group Reese & Santonio, known for a string of classic underground dance tracks. Those songs quickly propelled Saunderson’s career, but Echols’ passion was music, not business. Though he left the game earlier than his fellow pioneers, he is still making music today, with his kids following in his footsteps.

KEVIN SAUNDERSON

They call him “The Elevator.” Along with Atkins and May, Saunderson was a pillar of The Belleville Three: the group of high school friends who pioneered Detroit techno. But his moniker is derived from the way he elevated techno from the underground to the mainstream. In 1987, Saunderson produced the song “Big Fun” with his group Inner City, which charted in the U.S., Australia, and all over Europe. Their follow up single, “Good Life,” was even more successful, resulting in techno becoming a worldwide phenomenon.

MIKE HUCKABY
(1966-2020)

Beyond being one of Detroit’s most lauded electronic music DJ/producers, Mike Huckaby was a humble thinker and a visionary. His ethereal dream of the city’s early techno scene gave “God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines” its title. Huckaby’s breakthrough musical efforts started in the mid-’90s and ultimately earned him critical acclaim as an international dance music producer. With his vast music knowledge that spanned genres, he was in a class by himself: a teacher of old and young, distinguished from his peers by his selfless generosity. Huckaby’s contributions, not only to the music scene but to humanity, are destined to reverberate forever.

The Production Team

Kristian Hill

Director

Motor City native Kristian Hill is celebrated and respected as one of Detroit’s most talented creative professionals. Excelling as a filmmaker, videographer and rising director with more than 20 years of experience in the business, Kristian has long cast his own distinct glow in the Film, Video & Entertainment industries.

Jennifer D. Washington

Producer

Straight out of the controversial, yet dynamic Motor City, Jennifer Washington was inspired as a child by her musical family. Today, Washington’s most pressing mission is to help uplift her hometown’s image in the media. As a film producer, she is exploring the expanse of Techno music and documenting its influence all over the world.

David Grandison

Producer

David is a Detroiter who specializes in blending storytelling and teaching across mediums. He is founder of MusicOrigins.org, currently Director Of Instructional Design for Yellowbrick.co, and co-creator of DIYdoc. He has led production on hundreds of award-winning educational animations for AMAZE.org and BrainPOP.com.

Chris Riley

Impact Producer

A native Detroiter, Chris has over two decades of strategic planning, on the ground community organizing and social activism experience across issues of women’s rights, economic justice and LGBT civil rights. She has consulted for various political campaigns and organizations, and served as Field Director for both MassEquality and Equality California.

Mary O'Byrne

Production Team Assistant

Far from her home in Queens, NY, Mary O'Byrne's finishing her final year at the University of Michigan studying Film, Television, and Media. She's bridged her passion for film and music through working on GSGEDM, interning at Jam in the Van, and by photographing and making videos for Empty Mug Records and the Michigan Electronic Music Collective.

Reggie Dokes

Composer

Reggie Dokes, DJ, music producer and TV & Film composer, started as a house and techno DJ during the 80’s in Detroit. He created the deep house and techno label Psychostasia Recordings is the deep house and techno label he created to expose his eclectic, cerebral and soulful sound. He has released singles and EPs domestically and internationally and created original compositions. DJ Mag has considered him one of Detroit’s best producers and DJ keeping the sound of Detroit alive internationally.

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