TuneAttic: find music, know music
TuneAttic: find music, know music
TuneAttic: find music, know music
TuneAttic: find music, know music
TuneAttic: find music, know music
TuneAttic: find music, know music
Derrick May

Derrick May is a Techno producer and DJ.  One of the Belleville Three founding fathers of Detroit Techno May’s influence on electronic dance music is huge.  Although not the most prolific of producers his productions, such as the seminal ‘Strings Of Life’ helped kick start the dance music revolution.

Derrick May scales of success
Derrick May timeline


'Strings Of Life'
(Transmat 1987)
'Innovator - Soundtrack For The Tenth Planet' (Network 1991)

Early Years: 1986 to 1991

Derrick May’s musical journey started as a high school pupil when he started at Belleville High School in a suburb of Detroit.  There he met two friends – Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson – with whom he would end up forging the start of Techno music.  The three later become known as the Belleville Three named after their high school.

Atkins introduced May to European electro acts such as Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk, as well as funk acts such as Parliament.  When May’s mother left Detroit he stayed on, moving in with Saunderson to complete his studies.  His studying paid off, resulting in a place at university but he soon dropped out to return to Detroit and eventually begin experimenting with music production.

His efforts bore fruit and in 1987 he released his first production ‘Let's Go’ (Metroplex 1987) as one third of the group X-Ray along with Atkins and Saunderson.  The same year he released his first solo single ‘Nude Photo’ (Trasmat 1987), a track who’s reverberating electro bass line and racing 909 hi-hats helped set the tone for Detroit Techno. 

The following year May launched his Rhythim Is Rhythim alias and released the seminal track ‘Strings Of Life’ (Transmat 1988).  ‘Strings Of Life’ is arguably May’s single most important contribution to dance music and at the time straddled the emerging Chicago House and Detroit Techno scenes, with the melody of the strings and piano offset with a driving Techno rhythm.

Strings Of Life’ had a big impact in the UK where the acid house movement was picking up a head of steam.  May’s profile in the UK took off resulting in regular DJ performances and remixing projects.  But May’s increasingly close relationship with the British dance music scene began to go sour. As the 1980’s came to a close British dance music was moving away from its American influenced house roots towards the faster, harder sounds of rave and hardcore.

May became increasingly disenchanted with the direction in which dance music was heading and this coupled with other setbacks saw him retreat from music production.

'I Travel E.P.'
(Groovin' High Records 2009)
(Transmat 1997)

Later Years: 1992 to present

In the years since 1991 Derrick May has released  little solo music production. 

One notable project was working with pioneering ambient producer Steve Hillage on his System 7 album ‘Mysterious Traveller’ (A-Wave 2002). 

In 1997 Tranmat released a retrospective Derrick May compilation entitled ‘Innovator’ (Transmat 1997).

Derrick May continues to DJ  regularly across the globe.


Derrick May once famously referred his music as what would happen if Kraftwerk got stuck in a lift with George Clinton.  What he, Atkins and Saunderson managed to do was create the bridge between the analogue age and the digital era and in the process take the music to the dancefloor.  May’s impact is all the more remarkable considering how little music he has actually released. But perhaps that is part of why his legacy is so strong.  Some legends die young to have their legends cast in stone, May achieved the same by effectively retiring from music production.

Derrick May was raised a single child in a largely single parent family, by his mother.   When she moved to Chicago he stayed in Detroit but regularly visited her, where he got exposed to the emerging Chicago house scene, which in turn influenced his musical style and direction.