In the mid-1980s, when Detroit was a city in decline, Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson (collectively known as the Belleville Three) kicked off a musical revolution. By working the futuristic electro sound of European acts like Kraftwerk and New Order into a funky, dance floor-friendly musical style that would become known as Detroit techno, the three played a key role in shaping the soundtrack to the digital age.
“We wanted to show that black people could do something that was high-tech, but intellectual at the same time . . . something that you could dance to, but that didn’t have to be about being on stage shuckin’ and jivin,’ said May in 2001.
A more recent purveyor of the genre, DJ Kenny Larkin, performs tonight (Aug. 25) at Unit in Tokyo to mark the launch of the new documentary “High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music.” The film charts the rise of this musical movement and shows how, building on the efforts of the Belleville Three, in the hands of producers and DJs like Jeff Mills, Richie Hawtin and Carl Craig, the music evolved into a more aggressive style defined by relentless beats and menacing synthetic sounds that recalled the industrial clangs of Motor City’s automotive assembly lines.
Through interviews with almost every big name on the Detroit scene — from track makers and DJs, to clubs owners and event organizers — the narrative behind the emergence of this epoch-making genre is told in an appropriately fast-paced fashion. Talking heads are mixed in with still photography, archive footage and clips of DJ performances that provide visual context for the tale.
“High Tech Soul Japan Night” starts from midnight tonight (Aug. 25) at Daikanyama club Unit, featuring Larkin, as well as Hitoshi Ohishi, a well-traveled exponent of Japanese techno, and others. Tickets are 3,000 yen in advance. For more information, visit www.unit-tokyo.com
The movie’s run at Shibuya’s Theater N ends tonight (9:10 p.m.), and features a talk (in Japanese) from techno DJ Ken Ishii.