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Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, collectively known as 'The Belleville Three' were the pioneers of the more instrumentally-dominated style of techno. Although heavily influenced by Chicago house, they largely ignored disco and instead combined the sound of Europe's synth-pop with unrelenting electronic beats from the 909 Roland drum machine.

Juan Atkins (b.1962 in Detroit) was initially attracted to electronic music after hearing Parliament's use of the synthesiser, and was also influenced by a radio program (presented by DJs Ken Collier and the Electrifyin' Mojo) which featured many of the (then) new futuristic synth pop bands of the 1970s such as Kraftwerk and Gary Numan. Atkins teamed with Vietnam veteran Richard Davies (who called himself 3070) and fellow Electrifyin' Mojo devotee. Forming Cybotron, they released their first single( 'Alleys of Your Mind') which immediately received airplay from Electrifyin' Mojo and became a local hit (selling around 15,000 copies). Cybotron's quasi-instrumental 1982 release 'Clear' was described as a 'balanced fusion of techno-pop and club music' and went on to become the future 'blueprint' for the techno genre[1]. By 1984-85 Cybotron 'had racked up some of the finest electronic records ever, otherworldly yet warm cuts like Clear, R-9, and the song that launched the style, Techno City'[2]. In 1985 the group separated over artistic differences, with Davies leaving to pursue a musical direction closer to rock & roll, and Atkins further developing his experimental electronic sound.

Atkins now began to work with former classmates Derrick May (b.1962 in Detroit) and Kevin Saunderson (b.1964 in Brooklyn), forming the electronic collective named the Deep Space Family. The trio, inspired by Detroit's industrial history, were fascinated by the idea of man and machine working in perfect harmony to create music. They founded their own dance club, the 'Music Institute', in the heart of the now economically-ravaged downtown area of Detroit. The club 'invigorated the fractured sense of community in Detroit'[3] and a devoted collective of people emerged around the developing musical genre (similar to the dance community that supported the Chicago house music scene).

Atkins' most influential period was between 1985 to 1987, when he founded Metroplex Records in 1985 and recorded his first single as Model 500 ('No UFO's'). After being invited to Chicago by Derrick May (who had moved to Chicago after becoming disillusioned at college and dropping out) he sold thousands of copies of the song and it became a hit on Chicago radio shows such as the Hot Mix Five. Subsequent Metroplex singles (such as 'Night Drive', 'Interference' and 'The Chase') continued to fashion the sound of Detroit's techno.

Derrick May was strongly influenced by the Chicago house scene, and worked under several pseudonyms (Mayday, R-Tyme, and Rhythm is Rhythm), and was most successful with the song 'Nude Photo'. This song was quickly followed by what are now considered 'the classics of the genre'[4] - 'Freestyle', Strings of Life', 'It Is What It Is' and 'Kaos'. 'Strings of Life' became a dance club hit in England during the country's 1987-88 house music explosion. Many pop bands eager to gain credit in the underground club scene recruited May as a re-mixer during this time.

Saunderson had been introduced to synth pop music by Atkins, and to the sound of Chicago house by May. He formed his own record label KMS in 1986 and produced and released such singles as 'Triangle of Love' by Kreem and 'The Sound' and 'Bounce Your Body to the Box' by Reese & Santonio. These songs not only had local club success but also received airplay on radio. This airplay culminated with a string of successes in Britain. In 1988, Saunderson (collaborating with Paris Grey) released the single 'Big Fun' and the song became a UK Top Ten hit. This was followed by 'Good Life' which also reached the UK Top Ten. Saunderson spent much of 1988-89 producing, re-mixing and recording in Great Britain.

The success of these three American techno founders was short lived, as the drug explosion that had accompanied the British Club scene forced the music to become more frantic and up-tempo. Many of America's techno songs had been based around a 100-120 BPM and the new native hardcore or rave-pop groups pushed the beats to well above 140 BPM.

[1]Ultimate Band List, 'Juan Atkins  - Biography', [Online] http://www.ubl.com/ubl_artist.asp?artistid=75048&p_id=P++++52874 [1999, August 28]

[2] Savage, 1993

[3] Savage, 1993

[4]Ultimate Band List, 'Derrick May  - Biography', [Online] http://www.ubl.com/ubl_artist.asp?artistid=77368&p_id=P+++200033 [1999, August 28]