At first inspection, it’s a missed connection — a dusty memory lost in amid the dereliction. But in the late '70s, during the dawn of FM radio in the area, a Detroit disc jockey known as the Electrifying Mojo (they just don’t name them like they used to) was building a connection between Dusseldorf and Detroit’s respective music scenes through the precise and calculated computer funk of Kraftwerk.
Electrifying Mojo’s Midnight Funk Association radio program was no stranger to breaking down racial borders in music, playing an eclectic blend that gave just as much attention to the Talking Heads as it did Prince and P-Funk. Listeners black and white paid attention in a city perpetually burdened by racial tensions.
With the inclusion of Kraftwerk tracks like Trans-Europe Express and We Are The Robots, Mojo was bringing a new sound to a budding pool of artists that would go on to define Detroit techno — Mad Mike Banks (Underground Resistance), Derrick May, Juan Atkins and many more. The deep grooves found in Kraftwerk’s music mirrored the minimal, functional and repetitive nature that early techno producers in Detroit were chasing.
“Mojo used to play [Kraftwerk] pretty regularly, but the first time I heard …Robots I just froze. My jaw dropped. It just sounded so new and fresh,” recalls Atkins while speaking to Electronic Beats back in November.
In support of 1981’s proto-techno record Computer World, Kraftwerk would embark on a rare multi-city tour of the US in support of their latest effort. Detroit made the list of destinations. Kraftwerk performed at a club known as Nitro (sadly no longer in existence) at a time when local radio was more than receptive to the German group’s sound and the techno pioneers littered about the city were beginning to get their legs. When speaking to the Detroit Free Pass back in 1998, Ralf Hutter recounted a crowd reaction that was “very strong, very dynamic.”
“We always predicted this electronic music would be the next step,” Hutter told the paper. “This Detroit techno music, especially, we felt an affinity for.” A few years down the road, in clubs throughout Germany and Europe, the sound of Detroit techno would be hard to escape.
As we approach Movement Electronic Music Festival 2013 with an expanded line up that hosts both the roots of electronic music like Derrick May and fresh-faced newcomers like Big Gigantic and Gramatik, it’s easy to forget Kraftwerk’s influence on a group of kids in a Midwest rust-belt city. But without Kraftwerk’s digital funk, there wouldn’t be much of a festival to throw each year on the edge of the Detroit River.