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The Belleville Three

Dance music is a hot place to be place right now. What began as an underground counter-culture has grown, over the last 25 years, into a sound that dominates not only global dancefloors, but international festivals and pop charts alike.

But it wasn’t always like this…

In this new series, in association with Miller Genuine Draft, we lay bare the dance music story, to show the raft of new ‘EDM’ fans where these sounds and ideas first came from.


Last month we were in Chicago, telling the story of how house music was born from the dying embers of the disco movement.

Yet in Detroit - 300 miles east of Frankie Knuckle’s fledgling Chicago scene - a new sound was developing. Influenced by the synth pop of Kraftwerk and the synthesised disco aesthetic popularised by Giorgio Moroder (see part one of this series), three school friends created a raw, futuristic form of electronic music, that we now known as techno.

The trio of Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson - commonly known as the Belleville Three (after the Detroit suburb where they grew up) - are credited as the originators of the sound.

They utilised analog synthesisers and popularised the Roland TR–909 drum machine - which 25 years on remains the instantly recognisable, beating heart of house and techno percussion. Yet the trio’s early sound was futuristic and quite unlike techno as it is now known.

In 1981, Juan Atkins (working as his Cybotron project with Rick Davis), released the Kraftwerk-inspired ‘Alleys Of Your Mind’; a reflection of the post-industrial landscape of the Motor City.

But it was after travelling to Chicago, and investigating the scene being created by Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles that the trio began to fuse this post-industrial futurism, with the four-to-the-floor music played at The Warehouse.

In 1985, recording as Model 500, Atkins released ‘No UFOs’; a perfect fusion of his early work and the house and disco influences from his visits to Chicago.

It was two years later that the trio had their breakthrough moment. They combined forces under the alias Rhythim is Rhythim to create ‘Strings of Life’ - a record that marked the beginning of a synergistic relationship between house and techno, which remains to this day.

After the success of ‘Strings of Life’, Saunderson went on to form Inner City, continuing the path out of Detroit towards the international pop charts with crossover hits including ‘Big Fun’ and ‘Good Life’ at the end of the ’80s.

It was tracks like this that crossed The Atlantic, sparking the UK acid house scene, which is where we pick up the baton next month.

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