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September 09, 1999 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1999-09-09

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The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 9, 1999 - 11A

icko's 'Rebels'

pulses with Detroit techno scene

echno Rebels
illboard Books
Shat exactly is "techno" music? It
een around for nearly 20 years,
et the majority of Americans are
irly clueless about this new and
xciting form of music edging its way
to the mainstream thanks to artists
uch as Madonna. Books such as
Generation Ecstasy" and "Altered
tate" discuss electronic music's rela-
onship to drugs, but until the recent
ublication of "Techno Rebels," no
ne has exclusively focused on the
i er of electronic music, techno.
0ring the course of 207 pages,
an Sicko clears up most of the ambi-
uity surrounding techno and its rela-
onship to other electronic music
enres. After convincing the reader
at the question "What is techno?"
as relevance, he then documents the
volution of the genre from 1978 to
e present. Instead of describing the
ound of techno, he discusses the cul-
significance of the music,
lc ding its metamorphosis from
uropean disco to a futuristic form of
i-tech funk eminating from Detroit
ith forward-looking ideals, immedi-
tely adored by Europeans.
The three-page preface to "Techno
ebels" immediately correlates com-
lexity with techno. It opens with the
tatement: "Techno. The word evokes
sponses as varied as there are
etaphors for sound."
&ko continues his attempt to
terest his readers with other state-
ents such as, "Trying to tackle a
ubject like techno is a bit of a dan-
qrous endeavor." With these sort of
old statements, he does a convinc-
ng job of dismissing the concept of
echno as just a soundtrack for danc-
Once he has convinced his readers
at techno indeed is an interesting
o* worth exploring in an intellectu-
I manner, he attempts to establish a
ense of credibility. He boasts of his
tatus as a Detroit native who formed
is "musical tastes just as techno was
tarting to forge its own identity and
ork its way out of the minds of high
chool and college kids." Since the
najority of techn.o's undocumented
volution took place in the intimate
onfines of bedrooms and small
a* parties of Detroit before being
ransformed into myth by foreign
nusic journalists, it's important to
ave someone capable of disclosing
be facts instead of simply recycling

the myths.
The first chapter discusses the pre-
sent state of electronic music in
America. Sicko immediately points
towards the media for first attempting
to market electronic music as the next
new thing - "electronica" - then for
presenting it to Americans in an
improper format. He makes a compari-
son to the Seattle grunge explosion at
the beginning of this decade, driven pri-
marily by the media's need for drama.
He also points out the fact that rock
'n' roll journalists handled the major-
ity of the initial media coverage for
electronica. Though these rock jour-
nalists are fully capable of composing
intriguing literature on clectronica
artists, they tend to focus on the per-
sonalities behind the music.
"Techno has personalities," Sicko
writes, "but generally lacks the kind
of rock 'n' roll antics that make for
sensational stories."
After the first chapter's overly brief
overview of electronic music's cur-
rent state, "Techno Rebels" begins to
get interesting. Here the author
begins to unravel all the myths and
mysteries created over the past 20
years, beginning with the concept of
"teenage kids finding escape and
release in music." Sicko explains that
"In the Detroit of the late 1970s and
1980s, the African American youth
took that notion farther than anyone
had imagined, and the resulting scene
would lay the groundwork for tech-
no's earliest development."
Throughout this chapter, stories
aided by numerous interviews are told
of formalized party clubs oiganizcd by
African American teenagers in rented
halls with a heavy focus on Italo-disco
music. These European sounds,
thought of as progressive and high-
brow by these youth, complimented
their extravagant attire and attitude. By
1980, there were between two to three
of these party clubs per Detroit school
and multiple parties every weekend.
In late 1983, violence between east
side and west side Detroiters led to
the demise of the party culture, but
not before igniting a musical revolu-
tion in Detroit. Here Sicko begins
telling the tale of how a few Detroit
teenagers such as Juan Atkins and
Derrick May began producing their
own variation of the Italo-disco music
they heard at parties and on Detroit's
eclectic radio stations. These produc-
ers then proceeded to start their own
record labels and DJ at a now-leg-
endary club called The Music
Institute where musical ideas were
tested out and exchanged.
Sicko's focus on Detroit's culture
and its artists continues until the


due to aforementioned interviews and
Sicko's understanding of the city's
cultural history. But when he focuses
on techno's development in Europe,
the book becomes thin, confusing and
quite boring without any of the sup-
porting interviews or a thorough
Even though "Techno Rebels" claims
to be the first book attempting to
explore the question "What is techno?'
its answer is biased. Of course, this is
expected with a topic with such a glob-
al reach, and Sicko even admits this
bias in his preface. Electronic music
connoisseurs may be left unsatisfied
since many questions about European
techno go unanswered. For example,
how did trance -- currently the
"hottest" form of electronic music --
arise from techno? Or why Northern
European countries such as Germany
became infatuated with techno while
other European countries such as
France never took much interest ?
Above being the definitive work on
Detroit techno, Sicko succeeds at
making the book just as intriguing to
the techno literate as it is accessible to
those unschooled in the music's intri-
cacies. It's easy for readers to get
overwhelmed with electronic music
jargon and its numerous subgenres.
This doesn't happen with "Techno
Rebels," making it the perfect book to
begin educating American masses
exactly what techno is. Hopefully,
overseas scribes familiar with teh
sounds and scenes that make up tech-
no will soon tell their side of the
Jason Birchmne er

Among the artists featured in Sicko's book, the Chemical Brothers continue to bring techno into mainstream music.

halfway point of his book where the
focus shifts to Britain. There, around
1988, the techno sounds being
imported from Detroit made an
impression on many. The English then
began imitating the techno sound of
Detroit, giving birth to acts such as
Orbital and 808 State. The Detroit
techno records being imported also
became anthems for the growing

number of raves appearing in Britain.
The book then shifts back towards
Detroit once again to document a sec-
ond generation of techno artists such
as Plastikman and Underground
Resistance. Here the author again
tells all with the aid of several candid
interviews. The remainder of the book
attempts to document the diffusion of
techno throughout the world into

numerous sub-genres and variations.
Though it may be important to
understand the relationship of techno
music to the beginnings of drum and
bass, Sicko tries to cover too much
ground too quickly. This point sums
up the overall nature of "Techno
Rebels." When the author focuses on
his native city, Detroit, the book is
informative and highly enlightening


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