Much of the basis behind the current state of DJing and electronic dance music came from the first generations of raves. Raves began as an underground movement, where a group of like-minded people would get together and dance to all types of electronic music. They created a magical environment where people could dance for hours.
Rave was founded on groundbreaking electronica and innovative DJs, but the scene encompassed more than just that. Laser lights, fashion and open-minded attitudes helped to build and spread the scene. It was only natural that a movement so magical would grow to epic proportions.
The late 80s/90s were a golden era for DJs, and the rave scene helped electronic music emerge, grow, and hit the mainstream market. Let’s discover together some pioneers of the scene, who brought color – literally – to our lives and ways of rewind:
We’ve highlighted 10 top-notch spinners who put real thought into rocking asses on the dance floor. Here are our picks for the best black EDM DJs ever.
The man many call the godfather of house, Frankie Knuckles began DJing in New York in the early ’70s while still a teenager, years before the disco boom which proved to be the first flowering of modern dance music. Ten years later he was in Chicago, putting together megamixes of old disco hits with new drum-machine percussion for appreciative audiences at crucial clubs like the Warehouse and the Power Plant. Another decade on from those first formative steps for house music, Knuckles was back in his New York home, working as a producer and remixer for the biggest pop stars in the business. Inducted to the Dance Music Hall of Fame two years after its establishment, Knuckles was active until his 2014 death. Without him, dance music would be immeasurably different.
This music industry legend, trailblazer, and currently one of the hottest DJ’s and producers on the underground electronic music scene…Green Velvet… came into existence more than 25 years ago. In 1993 Green Velvet launched Relief Records and since that time has been a constant presence in the industry. When this very eccentric, green Mohawk wearing Green Velvet emerged, he sent shock waves throughout the House and Techno music scenes.
Jeff Mills, along with Robert Hood, Carl Craig, and Joey Beltram, is one of the biggest American names in techno. Championed for his music’s relentless pursuit of hardness and his intense, almost industrial DJ sets (often utilizing three or four turntables or CD decks and a drum machine), Mills is one of the most significant figures in a long line of Detroit-bred talent to earn an international reputation. A founding member of noted Motor City institution Underground Resistance, Mills helped build the artist roster and label ideology during the late ’80s and early ’90s. He then moved to New York and eventually to Chicago to pursue his solo and DJ career more vigorously. A living legend.
Often regarded as the creator of minimal techno, Detroit native Robert Hood makes stripped-down tracks with an emphasis on soul and experimentation over flash and popularity. The producer was an early member, along with Mills and Mike Banks, of the Underground Resistance label, whose influential releases throughout the first half of the ’90s helped change the face of modern Detroit techno and sparked a creative renaissance. Initially producing solo material under pseudonyms such as the Vision, Hood began using his own name for releases such as 1994’s genre-defining Minimal Nation and the more melodic, downtempo Nighttime World, Vol. 1 in 1995. Hood’s disco-influenced house tracks appeared under the name Floorplan, while more abstract, minimal material made up his output as Monobox.
Dancefloor experimentalist and top Detroit techno producer Carl Craig has few equals in terms of the artistry, influence, and diversity of his recordings. Incorporating influences such as soul, jazz, new wave, industrial, and Krautrock, his work has encompassed sublime ambient techno, breakbeat tracks which anticipated drum’n’bass (1992’s “Bug in the Bassbin,” as Innerzone Orchestra), extended house epics, modular synth experiments, and much more. He’s responsible for seminal techno singles like 1994’s “Throw” and 1995’s “The Climax” (both as Paperclip People) and classic albums like 1995’s Landcruising and 1997’s More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art, in addition to hundreds of remixes for artists ranging from techno and house luminaries Maurizio and Theo Parrish to alternative stars Tori Amos and Depeche Mode.
At the dawn of the 1980s, Juan Atkins began recording what stands as perhaps the most influential body of work in the field of techno. Exploring his vision of a futuristic music which welded the more cosmic side of Parliament funk with rigid computer synth pop embodied by Kraftwerk and the techno-futurist possibilities described by sociologist Alvin Toffler (author of The Third Wave and Future Shock), Atkins blurred his name behind aliases such as Cybotron, Model 500, and Infiniti — all, except for Cybotron, comprised solely of himself — to release many classics of sublime Detroit techno.
May recorded the techno tracks which top dance producers point to as the most original and influential. The classic Derrick May sound is a clever balance between streamlined percussion-heavy cascades of sound with string samples and a warmth gained from time spent in Chicago, enraptured by the grooves of essential DJs like Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles.
Platinum-selling recording artist, label boss, festival promoter, true innovator in the pantheon of popular music, cultural champion, cracking DJ: there’s a lot to be said about Kevin Saunderson. His influence runs deep, through both adopted hometown of Detroit, and music culture as a whole: as one of the Belleville Three, the high school trio which also includes Juan Atkins and Derrick May, he irreparably changed the face of electronic music; with Inner City, he gave it some of its most memorable tunes.
DJ Stingray (sometimes billed as Stingray313) is Sherard Ingram, founder of Urban Tribe and associate of mythical Detroit electro duo Drexciya. As both a DJ and producer, Ingram is a master of light-speed, futuristic electro, preferring fast tempos and inventive beat patterns to more accessible, club-friendly rhythms. However, he takes issue with the term “electro,” and the way people tend to use the word to classify electronic dance music that isn’t in standard 4/4 time, instead preferring to describe what he does as techno. Stingray’s musical career stretches back to the ’80s.
Kenny Dixon, Jr.’s outspoken views on underground dance music and an early aversion to publicity put him in a league occupied by few Detroit producers other than Underground Resistance supremo “Mad” Mike Banks. Despite the low-key manner in which Dixon has released most of his material — ideally suited as work credited to Moodymann as it swings from raw and mechanical to refined and elegant — he gradually became as valued a producer as Banks or any other Motor City dance music figure post-Cybotron. The essential A Silent Introduction, released in 1997, collects the best tracks from his early 12″ single releases. Later, more jazz-influenced releases such as Black Mahogani (2004) incorporated more live instrumentation and guest vocalists than his previous works, which were more dancefloor-oriented.