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Places to Go, Things to Hear

by admin on November 26, 2012

From the run-down inner city of Detroit to the gang infested streets of Compton, “place” can be heard everywhere in music. How does this work?  One might think of music as creating meaningful senses of “place” out of empty, abstract “spaces.”  It is here that “Techno” and “Gangsta Rap” exhibit distinct differences. The common link between these two is the fact that they both are of African American origin but that is where the similarity ends.

Techno finds its origins in the Motor City of Detroit—or should I say former Motor City.  Detroit was an economic powerhouse until the early 70’s when riots and a gas crisis damaged the automotive industry. Thereafter Detroit declined; the buildings stayed but the people left. All that was left was a relic, a cold empty city devoid of “place.”  Out of the desolation came a new type of musician, the Techno DJ, who produced a new kind of music that no one had ever heard before. “The music was bumping,” says a woman in Hi Tech Soul, documentary on techno’s origin. African Americans of Detroit wanted to make a new kind of dance music that mixed aspects of gospel, blues, and whatever else you had with a hard-driving beat and synthesized sounds. This conglomeration evolved into “Detroit Techno.” Many people in Detroit feel a personal connection to this music; even the phrase “Detroit Techno” evokes the strong sense of place it carries for the people. With the advent of techno the decrepit city came alive; the city gained a voice, and that voice said, “we’re still alive now let’s kick it,” or so I imagine. Ironically techno first achieved massive popularity in the UK not America—where people were more apprehensive of the new futuristic movement. After blowing up the charts in the UK techno returned home to a warmer reception, and it was then that Detroit became identified with its creation. It was mechanical, but also futuristic—as if envisioned to bring a sense of optimism to a dying place. Without techno Detroit was only space, but techno gave the space meaning: it made it a place, inside our hearts and heads.

Meanwhile in California, in a town called Compton, Gangsta Rap was taking off. Gangsta Rap rose from the troubled streets of Compton as a way for the locals to speak out and let the world know what was happening. There was a strange dichotomy between the ideas present in Gangsta rap: it supposed to be about keeping it “real” and showing allegiance to the “hood,” and yet in the end they wanted fame and money to get out. Their harsh lyrics set the mood for the city: this was a rough and tough place. Gangsta Rap was perhaps an easier sell in America because rap contained the resonant lyrics that techno lacked.

One of the biggest contrasts between the originators of Techno and Gangsta Rap was the people themselves. Juan Atkins was described to be the “quiet type”; the music was spiritual to him. On the other hand, the rappers of groups such as N.W.A. were boisterous and angry. Another contrast is the political aspect, first-wave techno pioneer Blake Baxter said, “You don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. But somehow we’ll get there.” This philosophy seems to pervade techno; it’s the experience not the ends. Gangsta rap, on the other hand, was more goal-oriented: it was all about trying to get out of the hood and make a name for yourself. These differences helped to define these places. For Detroit, techno was a surging beat that revitalized a city. It wasn’t so much about creating place as it was restoring it to a space that had lost its place. For rappers in Compton it was about making this “place” known and making it clear that they wanted out. While both of these ideas contrast they are still “place-making” movements that shaped the musical world.

by Erik Rubino

Emily Mercer November 28, 2012 at 1:41 pm

I think your article definitely ties in well with the course while still having an original quality to it. You mention that the techno music that came out of Detroit had a futuristic/optimistic vibe to it for many African Americans. I found that very interesting and similar to the afrofuturism music that came about just a little before techno. If anything could make this paper better, I’d say it would be a smaller topic. The comparison of gangsta rap and techno could be quite an extensive, and I found myself not quite finished learning about the subject by the end of the article.

Danusha Chenchik November 26, 2012 at 9:35 pm

I thought it was cool that you compared and contrasted gangsta rap and techno, two genres that most people would never associate with the one another, although they do sounds pretty good put together. I would disagree with your statement that with techno “it’s the experience not the ends”, every kind of musician out there wants to become famous and rich, there is most likely the same percentage of people in every genre who are making music simply for the reason of getting famous. I definitely agree with your statement though about gangsta rap being easier to sell in America than techno. I’ve never truly understood why, but Americans just seem to love lyrics in songs.

Allie Jacobius November 26, 2012 at 8:11 pm

I really enjoyed this article. I felt that you did a great job tying in topics from our Music and Environment course. I enjoyed learning more about the differences between techno and gangsta-rap. It was a very intriguing article. You used a lot of great descriptions and had a lot of thorough examples. Good work.

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