Germany’s Tresor record label may be based out of Berlin, but its true home is Detroit. For the past 30 years, the techno label has highlighted the musical connection between the two cities, which are industrial, innovative, driving, tough, playful, and more than a little mysterious — like the sounds that come from them.
“Dimitri Hegemann, Tresor founder, has said that techno was the soundtrack to the Berlin Wall’s dismantling, so I think a lot of it was a matter of two very different cities going through some similar emotional territory. Detroit created the sound that Berlin adopted, and nothing will change that,” says Cornelius Harris, label manager of Detroit-based Underground Resistance records and musical collective, which has been at the forefront of Motor City techno since pioneers “Mad” Mike Banks, Jeff Mills, and Robert Hood formed the project in 1989. In fact, it was their 1991 album under the X-101 name that launched Tresor, and the 1992 Underground Resistance track “The Final Frontier” is what kicks off a recently announced vinyl box set celebrating Tresor’s three decades.
For Tresor 30, which features a dozen 12-inch records and a 16-page booklet, industry insider and booking agent Carin Abdulá compiled 52 tracks, including classics and new commissions. There are 13 Detroit-based/adjacent artists featured on the box set, including Huey Mnemonic, Jeff Mills, Robert Hood, Drexciya, Ectomorph, and more, mixed with fellow label stars from outside of Michigan.
“The process was quite organic and genuine,” Abdulá says of creating the mix. “I essentially felt like I was given this dream opportunity where I could nerd out to a lot of all-time favorite artists while creating connections to current talent that I feel drinks from a similar creative fountain.”
The Tresor 30 narrative started to gel when Abdulá decided to structure the box set so that tracks by the pioneering artists served as the records’ emotional themes, which were then built upon via tunes from the newer music-makers.
“The more I was able to make these connections with the newer side of the roster,” she says, “the more I felt like we were heading toward a super-exciting direction.”
Even though techno was created by Black people in the Detroit area, the stark, repetitive, and occasionally austere nature of the music sometimes makes people think of industrialized Germany. But as the Tresor label has always done, this 30th-anniversary box set makes sure listeners know that techno, like soul and hip-hop, is a creation of Black artists.
“I’ve engaged in a lot of conversations over the years about the fact that us Black folk simply can’t seem to get inside the rooms where decisions are made about our culture’s direction, and so we lose its thread,” Abdulá says. “I often say that it’s great to get a seat at the table, but if no one counts you for dinner, then what good is that? So with this in mind, I really felt that Tresor, as an institution celebrating a 30th anniversary, had a responsibility to not only pay respect to the Black artists that were instrumental to its creation, but also to the context in which this art form was forged. I felt it important to bring back the intersection of race and class to the conversation [and] that it was fundamental that we celebrate it, especially after the events of 2020.”
The Tresor 30 box set is scheduled for release in October. Find preorder info at tresorberlin.com.
O’Shay Mullins, aka Huey Mnemonic, is a Flint native and a current Detroiter whose profile is shooting up in the techno world thanks to a string of creative singles that nod to Detroit’s past while he waves back from the future.
Mnemonic’s track “Transmutation” was commissioned for the forthcoming Tresor 30 box set, where it appears as the second song. He shared the inspiration behind the tune:
“I had intentions to nod to the foundation of techno — which comes from Detroit — while still giving my own touch. There was no specific track in mind that inspired ‘Transmutation,’ but I drew inspiration from the way the pioneers worked their drum machines, producing sophisticated rhythms. I had been wanting to experiment with African percussive sounds for some time. That’s why the talking drum is featured alongside the classic TR-727 drum sounds. The sound of techno is Detroit. It has taken on many forms since its inception, but the true sound will always be of Detroit.”
Want to learn more about that sound? Mnemonic recommends these essential Tresor tracks and Detroit techno classics.
• “The Tresor Track,” by Mike Huckaby
• “Sonic Destroyer,” by X-101
• “The Resistance,” by Scan 7
• “Stereotype 3,” by Robert Hood
• “High Frequency,” by Ultradyne
• “I Wanna Be There,” by Model 500