Electronic music evolved tremendously since its inception in the late 1970’s.
As groundbreaking as 1977 Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express” album was at that time, today it sounds like nothing more than a combination of a 4-bit sound put together into a 3-minute composition.
Nevertheless, Kraftwerk started the trend that moved forward as fast as technology itself. Those four robotic Germans announced to the world that even with a lack of physical instruments, music is possible. The electronic music revolution was about to begin.
In the early 80s, while house music was playing in Chicago nightclubs to the likes of local DJs Ron Hardy and Lil Louis, the Detroit electronic scene was developing its own identity. Detroit is considered to be a birthplace of techno. Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson, all three Detroit area residents, friends from attending Belleville High School, and local DJs, pioneered the concept of creating electrifying dance music only using Roland TR-808 synthesizers and drum machines.
The new sound was so unique and groundbreaking that the trio decided to create their own label called Metroplex and release singles under the label’s name. In 1985, Atkins and Saunderson released “Triangle Of Love,” a classic example of wonderful sampling, synthesized beats and melodies that were way beyond its time.
My curiosity toward electronic started back in 1988. Musically speaking, I remember that year very well because Technotronic’s “Pump Up The Jam” was playing over and over on all New York City airwaves. So, naturally, I ran to the store and paid almost $10 for a cassette tape (yes, a cassette tape, the definition is available on Wikipedia) of “Pump Up The Jam-The Album“. Then came Quadrophonia in 1991, and a landmark The Prodigy in 1994.
I saw The Prodigy live at Limelight nightclub in midtown Manhattan. The experience of that performance left me amazed at the fact that electronic music and technology took a giant leap toward the future, incorporating so much computerized hardware that Kraftwerk would probably faint just from the size of a table on which all this gear was standing.
As far as the progression of the sound, it was an expansion of what was started by the trio from Belleville High School in the early 1980s: fierce, melodic, rhythmic techno music with a personal touch of an individual artist. This is another piece of history that came out of the Detroit area that not too many people are familiar with. On a global scale today, it is a movement, a culture, and for some people, a way of life.
On a final note, here is a trivia question to ponder. Cassette tapes were widely used in conjunction with a pencil. Why a pencil and how are the two related? If you can’t find an answer, I’ll write about it in the next issue of The Agora.