By now, Detroit techno's first wave of artists from the '80s have accrued a mythical aura that almost matches that of the original Delta bluesmen. While Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson are worthy of respect and high praise by anyone who cares about electronic music, it may be useful to rub away some of the holy patina overly reverential critics and fans have applied to these producers/DJs in order to get a more clear-eyed analysis of their musical worth. Gary Bredow's High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music DVD (plexifilm) does not provide that sober critique.
Despite its quasi-hagiographical tone, High Tech Soul is an admirable documentary. Bredow attempts to delineate the sociopolitical context that catalyzed Detroit techno's germination and dissemination. To do so, he weaves talking-head interviews with various Detroit techno figures (including Richie Hawtin, Carl Craig, Matthew Dear), a music journalist (Dan Sicko, author of Techno Rebels), a scholar (Jerry Herron), a radio DJ (the influential Electrifying Mojo), a record-label boss (Ghostly International's Sam Valenti IV), with footage of the Motor City's 1967 riots and more current shots of Detroit's decrepit landscape. Bredow captures the hopeless poverty and crushing boredom that plague much of that poster metropolis for postindustrial bleakness. You can understand why Detroit's young people would seek escape in music. Out of this industrial wasteland, it's not surprising that urban youths would strive to create an alternative universe, a better future (no matter how illusory) through new sounds.
The irony of Detroit techno's African-American pioneers is that their inspiration came as much from European electronic artists (Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, etc.) as it did from American funk titans George Clinton and Sly Stone. Like nearly everything else in High Tech Soul, though, this point is only lightly explored. That's the main problem with the film: It's too short (64 minutes, with 17 more of extras that add little substance to the overall package) to do justice to its subject. The DVD could also benefit from more explication; we often see shots of the subjects playing or DJing with no indication of the date or place. Greater emphasis on context would be welcome.
While May, Atkins, and Saunderson receive the most attention, the music's second wave—including Jeff Mills, Rob Hood, and Mike Banks of Underground Resistance—get short shrift, as do the waves that follow them. At film's end, Bredow claims that Detroit continues to produce electronic music that's respected worldwide, but he doesn't provide much evidence to that effect.
Despite its flaws, High Tech Soul effectively conveys the personalities of many key Detroit techno figures. But just as Detroit techno is more celebrated by foreigners, it may take a non-American director to better serve these homegrown artists on film. DAVE SEGAL
More info: www.plexifilm.com/.
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 8
MARK FARINA, RAOUL BELMANS Belgium's Raoul Belmans (who's also in Swirl People with Dimitri Dewever) purveys song-based house music of considerable funkiness and depth. The last thing Belmans's tracks want to do to you is bring you down. Chicago-based Mark Farina ceaselessly spans the globe to spin the sweetest house records before thousands of people every year. His sets have just enough quirkiness in them to keep things from getting too reverent and stodgy. This time through Seattle, Farina's supporting his double-disc Sessions mix and he magnanimously decided not to include any dud tracks on it. With Pappa T, J-Sun & Kadeejah, and Manos & Ramiro. Neumo's, 925 E Pike St, 709-9442, 9 pm—2 am, $15 adv, 21+.
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 9
KRAKT Krakt resident Kristina Childs celebrates her birthday tonight with fellow Krakthead Paul Edwards and local party animal DJ Recess. If Krakt's past high-impact techno bacchanals are any indication, you will probably be late getting to church/mosque/synagogue the next morning—and many of your muscles will be sore. It's okay—all religion is a nefarious illusion, a historically oppressive force, a panacea for fools. Sleep late. Re-bar, 1114 Howell St, 233-9873, 10 pm—2 am, $5, 21+.
KEXP 'AUDIOASIS' Tonight's episode focuses on regional electronic music, with a segment featuring Decibel director Sean "Nordic Soul" Horton, who'll be playing the music of local artists booked for Decibel and discussing what happens at the festival. 90.3 FM, www.kexp.org, 6—9 pm.
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 10
JON MCMILLION Earlier this year, Seattle's Jon McMillion dropped a stunning debut 12-inch for local techno label Orac Records. The EP revealed an active mind teeming with unconventional ideas about what constitutes riveting techno. His texturally vivid, darkly whimsical tracks will take you on some of the wildest rides available in the underground scene. Knowing McMillion, he will likely unveil new strategies and methods by which to embroider techno's 4/4 rhythm and grind. Anyone interested in minimal dance music's avant-garde should check out what this cat is laying down. Wall of Sound, 315 E Pine St, 441-9880, 5 pm, free, all ages.