From pretty much the very beginning, techno was a genre centered around radical change. The genre was birthed from groups of people of color—people whose very existences are often politicized by oppressive public policies—and quickly became a voice for the underrepresented and unsatisfied. In the late 1980s in Detroit, a group of young black men donned black ski masks and started messing around with analog machinery, giving an activist's voice to the nascent genre under the name Underground Resistance.
Founded by Jeff Mills, "Mad" Mike Banks, and later Robert Hood, the Motor City group's aesthetic was—and still is—fueled by abrasive soundscapes that hint at an anger towards the status quo. Their debut 1991 album Revolution For Change took their ethos to an even more literal and radical level. Song titles like "Elimination," "Riot," and "Code of Honor" hinted at their thirst for a greater voice and a way to combat the Reagan-era of economic inequality in urban areas.
In 2017, techno is more often associated with deep v-neck t-shirts and sprawling festival stages than it is activism. But given the current state of the United States—including the rise of a President who's set on enacting policies hostile to the groups techno first emerged from—we could use the genre's early political leanings as much now as we ever did. In recent months, we've seen the troubling rise of with far-right affiliated sub-genres, governmental crackdowns on DIY venues shutting following horrific tragedies, racist travel bans curbing international DJ appearances, and a whole lot more upsetting trends, to say the very least.
Still, many remain faithful that to dance music can have to evoke change and foster a sense of community that no single megalomaniac can disrupt. In techno's birthplace of Detroit at this year's Movement Festival, we pulled a few people out of the crowd to ask ravers how they view the political nature of the genre, as well as how they think the age of Trump will affect the communal power of dance.
Grayson (left), Detroit, Michigan
Grayson: Definitely. Techno started from a place of gays and people of color, it was a safe space for them. Obviously its developed into something more widespread with all sorts of kind of people but it definitely started in a place like that.
Do you think Trump's administration and values will have a negative effect on the freedom people look for in the techno scene?
No, I don't think it could reach that. I don't see a way [Trump] could affect that.
How do you think the techno community can combat Trump's ideologies?
It's just a place of acceptance. A lot of people come here [to Movement] to feel welcomed so its quite different from the administration where people are put out because of where they belong and how they identify. I just think [the techno scene] is more of a safe space where people feel comfortable with who you are. It's quite the opposite of our administration.
Danielle and Holly, Detroit, Michigan
Danielle: Rebellious? For sure. We're dancing to the beat. It's a different crowd here. Any controversial person who is opinionated and so stuck in there ways isn't going to get it and that's what's nice when you come here. You feel like everyone can kind of get it and get along. It's nice to feel like you're accepted amongst a group of people instead of worrying about being judged. It's rebelling in the best way possible. Music is healing, you find your energy. I met [Holly] through this shit and now she's my best friend. I showed up by myself to a party and got in line with her one day and now we're here together.
With what's going with Trump have you seen any changes here at the festival?
Danielle: It's very different this year. I feel like with the border next door everything's on hardcore lockdown, there's a lot of underlying things going on that people aren't understanding. People are so set in having a good time here that they're kind of losing track with what's going on in the world so that's nice.
Holly: You can live more in the moment.
Danielle: Yeah but not really, you still need to know what's going on. Everything around here can be a cover up to not think about what's going on in the world.
What can ravers to do fight the power?
Danielle: Love and being together. Uniting. Don't judge people. The festival brings a lot of people together from around the country and world and that's nice because Detroit is the home of techno. People come here to Detroit, the most broken down city in the country, with some of the most broken down people. Detroit has such a bad rep so when people can come here and feel comfortable in a city that they feel that they can't be seen is, that's a great feeling.
Dillon, Dearborn, Michigan
What political connotations do you see in house and techno music?
Dylan: To me house music carries a lot of love and passion. I know it's not a "kid" thing for the DJs, it's very full of soul and wholehearted to them. The energy they're putting out in their music flows through me dancing, and that carries onto others. There's no negative energy to house or techno, it's all about just creativity and love and I don't really think much negative shit can come out of that unless its the person behind it on the ground perceiving it that way.
Do you worry that Trump can negatively affect that type of energy you're talking about?
Since there's so much love carried throughout this awesome genre of music if that was somehow portrayed to Trump's whole administration maybe there's a hint that he could see the love and passion behind this and why it's like that. Maybe it could reflect on him. His views are so unconstructive from what i'm used to doing, so I can't imagine if he even knows what house music is. I'm sure if we brought Trump here to Movement for the weekend and he stuck with me, I'm sure he'd have a great fucking time and would have nothing but good things to say.
As somebody who goes to raves what do you think you and others can do to rebel against Trump's values?
Staying true to yourself. You either love or hate Trump. You can be my best friend and like Trump and I have nothing against you. But don't follow into what Trump's pushing out. That's what he's trying to do, he's trying to get everyone on that bandwagon. So if everyone who's passionate about this scene and loves it stays true to themselves and expresses that natural love and energy, then I have no doubt in my mind it would carry on to everybody else. Energy does flow no matter who you are. You can be Satan and good energy is going to hit you and you're going to be like 'what the fuck?' this is beautiful.
Brenna, San Diego, California
Do you think techno still can be political?
Brenna: I think as a genre and just in the way [techno] is built and even still now, it has this anticonformist nature. It is what it is and this is how I bring it to you and it's going to be dark and it going to be sinful. I feel like even though techno still evolves it's never changed from being what it was in the past, which is why Movement is so great. Even from some of the lyrics they put in it's all about heavy hitting love and soul. Be who you are and whoever you are is beautiful. That's what I love about techno.
Do think Trump's presidency will negatively affect nightlife?
Unfortunately I think it's going to affect all kinda of freedoms. Some of the best things about techno is that it is underground and not really always out to the public. Some of the raves in warehouses are slightly illegal sometimes. I think [Trump's presidency] will affect how freely and how legally we're allowed to party, but people in techno are rebels. They're here for it. However we have to make sure that still happens I think we'll be able to to.
Are there any specific things techno fans can do to help expand on that?
Never stop fighting, resisting, and believing in what's real and what you love. Never conform. Trump might be the president of the United States but he's not my president. I still fight for myself because i'm black and anyone else who doesn't feel equal, as well as anyone who does feel equal. Keep fighting.
Ariel and Chris, Phoenix, Arizona
Do you think techno is political?
Ariel: I've never thought of it that way but after hearing your question I guess I can see it because it's a form obviously self expression but also a predominately genre-based feeling. It can bring a lot of people together who want a form of free expression and who don't want a president who's going to make them not be able to have that.
Chris: I think it's more about general well being an enjoying yourself. Techno can definitely have political aspects but you'd don't feel like anyone who goes to techno shows is trying to force political reasons on you. If techno happens to wade your political affiliations so be it but you kind of want to separate your fun from other things.
Separation of party and state, right. Have you seen Trump's presidency so far have an affect on nightlife?
Chris: No. I feel like it's something [Trump] can't dictate too much. If you have to start drinking at 2AM you can still go to random house parties and still go till the early morning and just have fun. You just have to know the right people.
Ariel: No I think nightlife will always live on no matter who the president is. People are going to find a way to fucking party and live their life, it doesn't matter. Unless [Trump] makes some crazy laws I think there'll always be a way to have those house parties and underground shows.