Documentary : Universal Techno (1996)

Universal Techno is a fascinating French documentary from 1996 that explores the Detroit techno music scene – chronicling its birth in the 1980s and its massive International influence into the 90’s. Drawing inspiration from artists like Giorgio Moroder, Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Devo and Parliament Funkadelic, Detroit-based electronic musicians Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May developed a style of club music that, with its monolithic beats and mechanical funk, seems to have naturally risen out of the metal and concrete belly of what was once a truly grand city.

Part of what makes Universal Techno exceptional is the way it gets at the roots of the music and its ties to the environment with which it spawned. One scene that resonates is watching Derrick May walk through the ruins of the once magnificent Michigan Theater and describing its former glories,

“Inside this building was a theater, and they tore out the theater and they made a car park,” he laments. “So you are parking your car in a theater. And it’s fucking scary… I mean, look at these arches. They’ve been broken off, totally destroyed.” Visibly moved, he states with a quiet intensity: “Being a techno-electronic-futurist, high-tech musician, I totally believe in the future, but I also believe in a historic and well-kept past. I believe that there are some things that are important. Now maybe this is more important like this, because in this atmosphere, you can realize just how much people don’t care, how much they don’t respect—and it can make you realize how much you should respect.”

This poignant scene from the documentary not only characterises the planning decisions that have blighted Detroit but also typifies the devotion to the city by its musical futurists, who have sought sanctuary from the decimation through the soul of the machine.

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