Detroit Techno Week 1: “Cosmic Cars”
<<Because my editor is now out of school, this humble tiger has been less preoccupied with stalking around campus and more invested in ~musical discovery~. Chicago House and Detroit Techno have preoccupied my listening time since the middle of June, but because these styles have a great deal of historical and cultural specificity, I’ve been reluctant to write about them. I further rationalized my lack of output with the fact that far more knowledgeable individuals have already published books, composed articles, made documentary films, and, of course, created innumerable musical pieces that explore the legacy of early dance music. But I’ve stalked these genres for long enough that I feel confident enough to say one or two things about them, even if only in small bits. Therefore, I’ve elected to post one song from a major Detroit Techno artist every day this week. A Chicago House week will, naturally, follow this one. These posts will be short, as I alluded earlier, but I aim to maintain the requisite degree of insight and quality you have come to expect from me. Which I hope is a high degree.>>
Now that I’ve acquainted you with my sinister methods, let’s listen to some music. We’re taking the time tunnel all the way back to 1982. Our location: Detroit. Robocop and Detroit’s recent bankruptcy are still a long ways away, but deindustrialization and urban decay had already hollowed out the Motor City. This left an indelible material impact on the city, which is reflected in its cultural production. Where Detroit produced Motown in the 50s and 60s, the heady days of the New Deal class compromise and the height of the postwar boom, the 1980s produced a considerably thornier musical tradition. Cybotron was Juan Atkins and Richard Davis. While you can read more about them and their early music in this article here (among others), for our purposes it suffices to say that the latter was a Vietnam War vet who enlisted to escape the racial violence of the late 60s and that the former became fascinated by futurism and the fusion of people with machines. This song forms part of Ground Zero for techno, which eventually became a global musician phenomenon but here seems far more culturally specific. In particular, it draws on the Afrofuturism of funk acts like Parliament and Funkadelic in addition to a far more anxious perspective on the city that helped create it. Both of these men would continue to develop what became techno throughout the decade following, but “Cosmic Cars” is a powerful early statement from a genre and movement that had just begun to gestate.