Acid house might have originated in Chicago, but Detroit took it into the future. Derrick May’s 1987 single Strings Of Life was the catalyst, its looped piano riff and piercing synth stabs sounded like they’d been beamed down from another planet. At once euphoric and cosmic, the mood was even more alien than Phuture’s Acid Tracks, but Strings Of Life quickly became an anthem on the UK rave scene. The Detroit sound was dubbed “techno” for its futuristic intent, though May described his style as “George Clinton and Kraftwerk stuck in an elevator.” As in Chicago, the scene was centred on a tight-knit community of young black musicians, inspired by new technology and the fevered mix of funk, disco and European synth-pop served up by a local late-night radio DJ known as the Electrifying Mojo. Among Mojo’s regular listeners were the Belleville Three – May, Juan Atkins, who had been recording electro-funk as Cybotron since the early-’ 80s, and young producer Kevin Saunderson. Named for the Detroit suburb where they grew up, the trio went on to record much of the era’s most forwardthinking music under cryptic aliases such as Rhythim Is Rhythim (May), Model 500 (Atkins) and Reese (Saunderson). Yet like many early electronic artists in the US, they struggled to find wider recognition at home even as the spread of acid house mania made them pop stars in Europe. In 1988 the debut single by Saunderson’s soulful Inner City project, Big Fun, broke into the UK Top 10; in America it didn’t even make the charts.
Derrick May: techno pioneer.