Juan Atkins is an American musician widely credited as the originator of techno music, sometimes known as Detroit Techno since Atkins and techno co-creators Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson grew up near Detroit, Michigan. The three, sometimes called the Belleville Three, attended high school together in Belleville, Michigan. At age sixteen, Atkins heard electronic music for the first time and in late-1990s interviews; he recalls the sound of synthesizers as being like “UFOs landing.” He bought his first analogue synthesizer, a Korg MS10, and began recording with cassette decks and a mixer for overdubs. He subsequently taught Derrick May to mix, and the pair started doing DJ sets together as Deep Space.
They took their long mixes to Mojo, who began to play them on his show in 1981. Atkins, May, and Saunderson would continue to collaborate as Deep Space Soundworks, even starting a club in downtown Detroit for local DJs to spin and collaborate. At Washtenaw Community College, Atkins met Rick Davis, with whom he recorded under the name Cybotron. Atkins coined the term techno to describe their music, taking as one inspiration the works of futurist and author Alvin Toffler, from whom he borrowed the terms “Cybotron” and “Metroplex.” Atkins has cited the radio show of Charles “Electrifyin’ Mojo” Johnson as a musical influence. Electrifyin’ Mojo, a Detroit DJ, played an eclectic mix of music including Kraftwerk, Parliament and Prince.
Atkins and May created mix tracks for Electrifying Mojo to broadcast, then began to create original music. Atkins has used the term techno to describe earlier bands that made heavy use of synthesizers such as Kraftwerk, although many people would consider Kraftwerk’s music and Juan’s early music in Cybotron as Electro. Techno is considered today as a specific genre. Atkins began recording as Model 500 in 1985 with tracks such as “No UFO’s,” “Night drive,” “Future,” and “Clear.” He continues to produce his own and other musicians’ records under the Metroplex Records label. Juan Atkins and Derrik May were also original members of Detroit’s Plus 8 Crew, with a handful of others including UR, they defined Detroit Techno and inspired future generations to follow suit.