Born on September 12, 1962, in Detroit, MI; son of a concert promoter. Education: Attended Washtenaw Community College, Ypsilanti, MI. Addresses: Record company--Metroplex Records, 2030 Grand River Ave., Ste. 304, Detroit, MI 48226.

Juan Atkins was one of the creators of techno music, the source of the group of genres lumped under the umbrella category of electronica, and was the first person to apply the word "techno" to music. He found new ways of making sound, and in so doing he influenced nearly every genre of music in the 1980s and beyond. Yet his name is not well known beyond the world of electronic dance music. He might, in fact, be one of the most obscure of modern music's true pioneers.

Techno had its origins in Detroit, Michigan, where Atkins was born on September 12, 1962. As a child he lived on the city's northwest side. Techno is often associated in the minds of its fans with Detroit's often bleak landscape, scarred with the abandoned buildings that were relics of an industrial golden age. But techno's first stirrings took place 30 miles to the west in Belleville, Michigan, near an interstate highway leading to Detroit's center, but otherwise very much a small town partly surrounded by farmland. While attending junior high and high school in Belleville, Atkins met Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, who also became artists crucial to techno's development. The trio would later become known as the "Belleville Three."

Atkins's father was a concert promoter, and Atkins became interested in music at an early age. Especially compelling for him was Charles Johnson, a Detroit radio disc jockey called the Electrifying Mojo, one of the last "freeform" DJs who flourished on commercial radio in the United States. His shows mixed many genres and forms, but he focused on the 1970s funk of artists such as George Clinton, Parliament, and Funkadelic (which had some Detroit roots of its own). He was also one of just a few DJs who presented the pulsing, experimental electronic music of the German ensemble Kraftwerk on U.S. radio. "If you want the reason [techno] happened in Detroit," Atkins told the Village Voice, "you have to look at a DJ called Electrifying Mojo: he had five hours every night, with no format restrictions. It was on his show that I first heard Kraftwerk."

In the early 1980s Atkins worked toward combining Kraftwerk's electronics with funk's big beats and spacey atmospheres. He took up keyboards as a teenager and began experimenting with a mixing board and a cassette tape player. He enrolled at Washtenaw Community College, located near Belleville. There he learned the basics of electronic sound production from fellow student Rick Davis, a Vietnam War veteran who owned an array of innovative equipment, including one of the first sequencers (a device allowing the organization of electronic sound) released by the Roland Corporation. "He was very isolated," Atkins told the Village Voice. But the experience transformed Atkins's outlook.

"I was around when you had to get a bass player, a guitarist, a drummer to make records," he told the Village Voice. "I wanted to make electronic music but thought you had to be a computer programmer to do it. I found out it wasn't as complicated as I thought." Atkins teamed up with Davis (who called himself 3070) and, billing themselves as Cybotron, the two released the single "Alleys of Your Mind" in 1981. The name Cybotron reflected the duo's futuristic interests. "Alleys of Your Mind" did very well for a release by a pair of unknown community college students, selling some 15,000 copies in the Detroit area after the Electrifying Mojo aired it on his radio program.

In 1982 Cybotron released "Clear," whose cool electronic sound would mark it in the minds of many enthusiasts as a milestone in electronic music's evolution. "Clear" was almost wordless. Techno as a genre tended to use text only as a rhythmic element or adornment---when it used text at all. The following year they released "Techno City," which gave the new music a name; the term was anticipated and perhaps inspired by futurist Alvin Toffler's book The Third Wave (1980), which used the term "techno rebels." Atkins and Davis eventually went their separate ways, but by that time Atkins had taken other steps to popularize the new music he was in the process of creating. With May and Saunderson he formed a collective enterprise, Deep Space Soundworks, which launched the downtown Detroit club known as the Music Institute. The club inspired a new group of techno DJs, including Carl Craig and Richie Hawtin, also known as Plastikman.

Atkins continued to record in the middle and late 1980s, now using the name Model 500. His releases of this period, including "No UFO's" (1985) and the evocative "Night Drive," are considered techno classics. Spare and polished, they inspired a host of younger electronic musicians in Europe, where techno was more popular than in the United States. They were released on Atkins's Metroplex label (which he also used to nurture the careers of younger Detroit musicians), and some were collected in the 1990s on the Classics album released by Belgium's R&S label.

These recordings helped to define a new form of nightclub culture in the United States, and especially in England, where Atkins and Saunderson found their greatest popularity. Though techno music often had a fast beat, it wasn't the deep, intense pulsation of disco and the popular dance music that succeeded it; instead, Atkins's music had a mechanistic sheen that encouraged the pursuit of a blissful attitude rather than sheer sweaty sensuality. At all-night "raves," participants alternately revved themselves up with fast dance tracks and cooled down with slower, dreamier ones in different rooms of the same building. It was often Atkins who provided the soundtrack; he made the first of many European trips in 1988. The cool quality of Atkins's music was famously described by May and quoted in the Village Voice as "like George Clinton and Kraftwerk stuck in an elevator." It helped inspire the new genre of ambient techno, created at the hands of DJs who combined techno music with the intentionally featureless "ambient" sounds of musical experimenter Brian Eno.

The late 1980s were probably the high point of Atkins's fame, and in England he was invited to do remixes of hits by top acts such as the Style Council, the Tom Tom Club, and the Fine Young Cannibals. He cut back his activities in the early 1990s, although he released several recordings on which he billed himself as Infiniti. A series of European reissues of his earlier work again stimulated his creative juices, and he returned to the recording arena, now working in the more expansive album format. The 1995 Model 500 album Deep Space was really Atkins's album debut. He released new albums as Infiniti (Skynet, 1998, on Germany's Tresor label) and as Model 500 (Mind and Body, 1999, on Belgium's R&S).

Through all this, Atkins wasn't exactly a celebrity in his Detroit hometown. But the establishment of the Detroit Electronic Music Festival displayed the power of what Atkins had created, when a crowd of an estimated one million people turned out to hear Atkins's musical descendants make people dance, using nothing more than an array of electronic gear. Atkins himself performed at the festival in 2001, and that year he released the Legends, Vol. 1 album on the OM label. Scripps Howard News Service writer Richard Paton in the Cincinnati Post observed that the album "finds him not resting on past achievement, but still mixing pumping, well-crafted sets." Atkins continued to perform on both sides of the Atlantic, and the end of the year 2003 saw him appearing at London's hip nightclub, Lost.

by James M. Manheim

Juan Atkins's Career

As Cybotron, with Rick Davis, released debut single, "Alleys of Your Mind," 1981; with Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May, formed Deep Space Soundworks, 1981; opened Music Institute Club, Detroit, MI; as Cybotron, with Rick Davis, released "Clear," 1982; recorded as Model 500, 1985--; founded Metroplex label and recorded single "No UFO's," 1985; performed in England, 1988-89; produced remixes of recordings by the Fine Young Cannibals, the Tom Tom Club, the Style Council, and other British groups, late 1980s; produced reissues and new releases on R&S label, Belgium, late 1990s; recorded as Infiniti, 1991--; as Infiniti, released Skynet album on Tresor label, Germany, 1998; as Model 500, released Mind and Body album, R&S, 1999; released Legends: Vol. 1, on OM label, 2001; performed at Lost nightclub, London, England, 2003.

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