Electronic music is back where it started - in Detroit


DETROIT -- Plenty of people recognize the names of the Motown legends who got their start here: Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations.  Electronic music was born here, too, but the names of its pioneering Detroiters are far less recognizable: Juan Atkins? Kevin Saunderson? Ectomorph?

"I've never heard of them until now," said Jennifer Avile, 15. "But the music is cool. It's really powerful. It just gets inside of you and you can have a good time."  Avile and her friends from Washtenaw County's Pittsfield Township were like many others at the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival on Saturday. They have heard the booming beats and sampled sounds of techno music, but they never realized Detroit was where it all began.

"Detroit is like the promised land for a lot of people for electronic music," said Carl Craig, the festival's artistic director and president of Planet E Records. "Detroit's been kept alive by music from Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins and Underground Resistance."

The scene this weekend at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit featured a diverse mix of people -- from middle-age parents toting toddlers to teenagers who appeared to be no strangers to the techno scene of dance clubs and all-night raves.  "There's going to be a lot of different types of people at this festival," said Carol Marvin, the festival's executive producer. "The most powerful thing I feel about the music is it breaks through all of society's barriers: race, gender, age, culture."

A pink-haired woman wearing black leather pants, men sporting khakis and polo shirts and teenagers with pierced body parts, baggy jeans and orange tennis shoes all melded to listen to the music.  Some sat and listened while others showed off fancy footwork, bobbing their heads and swinging their arms to the beats emanating from 10-foot-tall walls of speakers.

Electronic music's fast beats and synthesized samples took European clubs by storm in the 1980s, but the music remains mostly unknown in the United States.  "I wouldn't hear it anywhere else, but I like it," said Maria Romanowski, 44, of Warren, who brought her 17-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son. "The kids are into it, and this is a good opportunity to experience it. I don't want them to go somewhere where it's not safe, and this is a place where the whole family can go."

Marvin said the festival is an inviting way to introduce people to electronic music. When they hear it, they'll enjoy it, she said.  "It's the same music they use at sporting events to get the crowd excited," she said. "It has all that passion, and they're going to recognize that, and I think everyone will feel comfortable."

Promoters hope the festival gives electronic music fans an opportunity to see some of their favorite artists and allows newcomers to experience the music and its culture.   They are billing it as the largest free techno festival in the world, with about 70 musicians scheduled to perform on four stages.

Craig booked a smorgasbord of electronic music styles, including house, booty and jazz. Detroit techno pioneers such as May, Saunderson and Atkins, often called the originator of techno, are scheduled to perform, along with artists from around the world.  "This is the first time this kind of event is happening in America," Marvin said. "It's revolutionary in music because this is the birthplace of electronic dance music, and Detroit is revered globally for its achievement."