Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, Detroit steadily provided the world with one cult music sensation after another. First there was Blues then The Motown Sound and then the city brought us idols like Madonna and Alice Cooper to name a few. Those unaware of Detroit’s accolades are at least nuanced by pop tales of musical genius from biopics such as 8 mile or Searching for Sugarman. Though not so well documented is Detroit as a landscape for the birth of Techno.
The ICA is making headway on this, with their current exhibit Detroit: Techno City. The exhibit explores the genre’s development between its 1970s origins to the early 1990s. Using film & newspaper clippings, installations and readings it explains how a generation was inspired to create an innovative kind of electronic music that merged synth pop with funk and disco. Focusing on the Bellville Three – Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Anderson we see how these trail blazers led the way for future pioneers such as Blake Baxter and Eddie Fowlkes. The writing on the walls detail the cultural cross-pollination between American and European techno, Underground Resistance and their battle with the commercial mainstream music industry.
While Detroit: Techno City may appear bare boned to the untrained eye, it is a feast to the music buff record collector. Walking around the table of groundbreaking retro audio mixers and multi-grey shaded Triton televisions with turning knobs for brightness and frequency, it feels slightly unnerving to see these familiar devices displayed like fossils from a lost world. So if not just a history lesson on the timeline of techno’s origins, this exhibit also works to evoke the acceleratory influence of technology on the lifespan of our music and taste. Glimpsing into this period, is to explore the simpler beginnings of how art & music grew into concepts we now can’t quite keep up with.
Detroit: Techno City will be showing at the ICA until September 25th.
Closed on Mondays
11am – 6pm (Thursday 11am – 9pm)
@ ICA, The Mall, London SW1Y 5AH
Entry £1 day membership
Words by Sophie Park