There’s no city in the history of dance music that’s been mythologized quite like Detroit. And, if today’s offering is any indication, there’s no city in dance music history that’s been as documented as Detroit as well. But hey, that’s all good by us. With new compilations like the one jointly curated by Jimmy Edgar and Derrick May called We Love Detroit about to be released, and Richie Hawtin’s new educational tour, CNTRL: Beyond EDM, afoot, we figured the time was nigh to ply you with some of the D’s greatest hits: the 10—count ‘em, 10!—best documentaries about Detroit techno ever—and they’re all available to watch right here for free.
10. Detroit Techno & The Electronic Music Festival
Over the last 12 years, Detroit’s electronic music fest (sometimes called DEMF, now officially Movement) has undergone countless organizers, production companies, major sponsors, and official names. This three-part documentary looks back at the festival from its shaky beginnings to its more solid foundation a decade later.
9. Techno City
The rather unknown Techno City was produced in 2001, and new-school legends like Carl Craig, Stacey Pullen, and Kenny Larkin lead a good portion of this tour, which culminates in the second Detroit Electronic Music Festival.
8. High Tech Soul
This one mixes the musical with the social, looking at the history of Detroit as a breeding ground for underground music, and featuring all sorts of lesser-known but equally important names in the scene, like classic club The Music Institute’s promoter, George Baker.
7. Current TV’s Underground Resistance episode
“I’m nothing in comparison to the music.” That’s “Mad Mike” Banks’ take on Underground Resistance, the label and collective he founded in the early ’90s to subvert the dominant major-label record industry and spread the gospel of real underground Detroit techno. This documentary made by Current TV examines the UR story from front to back.
Modulations extends far beyond the scope of Detroit, but while it traces dance music’s broader roots, it’s still got awesome footage from Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Eddie Fowlkes, and tons more.
5. Universal Techno
The French-produced 1996 doc Universal Techno is an awesome hour-long piece which really takes its time with all of techno’s main players. Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Jeff Mills, UR, and all the main players are well represented, but this film goes a step further, talking with folks like Autechre about how Detroit’s impact has spread overseas and throughout the world.
4. Belle Isle Tech
The super-lo-fi Belle Isle Tech, made by skate photographer extraordinaire Ari Marcopoulos, is a real slice-of-life kind of flick, which follows ghetto-tech kings DJ Assault and Mr. De’ around Detroit for a few days—from their very humble-seeming home studio to a nighttime party cruise on the city’s infamous Belle Isle.
3. Slices—Pioneers of Electronic Music: Richie Hawtin
While he spent most of his techno-formative years across the river in Windsor, Ontario, it’s impossible to talk about Detroit techno’s legacy without mentioning Richie Hawtin. Hawtin’s impact on the scene is long established, and he’s often credited with spreading techno throughout Canada and the midwest with his infamous parties. This documentary was made after he made the jump to Berlin, and it’s a thorough look back at his time in Detroit and how he transitioned to Europe in the 2000s.
2. Detroit: Blueprint for Techno
Speaking of Canada, they do a helluva job crafting this documentary, Detroit: Blueprint for Techno, which was produced by cable channel MuchMusic a number of years back. For only 25 minutes in length, it goes super-in-depth, with footage from all the usual suspects plus Rolando, Terrence Parker, and more.
1. Real Scenes: Detroit
One of the slickest-looking docs on Detroit techno, Real Scenes: Detroit, produced by Resident Advisor and Bench, takes the long view on the topic, but manages to hew more to the current side of Detroit’s regeneration and growth rather than its bygone history and post-industrial decay. A winner, any way you look at it.
While you’re at it, why not check out the 10 best house music documentaries, too?