“High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music” reminds us not to forget the Motor City: Detroit

By on July 17, 2018

Gary Bredow’s must-see documentary High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music reminds us not to forget the Motor City: Detroit, Michigan.


If you spend some of your free time checking out our streaming site, Night Flight Plus, you’ll find titles there (like High Tech Soul) which we think represent, or maybe reflect, what our founder Stuart S. Shapiro was saying in his Night Flight “Mission Statement,” about how we “endeavor to tie together the old and the new, and young and the old.”

Here at Night Flight HQ, we’re always trying to offer up compelling content we think viewers might have seen on “Night Flight” had our cable TV show continued on after the early ’90s.


Clocking in at just over an hour long, High Tech Soul director goes right to the source itself, presenting a fascinating back story to his narrative through-line by talking with some of the key people in Detroit’s techno music scene.

It all begins with the three credited creators of techno: Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, a.k.a. the Belleville Three, from the Detroit suburb of Belleville, MI.


The Belleville Three

Bredow’s High Tech Soul — a five-year labor of love — is the kind of documentary that drills down deep in a relatively short amount of time to show how the music was created in inner-city Detroit by individuals seeking to escape from poverty in the city’s underground party scene during the late 1980s.

The film demonstrates how techno sounds were a natural progression for teens who grew up listening to dance-oriented sub-genres like disco, electro-funk, house, and experimental electronic music, including records by Kraftwerk, James Brown, George Clinton and P-Funk, Sly & the Family Stone, and Afrika Bambaataa, to name just a few.


The techno scene began flourishing on the heels of the Motor City’s economic downturn, which had actually begun following the 12th Street riot of 1967.

After that, and for many more decades, Detroit — which was once one of the most productive places on the planet — struggled to find its way after the loss of automobile factory jobs (replaced by automation and fucking robots), and the flight of white citizens to Detroit’s suburbs.



Detroit-native Gary Bredow initially decided to embark on this independently-funded project after he’d begun filming some of the acts performing at Detroit Electronic Music Festival (DEMF) in 2000.

Before long, he was wondering why there hadn’t yet been a documentary film made tying together the connections between the actual sound of techno music itself and Detroit’s socio-cultural elements.


Bredow decided to delve into the story Detroit’s involvement as the birthplace of techno, which actually evolved in abandoned warehouses, symbols of Detroit’s decay.

“We hate the city, but we love the city,” says the Belleville Three’s Derrick May at one point.


Bredow began filming at local clubs, as well as getting footage of the performances at the DEMF (later replaced by Movement, an event held along the city’s riverfront).

He also began talking with some of the pioneering people at the center of the story, especially Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, and Juan Atkins.


The Belleville Three began when Belleville teens Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson met each other when they were just fourteen.

One day at school, Saunderson punched out May, knocking him out cold and giving him a concussion, because May had decided not to pay up after losing a bet. They quickly patched things up and became best friends.

May — also known as “Mayday” and “Rhythim is Rhythim” — is typically credited for developing the futuristic variation on house music that would be dubbed ” techno ” by Juan Atkins, the third member of their group.


All three were fans of a popular Detroit-area deejay, Charles Johnson, known as “The Electrifying Mojo,” who played hours of music with interruption, including complete albums.

Johnson would often play Prince‘s music, for instance, and not only his hits, but deep album cuts and b-sides, a practice that continued well into the 1990s.


In 1987, May helped to kickstart techno music with “Nude Photo,” co-written with Thomas Barnett.

A year later he followed that up with Rhythim is Rhythim’s “Strings of Life,” one of the seminal tracks in the Detroit techno scene, which ended up having a huge impact in the United Kingdom’s house music explosion circa 1987-1988.


In addition to lengthy interviews with members of the Belleville Three, Bredow also spoke with Charles Johnson, and a lot of second generation techno artists who helped take the music even further, including DJ Eddie “Flashin” Fowlkes, Carl Craig, Jeff Mills (the fm98 Wizard), John Acquaviva, Carl Cox, Blake Baxter, Richie Hawtin (Plastikman), Stacey Pullen, Kenny Larkin, Thomas Barnett, Matthew Dear, Anthony “Shake” Shakir, Keith Tucker, Scan 7, Niko Marks of Underground Resistance, Delano Smith and many more, all of whom share endearing feelings about their hometown and explain why techno music — with it’s driving beats, abrasive tones, and resonating bass lines — couldn’t have been born in any city other than Detroit.


The film’s impressive soundtrack features an original score by Per Franchell, supplemented by techno tracks by Plastikman, Matthew Dear, Scan 7 (Track Masta Lou), Aux 88, Eddie Fowlkes, Inner City (“Good Life”), Juan Atkins, Infinity, Model 500, Mayday/Rhythim Is Rhythim and more.

We’ve no longer got this documentary in our collection of eye and ear-opening music documentaries on Night Flight Plus but you can probably find High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music on the internet, easily enough (on Youtube, for instance).


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.