The Sound: Detroit Techno of the 90s

Illustration: Richard Chance

From studio discoveries to the stories behind genre-defining sounds, The Sound is an exploration into the creative process of today’s innovative artists.

Now, following Detroit’s annual Movement Festival, we’re featuring producer-curated sample packs, contests, and interviews with the leading voices in Detroit techno and house. In this blog post, we specifically explore Detroit techno from the 90s to give you an insight into the DNA of music that changed the world.

Underground Resistance – Jupiter Jazz (Underground Resistance, 1992)

Syncopated chord stabs, vocal pads, Roland 303 acid basslines, and gliding leads comprised so much music of the 90s and beyond that took cues from this record. Released by Underground Resistance on their own seminal label (now responsible for the city’s infamous techno museum and Submerge shop), this selection from their 1992 World 2 World EP is a techno standard if there ever was one.

Explore the DNA of this groundbreaking track, transcribed in an Ableton session:

K-Hand – Global Warning (Warp, 1994)

K-Hand, also known as “the first lady of Detroit,” is one of Detroit’s most dynamic producers and selectors. Her track “Global Warning” charts the continued European diaspora of Detroit techno, released on a then-young Warp Records. A landmark release on a label that would go on to influence millions of experimentalists, this 12” is one of many outstanding works from a sorely underrepresented innovator in Detroit music history, no doubt on patriarchal grounds. K-Hand continues to DJ prolifically, swerving between hard techno and house.

Jeff Mills – The Bells – (Purpose Maker, 1997)

A turntable prodigy in the 80s, Jeff Mills had years of experience under his belt by the late 90s, when he began producing the most influential hard techno ever made. Harkening back to his formative years in the Underground Resistance crew, “The Bells” employs a militancy that remains unmatched, even by decades of Berlin copycats.

Drexciya – Andreaen Sand Dunes (Tresor, 1999)

Drexciya was an electronic duo comprised of James Stinson and Gerald Donald, who eschewed media attention and instead created an afrofuturist myth. “Drexciya” was said to be an underwater city inhabited by the unborn children of African women who were thrown off slave ships and adapted to breathe underwater. Building on the early-80s electro-funk innovations of Juan Atkins, Drexciya released Neptune’s Lair on the Berlin label, Tresor. Before being a label, Tresor became one of Berlin’s first techno clubs in in 1991, prominently featuring Jeff Mills and the Underground Resistance Crew, among other Detroit pioneers.

Tomorrow we’ll explore the warmer, naturalistic zones charted by Detroit techno and house producers following the turn of the century.

June 19, 2018

Erin Rioux Erin Rioux is a record producer and co-founder of the New York label Human Pitch. As a member of the Splice team, Erin creates sounds and content.