Belleville Three: black music's influence on techno music

As every musical genre blossoming in the 80s, techno music is no exception to the afro-american cultural heritage influence: the Belleville Three, a trio of high school friends composed of Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May. From a little suburb in the Detroit area, they shaped forever what today is commonly referred as techno music.


Belleville Three: Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May

In the mid 80s, America was still divided in two by racial inequalities: big cities were already providing welfare such as well-paid jobs for Afro-American citizens, but socially, as described by Kevin Saunderson himself, it was “pretty racial at the time”.


“Y’all could count the number of black children in Belleville High School on one hand without even using it all” said Derrick May in an interview for RedBull. This, together with passion for music, brought together the three people who will eventually become the godfathers of Techno music: even if Berlin is accounted as the unofficial Techno’s capital city, the real roots of the sound as we know it today are buried into the ground of a little town 30 miles away from Detroit, Michigan. The racial discrimination they were forced to face in this little suburb gelled them together: they spent endless hours listening to music together, working on their sounds.

Through trial and error, they shaped their sounds following the post-industrial mood that was deeply connected to the industrial manufacturing nature of the city of Detroit itself: this, together with inspiration from both icons such as Prince and more niche artists as Kraftwerk. “Prince was a role-model for all of us: everyone wanted to be like him” Juan Atkins said when asked about artists he looked up to “but we never wanted to emulate, we felt inspired by it, but we wanted to do our thing”. This can be considered as a crucial turning point in the development of the industry, or better, it could be seen as the real starting point of our beloved techno music. Fun fact: Derrick May in an interview described the birth of their unique sound as “complete mistake...like George Clinton and Kraftwerk caught in an elevator, with only a sequencer to keep them company”. Nowadays, when we think about the electronic music world, we often underestimate the influence the black music, which is more easily associated with other musical genres such as Hip-Hop. Well, think again: The Belleville Three, through collaboration with other Afro-American excellences such as DJ Charles “ The Electrifying Mojo” Johnson, Ron Hardy and the late Frankie “The Godfather of House Music” Knuckles, paved the way for the sounds that made people dance for decades: when looking at the collective legacy and heritage of electronic music as a whole, it is essential the work of these torchbearers of Afro-American excellence in outlining the countless subgenres that stemmed from their productions.


Get a taste of the Belleville Three through this legendary mix: one hour and half of pure Detroit firepower!



Recall Team