Earlier this month I had the pleasure of seeing a rough-cut preview of the new documentary, “God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines,” a history of Detroit techno and the birth of the billion-dollar electronic dance music industry. While Chicago has always gotten credit for house music (the aural equivalent of house dressing at restaurants), and Detroit is known for its Motown and contributions to classic rock, few people know of the black DJs and artists that spawned progressive/techno/EDM. If this is your genre, then this documentary is a must see!
Scheduled for release sometime this summer, God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines is the brainchild of director Kristian Hill, who bemoans the fact that “…the stars of this film are considered gods overseas, but fail to get the same recognition here at home. They’re the ‘hidden figures’ of the $7.1 billion-dollar industry of Electronic Dance Music… most people nowadays have no idea that Techno has Detroit origins or that black people have anything to do with [it].” But they will if Hill has anything to say about it.
The film brought back great memories for me. Although I was pursuing the wedding reception market back in the ‘80s, I regularly would run into the DJs highlighted in the film: Juan Atkins, Eddie Fowlkes, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, and Mike Huckaby, who lends the title to the film. Now an instructor at YouthVille, a program he designed to teach music production to aspiring inner-city DJs between the ages of 11 to 19, he appears in the film recounting a dream in which he’s talking to God. Complaining of the crushing unemployment and lack of opportunity, he asks God what he’s supposed to do about it. God’s answer: “Give ‘em drum machines.”
I would often see Mike spinning tunes at my main source for music, Record Time in Eastpointe, and later, Roseville, Michigan. They had a special vinyl room in the back where all the best underground dance tracks could be found. He would recommend tracks that I could drop into my wedding set to blow my audience’s collective mind. He was never off the mark. At the time, I was also working with a company called Burst, Inc., which supplied the massive speakers and amplifiers for rave parties that were the main showcase for techno during the ‘80s and early ‘90s. I got to see these guys first-hand and knew that they were onto something special. One performance I remember well was by this skinny white kid from Canada who went by the name “Ritchie Rich.” He even played the theme from the cartoon show of the same name during his set. Of course, you might know him better as Ritchie Hawtin. Unlike Ritchie, unfortunately, the accolades (and the money) have evaded the others, for the most part. This film may at least rectify the former.
I also used to pick up records at a store in Detroit called Buy-Rite music. This is where I would run into Blake Baxter and Kevin Saunderson, who were surprised to see the fat, pimply white kid asking for hot techno tracks. Saunderson is the man behind perhaps the best-known Detroit techno group, Inner City, and sold me my vinyl copies of “Big Fun” and “Good Life.” To Kevin and Hill, these tracks were the high water mark of the genre. According to Wikipedia, Inner City topped the US Billboard dance chart five times with nine top 40 hits to their credit on the UK singles chart. Other hits include “Do You Love What You Feel” and “Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin'”. And yes, I own those, too.
Back to the screening, there was a great panel discussion at the end, where director Hill explained that what we saw was the first of a three-part documentary, and his need for funds is to finish the remaining two. After a lot of reminiscing, the audience was treated to a great set by Kevin, who let everyone know that he still had chops and they’re as sharp as ever!
If you’re a DJ spinning EDM, Drum & Bass, Dubstep, Progressive Dance, Techno or whatever label it’s going by these days, then you owe it to yourself to see this movie and understand how it all happened… and IS happening. Visit http://godsaidgiveemdrummachines.com/and keep an eye open for a screening in your area. Until next time, do it like they do in the D!