The Case for Making Techno a Much Bigger Deal in Detroit

August 11, 2017, 12:22 AM by  Catherine Nouhan

Nashville has country. New Orleans has jazz. Can techno tourism help Detroit? That’s what Adam Tanaka, a Harvard University urban planning doctoral candidate, asks in Slate.

This year's Movement Electrronic Music Festival. (Photo by Trevor Dernai of Paxahau)

He writes:

Much as the gay clubs of 1970s Chicago gave birth to house music, so 1980s Detroit gave birth to techno—house’s sinister, synth-driven cousin—when artsy black teenagers began soldering the clinical electronica of Kraftwerk and other German experimentalists with the alien funk of Prince and Parliament.

Meanwhile, aspiring DJs and wily party promoters capitalized on the city’s surfeit of industrial spaces, repurposing the relics of the auto age for the city’s first postindustrial generation. Motown became Techno City.

The genre exploded internationally, especially in Europe, but now it comes in a distant second to Motown or modern artists like Eminem here in the city. And that’s just one complication for a revival.

Tanaka cites a restrictive 2 a.m. state-mandated closing time for bars and clubs, a lack of local interest and the threat of gentrification as barriers to a larger, thriving techno scene in Detroit. Each year the city hosts a massive music festival, Movement, but it’s increasingly white and international, he writes, which is unsustainable and doesn’t reflect a city over 80-percent black.

Adam Tanaka: "Detroit gave birth to techno—house’s sinister, synth-driven cousin." (Harvard photo by Tony Rinaldo)

He argues compellingly that an effort should be made. Tanaka cites statistics showing how crucial the music industry is to Nashville and New Orleans, both of which made a conscious effort to embrace that cultural legacy for economic development.

Embracing what makes the city unique--Motown, the auto industry, professional sports--and recreating those elements that made it so successful (if only for part of the population) decades ago has been a key part of Detroit's revival.

Though it’s not a part of the usual branding, techno music is utterly Detroit. It’s loud, dynamic, innovative, quirky and has a deep historical legacy here -- qualities Detroit should welcome.

Read more:  Slate

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