These days it is sometimes difficult to look back on the last twenty or thirty years of electronic music and see quite why there was so much fuss about various records or artists or genres. Aside from the obvious fact that we are spoiled for choice by the endless stream of new talent and music, we are also able to reach back to those archaic times with an ease that would have seemed pretty amazing even 10 years ago, and pull almost any track we (barely even) remember into the present where it stands under the same glaring scrutiny as something we just got our hands on yesterday.
Although I wouldn’t like to suggest that familiarity breeds contempt, it certainly lends itself to an amiable complacency. Sometimes we need to be reminded that the distance between then and now has allowed nostalgia to colour our response and, for a new generation of fans, it is sometimes difficult, if not actually impossible, to understand why a form of music was so important.
Detroit Techno sometimes falls into this. I’ve heard people occasionally suggest that it wasn’t as important as is often made out, that other genres were equally, if not, more important. For sure, I can think of many tunes from way back that, by modern standards, seem basic, with limited sound palettes, naive musical choices or were hampered by poor production techniques or equipment. In a way it’s like judging the rock n roll of the early 50’s with ears attuned to Joy Division or Sonic Youth. Times change, yes, and sounds and taste alter, but the impact remains the same.
With Detroit Techno, there is a less audible influence than there once was. At one point it seemed like every European producer was worshipping at the altar. But the reason Detroit Techno remains important today isn’t so much about the sound or the chord structures. It’s about the way Detroit Techno spread out from a single city to reach into many different genres. You might not hear so many Detroit-y cascading synths nowadays, but that is because the sound of the city became part of the fabric.
The grooves and feels of the genre are to be found in many far-flung places now, because Detroit Techno was far more than just one sound. The music was always expressive even in its velocity, and the little touches and flourishes, born of countless influences and tastes were woven together into something that could be taken away by a host of other producers from other backgrounds to do their own things with, be it Techno, or House or whatever else.
Ritual Beating System by Stacey Pullen under his Bango guise is one of those tunes that defines Detroit Techno even though it strains to defy such easy categorisation. And yet it is very much of Detroit. Right from the start, the drive and the low slung groove mark the common ground. The sample – Also used by Santana – add verve and fire to the mix, the tribal drumming gathering the whole thing together into a storm. The bleeps and pads so very emotive, opening the track up into wide open spaces.
But its something less tangible that marks this down as purest Detroit funk. It’s the warmth and expansiveness of the track that linger in the memory as it ends. The best Motor-City had to offer were rich with a sonic curiosity and playfulness that was less about naivety and innocence than excitement in the possibilities of Techno. It was about seeing where things led. And it’s in this that the real influence and importance of Detroit Techno lies. That was the spark that lit the fire. I hope it burns forever.