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At the dawn of the 1980s, Juan Atkins began recording what stands as perhaps the most influential body of work in the field of techno. Exploring his vision of a futuristic music which welded the more cosmic side of Parliament funk with rigid computer synth-pop embodied by Kraftwerk and the techno-futurist possibilities described by sociologist Alvin Toffler (author of The Third Wave and Future Shock), Atkins blurred his name behind aliases such as Cybotron, Model 500 and Infiniti — all, except for Cybotron, comprised solely of himself — to release many classics of sublime Detroit techno.
As the electronic scene began looking back to the past to find musical innovators, Atkins was a name much-discussed and -anthologized, hailed as the godfather of techno. Born in Detroit in 1962 (the son of a concert promoter), Juan Atkins began playing bass as a teenager and then moved on to keyboards and synthesizers, after being turned on to their use in Parliament records. Two local DJs, Ken Collier and the Electrifyin' Mojo, first introduced Atkins to a wide range of other synthesizer-driven bands — Kraftwerk, Telex, Gary Numan, Prince, the B-52's — in the late '70s.
Juan Atkins had no trouble staying busy during the mid-'80s. He continued working with the music collective Deep Space Soundworks which he, May and Saunderson had founded in 1981 to provide a club-based forum for their music. Later, the Deep Space family founded their own club, the Music Institute, in the heart of downtown Detroit. It soon became the hub of the Motor City's growing underground family, a place where May, Atkins and Saunderson DJed along with fellow pioneers like Eddie "Flashin" Fowlkes and Blake Baxter. The club invigorated the fractured sense of community in Detroit, and inspired second-wave technocrats like Carl Craig, Stacey Pullen, Kenny Larkin and Richie Hawtin (Plastikman).
Of course, Atkins continued recording during this time, and the period from 1985 to 1987 proved to be his most influential period. He founded his own label, Metroplex Records, in 1985 and recorded his first single as Model 500, "No UFO's." Derrick May, who was living in Chicago at the time, invited Atkins over and told him to bring his records. The duo sold thousands of copies, and "No UFO's" soon became a hit with Chicago mix shows like the Hot Mix Five. Later Metroplex singles like "Night Drive," "Interference" and "The Chase" also sold well and set the template for Detroit techno; moody and sublime machine music, inspired by the drone of automated factories and trips down the I-96 freeway late at night.
By 1988, Britain had caught up with the advanced music coming from Chicago and Detroit; soon Atkins, May and Saunderson made their first trip (of hundreds) across the Atlantic, in Atkins' case before thousands of people at one of the open-air raves typical of England's Summer of Love. Acts like 808 State, A Guy Called Gerald, LFO and Black Dog began due in large part to the influence of Atkins, and the man himself was invited to remix current pop acts like Fine Young Cannibals, Seal, Tom Tom Club, the Beloved and the Style Council.
Atkins visited Belgian R&S Records in 1993 and worked with 3MB, the in-house production team of Thomas Fehlmann and Moritz Von Oswald (both of whom were to go on to better things, in Sun Electric and Basic Channel/Maurizio, respectively). He returned to Berlin several years later to begin recording what was, surprisingly, his first album since the days of Cybotron. Finally, in mid-1995, R&S released the debut Model 500 album, Deep Space; more importantly, the label also released Classics, a crucial compilation of Model 500's best Metroplex singles output.
Another retrospective, Tresor's Infiniti Collection, traced Atkins' work as Infiniti, recorded from 1991 to 1994 for a variety of labels including Metroplex and Chicago's Radikal Fear. Several years passed before he released any additional material, but it came with a rush during 1998-99. First in September 1998, Tresor released an album of new Infiniti recordings named Skynet. One month later, the American label Wax Trax! released a Juan Atkins mix album. Finally, in early 1999, the second full Model 500 album Mind and Body was released on R&S Records