Detroit — For Juan Atkins, music has never been just a hobby, it was his calling.
The 53-year-old is among a group of Detroiters regarded as the architects of techno, a music genre that’s gained a following across the country and internationally since it first emerged in the 1980s.
On Tuesday, Atkins, along with Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, a trio coined “The Belleville Three,” were honored by Detroit’s City Council for their contributions to the city’s music culture. The friends, who were classmates at Belleville High School, are considered the godfathers of techno and earned the praise as Detroit gears up for this weekend’s annual Movement Electronic Music Festival.
“It was never really a hobby for me. I always knew from an early age that I wanted to be a rock star,” Atkins told The News. “My father bought me an electric guitar when I was 10 years old. But even then, he was watching. He knew I had an affinity for music.”
The council presented testimonial resolutions and Spirit of Detroit Awards to the trio, and honored other techno music innovators, DJs and producers, including Eddie Fowlkes and Carl Craig, John Collins, Kelli Hand and Jeff Mills. The panel also recognized the Movement festival, its organizer, Paxahau Events, as well as Underground Resistance and the Submerge Techno Museum.
The city began hosting the techno music festival, now called “Movement,” in 2000. The Memorial Day Weekend festivities at Hart Plaza feature multiple stages and more than 100 music artists. The three-day event, which runs from Saturday through Monday, draws crowds of more than 100,000 annually, officials said.
“We never envisioned that this thing would snowball into what it is right now,” Atkins added. “You experiment with things and hope for a certain result. But the results turned out 10 times better than we’d ever imagined.”
Detroit Councilman Scott Benson presented the awards on Tuesday, noting that the annual festival is a direct result of the techno pioneers in the city. The event brings an infusion of about $15 million into Detroit and the region annually over the three-day weekend, he said.
“I would like to pay honor and pay tribute to those who helped found this genre,” Benson said. “Most of the music is seen in dance clubs and around the world. The fact that it was established here in Detroit needs to be reflected here and identified as well as just celebrated.”
Atkins, Saunderson and May, along with Craig, Fowlkes and Mills were also showcased in the Detroit Historical Society’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Detroit’s Legends Plaza opened in 2012, showcasing the handprints and signatures of nearly two dozen Detroit icons.
Saunderson added Tuesday that he’s honored to be part of the legacy and history.
“I envisioned the world would dance to our music. All cultures, all races, I believe this music is meant for everybody,” Saunderson said. “It’s what we do. It’s how we live. We inspired the world.”