"White Brothers With No Soul" – Un Tuning the Historiography of Berlin Techno

As Berlin's burgeoning electronic music scene becomes ever-more a point of international focus, with numerous books and articles being written on its clubs, music, and parties every year, the politics of these structures often get neglected. Within the CTM 2015 festival theme “Un Tune,” the dissonances as well as consonances of these stories are being explored: both inclusion and exclusion play out in systems of sonic affect such as the dancefloor. Building on his extensive work on race, music, technology, and critical theory, CTM discourse programme co-curator Annie Goh interviewed Professor Alexander G. Weheliye on the racial politics of Berlin techno, and how its story being narrated.

This interview took place via Skype in December 2014, and is published in an abridged form in the CTM 2015 Magazine. The magazine is available for purchase via Motto Distribution.

 

Annie Goh: Thanks for taking the time for this interview Alex. In the recent spate of books such as Felix Denk and Sven von Thülen's Klang der Familie, the story of the birth of Berlin Techno is told following the fall of the wall in 1989. This narrative tells of the jubilance of a reunified Germany, the masses of empty spaces, huge social change and upheaval, and the heady parties and clubs what emerged out of this. Denk and Von Thülen narrate this as an 'oral history', with interviews with various protagonists - DJs, promoters, club-owners, party goers, and the like. This is quite typical of the way this period is usually described - both as a story of German reunification and of the birth of Berlin Techno, an upheaval of previous hierarchies and radical openness within the arena of the dancefloor. How does this version of history compare to your own version?

Alexander Weheliye: First of all, I wouldn't say it is just my version of history. It is also the version of history that others like myself, non-white Germans have experienced. I see the narrativization of the reunification and the birth of Berlin Techno and the Berlin republic as part of a much longer tradition of thinking about Germany and German-ness. Throughout the post-WWII period, Germany had to reconstruct itself in many different ways and imagine itself as untainted by its Nazi past. One way it did that was by performing a kind of multi-cultural openness, however, only as long as that multiculturalism was located outside of Germany. That is one part of the larger discursive structure.

The reunification is typically imagined in mainstream histories as a seamless blending together of East and West, which leaves out the virulent racism and violence during this period, especially against non-white bodies. Although called xenophobia rather than racism, it didn't matter whether they were German or not so long as they were not white. Thus, it seems very limited to imagine the history of Berlin Techno only as this coming together of what I refer to in my talks as "the white brothers with no soul", particularly since the Pogroms are still largely omitted from the German and international collective memory of the reunification period.

The other thing for me, at a basic experiential level that really made me take notice, was that these histories are not only recounting the emergence of Berlin Techno per se, but are also constructing a very particular story about musical cultures in West Berlin during the 1980s before the advent of Techno. What generally gets left out are the not very elaborate but nevertheless very present Black music cultures in GI discos and other clubs that played Black music in West Berlin before the fall of the wall. In these narratives, there is definitely a move to disassociate Berlin Techno from Black musical influences. I'm not simply saying "this is the appropriation of Black music" but instead asking "what different histories of Berlin Techno and of Germany would we get if we actually opened this up a little bit and looked at other dance music cultures and other forms of clubbing." For me, it isn't an either-or question, but a matter of highlighting that there existed other forms of clubbing and musical cultures, which are once again being written out of history. This ensures that Berlin Techno, Germany and German-ness are continually being imagined as white.

AG: At your recent presentations (“White Brothers With No Soul": Wie der Berliner Techno weiß wurde" at Berlin Music Days (BerMuDa), Nov 2013 and “Soundtrack  ohne Soul? Germanozentrismus und Techno-Historiographie” at Techno Studies, UdK Berlin, Dec 2014), you showed slides of the racist attacks against asylum homes (such as Rostock and Hoyerswerda) juxtaposed with a jubilant image of the first Love Parade. These days, for example the recent celebrations around 25 years of the fall of the wall in Berlin, things like that obviously get ignored. 

AW: Yes, once again there is a tendency to only look at these racist attacks as weird exceptions and as mere violent by-products of the reunification. As I have written in other places, the mainstream political parties did not distance themselves from these pogroms. I recall at the time there were posters everywhere with the statement, "the boat is full", implying that Germany could not take in any more asylum seekers because the resources needed to go to the German people in the East.

These assaults also created an environment of danger for German people of colour like myself, given the real climate of discursive and physical violence in which we “other Germans” had to be excised from the body politic. This way Germany would be reunited without the presence of “troublesome” non-white others. Though the extreme violence was deemed “wrong”, the anger of the perpetrators was presented as a “reasonable” fear of the ‘foreign’ other. The attacks against people of colour were not confined to East Germany, even if West German politicians held only East German impoverished youths accountable for these racist attacks. This was how many I and other non-white Germans perceived the reunification period after the first few weeks of the party were over. (See Weheliye, Phonographies, Chapter 5).

Scene at Tresor 1992. Video still from the TV feature "Techno City Berlin – Ein Wochenende in der Berliner Technoszene" by Joachim Haput: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZtLbp0QBVQ

AG: In your talks, you showed a clip of Tanith from the documentary, “We Call It Techno” (2009) describing how techno parties differed from other discos, such as the GI clubs in West Berlin, saying, "We were white brothers with no soul". Can you explain why you found that comment, which was said in a fairly flippant and throwaway style, so significant?

AW: Tanith has semi-publicly argued that this comment has been taken of context. To me, though flippant and perhaps ironic, it also encapsulates a lot of the problems I see in the historiography and celebration of Berlin Techno. Tanith says, that there was house music – which was much more clearly Black because it was funky and had more soulful vocals – but that he and other white Berlin DJs wanted to go a harder route – one that didn't have anything to do with Blackness and Black music. It is clear that is what happened in the course of a few years, despite the fact that what would later become techno was initially brought to West Berlin within the context of clubs and radio shows that played Black music.

Originally there wasn't this separation between the “white brothers with no soul” and the “Black brothers and sisters with soul”. My argument is, that in order for Berlin Techno to be imagined as something specific to Berlin and to Germany, it had to separate itself from Blackness, whether imagined or real. German public and academic discourse denies the existence of race. The moment that people of colour bring up the question of race, they are put in the position of being too sensitive or of being racist themselves. So what I found significant about that clip is that Tanith's statement really puts the racial dimension of Berlin Techno out there in a way that is not common in Germany.

AG: Could you describe on the level of sounds the whiteness or becoming-white of Berlin Techno – which key characteristics of the musics and sounds of electronic dance music do you identify with this and where do you place these within a larger context? What was being accepted into the sonic language of techno and what was being excluded?

AW: I think the interesting thing is that initially it didn't happen so much sonically. There weren't that many techno productions from Berlin itself. A lot sounded much more housey, pop-like and soulful that one would think. It was only around 1992-ish that these kinds of Berlin productions emerged that had a lot less swing, a lot less funk, where it was much more about a steady, metronomic beat and a very stereotypically teutonic or Germanic sound. Take the playlist by DJ Rok featuring those tracks popular at Tresor in the early 1990s, which also appears in the “"Klang der Familie”" book. Many of the included tracks are by Black producers from Detroit and Chicago while several feature vocals, underscoring how fleeting the line between house and techno was then. Basic Channel/Maurizio, for instance, originally pressed their records in Detroit, because they wanted to be perceived as coming from Detroit or at least to be associated with it. Underground Resistance incorporated different kinds of sounds into the language of techno, harder and much more industrial, which appealed to people in Berlin. Furthermore, there existed also Belgian Techno, which was much harder, much faster, and much less about syncopation than the early Detroit Techno recordings.

The early 1990s veneration of Underground Resistance – who are, in contrast to earlier Detroit Techno producers, explicitly political and put themselves in a lineage of Black nationalism and Black freedom struggles, – in Berlin was based on their politicization of primarily instrumental music, and it also fed into a independent punk-rock ethos that was prevalent in the city at the time. The reception of UR in Berlin also suggested that Blackness and Black music were okay, so long as it didn't involve Black Germans; it took place under the auspices that Blackness was foreign to Germany. Nevertheless, of course UR was hugely important.

There was a tendency early on in Berlin as well as in Cologne and other places to say that techno might have been “invented” in Detroit but “we've made our own and no longer need to look to other places.” In the early 1990s, some involved in Berlin Techno even used a different spelling, ‘tekkno,’ to distinguish themselves from Detroit. The other thing that also happened is that the more melodic, feminine, queer and Black sounds associated with techno and electronic dance music went into the genre of eurodance, which is very clearly separated from Berlin Techno because the latter was an underground, independent, hardcore phenomenon.

In my talks I found it important to link these two things because they are so similar, perhaps not culturally similar, as eurodance numbers by Snap! or Real McCoy were produced for the pop charts and not necessarily for clubs, but nevertheless they used a lot of the same production techniques as the early techno productions. Originally there was a lot more overlap between techno, house, and eurodance. It was important to me, to bring these two strands together, as in eurodance you see a lot of Black German performers – it was acceptable and even necessary for the success of that genre and not in Berlin Techno, which distanced itself from Blackness. For instance, white Berlin producer, Olaf "‘O-Jay’" Jeglitza, hired Black Germans Patricia Peterson and Shampro to front his group, MC Sar & the Real McCoy, even though he himself had performed the male vocal parts on the records. That is, he perceived the performers' visual Blackness as transcending the ‘inauthenticity’ associated with his white German body performing in a Black musical genre.

I've experienced a lot of pushback from people on the continuum between eurodance and techno during the early 1990s, because it collapses the social capital associated with the distinction between the mainstream (eurodance/kirmestechno) and underground (Berlin Techno), but it is really about gendered, racialised, classed, and sexualised hierarchies of taste that allow the ‘white brothers with no soul’ to claim they are the only keepers of the true techno grail.

AG: So what changed around 1992 that brought about the transformation from more openness toward soulful, housey, funkier sounds, to the harder industrial sound?

AW: I think there was an effort to claim techno as something that was Berlin's own in that process, which was also part of a new German nationalism: a nationalism that could not be articulated before the reunification. However, there weren't statements along the lines of “we are white men from Berlin who are no longer influenced by Black music.” It was a pronunciation, not of “German-ness” as that was still taboo, but a “Lokalpatriotismus” - so a patriotism of Berlin as opposed to Germany. Nevertheless, this was not a “Lokalpatriotismus” that embraced the city’s multicultural communities given that its Germanness and white-ness remained unspoken. People in Berlin took very circuitous routes and invested a lot energy in fabricating what they perceived to be more German or European (i.e. less Black) versions of electronic dance music, as can be seen in this debate in Spex Magazine from 1991, which in retrospect seem natural.

AG: In Denk and von Thülen's book, the Detroit connection plays a big role. The story of Detroit Techno DJs and producers making hard industrial-sounding militant techno, but not finding the right audience until Dimitri Hegemann brought Underground Resistance over to Tresor, is a familiar one to most techno fans. When reading this story, it is easy to get the impression of a kind of well-functioning multiculturalism - Black DJs playing to largely white audiences. How do you read this part of Berlin's Techno history, which clearly acknowledges Black techno artists and their influence?

AW: Yes, of course, because Underground Resistance were so popular in Berlin, they absolve white Germans of having to think about the racial politics of Berlin Techno. UR were the exception to the rule and their reception in Berlin proceeded through a type of alternative exoticism such as Boney M. in the 1970s, who articulated this 'Fernweh’, a German produced and German-sounding group who at the same time embodied a desire for something exotic and far-away. UR were the underground version of that, they were from Detroit, and even though they were from a context of Black music, they conceived themselves in a similar way to people in Berlin. The underground ethos has not been a central part of Black popular music, which is usually very aspirational, so not about occupying dingy basements, but more typically embodying ‘the "good life’" in the form of financial success or designer clothes. UR did not take this path, which aided their popularity in Berlin. I see it as very convenient; because UR were so political, because they were unabashedly Black politically, it was an easy exception to the rule. Their sounds were much harder and much more confrontational, with track titles like Sonic Destroyer or The Riot EP. These have very particular meanings within Black freedom struggles, but that isn't necessarily how they were read and received in Berlin.

AG: How much was the success of UR in Berlin due to the absence of vocals or sparing use of vocals...

AW: The UR records that were successful in Berlin were not vocal recordings. The UR discography, however, is evenly split between, the tracky, industrial recordings on the one hand, and vocal, oftentimes Gospel-inspired house tracks on the other. For UR those things existed side-by-side and that wasn't a problem, but that wasn't necessarily what the folks in Berlin took their inspiration from. In Berlin, the popular UR releases (The Riot EP, Sonic Destroyer, Panic, and so on) emphasised the former at the expense of the latter, which were perceived as both ‘Blacker’ and more 'feminine.’

AG: So apart from the sounds of UR and how they influenced Berlin Techno, in your argument you want to draw attention to the other bits that get ignored...

AW: There were also early 1990s Berlin clubs that were hugely successful but didn't play techno per se. You had WMF, which primarily played house music, or 90 Grad, which played R&B and house but featured afterhours techno parties. Then you had Delicious Donuts, which featured what was then called acid or nu jazz. Jazzanova, the fairly well-known Berlin group with Black vocalists came out of that. A bit later, you had clubs like Toaster, which helped popularize Jungle in Berlin, a musical genre that can seen as the Black British reclamation of techno in aftermath of the genre's European whitewashing. These other currents were always there, but they are usually not integrated into the mainstream histories of Berlin Techno.

AG: Kraftwerk also play an interesting role in all of this – being not only explicitly named as an influence by the Detroit Techno pioneers, but also embodying futuristic and machinic themes which get heavily played out in Berlin Techno. Although they have a sort of 'neutral' identity, it is basically one that is white, male, and heterosexual as a kind of default subjectivity. This is also something which plays out heavily in contemporary Berlin Techno. How do Kraftwerk figure into this complex transatlantic web of musical influences?

AW: Anglo-American histories of electronic music lionize Kraftwerk’'s imagined heteromasculine and Germanic whiteness at the expense of the feminized/queered/black genres they drew inspiration from: Disco and R&B. While German histories of (Berlin) techno music do not glorify Kraftwerk as much, they establish Germanic whiteness by discounting the influence of the same genres (Disco, Italo, Hip-Hop, and R&B) and club spaces for the creation of Berlin as the techno capital of the world. For instance, inspired by the success of “Trans-Europe Express” on US black radio and in clubs, Kraftwerk hired Leanard ‘Colonel Disco’ Jackson, an African American mixing engineer, who had already worked with Rose Royce and Undisputed Truth and would later work with Dynasty and Lakeside to mix their 1978 album Die Mensch-Maschine. The point being that Kraftwerk would not be accorded such high relevance in the history of electronic dance music without their popularization by Africa Bambaataa, who sampled them, and the first generation of Detroit Techno producers, who frequently cited them as a major influence. Still, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May mention George Clinton’s use of sonic technologies just as frequently as Kraftwerk, but Clinton and the many other black musicians that made innovative use of these machines cannot inhabit the domain of technological mastery, and thus appear as individual masculine geniuses, because they are not white brothers, or fathers as in the case of Kraftwerk.

AG: You also mentioned the solidarity that some German activist groups showed with the Black Panther Party in the 1970s, but that this stood in contradiction to the lack of sympathy or support they showed for Black or Migrant rights in their locality. Can you talk about this a bit more and explain why you think this was so?

AW: There were different so-called “solidarity committees” for the Black Panthers, especially for Angela Davies who had lived in Germany in the 1960s, when she was imprisoned. You can also look at the history of the Red Army Faction (RAF), and how they thought of themselves as being colonial subjects. They saw themselves not only as in solidarity with the colonised cultures around the world, but also as waging an anti-colonial struggle against the German state. All those things were under the auspices of struggles taking place someplace else, since this white German solidarity did not apply to Black people or other ethnic groups in Germany, Turkish, Yugoslav, and Greek factory workers, for instance. Usually the solidarity was with those folks of colour not located in Germany, and thus didn't threaten the idea that German-ness equals whiteness.

Similarly, in the early 1990s there was a group of leftist artists and writers who were more open to popular culture and had a more Cultural Studies rather than a strict Marxist-Leninist approach ('Poplinke'). They created a group called the 'Wohlfahrtsausschüsse', who traveled throughout Eastern Germany and tried to articulate a standpoint against the new German nationalism in the wake of the racist attacks during the reunification period. They organized several conferences and also published an anthology called Etwas Besseres als die Nation (Something Better Than The Nation). What was really striking to me both then and in retrospect was, yes, that the group did include an extremely select few German people of colour, but overall what was missing from this debate were existing organisations by and for Germans of colour, for instance, African or Afro-German organisations such as Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland and ADEFRA e.V. - Schwarze Frauen in Deutschland, and other political organisations. This created a largely white German leftist discourse about the violence against non-white bodies, but the voices of Germans of colour were essentially excluded. Though this has changed a bit since, the tendency to speak about non-white Germans but not with them is still alive and well. This, in turn, reinforces the notion that non-whiteness must always be foreign in the German context; that there are no people of colour here or that they, with a few selected exceptions, are not capable of speaking for themselves.

AG: In several techno documentaries, Berlin Techno is portrayed as a very open and heterogeneous scene, in which all are welcome and usual prejudices are swept aside. Techno is often presented as politically 'progressive.' But the statistics brought out by female:pressure in 2013 (download here), show the gender bias of the techno scene, which can be extended to a racial bias too, as you have shown in your work. In your opinion, how does techno manage to keep up this profile of 'progressive-ness' in the face of such blatant exclusion?

AW: One of the reasons it is important to me to make these points, is that it is still really relevant to the way Germany conceives of itself. The discursive and institutional grounds, the conditions of possibility, are already there, forming a mirage of openness. International perceptions of Germany have really greatly changed in past years, now that being German is no longer so tainted by Nazism, as it was 20 years ago. At least partially, this is due to Germany having a self-understanding as being really open, which it is to a certain extent. On the other hand there is a deep-seated unwillingness to actually look at itself as a not-exclusively white nation, which is not only a problem of a few neo-Nazis or the Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) folks but also affects the white German liberal and leftists spheres. In fact, it seems much more pernicious in these contexts because of the systematic denial of everyday institutional racism.

The terms have changed slightly since the German colonial period but nevertheless it often has the same feel for me: there is a public discourse about being open and taking so and so many asylum seekers every year but there is a fundamental disconnect about the communities and folks who have lived here for generations and are still talked about as foreigners that can't be integrated because they refuse to comply with traditional, white, notions of German culture. This has been happening for the past fifty years at least. The situation is different for Russian and Polish Germans who have been integrated, but it hasn't happened for Afro-Germans, Asian-Germans, Arab-Germans, and Turkish Germans, i.e. those who are visibly different from white Germans.

The historiography of Berlin Techno really benefits from precisely the idea of Germany as a newly loosened-up bastion of Teutonic whiteness. I've described this elsewhere as how Germany has had to constantly create a kind of 'Unschuld' for itself, an innocence by distancing itself from responsibility for anything that is not related to the Jewish community, which is now conveniently not very present within Germany. And of course the Holocaust did not only affect the Jewish community. These are tendencies that arch through German history and historiography. Partially this is due to the fact that large-scale German colonialism 'only' lasted from the Berlin conference to the end of World War I, which means it is something that can be continually disavowed in order to not 'untune' the harmonic scaffolding of German collective memory.

My favourite example of this was a 2006 reality-show on a private TV channel called "Wie die Wilden - Deutsche im Busch"' which translates as “Like Savages – Germans in the Bush.” They sent white Germans to Togo and Namibia, both former German colonies, among other places, to peoples perceived to be “'uncivilized.”' I couldn't really believe this was happening in 2006. This was repeated in 2013 when another cable channel aired, "Wild Girls – Auf High Heels durch Afrika" (Wild Girls – Across Africa on High Heels), also set in the former German colony, Namibia, and which was aired around the time that debates about German recognition of the genocide against Herero and Nama peoples were being held publicly. I thought: how did this concept make it through all the different stages of TV production? Though some groups wrote protest letters, I was astounded both by how deep the White German disavowal of colonialism and its afterlives runs and that this actually went through the ranks without anyone saying 'maybe this isn't such a great idea?' (laughs).

Another contemporary example of this dis-remembering could be found during the 2014 World Cup, which represents one of the major ways Western Europe has symbolically performed racial diversity in recent years, the most prominent example being the French national team during the 2006 World Cup. The 2010 German world cup team was heralded as the embodiment of German multi-culturalism. In the 2014 World Cup there were six Afro-German players on the US national team. It took me a while to figure out, as they are not often called Black Germans in the German nor US press, underscoring the disavowal of non-white Germans both at home and abroad.

It later emerged that many of these Black Germans were not given the chances to play for the national team, so Jürgen Klinsman, the trainer for the US team, imported them to play for the American team. They could do so because they were Black and they had dual US/German citizenship, although most of these players had not lived in the US and some barely speak English. In addition, there wasn't much interest to have them play on the German team. In other words, these processes of externalization are quite subtle, since there isn't a sign saying 'we don't allow Black German players' or 'there's only room for one and the position has been filled by Jérôme Boateng' (laughs), but I think that to have folks who are very clearly German yet obviously not white make up half of its national soccer team this would threaten the self-understanding of Germany and how the world views Germany. Lukas Podolski is trotted out as an example of the good kind of integration, as he is a first generation Polish German, but through his white skin he is able to represent Germany in ways that players such as John Brooks or Fabian Johnson, who played on the 2014 US team, could not.

AG: What about the alternatives to the dominant history of techno? In your talks you mention a few examples of where this historiography might begin - GI discos in the West, breakdancing scenes in the DDR, and eurodance. Can you elaborate on these?

AW: Breakdancing is interesting. The East German government sponsored it because it was seen as anti-imperialist.

Over in West Berlin, the GI discos and other clubs that emulated these in their approach to playing Black music (Talk-of-the-Town, NCO-Club, Silverwings, Chic, Labelle, Silver Shadow) or clubs such as Chez Konrad, Sox, Cha Cha, Turbine Rosenheim that played R&B and hip-hop and that later introduced house music into the mix, were really central to clubbing in West Berlin during the 1980s. Yet the story that is usually told is that West Berlin in the 1980s was all industrial, rock, or Neue Deutsche Welle embodied by Einstürzende Neubauten and Nick Cave, or by David Bowie and Brian Eno who lived there in the late 1970s. It important to highlight that in many oral histories, people such as Wolle XDP, Kati Schwind, Jonzon, and Thomas Fehlmann who later became figureheads of Berlin Techno, describe their first encounter with music, DJing, and being moved by music, through the conduit of Black music. However, at some point they distance themselves from Black music.

Most histories of Berlin Techno begin with self-contained acid house parties and exclude how dance music was integrated into Berlin’s broader clubbing geography before these parties. My argument asks instead: what if we don't segregate these spheres from each other and not create such a clear moment of separation between house music, electrofunk, hip hop, and eurodance, on the one hand, and techno, on the other – and then, link this to the larger question of race and German reunification? They were all part of the same West Berlin world for quite some time. Thus, Black musics such as disco, funk, and R&B are acknowledged as ‘primitive’ resources to be transcended and elevated by white Germans into Berlin Techno.

As a result, Blackness must continually be located outside German culture so as to ensure the whiteness of Berlin Techno, and by extension, German-ness. Here, it is noteworthy to mention that there are no departments for Black Studies or similar programmes in German universities. Most Black Germans who work in this area teach abroad. While some German scholars of colour work in post-colonial studies, Asian-German studies, and Black-German studies, often they do so in non-permanent positions, at marginal institutions, or in activist-oriented fields outside the German university system.

AG: Apart from using music extensively in your scholarly work, from hip-hop, R&B, to its popular forms, you have also intricately linked it to technology more broadly, as well as to concepts of the human and post-human, and the non-human. Could you first elaborate on the relationship of race and technology in your work, and comment on the relationship to techno and Berlin Techno?

AW: Well clearly work on race and technology is a massive topic with at least a 500-year history, but I can try to give you the bullet-point version (laughs). If we take writing and literacy as a technology, one of the ways discourses around race have worked in the modern West, is that this has always been seen as a sign of civilisation. Black culture and non-Western cultures in general, which were oftentimes primarily oral cultures, were positioned as being ‘un-civilised’ as they could not ‘master’ technology. As I covered in my research into sound recording and sound reproduction in the 19th Century, Western ethnographers often described scenes of natives and Black people running away from record players in colonial contexts as they “perceived the sounds to be real,” because they “lacked proper civilized faculties.” This is something that still plays out today, where mainstream culture is shocked that Black people and other marginalized communities use and are at the forefront of engaging with mobile technologies or Twitter. I try to counter this in my work by showing how Black cultures have continually innovated modern technologies.

The other part is what we think of as technological. Some machines, if they have been around for a long time, are not considered technological or cutting edge anymore; they aren't hi-tech. So the Walkman and the boombox do not appear as technological in the same kind of way as iPhones or laptops. A lot of the innovation that Black culture has participated in around technology has been around sonic technologies. For instance, using the record player not only as a playback device but also using it as an instrument. Look at dub reggae and hip-hop and disco, and what happened with mixing, scratching, dubbing, etc., which was in intricately related to technology, but is not usually considered technological as it wasn't 'hi-tech.'

Source: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540

AG: So, particularly relevant for techno would be dub-techno and its roots in dub reggae and the mixing desk as an instrument as you have written about elsewhere in your work.

AW: Yes, exactly, the mixing desk as an instrument, or the 12-inch record and the remix, creating sound systems and the idea of mixing records together and so on. Because Detroit Techno is so invested in an idea of cutting-edge technology, it is hard to square it with the prevailing Western ideas about Blackness and Black culture as ‘primitive’ and therefore not technologically savvy. Techno is perceived as a white genre in the US. Whenever I’ve incorporated the history of techno into my courses, I've had students who were completely astounded that techno originated in Detroit because they conceive of it purely as a white European import.  

 


Alexander G. Weheliye is professor of African American Studies at Northwestern University where he teaches Black literature and culture, critical theory, social technologies, and popular culture. In addition to his many published essays in English and German, he is the author of Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity (Duke University Press, 2005) and Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Duke University Press, 2014). A selection of his writings can be found here: http://bit.ly/13uHdOa 

Annie Goh is an artist and researcher working primarily with sound, space, electronic media and generative processes and their social and cultural contexts. She has co-curated the discourse program of CTM Festival since 2013 and is currently a guest lecturer at Berlin University of Arts.