What are the Best Second Wave Detroit Techno Tracks?

What are the best second wave Detroit techno tracks? And what is the second wave of Detroit techno? With music by Richie Hawtin, K-Hand, Jeff Mills, Robert Hood, and Drexciya, Ireland’s Hybrasil walks us through the best second wave Detroit techno and its history.

6 min
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Mar 8, 2022
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Origins of the sound of Detroit

To write about the first and second wave of Detroit techno is to speak of a golden age in electronic music, one of intense innovation and creativity.

Following in the footsteps of first wave pioneers Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Eddie Fowlkes and Richard Davis (3070 & co-founder of Cybotron), artists such as Jeff Mills, Mike Banks, Richie Hawtin, Kelli Hand, Robert Hood, Drexciya, Octave One, Carl Craig and Claude Young would unleash the Second Wave of records and labels that would define ‘90s Detroit techno and shape the future of techno music for the next 3 decades.

Among the many fascinating things about Detroit artists is their self-sufficiency and creative vision. They created their own labels, distribution companies, and publishing companies. They ran parties and built their own ecosystems where their creative message could be broadcast to the world without compromise.

First wave Detroit artists created their own record labels as a vehicle for their futuristic vision of electronic music. Juan Atkins founded Metroplex, Kevin Saunderson founded KMS and Derrick May founded Transmat. On these labels we would hear the first releases from Blake Baxter (KMS) and The Suburban Knight (Transmat) in 1987. Second wave artists followed suit.

Octave one by Marie Staggat

Second wave Detroit techno

Jeff Mills and Mike Banks founded Detroit institution Underground Resistance, and together they built the artist roster and label ideology. Mike Banks’ influence and skill as a musician is evident throughout the label’s discography: “X-101” (Banks, Mills & Hood), “Galaxy 2 Galaxy,” “The Martian (Red Planet),” The Hostile, Drexciya, DJ Rolando, Scan 7.

Jeff Mills left the UR collective in 1991, moving to New York to focus on his solo and DJ career. Mills launched Axis Records in 1992 mainly as a vehicle for his own work: Jeff Mills, Millsart, X-103 (Mills & Hood). He signed Robert Hood and released his groundbreaking album Minimal Nation in 1994, which would become the blueprint for minimal techno. Axis also served as a platform for various creative projects such as ‘The Exhibitionist’ and his first orchestra collaboration ‘Blue Potential’ (2005).

Richie Hawtin launched Plus 8 Records with John Acquaviva in 1990 with Cybersonik (Hawtin, Aquaviva, Bell).

Plus 8 signed records from Kenny Larkin, Daniel Bell (DBX) and Speedy J (NL). Hawtin would also release a string of popular records under aliases such as F.U.S.E, Circuit Breaker and of course Plastikman.

Octave One founded 430 West in 1990 after their debut on Transmat. The Burden Brothers built 430 West as an outlet for their own productions (Octave One, Random Noise Generation, Metro D, Never on Sunday). Later they would also release records from Terrence Parker, Jay Denham and built a sub label ‘Direct Beat’ signing music from Aux 88, Optic Nerve and Rich Lee.

Carl Craig launched Planet E, signing some truly incredible music from Quadrant, Piece and Naomi Daniel who released under the sub label ‘I Ner Zon Sounds’. Craig also released a number of standout records under his Paperclip People alias.

Rick Wade founded Harmonie Park, which is where Mike Huckaby released his timeless classic “Luv Time.” Kelli Hand (K. Hand) founded Acacia Records and Claude Young founded Utensil Recordings, signing the Live in Detroit series from Terrence Dixon.

For over three decades the world has looked to Detroit for inspiration and guidance. Detroit electronic music is deeply rooted in skilled musicianship and a myriad of influences from Parliament Funkadelic, soul and the man-machine creations of Kraftwerk.

The Motor City has given us some incredible records and it’s the people of Detroit that make it truly unique and impossible to replicate, but there are lessons for anyone who wants to create underground electronic music. We are fortunate to have this era of music as a guiding light and a reminder that we are all standing on the shoulders of giants.

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