The Belleville Three was meant to be an inspiring story about how three men from Detroit defied the odds to become the legends of techno. A traditional rags to riches sort of tale beloved by tabloid journalists.
Or so goes the cover story. In reality, that’s all it was. The three men came from relatively well off families and the story was concocted by journalist Neil Rushton and a couple of London-based bigwigs at Virgin Records. It was nothing more than a marketing strategy.
But don’t take my word for it. Take a look at what happens on the very rare occasions they do accept offers to appear as a trio. Here’s footage taken at the Awakening Festival in 2010.
According to someone who was there at the time, all was not well in the Belleville camp. For starters, they arrived later than planned, meaning they had little time to rehearse anything – and boy did it show in their performance.
Juan Atkins spent most of his time playing around with a laptop that just didn’t want to co-operate. And Derrick May, we’ve already established, cannot play a single note – so he spent the entire performance pressing the high notes on the synthesiser in his usual haphazard style.
Only Kevin Saunderson did any work. However, May was said to be visibly annoyed with Atkins at the end of the show – computer issues aside, Atkins did not seem to be himself that day. Another source told me that Atkins mistook Adam Beyer for Jeff Mills earlier in the day.
The depressing truth was confirmed in an interview by Derrick May himself conducted later on the same day. Speaking to a Dutch magazine, May said the performance “was really very, very bad. We tried to make the best of it, but it was just not good. I think this is the first and the last time”.
So what motivated them to do the show in the first place? Money is the answer. A source who knows all three men told me they initially turned down the offer from Awakening, but when they returned with a significantly increased offer, they felt they couldn’t say no.
They made one further appearance in 2017, with no such issues reported. Will we see them again? If the pile of money is high enough…