With the Movement Festival right around the corner—a homecoming for Detroit electronic music if there ever was one—now seems as good a time as any to have a peek through the annals of Motown’s techno and house legacy. Of course, it’s impossible to assemble a definitive list of the top 40 Detroit tracks of all time, so we took a different tack: here’s what we consider essential, all nicely packaged together as downloadable charts or individual tracks.
Today we feature Part 1, in which we dip into some techno standards from artists like Jeff Mills, Richie Hawtin, and Carl Craig, and touch on some newer classics from Matthew Dear, Osborne, Terrence Parker, and more. Download today’s 20 tracks here and here.
An instantly recognizable 909 kick and the most famous four-note phrase in techno make this one Jeff Mills’ definitive cut.
A track so huge it has its own gravitational field. All Detroit has to do is produce one track this good every decade to remain the techno capital of the universe.
Richie Hawtin’s seminal tune is a roller-coaster drumroll that became the marching cadence for an army of ’90s ravers.
Known as “the first techno record,” 1981’s “Shari Vari” brought Italo-disco to Detroit, where it would remain until being re-exported a decade later.
Subjected to scores of remixes (and one LCD Soundsystem cover), this C2 original is still the ultimate floor-builder—all 15 minutes of it.
Carl Craig takes one of Theo Parrish’s grittiest grooves and turns it into cosmic space dust on this remix that perfectly displays the yin-yang of Detroit’s rugged-futuristic vibe.
This slab of perfectly crafted synth-heavy techno by Swedish producer Aril Brikha counts as a Detroit classic, not just because it was originally released on Transmat, but because the city’s booty DJs pitched it up to 45 RPM and have been rocking it on the radio ever since.
Detroit funnyman Kenny Larkin pulls Kevin Saunderson’s hit into a taut rubber band of techno funk. We’d wait forever for that kick drum.
The stumbling broken beat of the Recloose original got an unexpected showing on EU after-party dancefloors thanks to the talent of Swiss-Chilean producer Luciano.
This banger by the power trio of John Acquaviva, Dan Bell, and Richie “Rich” Hawtin thrust Detroit’s second wave of techno onto the hard-stomping floor of Europe’s ‘90s rave explosion.
Matthew Dear’s beefiest musical alias slipped this bouncing tsunami into a million minimal techno DJs’ crates.
A 1999 exercise in looping that predicted Traktor by a decade, “Minus/Orange” flipped Yello’s “Oh Yeah” into a frenzied banger in four different versions.
An unsung hero in Detroit, Osborne is one of the guiding seers behind Ghostly International, able to turn out crisp, minimal acid tunes like this at a moment’s notice.
A case study in tension and release, the enigmatic Kenny Dixon Jr. teased this sleazy Bob James sample into one of Detroit’s most playful records.
Introduced to the world via UR sub-label Soul City, this grimy rumpshaker was a Motown pole-dancing hit, even though its creator was singing about an act still illegal in some less-enlightened states.
Gospel music might not play the most obvious role in most Detroit records, but TP achieved total revival magic on his tribute to God and DJ legend Ken Collier.
Techno essentially stripped house, disco, and electro down to its most basic parts, but Dan Bell’s classic remains the benchmark for minimalism that makes you move.
From the rave to the radio, strip club to the sandwich shop, DJ Godfather’s infectious ghetto-tech found its way into every crevice of Detroit thanks to its PG-13 rating.
Mistaken for electroclash, Adult.’s dispassionate vocals didn’t hide a true love for combining new wave’s iciness with electro’s heat.
Sexual double-entendres are nothing new in dance music, but Paris The Black Fu’s comparisons of copulation and sandwich-making had the whole world chuckling while bouncing along.