Blog: Dan Sicko

Detroit is proudly pegged on world maps as the motherland of techno. Lest we forget, author and Organic, Inc. Creative Director Dan Sicko has released a new edition of his book, Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk. This week Dan writes about sound waves and why he kept his feet planted in the Motor City.

Post 2: Dig Deeper

One thing I've learned in my years in marketing is that even the most complex story can be simplified. I tend to resist that notion when it comes to talking about Detroit. And doubly so when it's techno music.

When I first set out to write Techno Rebels at the end of 1996, it was right at the onset of the big marketing push known as "electronica", another genre haphazardly thrown out into the ether. It might have made it easier to divide up record bins, but it made techno's story even harder to tell. There would be no "elevator pitch." My favorite bit of irony is that Derrick May is credited with a literal techno elevator pitch, "It's like George Clinton and Kraftwerk stuck in an elevator." Aside from interesting music, I like to think the German group would also make instruments out of Clinton's hair extensions.

I chose to tell the story of techno in Detroit—a much easier task than "defining" it. Since doing so, I've pretty much abandoned the notion of music genres altogether. Once you've committed to tracing the roots of a culture, you know that there are no real boundaries, only little flashes of brilliance and concentrations of attention. The moment you cling to one definition or aspect, the more anomalies and exceptions will emerge. Presenting the complexity was a real, yet amazingly rewarding challenge.

For starters, techno is a product of Detroit's black middle class. This brings up two issues. One, the mere concept of a black middle class has been a difficult one to grasp in the U.S., and it leeches some of the "urban" allure. It places the culture a few levels above the idea of "street music", certainly a very different story than that of hip-hop.

From there, if you can fathom the notion of a black bohemia and marry that with a love of New Wave and synth-pop music of the 1980s, we can start talking about the culture that spawned Detroit techno. This particular starting point is what informed Chapter 2 of my book, and I spent an inordinate amount of time researching and obsessing over it. I think it was because it predated my involvement in the scene by five years or so. It was that much more mysterious and intriguing.

Working through the nuances of its music has made me that much more defensive of Detroit as a city and its portrayals in the media. It's far easier to be awestruck over the "ruins" of Detroit, or if you're lucky, perhaps the farmland or grasslands that have reclaimed the city. But until we were graced by the excellent Detroit Blog or until Time, Inc. embedded itself last fall, it has been far too easy to plug the city into predictable patterns.

I say to anyone ever writing, speaking, or visiting, and especially to those of us still here who try to explain what it's like: Resist that we can be defined by consecutive images of Bob Seger, Martha Reeves, and Kid Rock. Resist that we are only defined by our sports teams. Resist the notion that we can be summed up so easily. Otherwise, there's no excuse when we are so easily dismissed.

Take a page from any one of Detroit's disproportionally talented DJs: Dig deeper. Play the B-side.