Tyler Blint-Welsh's Archive of Techno's Black Founders

I was bleary and worn out from a few nights of dancing when I happened upon something quite rare and wonderful at Detroit’s Movement Festival. Next to Movement’s subterranean Underground stage, I spotted a photographer doing tintype photography, the 1850s photographic invention that utilizes metal and enamel to produce photos that shine with a ghostly, glimmering materiality.

The photographer, it turns out, was Brooklyn-based artist Tyler Blint-Welsh, who is working on a book composed of 100 portraits of techno’s Black founders, alongside those carrying on their legacy. Inspired by a life-changing trip to Berlin where he happened upon an exhibit at the legendary Berlin club Tresor that told the story of techno’s origins, Blint-Welsh has made it a mission to create an archival object that can celebrate these globally important Black artists, and to offset the notion that techno is primarily white or white-German music.

“Black techno artists aren’t recognized as being the founders of techno. And they’re not recognized for their role in continuing the culture,” Blint-Welsh tells PAPER. “This is meant to be an archive that lasts beyond me and beyond any of us.” Photographing landmark pioneers such as Robert Hood, Dee Diggs and DJ Minx among many others in a medium that harkens back to iconic archival imagery of historical figures, Blint-Welsh’s project is an important aesthetic, historical reframing of a segment of musical history too often ignored, especially given techno’s continued ascendance in the global cultural economy.

PAPER chatted with Blint-Welsh about techno’s Black roots and his big plans for his archival work.

What guides your artistic practice?

I’ve always been inspired by history and storytelling, which is what led me to my journalism career, where I was a writer for outlets like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. I’ve also always been moved by materials, textures, imperfections, and analog processes. And I think I’m so attracted to the tintype process because it’s an amalgamation of all those things. It’s also intricate and delicate, and can only be done by someone who’s being thoughtful, focused and present. As our society keeps pursuing ways to replace human labor, it’s only going to get harder to access real objects made by real people, like a tintype. So, I try in my practice to always reflect that aspect of a human touch, while also rejecting this idea that screens need to be the primary medium for consumption. Something I’m always considering in my work is: How can materials, textures, formats, and processes work together in service of a narrative?

Tell me a little bit about how long the project has been going and its roots in your practice.

I formally started on this project earlier this year, but I’ve been wrestling with the idea for quite some time. I always knew I wanted to document the techno world in some way, but when Dweller made their announcement post for the festival this past year, it kind of clicked in my head. I was like, “Oh, it’d be sick to try to combine the format of tintype with this long history of Black artists and Techno.” I pitched Dweller on the idea, and they actually commissioned me and gave me access to Nowadays, Paragon and Basement. I was able to set up and shoot with those artists. Since then it’s snowballed really quickly from Dweller to Movement to now Berlin.

You were already doing tintype photography of people who work in Tech or AI, right?

Yes, I started in 2020. I was always drawn to process-oriented formats and the materiality of [tintype] and the fact that it’s a tangible thing. Every time you take a photo, you get immediate feedback. You can hold it and feel it. So I was learning in my bathroom at home. We had a spare one, so my roommates let me really fuck up the bathroom. There were chemical stains everywhere. It was pretty nasty.

But at that time I was doing this separate project, portraits of artists who are redefining creativity by using digital formats. I wanted to do a portrait project using tintype because it’s contrasting this super old format with these people on the cutting edge.

It’s interesting contrasting digital artists and the tintype format. Is it a similar idea with techno, in terms of the juxtaposition of this very high tech industrial music and this older format?

It’s a lot of things. One of the connections, I would say, is the process-oriented nature of tintypes and DJing. I think both of them require a level of focus, presence and precision that I think is maybe unique to both practices. There’s a level of real-time feedback that you see in the crowd, and that you see in the photo instantly.

So I saw some alignment between those two kinds of concepts. And then also the historical nature of tintype. It’s one of the first-ever photo formats. It’s a result of people experimenting and trying to find a better, more efficient, easier way to take photos in the same way that techno is the result of people experimenting with machines and how to push sound forward. How can we take what we have and create something new that’s bigger?

And then going back to this idea of it being archived. The genesis of the idea behind this book is Black techno artists aren’t recognized as being the founders of techno. And they’re not recognized for their role in continuing the culture. So this is meant to be an archive that lasts beyond me and beyond any of us. It’s important for that archive to not just be digital photos, but for there to be literal artifacts of these people showing what they look like in a format that is inherently durable and archival.

Can you tell me a bit more about what the book will look like?

It’s going to be a hundred portraits of Black techno DJs across all eras, artists like Robert Hood, Juan Atkins, DJ Holographic, Dee Digs, artists in Europe, artists encompassing the whole Black diaspora. The idea is to create this link from techno’s origins to its present through the story of all the Black artists that have come through the industry. So it’s gonna be portraits in the tintype format, as well as interviews with a select number of these artists that will be published in Q&A style format in the book. We commissioned essays from tecno writers and historians. I’m working with my friend Isla Anne Macmillan who’s a designer at Calvin Klein to design the book, and we’re also going to be designing a really sick merch capsule. There’s going to be a really cool blockchain aspect as well.

It’s going to culminate in release parties in New York and Berlin featuring artists who are featured in the book. I think it’s gonna be really special, because everyone that I’ve approached to be a part of this project is responding in a way that’s really positive. People appreciate what I’m trying to do, because this history is not something that’s well known and a lot of people are really looking to support it.

Photography: Tyler Blint-Welsh

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