It's hard to imagine how much different techno might have been, or if there would be a techno scene at all, without the influence of Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson. As friends at a Detroit, Michigan high school, it was these three that defined the sound that would become famous across the world, merging the rhythms of Chicago house music with the futuristic tones of electronic music to create something that could fit into a house music set, but was clearly verging on something new altogether.
Derrick May had one of the bigger hits with his "Strings of Life," a piano-led tune that has become one of the defining classics of the rave scene, providing the template for not just future house and techno but legions of equally euphoric breakbeat rave tunes, which would eventually evolve into jungle. But his other creations were equally influential - thankfully collected together on one disc with the late 90s Innovator CD collection.
Derrick May's early productions literally defined the sound of techno, merging the rhythms of Chicago house music with the futuristic tones of electronic visionaries like Kraftwerk.
May's sound could be brutal and narcotic, as on his first single "Nude Photo," but it was more often than not heavily melodic, with use of strings that seemed to show an interest in classical music. The spine-tingling beauty of tracks like "Icon," which sets an acid line against sweeping synthetic strings, has to be heard to be believed - it's a mix of emotion and electronics that has rarely been achieved since. "The Dance" is stately and symphonic, another early techno anthem that would still fill the floor at any techno club. And with "R Theme," (released under his R Tyme alias) he created the template that artists like Carl Craig would later pursue to produce melody-laden, emotional dancefloor techno - a sound one variant on which would eventually evolve into trance.
Sadly, May quit making music as early as 1993, focusing on DJing, where he's seen massive success as a globe-trotting star. Although he's cranked out the occassional remix - such as a dancefloor-destroying version of a track by industrial band Nitzer Ebb - he's steadfastly resisted calls to record again. Whether he ever returns to the studio to work on original material or not, it's amazing to think that his earliest work, which is after all some of the very first techno, remains among the best of the genre.