By CHRIS MENIST
Techno wasn't the first music to utilise electronics. Drum machines and synths had been used by artists such as Sly Stone, Giorgio Moroder, Sun Ra and Miles Davis, as well as this emerging music's most obvious antecedents, Kraftwerk. But as technology shrunk and became more affordable, thus allowing home studios to flourish on a wider scale, the machines started to generate more music than ever before.
At the end of the 70s, high school graduate Juan Atkins attended Washtenaw County Community College to study music. A fan of Parliament/Funkadelic, as well as the electronic music emerging out of Europe, he had already started to fuse these key influences in early experimental recordings. The course would bring him into contact with his first musical partner Rick Davis and between them they would start to lay the roots of techno.
The first release from the duo, calling themselves Cybotron, was Alleys Of Your Mind, a kind of electronic tribute to paranoia, voiced by Atkins and written by Davis, which they put out themselves on the Deep Space label. Alleys... proved to be a local hit and ended up being picked up by the Fantasy label. The duo went on to record an album for the label, Enter, before separating, as well as a handful of singles which saw the music crossing over from stark song structures to extended grooves more focussed on the dance floor: Cosmic Cars, Techno City and, perhaps their best known track, Clear, also cited as one of the first 'electro' records. Despite similar music tastes, Davis, a huge fan of Hendrix, wanted to lace the tracks with long guitar solos (check Industrial Lies) and generally take the group in a more rock'n'roll direction. Atkins, however, wished to continue exploring the pure electronic route. "I used to read a lot of sci-fi, Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, The Third Way and uh music's just a natural progression for me, man."
After branching off on his own, Atkins pursued the imprint of Clear, taking the basic 4/4 drum pattern, layering it with intricate rhythmic programming and washes of synth. He was taking his concept of 'electronic funk' a stage further. No UFOs came next, and was released on Atkins' own label Metroplex.
Whilst still with Cybotron, Atkins had become friends, via his brother Aaron, with two people who would go on to be key figures in the Detroit techno scene: Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. The track Let's Go, (the remixes of which are included on this compilation), was the former's first appearance on wax. He would go on to make seminal tunes such as Strings Of Life, Nude Photo and The Dance.
Twenty-five years later, parts of Cybotron's vision have aged better than others. That it laid the foundation for the many strands of techno the world over today is not in doubt