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Meet Borderland, the Hybrid of Detroit and Berlin Techno

By Movement Correspondent Ashley Zlatopolsky (@ashley_detroit)

When the pillars of Detroit Techno and Berlin Techno cross paths, the result is Borderland.

Borderland is a collaborative project between Detroit Techno originator Juan Atkins and Berlin dub Techno innovator Moritz von Oswald, but it’s not Techno, according to Atkins. Rather, “It’s “atmospheric, electronic music,” a more listener-friendly version of the sound that’s engineered from the bottom-up to give the feel of a seated concert.

“It’s dance music at the core, but it’s not something we went into thinking about strictly for the dance world,” explains Atkins. “A lot of the sounds that we chose were more for listening, and that’s the way it came out.”

When the duo plays Movement live on the Main Stage Saturday, they’ll be seated behind their DJ table. “We’re not standing, and that creates more of an artistic way to deliver the show,” Atkins continues. “It’s about the music.”

Atkins, who has just wrapped up a meeting with fellow Detroit Techno pioneers Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May, recalls the first time he met Von Oswald, who was pushing a similar culture on the opposite side of the globe. “Moritz came to Detroit in the early ‘90s with Mark Ernestus [of Basic Channel],” he says. “They came here to buy up used [analog] gear, used synthesizers and used drum machines from pawn shops to take back to Berlin.”

During one of these trips, the Berlin team—along with producer Thomas Felhmann—stopped by the building shared by Atkins and Underground Resistance founder Mike Banks. Inviting Atkins to Berlin to collaborate and securing a gig for him at Techno powerhouse Tresor, which operates as a club and record label, the partnership between the three took off. They formed 3MB, short for “Three Men in Berlin.”

“Tresor championed Detroit music,” Atkins recalls. “Dimitri Hegemann, the owner of Tresor, came up with the Borderland concept.” He doesn’t know the name’s true meaning, but he believes it has something to do with the German border—in 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and Techno was the soundtrack to German freedom. Shortly after, Tresor was born from the rubble.

This year, the Berlin company celebrates its 25th anniversary. In honor of the landmark birthday, Atkins and Von Oswald have released their second Borderland album via Tresor, Transport. “I think some of my best material has come from collaborations with Moritz, so it was about time for us to get back together and do an actual project,” says Atkins—the original Borderland album was released in 2013.

While the Borderland project is their first official release, the two have been collaborating for more than two decades: Atkins crafted several Model 500 albums with Von Oswald in the studio, and Von Oswald helped engineer other projects as well. “It’s an organic flow that we have between each other; it’s not a forced collaboration,” Atkins describes. “It’s a natural feeling, and there’s no extra work to make it work.”

To make it work, the pair simply connects. “We play off each other,” Atkins continues. “I’ll start a move, and he’ll jump in—we have a knack of feeling each other’s vibe. I don’t think there’s any special formula that we use, we just go in and jam, except it’s an electronic jam session.”

Atkins says there’s more in store for Borderland, and it’s something they’ll definitely follow up again. But in the meantime, he’s looking forward to finally bringing this project home.

“It means a lot [to play as Borderland at Movement],” he says. “Detroit is my hometown and if there’s anything I’m doing that’s innovative or new, I’m always happy to present it to Detroit.”