A recent documentary from the German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle explores how, on opposite sides of the Atlantic, the cities of Detroit and Berlin created, explored, and innovated the genre we now know as Techno. How Techno was born: From Detroit to Berlin and Back tells the tale of how DJs from both cities came together to build one of the pillars of modern EDM and how they’ve left their mark on the music scene.
But does the short film capture the true history of this internationally loved genre? And is it a must-watch for techno lovers around the globe?
Exploring The Birthplace Of Techno
If there’s one question at the center of the documentary, it’s this: how did Techno come to be? Although a German broadcaster makes the film, the filmmakers don’t hesitate in centering Detroit as the true birthplace of the sound, focusing on how it grew out of Detroit’s African American community – a fact that often goes overlooked in discussions of the genre.
Interviews With Genre Giants
In the documentary, industry icon Alan Oldham (DJ T-1000) talks about how, despite the genre’s afro-futurist influences, it remained relatively underground in the US while blowing up in Europe. According to Oldham, the genre failed to capture a broader audience in America’s black communities – unable to compete with the already popular rap and hip-hop genres.
But in Europe, the story was very different, and one city quickly became an international hub for would-be techno artists. Indeed, many of Detroit’s most popular DJs – Oldham included – migrated to Berlin’s growing scene, where they found an audience who were ready and waiting.
Creating A Modern Cultural Heritage
The film concludes with a discussion of what Techno means – both to its audience and its creators – and with an eye toward how the history of the genre might be recorded. Indeed, in order to explore the true meaning of Techno, the film visits Berlin’s Archive of Youth culture, highlighting just one of several recent attempts to preserve this modern style of music.
Taking a wider look at the genre of Techno and placing it in the context of its history, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the sometimes conflicting ideas and motifs at play behind the music. On its surface, Techno is about technology and music; it’s about creating art from modernity and pushing forward the boundaries of sound. At the same time, when you examine the aesthetics and conventions of the genre, it’s hard to deny that much of what we love about modern Techno is rooted in its ’80s origins and a vision of the future that feels almost retro by modern standards.
Ultimately, that conflict – that desire to preserve the history and culture of a genre fundamentally built around the here and now – makes this documentary and projects like it so fascinating. Techno is a genre that’s constantly moving and continually growing, and at the end of the day, projects like this will always be a remarkable snapshot of a vast and diverse genre.