A cursory glance at the history of techno music suggests paradoxes. The product of an intersection of factors and influences resolutely local to a certain time in the urban American Midwest, it soon found a passionate audience halfway around the world, in West Berlin. Embedded in black, working and middle class experience, it became an expression of revolutionary hope and optimism. In Black to Techno, Jenn Nkiru explores the origins and impact of the radical musical movement that originated in Detroit in precisely this complexity.
Commissioned as part of the Frieze x Gucci ‘Second Summer of Love’ series, Nkiru likens the film’s spiky collage of intersecting narratives and conceptual frameworks, archival references and original imagery, to someone flipping between public access TV stations, or a VHS tape filled with traces of different recordings. With this diversity, Black to Techno’s excavates and explores the unique and total nature of the circumstances that birthed techno: touching on everything from Detroit’s heritage as the home of Fordist automation and the rhythm of the production line, to the influence of the Motown artists, and the city’s groundbreaking icon, Aretha Franklin. Equally alive to the deep history of the African-American Great Migration and to the particular emergence of specific acoustic technologies in the period (and the economic structures that governed access to them), the film offers not a simple origin story of techno but rather a ‘cosmic archaeology’, in the artist’s words.
The archaeology unearths many findings, but chief among them is an idea of techno as a model for the overcoming of alienation, the undoing of oppositions: between the individual and the means of production, body and tool, soul and machine. ‘Techno wasn’t designed to be a sound’, as DJ Jeff Mills once said, ‘It was designed to be a futurist statement’.
Jenn Nkiru’s Black to Techno screens alongside the first three films in the ‘Second Summer of Love’ series at Frieze Los Angeles in the Paramount Theater on Sunday, February 17th at 3:30—6:00pm
Listen to Jenn Nkiru in conversation about Black to Techno with Frieze’s Matthew McLean on the Gucci Podcast: on.gucci.com/_Gucci_Podcast
For more, head to Gucci.com
Main image: Jenn Nkiru, Black to Techno, 2019. Film still. Courtesy: the artist