In the 1980s, Mills was an influential radio DJ on WJLB under the pseudonym "The Wizard." Mills' sets were a highlight of the nightly show from "The Electrifying Mojo," Charles Johnson. Complementing Mojo's eclectic playlists, Mills would do advanced DJ tricks like beat juggling and scratching while mixing obscure Detroit Techno, Miami Bass, Chicago House and classic New Wave tracks both live and using a multi track when pre-recorded.
In going on to create his own music Jeff Mills is credited with laying the foundations for the highly influential Detroit Techno collective, Underground Resistance, alongside 'Mad' Mike Banks, a former Parliament bass player. Just like Public Enemy did some years before in hip hop, these men confronted the mainstream music industry with revolutionary rhetoric. Dressed in uniforms with skimasks and black combat suits, they were ‘men on a mission’, aiming at giving techno more content and meaning.
Mills would never leave UR officially, but later on he still went his own way. He moved to New York and after a short stay in Berlin (Tresor) ended up in Chicago. There in 1992, with fellow Detroit native Robert Hood, he set up his most important record label, Axis, aiming for a simpler more minimal sound than most of the techno being produced in those years. Later sub-labels were created:Purpose Maker, Tomorrow, and 6277.
His albums and EPs are mostly separate tracks of his compositions, which Mills would mix into the live DJ sets for which he became a legend. Mills has been credited for his exceptional turntable skills. Tracks are almost chopped to bits to showcase the strongest fragments for his relentless sound collages. He usually uses three decks, a Roland 909 drum-machine and up to seventy records in one hour.
The live DJ-mix album Mix-Up Volume 2 is a highly-regarded example of Mills' 1990s stage show, recorded at the Liquid Room in Tokyo.
"A decade back, while not exactly establishing a precedent, Detroit deejay Jeff Mills unleashed a recording of one of his live deejay sets at the Liquid Room's former Kabukicho residence," assessed Andrez Bergen in 2005, in Japan's Daily Yomiuri newspaper. "Titled Mix-Up Vol. 2, it was a relentless techno masterpiece, warts and all, that combined two diverse channels in the mix: the actual music itself, along with the audience's response."
The Exhibitionist album contains a live show from 2004.
More recently he appears to be taking extended forays into epic techno (such as his re-scoring of Metropolis, which he performed live with the original film) and his 16 September 2004 7-hour set with Laurent Garnier at Fabric. The epic proportions were further extended when his 2006 album Blue Potential was recorded with the Montpellier Philharmonic Orchestra under Alain Altinoglu. There is a DVD of the concert at which the album was recorded, an opportunity to see Mills in action, live on stage.
His "Exhibitionist" DVD, from 2004, features him mixing live on three decks and CD player in a studio, stark and simple. There are several mixes, one of Axis tracks, two of Jeff Mills tracks, and another of various artists. The mixes are shot from several cameras, up close, and his long graceful fingers fly over the gear, furious, his genius and skill on full display. The DVD also includes an interview with him, and another one with Octave One.
He also reached 2nd in the charts on 1996