Synth Pioneers Pt. 2: Detroit

Posted by Sam


With GM in the news, I was thinking about Detroit tonight. Detroit was the city I grew up closest to. My father grew up here and his dad worked on the Mercury Zephyr line.

Growing up near the city, the musical influence was huge. On any given weekend in the mid-to-late nineties, late night radio would mix up everything from the classic Art Of Noise song “Moments In Love” to local ghetto tech beats and new drum and bass coming out of the UK.

Much has been made about the city and why it’s music sounds the way it does. The desolate beauty, the mechanized auto factories and even the isolated water-ensconced nature of the state. All if it is true.

Here are four tracks that give me that Detroit feeling. These not the more discussed and celebrated classics, but more personal favorites.

Psyche – From Beyond (Transmat)


Carl Craig is a real legend and continues to impress. This song, under the Psyche alias is perhaps one of my favorite tracks ever. It has a crazy spell to it. It’s not quite techno and it pre-dates the breaks and jungle genres. It’s on it’s own planet. Pure late night driving music to roam the vacant freeways.

Cybotron – Cosmic Raindance (Fantasy)


Note: Please play on a proper stereo or headphones as the bassline is what holds this all together.  Juan Atkins (“The Originator”) is arguably the greatest groove maker of the Detroit techno school. Cybotron, his group with Richard Davis and John Housely is responsible for some of the most seminal cuts that have been sampled and re-interpreted endlessly. I remember driving down to the store Record Time in our friend’s Ford Fiesta, listening to this on repeat and his subs would rattle the entire frame.  Simply majestic.

Drexciya – Digital Tsunami (Tresor)


Drexciya is the most mythical duo of the Detroit techno school. The duo of the late James Stinson and Gerald Donald (also of Dopplereffekt, more on that later) made aggressive yet liquid odes to the ocean and it’s provence. This was a later cut, but got me into their brand of mutated electro. Their original pressings fetch a pretty penny on eBay and with good reason.

Suburban Knight – Collaboration Alpha (Peacefrog)


As part of the vaunted Underground Resistance Crew, Suburban Knight racked up a Detroit classic with “The Art Of Stalking” and also co-wrote tracks with Kevin Saunderson for his seminal and wildly successful Inner City project. This is a more recent track, and not a “classic” by any means, but I chose it because it’s important to recognize that Detroit techno is not a vintage style, it’s a methodology and an ethos that will continue to exist.

8 Comments Leave A Comment


James says:

June 1, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Terrific post! I’m heading back to Detroit in a few hours from Helsinki and now you’ve got me feeling all nostalgic. Grew up listening to the same shows, esp. the tail end of Mojo on 107.5, Deep Space Radio, and the top eight at eight. Detroit was bizarre & amazing – wonder if it still is.

“Cosmic Raindance” is hands down one of my favorite tracks. First heard it when I snuck out of the house to go to the Shelter. Good times . . . thanks!


Paul says:

June 2, 2009 at 2:02 am

Great stuff, thanks for that – especially like the Drexciya, and how their sound fits so perfectly with their mythology


andy says:

June 2, 2009 at 5:08 am

Wow that Suburban Knight track is just killer – 100%. I’ve never heard that before, on my headphones it sound perfect. Thanks!

4 says:

June 2, 2009 at 6:27 am

Check this directory on my site for some old school DeepSpace mastermixes link :
“R&S Radio Republica with Deep space radio mixes from Detroit & a afterpartyrecording in the R&S studio with Juan, Derrick & Ken Ishii” (think it was 1995/6 : 10 years R&S records)
the soundquality ain’t very good and having this tapes playing on the carstereo all those years
didn’t help, but it’s good fun and a lot of techno classics are getting a spin

(sorry if this sounds like spam)


cmh says:

June 2, 2009 at 7:05 am

The third post should read the late James Stinson not Gerald Donald. And thanks again for this Detroit retrospective.


Sam says:

June 2, 2009 at 7:39 am

cmh, thanks for the fix. Reminiscent of the Mark Twain quote: “Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”


ryan says:

June 2, 2009 at 10:35 am

Awesome. I’ll love Detroit until my last breath– that drive blasting down the empty Lodge freeway in the middle of the night, with the lights flashing by in sync with Plastikman is like the synecdoche of my memories of living there.

For anyone for whom this is new, the documentary High Tech Soul is a decent introduction: (