Asked in 1991 to name the originator of techno, Juan Atkins promptly stated, “Juan Atkins.” He's earned the right to be direct. Although his original Belleville, Mich., buddies Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May, as well as fellow Motor City mainstays such as Blake Baxter and Eddie Fowlkes, were crucial in the development of the Detroit sound, Atkins started the ball rolling, first with Cybotron and later with Model 500 and Infiniti. Atkins' initial flashes of brilliance in the early '80s helped spark a worldwide techno and rave boom, influencing Richie Hawtin, 808 State, A Guy Called Gerald, LFO, T-99, Mantronix and Joey Beltram, to name a handful.
Armed with a Roland R-8 and a Korg MS10 and under the influence of Kraftwerk, Afrika Bambaataa and P-Funk, Atkins paired with Vietnam vet and Hendrix fan Rick Davis to form Cybotron in 1981; they released the seminal Enter (Fantasy) LP in 1983. But the singles “Alleys of Your Mind” and “Cosmic Cars,” along with the blossoming Chicago house sound, made the trans-Atlantic leap and ignited a revolution in the United Kingdom. Ironically, the sound of Enter (re-released in 1990 as Clear) is almost pure electro-funk, with the possible exception of the four-on-the-floor pulse of “Cosmic Cars” and “The Line.” Atkins' true prototechno forays came later with Model 500's 1985 “No UFO's” and “Night Drive.”
Atkins' Deep Space Soundworks and Metroplex labels also provided an archetype for the incipient dance-music movement, and unlike many of his contemporaries, he's continued to produce prolifically. As Model 500, he released Deep Space (R&S, 1995) and Mind and Body (R&S, 1999); as Infiniti, Atkins put out the surprising Never Tempt Me (EFA, 1999). Last year, under his given name, he turned out the mix compilation Legends, vol. 1 on Om, with tracks from Model 500 and upstarts such as Rui da Silva, Felix da Housecat and Individual Orchestra.
Twenty years after “Clear,” Atkins' influence is still everywhere: in the creative rave tracks of Adamski; in the chilly electro of Pan Sonic; in the techno-pop of 2 Unlimited; in the UK acid house of Nightmares on Wax; in the electro-rock landscapes of Faithless; and, of course, in the more recent crop of Detroit techno artists and labels such as Mr. Bill, Keith Tucker's Aux 88, and Robert Hood and Mike Banks' Underground Resistance. So, who's the originator of techno? Just ask Atkins.