The Detroiters Who Created Detroit TechnoModified: March 23, 2020 | Story by Shelby Tankersley | Photos by Movement
Before bass and electronic beats thumped through night clubs around the globe, three high school kids in Belleville, Mich. were just trying to create a new sound after being inspired by a local DJ. Those kids became known as The Belleville Three and they along with the DJ, The Electrifying Mojo, went on to be credited with Detroit techno’s creation.
With its history in Detroit, techno is celebrated in the Motor City every year during the Movement Electronic Music Festival. Before the festival takes place later this month on May 26-28, let’s take a look back at the Detroiters who brought us music’s funkiest genre.
Detroit Techno: The Electrifying Mojo
In the early 1980s, The Electrifying Mojo introduced his listeners to music that sounded like it belonged in a sci-fi movie. Mixing the sounds of rock, pop and even classical music, Mojo set down building blocks that would later become techno. He also played the very first techno song on the radio, “Alleys of Your Mind,” which was produced by Detroiters.
Mojo was also Detroit’s most mysterious DJ. He rarely ever showed his face, often declined interviews and didn’t reveal his birth name, Charles Johnson, for years. Similar to how techno giant Daft Punk handles the public today, Mojo helped create the mysterious and otherworldly feel techno still carries.
The Belleville Three
After hearing Mojo on the air, Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Keven Saunderson tried making some music of their own. They were enrolled at Belleville High School and had become friends through a shared love of unconventional music.
Atkins turned his inspiration into sound and released “Alleys of Your Mind” with Richard Davis in 1980, and he went on to open his own music label a few years later. Though all three guys enjoyed air time on shows like Mojo’s and in some local clubs, their music really took off overseas. If you’ve ever heard that techno has European roots, it’s probably because that’s where these guys performed. Today, all three have successful music careers and come to Detroit from time to time, but still perform primarily in Europe.
Detroit Techno Today
Though the founders are no longer based in the city, Detroit still has plenty of spots to hear techno. Northern Lights Lounge, The Marble Bar, Leland City Club and TV Lounge are all known to feature techno and house music regularly.
Oh, and before you head to Movement Detroit later this month, check out these tips that will give you all the info you need to know beforehand. We’ve also got a handy rundown of this year’s festival (Spoiler: It’s more than just techno music). For those who can’t make it to the show, Red Bull Radio will be doing live coverage from the event.
While You’re in Detroit
Be sure to check out our guides of things to do and places to go in Detroit.
Shelby Tankersley is a Flint-based journalist who now knows a whole lot about techno.
1Movement Electronic Music FestivalHart Plaza, Detroit, MI 48226248-584-1646
2Northern Lights Lounge660 W. Baltimore St., Detroit, MI 48202313-873-1739
3The Marble Bar1501 Holden St., Detroit, MI 48208313-338-3674
4Leland City Club & The Labyrinth400 Bagley St., Detroit, MI 48226
5TV Lounge2548 Grand River Ave., Detroit,313-965-4789