VBPS Distinguished Graduate


Juan Atkins


Detroit Techno pioneer Juan Atkins was born on December 9, 1962 in Detroit. He grew up on the east side of the city before moving to Belleville, Michigan in his teens. Atkins developed an interest in playing music as a child, and eventually was led down the path of experimenting with electronic music. He absorbed influences from a diverse range of artists – particularly that of George Clinton and the electronic sounds of Germany’s Kraftwerk. Detroit radio DJs like the Electrifying Mojo were instrumental in bringing new sounds to listeners, and played music that inspired techno creators, and later played those creators’ pieces on air. 

 At Belleville High School, Atkins became friends with two young men who shared an interest in this new style of music – Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. The trio would later be referred to as the “Belleville Three” – credited with the rise of Detroit Techno. Before long, Atkins was making trips into Detroit to DJ parties as part of a collective he formed with May called Deep Space.  Juan continued his education at Washtenaw Community College. 

Atkins formed the group Cybotron with Rick Davis in 1980, and produced music inspired by their shared interest in futurism. Their most notable hit was “Clear,” which made its way onto top charts around the U.S. The two parted ways in 1985, and Atkins began making music under the name Model 500, and soon started his own record label – Metroplex. 

 Techno’s appeal expanded overseas in the late 1980s, and continued to grow until the music had solidified as a Detroit staple. Atkins’s mark on the genre is everlasting, and as the first of the “Belleville Three” to begin DJing, he is often seen as the father of Detroit Techno. The genre became known as “techno” as a result of one of his songs – “Techno City,” appearing on a British compilation record.