In the 70’s, Detroit was struggling, but the club scene was thriving and everybody was dancing to disco music. Soon after, the innovative DJ culture set the stage for a group of friends to start tinkering with early electronic instruments. All of a sudden a new type of futuristic music was born taking the underground dance scene by storm.
DJ/Producer, Juan Atkins, known as the Originator, created the term Techno. He was later joined by Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Blake Baxter, Eddie Fowlkes, and Santonio Echols. As collaborators, they released local hit after local hit and finally caught the attention of some eager Europeans.
In 1988, London based record label owner Neil Rushton came to Detroit searching for gold, found it, licensed it and sold it overseas, taking the group of friends and their burgeoning industry with him on an overseas quest for bigger and brighter things than Detroit could offer.
Techno became an overnight sensation and so did Juan, Kevin, and Derrick. But it didn’t happen for the rest. When the money entered the picture, friendships were broken, leaving them fractured as a group, with no collective bargaining power in the music business. With no knowledge of publishing and licensing, Blake, Eddie and Santonio, whose contributions went largely unrecognized and uncompensated, were left in a state of heartbreak and despair to this day.
By the late 1990s, dance music changed and so did Detroit. Techno had long been forgotten and secretly became a mere export, with no new audiences being cultivated. Manufacturing jobs were sent to other countries, and unemployment and crime hit a new high. Hip Hop became the new sound, and the new underground culture provided illicit means for the youth with no direction in the city.
Today, Detroit is largely unrecognized for the creation of Techno, which was the beginning for what is now known as the $7.4 billion dollar business of EDM. As of 2017, there are no African Americans listed as top earning artists.
The founders eventually discover brotherhood and betrayal don’t always mix on the dance floor. Now over 30 years later, they fight to keep their legacy and music alive in a city that is only now giving them their due recognition.