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January 1, 2007

"Roots of Techno" Conference a Success!

The conference “Roots of Techno: Black DJs and the Detroit Scene” occurred on October 21, 2006 in Willkie Auditorium, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.  Sponsored by the Archives of African Amercan Music and Culture (AAAMC) and conceived and moderated by IU doctoral student Denise Dalphond, “Roots of Techno” featured as panelists eight prominent and influential Detroit techno and house DJs, as well as two co-curators of a 2003-04 exhibit on Detroit techno music at the Detroit Historical Museum.  The purpose of this conference was to fill an archival and scholarly void in research on Detroit techno and on electronic dance music in general, and the three panels provided ample opportunity for exploration of the roots and contemporary expressions of these genres in African American culture—in the words of the DJs and genre pioneers themselves.  Some of the panelists at the conference were innovators of Detroit techno when the genre first began to take hold in Detroit in the late 1970s; these DJs are still actively performing today.  Other panelists began DJing and producing techno and house music characteristic of the Detroit style in the late 1980s and 1990s, and continue to do so, successfully. 

In the first panel, Catherine Klingman and Sulaiman Mausi, co-curators from a museum exhibit on Detroit techno, titled “Techno: Detroit’s Gift to the World,” discussed the research, preparation, and planning of the exhibit which was mounted at the Detroit Historical Museum from January 2003 – August 2004.   They also shared an eight-minute film from the exhibit which included many interviews with major techno DJs and producers, as well as with fans of the music.  The second and third panels of the day, entitled “Roots of Techno: DJs Explore the History and Present State of Detroit Techno,” featured roundtable discussions among six influential DJs/producers and one former DJ who is currently a label manager for Underground Resistance. Theo Parrish, Rick Wilhite, Marcellus “Malik” Pittman, DJ Minx, Terrence Parker, Mike Clark,  and Cornelius Harris (for UR) engaged in fascinating discussions of their own personal histories with DJing in Detroit and with the ongoing development of techno and house in Detroit.  Some spoke frankly about issues of race and ethnicity, making strong connections to musical appropriation; panelists and audience members also discussed the important issue of women’s roles as DJs in techno and house.  The DJs expressed their views on technology and DJ equipment, promoting the use of vinyl records over other performance formats.  Theo, Rick, Marcellus, and DJ Minx stepped up to the turntables during the third panel and demonstrated their own personal performance styles as well as some basic DJing techniques.

This conference has had a tremendous impact on initial collection development efforts by the AAAMC, as well as on Denise’s ongoing doctoral research on Detroit techno.  Positive feedback from participants has been pouring in, and the AAAMC has seen a jump in techno-related research inquiries. Extending beyond the local impact, the conference was also an important experience for the DJs and other participants from Detroit.  The panelists have expressed excitement about continuing to build connections between IU and Detroit and staying involved as plans for depositing materials and future interview and oral history collection develop further. The AAAMC also intends to use the planning protocol developed with the “Roots of Techno” conference as a template for future conferences on various genres of Black secular and sacred music.  It is our hope that this conference will also encourage research and scholarly writings on techno, which will serve as another tool for the broader study of African American and American history and culture. 

“Roots of Techno” proceedings were videotaped and are now available for research purposes; contact us at 812-855-8457 or via email to schedule a visit to view these and other techno-related materials at the AAAMC.  The main conference website will remain online here.

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Archives of African American Music and Culture
Indiana University
2805 E. Tenth St., Suite 180-181
Bloomington, IN 47408-4662
Phone: (812) 855-8547
Fax: (812) 856-0333

Last updated: 4 May, 2011

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