I will be presenting at the “Mastering of a Music City” Music Cities Summit in Toronto on April 21st. Here is the title and accepted proposal:
Much like the threat of climate change, the threat to our audio heritage is real and it is here now. In 2015, the British Library put a date on that threat announcing that they had 15 years to preserve their country’s analog audio through digitization before it was lost forever. But the problem is even more acute in cities like Detroit where archival media lab resources and preservation dollars are practically non-existent. In this presentation, Carleton Gholz, PhD, Founder and Executive Director of the Detroit Sound Conservancy (DSC), using Detroit as a case study in “sonic apocalypse,” outlines the risks and opportunities for cultural preservation in a time of economic austerity and political crisis.
As a teenager in the 1960s, the DJ John “Jammin’” Collins danced on the TV show Swingin’ Time, Detroit’s version of American Bandstand. “I met all these entertainers—Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Supremes, Temptations, Spinners, everybody,” Collins says. “They all came on the show. It was a lot of fun.” Those TV-dancing days are long gone, along with Motown Records and even his home, demolished to make way for controversial urban-renewal projects in the 1960s and ’70s. But Collins is still here.
In 2011, in the midst of the economic crisis, Collins produced his first 12-inch record. The gospel-tinged house-techno hybrid “Yeah” went directly against the grain of the doomsday pronouncements of Detroit’s collapse. Now 61, Collins produces house and techno records for Underground Resistance and deejays in Detroit and around the world. He is a member of the Detroit Entertainment Commission and serves on the board of the Detroit-Berlin Connection—an attempt to more deeply connect two cities that have inspired each other musically and culturally for generations. Whether he is deejaying at an LGBT shelter or at Motor City Wine, a bar as open to house-music DJs as it is to jazz combos, Collins exemplifies the confidence and pride that comes with years of practice and a rich sense of musical history.
In Detroit, despite the atrophy of some small music venues, an overlapping network of clubs, talent and production crews continues to mix old and new traditions at the margins, reminding its audience that there is a continuity to the city’s brazen musical output. Promoter Steven Reaume, whose late-night after-hours parties are legendary, says it best: “Detroit is one scene. Promoters, DJs, artists all support each other, not compete against each other.”
Virginia Benson, a former bartender at Garden Bowl, one of the birthplaces of Detroit’s turn-of-the-century garage-rock scene, has taken what she has learned to become a critical promoter and talent buyer in the city. Her Party Store Productions now books talent like psych-punk band the Deadly Vipers at the Marble Bar, a venue hidden in plain sight in an old bank that only recently was a longtime Detroit leather bar. Benson also books shows at the UFO Factory, a Corktown hangout for Babe Ruth and Bobby Layne that was reborn in 2014 as an indie-rock club and art gallery. “I want everyone to feel comfortable going to a show or a dance party. I want it to be as diverse as possible, and open people up to new things,” she says.
That inclusive approach is best embodied by trumpeter Dameon Gabriel of the Gabriel Brass Band, which he leads with his cousin once removed and grand marshal, Larry Gabriel. Larry’s cousin, Detroit-raised Charlie Gabriel, is a clarinetist for the touring version of New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The Detroit-based Gabriels, especially Dameon, have their hands full. He is building out Gabriel Hall, a new venue in the city’s West Village. There is a lot of work to be done on the boarded-up building, which has been abandoned since the 1990s. But Dameon, a fifth-generation musician, is optimistic about opening next year: “Now is the time. I have the opportunity to do it. And yes, Detroit is ready.”
Consider the dolphins. Dolphins have no hands, so they have no works — no weapons, no records, no history, no government, no property, no law, no crime, no punishment. No dolphin is married to any other dolphin, but all dolphins are kin. They are the true idyll of communism as Marx dreamed it. There is no forbidden fruit to expel them from Eden. They are naked and cannot be ashamed. They are some of the aliens among us; women are some other aliens, as are men…. So the dolphins sing and mate and play and eat and swim. They roll, exempt from the regime of secondness. What collective poetry, oral histories, symphonies of discussions over hundreds of leagues, fondness, relationships they must have. Voices that travel for hundreds of miles, allowing completely asynchronous dialogues. What friendships. What grief at the loss of a fellow to the nets or the killer whales. What philosophical dialogues, with no record but the consciousness of the community that listens. – John Peters from Speaking Into The Air: A History of the Idea of Communication
Flyers from Detroit’s early 1990s techno scene are red, blue, green and yellow. They feature numbers, letters, spirals, and shapes. They are made out of paper, cardboard, string, and metal. Animals and objects are present as well: a vacuum cleaner, an anamorphic wolverine, and dolphins. They feature messages, some cryptic (“Put some scuba around tonight!” ), others seemingly more understandable (“Join us now on a journey of pure ecstasy, into the deepest heart of joy.”). They mimic corporate brands (Standard Oil, Squirt) and play on the styles of mass commodities (bubble gum, laundry detergent). Their authors have names like Swan, MJF30-X10 and Eddie Munster. Though some are relatively plain, with black text on white backgrounds, all feature some sort of design or image on them, and many look like slices of modern and postmodern art, whether the pop-art styles of Andy Warhol or the formalist lines, circles, and structural designs of Russian Constructivists.
Amid Detroit’s oft-discussed de-industrial collapse, a handful of teen and twenty-somethings, inspired by local, national and international shifts in dance music culture, including its visual style and fashion , formed a collective to put on after-hour parties that provided a youth-friendly, mixed-race, gay-and-straight, alternative to an older, more corporate, largely segregated club nightlife offered in the Detroit area at the time. They called themselves Voom. Clever, cool, and, because of their various identities, sensitive to a longer tradition of underground dance music in Detroit, this collective produced flyers to encourage the crossing of boundaries between race and sexuality in one of the most segregated cities in the country. The result was a potent but short-lived series of parties that through the efforts of Voom encouraged Detroit’s budding rave scene. By the time Detroit police finally stopped a Voom party a little over a year after they had begun — according to interviews, the cars swamping an otherwise desolate downtown Detroit streetscape after the closing of most legal bars at 2 AM had become too hard to ignore — the collective had sparked the imaginations of a new, predominantly White and suburban, audience for electronic dance music in Detroit. Fifteen years later, some of Voom’s most devoted followers, like members of Paxahau, an event company whose genesis began in the wake of the Voom-era, have become ambassadors for electronic dance music in Detroit.
I have written a chapter on the history of Detroit radio station WJLB for a book called Listening Spaces: 21st Century Perspectives on Music, Technology, and Culture. The book is edited by Richard Purcell and Richard Randall of Carnegie Mellon University and will be released by Pelgrave next month. My piece is entitled, “The Scream and Other Tales: Listening for Detroit Radio History with the Vertical File.” You can find more information here.
I will be DJing an event called “Digital Rendezvous” during the Detroit Design Festival this evening at the Center for Design Education in the College for Creative Studies. The event is sponsored by the talent agency Vitamin T and starts at 5 pm. You can find more information here.
A selection of artists, I ended up playing:
Turkish folk musicians
A dozen things not to miss at Movement 2015
Prepare your brain, and your ass will follow
Originally published in the Metro Times 20 May 2015
It’s Memorial Day weekend — what are you up to? Perhaps you’re headed out to fish upon those Great Lakes, or maybe you’re headed to International Mr. Leather in Chicago? Me, I’ll be at the Movement Electronic Music Festival, my 16th as a fan, journalist, and activist. I’ll be there, managing my cell-phone battery life, making sure my earplugs are working, experiencing my spine vibrate from the sonic pressure, and from time to time smiling ear to ear. Here we present to you recommendations from the entire realm of Movement’s parties, after-parties, shows, events, and goings-on.
Conferences, talks, films, tours
Will Berlin remake itself in Detroit? How did “Big Fun” actually get crafted? Is techno merely a musical footnote to the career of Coleman Young? I recommend you get your urban sonic psychogeographical game together starting Wednesday, May 20 at the Detroit-Berlin Connection Second Annual Conference (MOCAD, 4-9 p.m.), before heading to hear local legend Kevin Saunderson get interviewed by WDET’s Chris Campbell (Crash Discourse, Detroit Public Library, 6-8 p.m.). Then on Thursday, May 21, check out the opening of the Coleman A. Young Collection (Detroit Public Library, 5 p.m.), and on Friday, May 22, be sure to visit the Michigan Sound Conference (Detroit Public Library, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.), and then catch some films at the Electric Roots Micro Music Film Festival in the evening (Charles Wright Museum, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.). Finally, Saturday, hop on a bicycle and get a tour of Detroit’s musical history from the Music Institute to the Packard Plant and back from Wheelhouse Bike Shop. (Techno in the 313 Bike Tour, noon-4 p.m.). Whew.
The best bar for electronic music
6 p.m.-4 a.m. Friday, May 22, TV Lounge
TV Lounge is always the best bar in Detroit for electronic music, but this Friday is your best bet in terms of who’s spinning there. Formerly Half Past Three, formerly the Blue Ribbon Bar, TV Lounge still holds down Grand River despite major real estate transitions all around. On Friday, you’ll hear the smooth blends of Norm Talley in the alley behind the bar (Tunnel Effect) before checking out the big Chicago boom of Smart Bar residents Michael Serafini and the Black Madonna (Smart Bar x Resident Advisor Opening BBQ). And then numerous other DJs will join them after that. Take advantage of this sonic jewel now.
9 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday, May 22, Whisky Parlor
Is it the DJ that makes the party? Or is it the promoter? What about the sound? The location? The flier? Steven Reaume, manager at Grand Trunk and longtime party promoter, has been thinking about all of these elements since throwing his first parties in the Atlas Building in Eastern Market during the final years of the Reagan administration. He’s throwing multiple events during the festival, but the key party here is Fjord Agency at the Whisky Parlor, a reinterpreted space above Grand Trunk. His longtime colleague, the Michigan-raised, California-mussed Marke Bieschke, joins him in planning for the night. Bieschke’s haiku on the flier might hit close to home: “Are we model citizens? / Within this model world? / Or is our darker will possessed / by some celestial agency?” Electronic music, with its sonic voids and waves, piercing signals and ambient blessings, invites the citizen to cosmological constants as well as deep transitions.
8-10 p.m. Saturday, May 23, Movement, Sixth State
Twenty-nine-year-old Jeremy “Sinistarr” Howard has already attended 12 festivals, played at two, and more importantly has had a serious career for the last eight years as a drum and bass producer. What did you do in the last decade? I do not know him outside of his excellent drum and club Soundcloud mixes and productions, but I plan to find out more on Saturday.
Carl Craig and Mike Banks Live
10-11:30 p.m. Saturday, May 23, Movement, Thump Stage
Craig started this festival. And, despite a few early bumps, he now plays live and/or DJs at it every year. This is one of Detroit’s major cultural wins of the last quarter-century, like having Marcus Belgrave still show up to jazz fest or Don Was continue to put together the Concert of Colors house band. Underground Resistance co-founder and musician Banks joins him on stage. That Twilight in Paris two-song EP, which featured Craig and Banks, as well as Detroit jazz legend Wendell Harrison, came out almost eight years ago but the ideas — layered electronic dots and dashes, building with elegiac key lines and blasts sampling themselves across the voids — are still unfolding.
9 p.m.-4 a.m. Saturday, May 23, Drive Table Tennis Club
The formula here is simple: housemusicallnightlong, housemusicallnightlong! This excellent lineup features a cross-section of Detroit house heads and longtime critical faves including Minx and Pirahnahead, John Collins, and Baltimore’s Karizma. Drive is in the Penobscot Building, which once held the illustrious WJLB, home of the Electrifying Mojo — a must for out-of-towners.
Deep Detroit: Juan Atkins, Kai Alcé, and Stefan Ringer
10 p.m. Saturday, May 23, 1515 Broadway
This party, likely sold out, is worth standing outside to hear the thump and to mix and mingle with Detroit and global music makers and their fans. The legendary Music Institute used to be located down the street. Alcé, whose party this is, remembers that moment well, and curates accordingly. This is the seventh incarnation of the party, and features Atkins, who is celebrating 35 years of producing music. The foreboding, subtle house producer Ringer, like Alcé based in Atlanta, opens up.
Hip-Hop artists not named Snoopadelic
Does anyone remember when DJ Defiant brought 50 MCs onto the main stage of the festival? If not, perhaps spend some time with the Red Bull stage on Sunday afternoon to hear some of Detroit’s best, including Danny Brown and Waajeed. Yes, Method Man is performing at this year’s festival, and so is Snoopadelic. But with numerous former P-Funk musicians throughout Detroit, the largest failure of this year’s festival may be booking Snoop without a full live band. (Note: Afrika Bambaataa plays Bert’s Warehouse on Saturday, May 23, as well.)
2-4 p.m. Monday, May, 25, Movement, Sixth Stage
I met Alex “ADMN” Dazin at Urban Bean Coffee House last week. And I am pleased to say that if the future of funk-driven dance music is in the hands of such good, earnest, musically trained post-post-hardcore, bassist hands, we just might make it through the next five or so festivals with our souls intact. This is ADMN’s first festival, and his parents cannot make it. So if he sounds good make sure to tell his mom that he hasn’t chosen the wrong career path.
9-9:30 p.m. Monday, May, 25, Movement, Sixth Stage
This has taken too long to happen. Hats off to Detroit Techno Militia for putting Rudiman on at the festival. I first met Rudiman at Kraynick’s bike shop in Pittsburgh in 2005. He is as serious about his bikes as he is about his drum machines. He is very serious about Depeche Mode too. He is, actually, very, very serious. But as techno fans, we know how this story goes. As seriousness reaches toward infinity, the celestial force of the funk emerges. Wear black. Dance hard. Listen as Rudiman channels the disseminations of a lifetime of electronic body music. It will be a short set, so be on time.
11 p.m. Monday, May, 25, Masonic Temple
Recommending a Ritchie party in 2015 is a bit of a cheapie. The globally influential producer and DJ does not need my help. And this is an official after-party, so it will get all the promotion it needs. However, given the recent turnover and troubles in the Cass Corridor because of the impending hockey arena, I vote that we all party as hard as we can on Temple, while we still can.
5:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday, May 26, UFO Factory
After the dance, let Auxetic Detroit, the brainchild of Maggie Derthick (a dance music fan, promoter, and full-service industry underground technician) take you home on Tuesday. The Audio Rescue Team of sonic-scene professionals Alan Bogl and Michael Fotias, who handle sound at numerous events throughout the city all weekend, navigate your ears through your final transition. Detroit duo Ataxia will be featured.
Octave One on twenty-six years of techno
Originally published in the Metro Times on 20 May 2015.
The origins of Octave One —primarily Lenny and Lawrence Burden, but initially a band of brothers that included Lorne, Lynell, and Lance Burden — run simultaneous with the emergence of techno in the 1980s.
Pittsburgh-based electro-sonic aficionado Shawn Rudiman respects what these second-generation techno musicians do live. “They keep music as instruments, not as backing tracks. It’s a more human and rawer, more exciting — to both artist and audience — way to play. When computers came of age, most went that one-stop-shop route. They didn’t. It’s a fuller, heavier, and warmer sound. It’s more intense sounding, less sonically perfect. It has personality.”
Their first live show was only a decade ago, at the now-defunct Motor Lounge, performing as Random Noise Generation. And I was there. They improvised onstage with prerecorded as well as live sounds. At the time, our techno city had been reborn with the first festivals. Everyone seemed to be a DJ and to have a label. Hamtramck’s Motor Lounge was cooking multiple nights a week. But not everyone played live. That night, Lawrence, the eldest brother and the group’s DJ during the 1990s, jumped onstage while younger brother Lenny took control of the visuals, in addition to performing live.
“I was looking at him trying to work a lot of gear,” Lawrence says. “And he just looked like he had more than he could handle. He was running the mixing desk, and I think at that time he had some lights, or some visuals running on the laptop — he was all over the place! So I ran up onstage and my idea was just to kind of control the sound but I was amped up from DJing, so I started tweaking EQs and punching things in and out. And he started jamming even more, ’cause he was free up to start doing what he wanted to do, live-wise. So that’s how literally, before people’s eyes, that’s how we built the live show — that particular show, the very first one!”
The Octave One crew and their label are now based in Atlanta. But the label name carries the address of their first studio: 430 West, a small, two-story building still standing in Ferndale. At one point the label was host to a number of artists, including Anthony “Shake” Shakir and Terrence Parker. Shake appreciates their “straight to the point no holds barred” approach to creating music. Parker adds his appreciation for their “integrity in both their personal and professional lives.” However, the label is now more of a personal production company for their own work.
I caught up with them over the phone to discuss their live show Saturday night at the Movement Electronic Music Festival, the album release party scheduled for Sunday, and their career, going back to its start in 1989.
Metro Times: What’s the performance going to be like at this year’s festival? How might it differ from your normal road show?
Lenny Burden: Well, we’re releasing our album, Burn It Down. Last year at the festival, we had the opportunity of debuting a few cuts from the album and we’re going to play a lot more [of it] this time. Last year, we were on the Detroit stage; this time, we are actually going onstage with Disclosure, Method Man, things like that. For us, we always try to feel the crowd. We felt a little more aggressive last time, and who knows what we are going to feel this time — playing before Method Man and after Kerri Chandler — so we’ll see how it goes. We like to be very versatile. We’ve played harder techno events, more housier events; it just depends on how we feel.
Lawrence Burden: Yeah, really. How we feel, and how we feel the crowd. What they can handle at that particular time kind of dictates where we go. But this is going to be intense and progressive, because that is how we like to do things.
MT: In terms of technical stuff, how many boxes of things, how many suitcases, how many — what’s the metaphor here — what’s the stuff?
Lenny: We carry a lot of gear with us, man. I don’t know how many synths to be honest [laughs]. Lots of synths, lots of drum machines, lots of effects; this is primarily a complete recording studio, minus the recorder, onstage.
Lawrence: Even for certain things we carry backup, so for certain things there is double as well, just in case something happens. We hope it never happens, but we need to know we are covered in that aspect as well.
MT: Let’s talk about the album. Why choose Spectacles for the release party?
Lenny: For one thing, Zana [Smith, owner of the shop Spectacles] is a staple in Detroit, just period. She’s been there for such a long time, and she’s been part of the scene for such a long time, and we never had the opportunity to actually work with Zana. We don’t get that opportunity to play at something so intimate very often. And we wanted to be a free event and we want to play downtempo, stuff that we normally would not play. And really, to just have a nice little occasion with our fans.
Lawrence: And it’s in Detroit proper! [laughs]
Lenny: Yeah, it’s in Detroit!
Lawrence: Zana always supported the underground. People that might be new into the scene don’t realize she’s been around a long time. We wanted to show her some love as well. We are part of the same fabric, you know. We became friends with Ken [Collier, legendary Club Heaven DJ] later on. I don’t remember when we became good friends, but when I was actually a DJ, I had the opportunity to help Ken play overseas. WestBam wanted Ken to play Mayday, and that was actually the only opportunity he ever had to play overseas.
Lenny: I think it was the year before he passed.
MT: In terms of the new album, with a track like “Jazzo.” What does the word jazz mean to you?
Lawrence: It’s a way of self-expression, a deep creativity. And actually, I was a roadie, with my other brother Lynell, for [pianist] Bob James.
MT: Let’s talk about Dan Sicko for a second. Dan quotes you a couple times in his book Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk (Painted Turtle, 2010). And of course Dan has since passed away. So what do good writers do for you, as artists?
Lenny: Let’s first say something particularly about Dan, and not necessarily him as a journalist because he’s actually a big part of when we first started. He did our first record label.
Lawrence: Yeah, he sure did!
Lenny: We actually recorded with Dan in our first studio; we made tracks with Dan.
Lawrence: Yeah, stuff that never came out —weird stuff.
Lenny: He sampled Hellraiser or something; he was crazy, man! He used to come by at the studio on Eight Mile.
MT: Dimitri Hegemann from the Berlin-based nightclub and label Tresor wants to create a new, Berlin-style club in Detroit. What are your thoughts?
Lawrence: We heard about it, and I think it’s a great and large endeavor to try to undertake. I think his vision for what he wants to do is really kind of based off what’s going on in Berlin. And I just don’t honestly think the infrastructure is enough to sustain that kind of endeavor. That’s a really heavy endeavor for Detroit — it would take a lot of people, a lot of people to hold it up. We’ve always had nice underground clubs. But we never had mega-style clubs.
Even the Music Institute, that was the bomb. But it was not a huge club, it was a small storefront type of operation. And even 1515 Broadway, even when I hit heavy house clubs like Club 246, we always had small venues. I think he really wasn’t around, or had really been exposed to those type of clubs. He sees the property is reasonable. But still, you got to get people in the club, and the only way to sustain it in Detroit honestly is to make it hip-hop, because that’s just a bigger scene. It’s a grand endeavor, and I hope the best for him. I hope he can pull it off. But I think it might be a bit grandiose for the real clientele in Detroit.
MT: I’m curious, what does the female vocal do for you — why go there?
Lawrence: To us, a female vocal is another instrument. It is almost like if we’re adding a flute or something, that type of vibe to what’s going on. For some of our bigger tracks, a female vocalist just works better for us. It gets the point across — it’s a lighter and sexier touch.
MT: Now “I Believe” [Octave One’s first hit featuring Lisa Newberry], the way she intones on that record, the way that she speaks or sings, she’s kind of speak-singing, you know. Did you ever make it to Club Heaven to hear Ken play?
MT: So those vocals are different kind of vocals than the “I Believe” vocal, right? Like the real housey diva?
Lenny: Oh! “I Believe” is not a house track. Thing about it is that …
Lawrence: Our style was just different from the guys producing techno at that time. Shake coined the phrase. He was like, “Man, you’re not house, you’re not techno; but you can listen to it, dance to it, or make love to it.” He always said that “you can actually make love to your music” [laughs]. It wasn’t until later on that our sound became acceptable or popular. But we were always kind of a mixture: A lot of things for a lot of different people.
Octave One performs at this year’s Movement, on the Red Bull Music Academy stage, on Saturday, May 23, from 7-8 p.m. Spectacles will host their Burn It Down release party on Sunday, May 24, from 1-3 p.m; 230 E Grand River Ave., Detroit; 313-963-6886; spectaclesdetroit.com; entrance is free.