The influence Germany played in Detroit’s early techno music is by now well-documented, with many in the scene attributing legendary Detroit radio personality the Electrifying Mojo breaking Kraftwerk as the start of it all. Now Detroit’s role in shaping the resulting new genre of music created by this cultural exchange is the subject of a new book of digital offset prints put together by artist Sandra Leidecker, a student at Bauhaus University, Weimar.
“When you grew up in East Germany in the ’80s and ’90s, you never got in touch with black music culture, funk or soul,” Leidecker explains via Skype. Her first taste of techno came later in life, from watching hordes of people heading to the now-defunct electronic music festival Love Parade, which used to be held in Berlin.
“That festival was totally crazy, girls wearing fancy dresses or only underwear and tights, that kind of stuff,” Leidecker says. “This is what techno meant to me. It had nothing to do with what I found out later. And I didn’t like it.”
Leidecker says it wasn’t until she arrived at Bauhaus and started dating a DJ that she began to learn about techno and its Detroit roots. “He told me the more soulful part of electronic music,” Leidecker says. “That was a totally new world for me.”
She latched onto the story of Detroit and its techno scene and submitted it as the subject of her thesis. Then she began the process of researching the music — starting by interviewing European DJs her boyfriend knew and, eventually, Detroit DJs, producers and anyone else who would talk with her.
To underscore the human element of early Detroit techno, Leidecker’s prints are hand-drawn, then computer-manipulated, using a warm palette of brown, red and blue, with imagery focusing on the people who are part of the scene: figures like Carl Craig, Chez Damier and Mike Huckaby, for example. But even Leidecker’s prints of inanimate objects, such as abandoned warehouses or instruments like the DJR400, show warmth and personality too.
Fortunately, the musical connection between Detroit and Germany is still strong, and Leidecker has been able to catch a few Detroit DJs and other local figures when they come over. She recently caught up with Alan Oldham, aka DJ T-1000, in Berlin for an art show (Oldham was responsible for designing the artwork for techno album Nude Photo by Rhythim Is Rhythim and the logo for the label KMS). She was geeked to show Oldham the book and get his feedback.
The title for her book, “Geektown,” was borrowed from The Scene, a low-budget dance show that was Detroit’s answer to Soul Train and is now legendary for having played seminal techno singles alongside typical disco and funk. “The TV presenter said to his crowd something like, ‘We’re going to turn Motown into Geektown,’” Leidecker says. “I got to know this term and I found it really funny and somehow it fits.”
She pauses. “I wasn’t sure if people feel offended by that term, ‘geek,’” Leidecker admits, laughing. “I’m not speaking English as my mother tongue so I don’t know the exact meaning of the word.”
The young artist recently held her final thesis presentation, finding a small gallery to host an exhibition of her prints, a book reading and a night of DJs. “My professor came there to hear my speech and then I got my degree there,” she says. “And afterward we partied till 3 a.m.”
For more information about the project, see geektowndetroit.com.