Bridging the Gap: Hip Hop and Techno's Shared Activist Roots

Posted Jul 16 2008

A Power Point presentation I recently did at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Summer Teacher Institute. Please feel free to leave comments or feedback. I'm hardly the expert and just shared what worked well for me. I'm always looking to exchange ideas. Apologies for the cheesy title. I had writer's block and a deadline, blah, blah, blah.

This session will explore the shared roots of hip hop and techno, with a focus on ethnic identity and issues of social justice. An  emphasis will be placed on the Detroit-based Submerge distribution company, whose labels include Underground Resistance, Los Hermanos, and Red Planet. Parallels in the development of techno and hip-hop will be illustrated, and teachers will be given resources to explore pertinent social issues.  Audiovisual materials will be shared that have been used in high school courses to address issues ranging from propaganda, self-definition, and history.  Among these are dance clips that trace the roots of modern-day youth dances back through the seventies and all the way back to Africa. The influences of funk artists, such as George Clinton, and the German electronic music band Kraftwerk also provide illustration.

Just so everything is out in the open, I'm actually affiliated with UR and have very deep personal ties to some of the guys in the crew. Having said that, I know lots of other musicians as well, but I don't use all of them in my classes so my usage here isn't just about bias. I also posted some thoughts about this particular presentation.

Here's the link to the Presentation

Below are notes for the slides. To see the YouTube links, click on the text, not the images. I know all of this is tedious, so if you know of a more effective way to post a Power Point, let me know! There's a lot of info here and I don't focus on techno's roots. Here's an assignment I gave students last year related to that. Keep in mind that these lessons cover a couple of years, allowing me to build on earlier lessons and material. For example, students may have watched one video in 9th grade and when in 10th grade I showed another one,they already had context and familiarity with the group. While some of these examples are from a music course I taught I also used much of this material in core classes.

Slide 1:
The Underground Resistance logo is in reference to the techno label I focused on for this presentation. They've been called "The Public Enemy" of techno, in reference to the political hip hop group. Both UR and PE are known for their no-nonsense focus on self determination and social justice.

Slide 2: No notes

Slide 3: For an opening activity I ask students what they think of when they hear the word "techno." Here were some of the responses.

Slide 4: We then watch this video and discuss how the images differed from their responses. I also like this video due to it's heavy Mexican/Chicano imagery. After 10 years it still sends chills down my spine. Filmed in Southwest Detroit, this is one of the few representations that captures my memories of there.

Slide 5:
No notes

Slide 6: Some mainstream artists who've sampled music from the UR/Submerge companies. It helps to broaden students' perspectives about techno, and music/identity in general.

Slide 7: All of these songs are available on ITunes, Amazon, etc.

Slide 8: The artwork is engaging, especially for students into comics, anime, or science fiction. The basic concept behind these albums is rebelling against "the programmers" who try to control the masses through music and mass media.

Slide 9: Another concept is the idea of negative order (slavery) VS positive chaos (Civil War) and vice versa.  I used this as an entry point for dystopian books such as A Handmaid's Tale. Eugenics is also a theme as another backdrop for the album Interstellar Fugitives, referencing the practice of breeding humans during slavery's height in the Americas for specific purposes such as cotton picking (short, squat laborers) and guards (athletic, aggressive).  These "fugitives" are descendents of the latter, with an additional rebellious strain.

Slide 10: Besides the obvious reference to the French Revolution, and thus human rights, I used this particular clip during a unit on 1984. It's also useful to discuss stereotypes, mass media, etc.

Slide 11/12: No notes

Slide 13:
Just some visuals to show UR's international and indigenous connections

Slide 14: I often discuss with students how to turn their loves and passions into careers, including music. The Galaxy 2 Galaxy link is also to show that techno does include musicianship. G2G is an Underground Resistance band. Because many promoters cannot afford a full band there are official UR DJs to help promote the label.

Slide 15:
Some references I've made in my Economics classes.
Among other things, how the label has remained independent from any majors, including distribution of their own music and adapting to new technologies. Furthermore, as key members have gotten older, there's been more emphasis on investing and making their money "work for them." Who wants to be DJing five nights a week when they're 60? There's been more of a focus on other ways to get income, including licensing deals, such as one with the Midnight Club Edition 3 video game.


1. Mike said at July 16, 2008 10:29 pm:

Dan, if you want to share slides online, there's a great new service called Have a look, it's really well done.

2. The Galley said at December 18, 2008 9:58 pm:

Yes, it would really be nice to see those slides. I'll have to see them before making any comment though.

3. The Galley said at December 19, 2008 2:13 pm:

After looking at the slides, I have to say it wasn't a bad presentation. It was a learning experience for me too. I liked the videos you used: DJ Rolando Knights was a cool video very low key, I liked the dancing. And of course the beat! I also like the examples you used for what sampling means; re-contextualization basically. Learning about the themes in Techno also helped me understand Techno and its use of sound/beat a little more. I think that was part of the reason I liked Techno (not all of it; like anything else), seems to use more of urban healing style; creative and yet relevant. Like Zulu Nation and their insistence on community as opposed to "me-me-me". Nice historical references too. Still need to look at the dance videos. Life and art is something. Those who get the attention vs those who don't. Relevance vs mindless indulgence. But I think Techno will make its way back. Prolly just a matter of time...yah...time, that sweet grandmother lol. Nice presentation still, quite educational.

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