Techno, known as EDM, which is short for electronic dance music, is a genre of music that has a large presence in the Northwest Arkansas community. Through the various EDM festivals that take place nearby such as Backwoods, Wakaan, Hillberry, and more, many NWA residents are EDM lovers and appreciators. But what many are unaware of, is that Techno was born in the 1980s on the streets of Detroit by members of the African American community. Producers Jennifer Washington and David Grandison set out to document and share the true history of this musical genre that has affected and produced many of the songs we listen to today.
As shown in the Arkansas Cinema Society’s Filmland, the featured film God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines, EDM lovers as well as any music appreciator can explore the roots of techno music through the showcasing of lost recording engineers and techno experts that share their narratives in the EDM story. “God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines is the story behind one of Detroit’s great contributions to world culture: Techno, the electronic music phenomenon created by Black artists in the 1980s that transformed dance music internationally and blossomed into the multi-billion-dollar industry of EDM today,” said producer Jennifer Washington.
This film documents their effort to teleport the audience into this magical moment in time, “a time before Techno became a faux European construct,” said Washington. As she began to enter a stage in her life where Washington was looking to find herself and her next career move, the pieces that would lead her to the making of the film fell into her lap. On an excursion with a friend back in her hometown of Detroit, she was led to a Techno exhibit that showcased photographs, newspapers, books, old drum machines, and records that were a collection of historical artifacts that provided proof that Techno started in Detroit.
On the tour of this exhibit Washington learned that in 1983, young Black DJ/Producer Juan Atkins and his friends produced songs such as “Cosmic Cars” “Technicolor”, and “No UFOs” which became featured in mixed as unnamed songs, which were then spread from there. In fact, Atkins coined the term “Techno”, and once it reached European grounds, it began to influence bands as big as Kraftwerk- leaving Atkins far behind in the dust, unknown. Hearing the reality of Atkins’s career, it sparked something within Washington, in which she began traveling, learning, and searching to make this documentary possible so that others may know that it was the Black youth of Detroit that started this huge modern-day music industry of EDM.
Through sharing the truth of the history of Techno, Washington states how important this film is, “It is important that the God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines film is shared with the world to showcase the glory of and continue the legacy of the past, present, and future residents of Detroit and the African American community. The music and arts community around the world will benefit from this corrective origin story; Detroit history enthusiasts and musicophiles will have fresh material to pour over and add to history books; Detroit-based music businesses will continue to see an increase in their bottom lines while local and state government can attract new business; Detroit’s potential as a music tourist destination can finally be realized; Detroit’s youth can be empowered with this history, and members of Detroit’s aging and upcoming music community will have the opportunity to tell their own stories. All of these instances affect the city’s media image as a whole, increasing its viability and accessibility to music lovers and cinephiles across the globe.”
The God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines team is working with partners to enable secondary schools and universities to learn about Detroit’s musical history in an immersive way. They hope to work with Local Detroit institutions to preserve the film archives so that the city may be recognized as a music capital. Washington shared that in 2021, the team ran a Black History Month campaign to educate the public about Techno music’s true history and to share the city of Detroit and its rich African American music legacy.
The documentary premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival 2022, and screens during Filmland 5 at the Ron Robinson Theater in downtown Little Rock on November 6th.
(Featured image – “Techno Six” by Norman Anderson – appears courtesy of the filmmakers)