Where Did Techno Music Come From?

Techno is a form of electronic dance music that emerged in Detroit, Michigan, in the United States in the mid-to-late 1980s. Techno is generally repetitive instrumental music, often produced for use in a continuous DJ set.

Techno is a type of electronic dance music, that originally came out of the largest city in the American state of Michigan, Detroit in and around the middle to latter part of the 1980s. As a genre of music, techno is stylistically a repetitive instrumental music, that is often produced and used by DJs on a DJ set, played in nightclubs or party environments.

The music utilizes a central rhythmic component, mostly using a common time signature, that is marked with a bass drum and a backbeat done by a clap of snare that usually has a tempo of between 120 and 150 beats per minute. Techno music is also noted as a genre of music that utilizes a lot of music production technology to make its sound, like more modern digital audio workstations, drum machines, synthesizers and also retro electronic music devices.

Techno is a music genre that is very selective in the use of the word to describe the music, so that it is not confused with other genres that may seem similar to a casual listener, like trance or tech house music.


The influences that converged in the 1980s in Detroit, where techno music emerged, were many. Techno was the result of a blend of music, electric jazz, electronic music, electro, funk and Chicago house and the influence of futuristic fictional themes that were influential in American culture at the time.

The music that would become techno was made possible in the 1980s due to the Roland TB-303 mini-keyboard and later the Roland TR-808 programmable drum machine, which made it possible to have a cheap way preform the sounds required of the music.

The first known use of techno as a term to define this specific genre of music came about in 1988, when British music entrepreneur Neil Rushton approached the Detroit based Belleville Three, as he wanted to license their music to be released in the United Kingdom. They decided to use the word techno as the way to describe their tracks and music and help to make it seem distinct compared to Chicago house music.

Before this event techno had been involved in Detroit for most of the 1980s, with the Belleville Three (Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Juan Atkins) having collaborated together shortly before going on to release albums separately. Atkins also worked with Rick Davis in their band Cybotron on albums and techno music before all of this. Other techno musicians and DJs on the Detroit scene at the time include, Eddie Fowlkes, James Pennington and Blake Baxter.

The term techno had been used in Detroit in the 1980s prior to 1988, but that was the first time the term was truly used to describe the music when marketing it to the public.

Spread and Development

The 1988 license and official naming of techno music between Rushton and the Belleville Three can be seen as a turning point, since the compilation record "Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit" between them helped to give techno an identity in Europe and separate it from other types of underground dance music emerging in the era. However, the music was not mainstream in America and outside of major cities like Detroit and Chicago.

Producers of the music grew frustrated, so many of the first and second wave artists, especially ones from Detroit went to Europe, since the music, nightclubs, and raves associated with it were becoming a major event in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom. It was during this period of the early 1990s that techno started diverged widely in terms of a range of acts performing the music and between regions, which led to many different styles of techno that have all grown from the original Detroit techno scene.

In the U.K. techno music even became pop music and independent English record label, Warp Records started to build a roster of techno musicians, with the goal of exploring new areas of the genre. However, techno's popularity in the U.K. started to fall around 1993 and many techno artists went to Germany and also Belgium where the music was most popular.

By the middle of the 1990's there were a variety of underground dance music genres that were competing with techno, which led to diverse music that sounded far flung from techno. There was also the fact that the dance music scene that techno was a part of had become commercialized and mainstream, which lead to a diminished rave and nightclub scene and a fracture in how dance music should be done by each faction within the dance music genres.

It also seemed that techno had become stale in terms of creatively and underground artists were being drawn to non-techno styles of music. By the end of the 1990s, techno had been thrown to the wayside and post-techno styles emerged to take its place.

Notable Practitioners

The biggest known practitioners of techno music are the so called Belleville Three, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Juan Atkins, who are known as the originators of techno music and the regional scene of Detroit techno music. The three released a number of different albums, as well as singles when they collaborated together mostly over the 1980 through the middle of the 1990s when techno was at its peak.

The Belleville Three inspired a lot of future techno artists, with May specifically having mentored future artists like Carl Craig and Stacey Pullen.

Other members of the Detroit techno scene that were prominent include Eddie Fowlkes, James Pennington and Blake Baxter, who each had plenty of albums of their own. Fowlkes and Baxter are also known for having gone to the techno scene in Germany, specifically in Berlin and having a more direct influence there. Paul van Dyk, real name Matthias Paul, is a German DJ who got his start in the 1990s and was one of the first so called superstar DJs.

He was a major part of the German techno and trance music scene, but now does electronic music, preferring not to categorize it. He has won a German Grammy Award for his work and was a major part of the German techno scene in the 1990s and is still very active today.

Greater Significance and Legacy

The original Detroit techno scene helped to launch a variety of regional scene, subgenres, fusion genres and successor forms of music. The other regional scenes of techno that developed are the Nortec scene that developed in Tijuana, Mexico, the Schranz scene that developed in Germany and the Freetekno scene that developed in Europe and has since spread to Canada, Australia and the northwest of America.

Techo also developed various sub-genres that split off in the late 1980s and 1990s which include, acid techno, ambient techno, hardcore techno, minimal techno, dub techno and tech techno. Techno also helped to inspire many fusion genres that used aspects of techno music like, eurodance, IDM, kuduro, techstep, techstyle and trance. The various post-techno styles that came about at the end of the 1990s that followed techno include, ghettotech, nortec, glitch, electroclash and digital hardcore.

Where Did Techno Music Come From?

Techno is an electronic dance music form that originated in Detroit, Michigan, the United States during the mid-to-late 1980s.



Techno, similar to disco, was dance music with a very fast “four-on-the-floor” tempo. One of the main characteristics is looping of tracks and sounds. It also has a consistent pulse. Some of the instrumental sounds include drum machines, synthesizers, and digital audio workstations.Techo came around during the time of white flight in Detroit where white people were moving to the suburbs.

This change in the makeup of the city left a lot of empty buildings in the inner city that were used as techno clubs. There was still segregation and exclusionary practices in the city, but they grouped all of the black people together to make this art. High school friends Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May, known as the Belleville Three, are known as the creators of techno music.

Kevin Saunderson is the person who made sure techno music got to the masses by 1983. Other important players were Kraftwerk and Soul Sonic Work.The Music Institute is the world’s first techno club. People came here to dance for hours.

There were no drugs or alcohol in The Music Institute, so people would drink or smoke weed before they came. In addition to techno clubs, the music spread internationally quickly and was very popular in Europe.

h6> A new underground dance music scene emerged in Detroit as this group of DJs transitioned into becoming full-fledged producers and owners of the label Metroplex. It would soon become one of the most popular forms of music overseas and it grew to become known as EDM (electronic dance music the rest was history. Yet popular culture has no idea about his contributions to dance music or about the many mainstream hits he was responsible for like Missy Elliot’s “Lose Control” and Nicky Minaj’s “Anaconda”..

Juan Atkins is known in the Detroit underground scene as the “Originator” of Techno and is even responsible for coining the term. Very few people in the US, or even Detroit, actually know the term “Techno” was coined by Juan Atkins a DJ/producer who used it to describe this form of music as a youth growing up in Detroit. The musical genera he defined was a blend of Funk,

Chicago House music, NY Disco, German Synth-pop, Italio Disco, Motown, Jazz, and Soul that was being played in Detroit’s underground party scene in the 80’s.This image is of some of the originators of Detroit Techno at the beginning of their careers in the music industry. Detroit Techno music organically grew out of the rich musical soil that spawned the Motown dynasty and P-Funk but it experienced an infusion of technology in the 80’s which changed the way the world listened to music.

While robots were replacing the jobs of their parents who worked in the automotive industry, the teens in Detroit embraced synthesizers and the electronic rhythmic innovations of the drum machine creating Techno music.Electronic music lovers from around the world have respected Detroit as the birthplace of Techno and Electronica for years. But the part Detroit’s Afro-American producers played in the history of Techno,

Electro, and electronic dance music in general, has been largely been overlooked by the mainstream media in the US. Its development has largely been relegated to the European artists who dominate and capitalize on the scene currently.Juan Atkins led the way in developing Electronic Dance Music (EDM) by making futuristic dance records in the early 80’s and he soon helped his friends to do the same.


Ricardo Villalobos

Possibly the most important DJ in the minimal techno and microhouse scene, Villalobos is characterized by his infinitesimal approach to layering small details on top of each other. The Chilean-born Villalobos moved to Germany in the early 70s with his family. He was a massive fan of Depeche Mode and used to follow them across Europe. He played at the university for his own enjoyment and only became a professional DJ in 1998. He is considered a God in the techno music world – for example, when Jamie Jones saw his Ibiza set in 2005, he decided to change his entire style. In 2008 and 2010 he was voted number one DJ of the year by Resident Advisor. If you don’t know where to start, his fabric36 collection is a must-listen.
Jeff Mills

Referred to as The Wizard thanks to his technical skill, Jeff Mills is one of the biggest DJs to ever come out of Detroit. His seminal track “The Bells“, released in 1987, is often considered the greatest techno track of all time. Along with Robert Hood and “Mad” Mike Banks, he formed Underground Rebellion, a radical musical collective that intended to use techno as a means of cultural activism. His live sets have to be seen to be believed: using three decks, a Roland TR-909 drum machine and a ridiculous 70 records an hour, he is definitely one of the most accomplished DJs when it comes to mixing tracks together. His influence is so far reaching he was even awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Government.
Carl Craig

Detroit native Carl Craig was inspired to DJ from hearing Derrick May’s radio show on WJLB. He met May himself through a friend and slid him his latest tape, leading to his first professional release, “Neurotic Behaviour“. Producing under aliases such as Paperclip People, 69, Designer Music and Innersole Orchestra, his tracks revolutionized the very possibilities of what techno could do. He has his own record label, entitled Planet E Communications, which has released records by DJs such as Kevin Saunderson, Alton Miller, and Moodymann. He has hands-on involvement with the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, often considered the techno mecca for US fans.
Marcel Dettmann

East German Marcel Dettmann is a Berlin regular, having grown up with the post-punk, industrial and techno scene in the city in the late 80s and early 90s. He has a residency at the legendary Berghain, where he often plays the impossible-to-get-into Saturday Klubnacht. He also has his own record label at Marcel Dettmann Records, where he curates all the latest techno talent. Additionally, he has produced compilation albums for Belgian techno label Music Man and Fabric. A Berlin local, you can catch him working at the vinyl record store Hard Wax.
Derrick May

One of the original Belleville Three, along with Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May is credited as one of the first originators of the techno sound. He is credited with creating some of the most influential tracks in the business, including the legendary “Strings of Life“. This track was so popular he was one of the first techno DJs to tour England. He also founded the Music Institute in Detroit, which helped to establish the city as the place to be for techno music, and the Transmat label, which put out tracks by artists as diverse as Stacey Pullen, Joey Beltram, K-Alexi and Kenny Larkin.
Ben Klock

Often a symbol of Berlin’s stable techno environment, Ben Klock is the face of Berghain. Resident since 2005, he often plays with his contemporary Marcell Dettmann. To hear the best of his work we recommend the fabric 66 compilation and his Award-Winning BBC Radio 1 essential mix. He has his own label Clockworks, where he releases his more minimal work, as well as productions by artists such as Trevino, DVS1 and Etapp Kyle. His best work is “Subzero“ – which is often considered one of the most seminal techno tracks in the Berlin scene.