By Ruby Gates
Techno is a religion. Techno is the dark clothes and dirty dance floors that one can find walking through the Berlin and Antwerp nightlife scenes. It’s exclusive and praises buzzed haircuts, piercings, tight, leather straps and minimal fishnet clothing. It’s the culture that forced my Dutch friends, while walking out the door on our way to Berghain, to rush to strip me of my sparkling orange dress and lecture me on how to fool Sven Margqaurdt, the most famous (and terrifying) bouncer in the world, that I’m not just serious about, but married to techno. I’d commit to a long weekend of pretending to be in love with something I knew absolutely nothing about.
Where did techno, the sound of these sweat and MDMA filled European nights, come from?
Walking into the club, I was surrounded by a crowd of pale faces wearing queer created fashion, and pumping their fists to music being played by white DJ’s with names like Nu Guinea and music stolen from African and Carribean beats. In an art form so whitewashed and colonized, where they already fit in, many artists feel the need to use names from cultures that are not their own. They use these aliases to legitimize their music, because, in fact, it’s not their music. Really, techno was born in Detroit in the 1980’s with black artists like Robert Hood, Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson as both a reaction and resistance to the deterioration of the black working class in Detroit. They were pushed from the city and sent to work in Detroit’s new and flourishing automotive factory industry. It began with the growth of an industry of modern machines and new technology. Filmmaker Jen Nkiru describes this in their documentary, “Black to Techno”(which is 20 mins long, beautifully made, and should be something you watch today!) as the connection of the people’s spirit to the machine which is “a thing enslaved to the rhythm of production”. Techno is music with a political legacy beginning at the struggle of poor, black youth in the city. This is where techno came from, and today, alongside the cultural appropriation in the names and fashion surrounding techno and dance music, popular artists incorporate what we hear and view as typically African rhythms and instruments into their music. While the rest of the work is made with a machine, they preserve these sounds as something they’ve discovered from a faraway land, keeping it...exotic. Not only are these artists stealing sound, but by keeping these sounds “pure” and “African” they are reshaping and reinforcing what modern African music can and cannot be. In short, techno is a cult of stolen culture. With this all, I recognize that I am someone who has experienced and benefited from this music (and all music, when you look at it) and its adjacent lifestyle, so I pay homage to those who created it, and push those reading this to go learn about the culture and history of their favorite music in a similar way.
Some of my favorite Black techno artists to dance to. Go listen here→