From the Motor City to the symphony—charting the unlikely course of techno through the story of one of its most celebrated founding fathers.
When recounting the history of Detroit techno, the figure of Jeff Mills looms large—for good reason—but his reach extends well beyond the Motor City. After getting his start on the radio as The Wizard on famed local station WJLB, Mills teamed up with Tony Sprock in the industrial-leaning Final Cut project, and then co-founded Underground Resistance alongside former Parliament bassist Mad Mike Banks. That legendary and fiercely independent outfit—which shunned interviews, performed in ski masks and black combat suits and also included a young Robert Hood—became an international sensation, but Mills was far from done. Striking out on his own, he formed the Axis label and began working as a solo artist, crafting a uniquely alien brand of sci-fi-inspired techno in the process. He also left Detroit, spending time in New York and Berlin before ultimately settling in Chicago. Throughout it all, he’s always sought to continue pushing techno forward, taking the music well beyond its usual club and festival settings by collaborating with symphony orchestras, scoring films and even holding down a residency at the Louvre museum. Now, more than three decades into his career, Mills stands as one of techno’s most respected figures, with listeners still marveling at his prolific nature, not to mention his fleet fingers and their utter mastery of the Roland TR-909 drum machine.