A History of the Laser in Dance Music | Thump feature

How dance musicians find their identities by losing themselves.

By Michaelangelo Matos

In the mid-80s, instead of elaborate headpieces, DJs hid their identities in a different way—by using a variety of anonymized aliases. In Detroit, Juan Atkins pioneered the practice of adopting a slew of pseudonyms like Model 500, Infiniti, and Channel One to reflect different aspects of his musical personality, while still cloaking his true identity. Prior to going solo, he had been in the foundational duo Cybotron with Rik Davies; the latter prefers to be known as 3070, like a robot or machine. Multiple recording aliases were also commonplace in early Chicago house: Jesse Saunders, whose “On and On,” from 1984 was the first house record, also released records as Fresh, the Browns, the Force, and Le’ Noiz.

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Those artists’ many monikers became the model for much early 90s techno. For example, From Our Minds to Yours, Plus 8 Records’ first anthology CD from 1991, features eight credited artists, but only two (Kenny Larkin and Speedy J) weren’t aliases of Plus 8 founder Richie Hawtin, working alone or with others as F.U.S.E., Chrome, and States of Mind, Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 11.52.51 AMamong others. Another 1991 collection, Instinct Dance, on the New York label Instinct Records, features four artists, including Barracuda, Brainstorm, and Voodoo Child—but they’re all the work of one producer, Moby, who also gets two tracks under that name.

Such obfuscation distinguished electronic music performers from their counterparts in genres like hip-hop and alternative rock, where artists were treated like rock stars. Speaking in 2014, Vanessa Daou—whose “Surrender Yourself,” with the group the Daou, hit number one on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart for eleven weeks in 1992—told me: “In rave culture oftentimes you didn’t know who the artist was: It was just a moniker. And that feeling of anonymity was important. You didn’t want to know who that person was. You just wanted to feel it.”

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