What is Detroit Techno?

Detroit techno is a dance music genre that originated in Detroit in the early-to-mid 1980s.  Detroit techno music combines the cool, detached dance floor beats and textures of European electronic music with the soul and celebration of American funk music.  Techno as we know it today and in it’s original form referred to as Detroit Techno for its origin and definitive sound.

The History of Detroit Techno

Belleville Three

Detroit techno did not begin in Motown but rather in the suburb of Belleville, Michigan. It was there that high school friends Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson formed a collective known as the Belleville Three.

Techno Instruments

Detroit techno artists gravitated toward the synths and drum machines used by 1970s European electro-pop groups like Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. They brought this technology to their own music.

Coming to Detroit

The Belleville Three and its offshoots migrated from the suburbs into Detroit itself, where venues like Cheeks and the Music Institute became hubs for Detroit techno. Motor City producers Eddie "Flashin" Fowlkes and Blake Baxter further shaped the new Detroit techno scene.


Juan Atkins

 Atkins made significant contributions as part of the Belleville Three and as a solo artist. He performed under the names Cybotron and Model 500. Essential Atkins tracks include 1981’s “Alleys of Your Mind,” 1982’s “Cosmic Cars,” 1984’s “Techno City,” and 1985’s “No UFOs.” He is also known for founding the Metroplex record label.

Derrick May

Atkins was not the only member of Belleville Three to shape Detroit’s techno as a solo artist. Performing under Rhythim Is Rhythim, May scored a significant club hit with his 1987 track, “Strings of Life.”

Kevin Saunderson

The third member of the Belleville Three deviated the furthest from Chicago house influences in his solo career. Rather than lean on the 1970s soul and funk that inspired the Chicago house, Saunderson focused more on the electronic synths that drove European techno. Under the name Inner City, Saunderson enjoyed a 1988 hit with “Big Fun.”


Techno music was invented in Detroit by young African-Americans with drum machines, futurist ideals, and a preference for Kraftwerk. Artists like Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson used whatever technology they could use to pioneer a cutting-edge sound made up of growling synths and driving dance beats. In the process, they set in motion one of the essential musical movements of the 20th century.

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