Techno and house are widely regarded as distinct musical genres these days, but in the beginning, there was more overlap than anyone might realize. While Detroit artists eventually developed their own style, the Belleville Three (Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson) have always acknowledged Chicago’s influence and the fruitful musical dialogue between these two Midwestern cities. (According to DJ History’s Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, the genre-defining 1988 compilation Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit on UK’s 10 Records was originally going to be titled The House Sound of Detroit.)
Chicago and Detroit’s dance scenes had much in common in the early ’80s. After the decline of disco, competing DJs and promoters in both regions held preppie parties where African-American teens danced to New Wave and synth-pop imports. The two cities, some four hours apart by car, both enjoyed late night radio personalities experimenting with freeform formats on traditionally R&B-focused stations. At the same time, DJs at gay clubs reached a crossover audience of straight youths intrigued by innovations such as beat-matching and remixing.
Almost overnight, house music became a lucrative business opportunity, and Detroit artists took notice.