Until Missy Elliott purchased sampling rights to Cybotron's "Clear" for her "Lose Control" single in the summer of 2005, more people had heard of Juan Atkins than actually heard him. Over the past two decades, fans and music scholars have cast him in mythic proportions, reciting his achievements like oratory from an episode of Biography: godfather of techno, reclusive genius, and prime influence on modern dance music. All the legend appellations and awestruck catalogues of his recording career do little to introduce people to his music.
The fact is Juan Atkins is an underground artist on par with cult geniuses like Tom Verlaine and Rammellzee. Since forming Cybotron as a college student with Rick Davis in early Eighties Detroit, he never scored a genuine aboveground hit save for the classic jacking rhythm track "No UFOs," which he issued in 1985 under the guise Model 500. Most of his dozens of twelve-inch singles and albums even career-spanning compilations like Model 500's Classics and 20 Years Metroplex: 1985-2005 are issued in limited quantities on European labels and are extremely difficult to track down, even for committed collectors.
Atkins's songs can be found on any number of compilations and mix CDs, from Warp 10+3 (the "Influences" disc includes Model 500's "Off to Battle") to Four Tet's recent DJ-Kicks (which incorporates Model 500's "Psychosomatic"). With regard to his own releases, the most widely available are The Berlin Sessions and 20 Years Metroplex. The latter, a two-disc set, assiduously documents highlights such as "Clear" and "No UFOs" as well as sensuous singles like "The Flow" and "I Wanna Be There." The Berlin Sessions, a dense electronic workout filled with crushing beats made on the fly, is only his second full-length album and first since 1998's Deep Space.
Both The Berlin Sessions and 20 Years Metroplex were released last year on German imprint Tresor and are distributed in the States via Massachusetts company Forced Exposure. But you're more likely to find a copy of Ellen Allien's Thrills in your local DJ store.
Still, Atkins's totemic achievements inspire documentaries like High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music. A 2004 film directed by Gary Bredow, it will be shown at the Miami Beach Cinematheque on July 27 and is scheduled for a DVD release in September. It shows the baton passed from Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May, the "Belleville Three" (named after the high school they attended), who created Detroit's techno movement, to new-school producers like the Ghostly International clique (Matthew Dear, Tadd Mullinix). Atkins will spin at a PS 14 party the following night; both events are sponsored by Miami crew Pornograph. It should be a rare chance to hear music by the man himself instead of his legion of followers.
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