Friday, December 19, 2008

Race and Music

Just found this on the Moodmat blog:

Moodmat One Question Interview: Theo Parrish

Amazing and on point about Detroit, the US, and music. The comments at the end of the interview by other readers are disappointing. You know, it is possible to be white and not get offended when a person of color points out that racism is alive and well throughout the United States in all its guises.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winter Research

I came here in winter last February and now we're back here again…it's cold and snowy and I love it. The kids went sledding today with Pops while I sat at work and stuffed envelopes. Well, it's a good thing they have such an amazing father who will stay home full time! Blessed boys! Anyway, research has been picking up again. I just got home from a great interview with John Johr. We were at a restaurant in Ferndale called The Emory. I got to drink some nice beer and have an interesting interview with a young Detroit DJ. It was super loud in there though, I hope the recording turned out well. I should probably listen to it tonight to find out...he was speaking pretty loud into the mic, so that should help! So we had a great conversation, he was really friendly and interested in what I was doing here.

Oh yeah, that Scan 7 photo below – totally not mine. Copied and pasted. All the other photos on this blog are taken by me or by my husband. But I wanted to include that photo of Scan 7 so readers unfamiliar with them could get a visual sense of what I was talking about when I was describing that DJ Surgeon/Scan 7 party. Is that cool in blog world? I don't know, still sorta new at this.

And, a few days ago I googled record stores in Detroit trying to plan out a record store outing – not that I have any money to spend on anything, but I thought it would be cool to check out places that Detroit electronic musicians buy their music. Anyway, I stumbled on an article from the Metro Times, a local free paper, by Carleton S. Gholz, about record stores in Detroit from 2003. Then I found lots of other articles he had written from 2000 to 2008 on Detroit electronic music and remembered that he contacted me a few months ago through this blog. So now I have my very own Carleton S. Gholz archive!! Yes, I printed them all out – double sided though!

Friday, December 5, 2008

The sonic sources in electronic music are evasive.

I went down to see DJ Surgeon and one of the Scan 7 DJs play at TV Bar a few weeks ago. Its part of the Thursday series at TV Bar. They often have local DJs play on this night. I didn’t know anything about Surgeon, but I knew that I was excited to hear Scan 7 play – I didn’t know how many members would be there of Scan 7 (there are 7 of them), but I knew it would be good. It was an interesting night. It’s called TV Bar, so there were wide, flat screen TVs mounted all over the place. It’s a relatively large place, there are two main rooms. In the first room is the bar and lots of chairs and tables and couches – there were TVs all over playing sports. Some were hanging from the ceiling away from the wall, some were against the wall at the bar. In the second room, there was another, smaller bar that was not in use. There were TVs hanging from the ceiling above the bar there and there were TVs on the wall opposite the bar. There was also a TV on the wall behind the DJ equipment setup in the DJ booth. Some of the TVs in that room were turned off – there must have been at least 6 TVs in that room. But the TV behind DJ Surgeon was on while he was playing. It was tuned to Cartoon Network – so there were some goofy nerdo late night cartoons playing while Surgeon played – it was really weird and distracting. I found myself sitting down in a really tall bar chair listening to the very loud and excellent music (Surgeon was fantastic) and watching cartoons. I tried really hard to ignore the cartoons, but when I am in a club, I usually turn my eyes toward the DJ most of the time. I just find that the most interesting to watch. So my eyes automatically went to the DJ booth, and the TV was just so bright and alluring, it was difficult to avoid staring at. The volume was turned down completely and the closed captioning was on – so I could even read the shows. It was just weird. Thankfully, Surgeon turned off the TV when the Scan 7 DJ came on – then it felt more official, like all eyes and ears were finally focused on the music. It was a relief for me.

DJ Surgeon was really fun to watch. He was more like a turntablist than most other DJs I see play in Detroit. Kind of like what Terrence Parker does, but still very different. They both have their own distinct style and flow. Also, Terrence plays more house and “inspirational” music; Surgeon plays more techno and electro music. So that alone makes their sets sound different from one another. I was reading online about DJ Seoul today, and he seems like a turntablist as well. But I don’t see this term associated with any of these DJs in print at all. I’m using it because in my interview with TP this weekend, he described himself using the word turntablist. Surgeon seemed like a sonic surgeon – cutting and dissecting beats and other pieces of music to create a whole new musical performance. Terrence Parker was talking about this this weekend during our interview (yes, it was a great interview!) – he was describing his own DJ style, and turntablism in general, and he even brought up mashups as another example. He said these DJs take two pieces of music from two different contexts and manipulating them to create a whole new piece of music in its own context. It was very exciting to hear TP describe music and DJing using those ideas and terms – just along the lines of what I was hoping to discover here. Back to Surgeon – he was really precise, seemed like he was cutting records on the spot and melding new sounds together. It was strangely dark up in the DJ booth, but it was mainly because of all the insanely bright TVs around. That made everything else look really dark. Surgeon had a head lamp with a red light on – that was interesting. The crowd was mainly white and young, although there were a few African American people there. I was surprised by this – since both DJs were African American, and pretty important to Detroit’s electronic music, there might be a larger proportion of Black people in the crowd. But I have found that with events where the DJs play more techno music and less house music, the crowds are usually predominantly white. Still not sure why, trying to figure it out in my interviews.

I don’t know the Scan 7 DJs very well, or if they even call them selves DJs because they play live PA with drum machines, samplers and other electronic equipment. But the man from Scan 7 who was playing that night was basically hanging out with Surgeon in the DJ booth the whole night. When it was his turn to get on, he had a mask on covering everything but his eyes. He wore a Scan 7 baseball cap, and a long sleeve shirt and jeans. I think he had a UR shirt on. One of them turned off the TV and the Scan 7 guy got set up. Surgeon introduced him using his records – he put on a Kraftwerk track, maybe it was “Numbers” and made the “7” on the track play over and over. I can’t remember how he did it since I am writing this so long after, shame shame. There are three possibilities: Surgeon had two records playing the same song and he was going back and forth between both while Scan 7 played some sort of droning, ethereal sound on his equipment. Second possibility, Surgeon had a track that played the “7” segment on the Kraftwerk track over and over with an echo and some kind of droning music in the background. And third possibility, Scan 7 had that segment on his sampler and was manipulating it with other sounds to introduce himself. I don’t know, it’s often difficult to figure out where particular sounds are coming from. The sonic sources in electronic music are evasive. His set was magnificent. I had never heard Scan 7 before and he was really cool. I didn’t know what to expect. The music was super intense and so much fun to listen to and dance to. I was thinking there about something a DJ who used to wear a mask during his sets told me – that the mask that he used to wear was not about militancy or trying to scare people, he wanted to keep himself invisible and let the music stand out there alone for people to take and appreciate. I don’t know if that is the same philosophy for Scan 7, but that’s definitely the vibe I got. He was kind of in a corner, in the dark, with that mask and hat on, and really focused on what he was doing. He wasn’t oblivious to the crowd, I could tell he was aware of what was going on around him and how we all were responding to the music. But he was successful and being almost invisible behind the music. Surgeon would play with him periodically, adding some beat juggling or other turntablist techniques to the set.

I did not recognize anyone in the crowd. There were two drunk girls there, one was completely wasted and dressed up – she kept going up to guys and staring them down. Some guys were into her and would dance with her. There was this one guy who was clearly into the music during the Scan 7 set. He was kind of an indie hipster guy with some scruff and goofy glasses and skinny jeans. She kept going up to him and getting in his face – it was so silly, he was clearly uncomfortable and annoyed. A few other annoying things happened too while I was there. Sometimes I get really tired of going out by myself, but there’s just a few people that I know well enough here and who enjoy the kinds of shows I am going to. James often stays home with the boys because we can’t always afford a babysitter, but he also gets tired and really doesn’t want to stay out all night and then have to parent the next day. WhoDat and I sometimes go out together and we always have fun, but she doesn’t always want to go to the places I’m going to. My friend Ellen lives about an hours drive outside of Detroit, so that's not always easy for her either.

Anyway, it was a fun night. At the end, Surgeon called out that he had CDs. I went up there and he was really friendly. He had 2 mix CDs that he made and then a double disc of his own music that he produced. I bought that one for $10. I didn’t know what it would sound like, I just was in the mood to support and I had some money. It turns out the CD is excellent – I love listening to it. Well that was the end of my night. It was a good one.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


I was looking through my photos of Detroit and realized I have lots of cool images that have not made it to my blog yet…shame. These are from the Belle Isle House Music Picnic back in August.

My very cool husband.


Rick Wilhite

That's right, he almost cleared the tent, and it was awesome.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

White Midwestern Hip Hop…Get Down On It

I went out to see Atmosphere on October 27th with James at the Royal Oak Music Theater. It was not a research related event, I just wanted to surprise my husband with a fun hip hop show. We have both been fans of Atmosphere for years, and other artists on the Rhymesayers label. They are a hip hop duo, Slug is the MC and Ant is the DJ. They are from Minneapolis, MN and are white men in their mid 30s. They have been making music for about ten years and tour nationally frequently. I don't know if they tour outside of the US. The Royal Oak Music Theater is in Royal Oak, one of Detroit's many middle to upper class suburbs. We have seen Atmosphere in Bloomington, IN, in Chicago, IL, and now here, and the crowd is consistently made up of young white people, mainly men, with a few people of color scattered around. That's how the show was in Royal Oak. Tickets were $20, so it was not cheap, but it was not as high as a lot of other mainstream performers are trying to charge lately. While there is some ethnic and racial diversity in Detroit's suburbs, Royal Oak, and surrounding suburbs are primarily white in population and that was evident in the crowd.

Atmosphere had three other band members with them, an African American man on keyboards, a white man on electric guitar, and an African American woman vocalist. The music was excellent. The three new members played parts of songs on their instruments that had previously been played using vinyl in past performances. The music was excellent and the crowd was live. It was such a fun show. One thing that really struck me is how moved Slug was by the crowd. He really seemed genuinely surprised by the excitement and energy that was coming from the fans: people screaming and yelling, hands in the air, fans singing lyrics, it was really intense. A number of times Slug spoke to the audience commenting on how great Detroit was, how great the people from Detroit were, how much he loved Detroit. He did not say Royal Oak, he said Detroit. Now Detroit is a weird place in this regard –people from Metropolitan Detroit (meaning surrounding suburbs + Detroit) claim they are from Detroit when talking to someone from outside this region, regardless of whether or not they actually venture south of 8 Mile Road and east of Southfield Hwy (the major roads that form Detroit's city limits).

After writing this last paragraph, I took a break and James told me about a song on an Eminem hip hop album that is about this issue. There is apparently a song on it in which he raps about people being from this area and never driving past 10 Mile Road, which is still a good two miles from Detroit's city limits. I have yet to carefully listen to the song to hear what he says, but I thought it was really interesting. For those who might not know, Eminem is a rapper from Detroit, did a movie called 8 Mile about hip hop in Detroit – which is a pretty intense scene from what I hear from some of the DJs I have spoken with here.

So, back to Atmosphere, Slug, who is not from here and probably doesn't know about the economic, racial, and ethnic dynamics of the Detroit Metro area, was clearly impressed with Detroiters. I have no way of knowing how many people in the crowd were actually from the city of Detroit. However, the majority of people in the crowd were white, like 99% of the people. Detroit's African American population as of the 2000 US census was 81%. The crowd seemed to represent suburban Detroit and neighboring Ann Arbor. I mention Ann Arbor because at one point during the show, Slug mentioned The Blind Pig club in Ann Arbor, and lots of kids yelled. These issues are extremely important to the multitude of experiences of living in and around Detroit. There have been many times I have heard about people refusing to go into Detroit because of the supposed dangers of it. They even avoid going to places like the Detroit Historical Museum which housed the exhibit "Techno: Detroit's Gift to the World" a few years ago. A panelist on a conference that I organized at Indiana University, October 2006, called "Roots of Techno: Black DJs and the Detroit Scene," mentioned this issue. She was a co-curator of the exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum and explained the tendency of suburban residents choosing to not attend such exhibits, or to not frequent Detroit museums and other public institutions because they do not want to go into the city. Fear keeps people out. Interestingly, a DJ explained to me in an informal conversation that he doesn't like to go past 8 Mile Road in the other direction because it pisses him off – the wealth, the waste, the fear, etc., meaning he prefers to stay within Detroit's city limits. I love hearing comments and stories like that because it gives power and agency to people in Detroit, and to the city itself. Public recognition of the greatness of the city of Detroit is a really important thing. Another DJ has told me that when he plays in certain suburbs, kids have told him that they don't even go past 15 Mile Road because it's all the "ghetto" down there. Now there is an obscene amount of wealth throughout Oakland County, certainly between 15 Mile and 8 Mile. Oakland County is the county I live in. Detroit is in Wayne County. Oakland Co. contains many of Detroit's suburbs. There was an Oakland Co. government official, don't know who, speaking on MSNBC over the weekend about the bailout of the auto companies in Detroit. One thing he said is that Oakland County is one of the wealthiest counties in the country. After hearing that, everything that I see around me started to make sense. I live in Oakland Co. very close to Detroit. Anywhere I go in Oakland County, the types of cars I see on the road are surprisingly high end, expensive cars. The neighborhoods that we go through when driving around Oakland Co. are often wealthier neighborhoods with large houses, multiple expensive cars in the driveway, and large yards. It makes sense that Oakland County is one of the wealthiest in the country.

Now for Detroit, there certainly is a lot of poverty, suffering, and neglect in Detroit. And as a result, there is a lot of crime in Detroit. But that does not mean that the city as a whole, the population of the city, the art and culture of the city, education in the city, all of this deserves to be abandoned by the outside population. Detroit is a thriving, fascinating, beautiful city. And I write that and say that as a political act of advocacy for this city. But more importantly, I really believe it. People who live in Detroit often are filled with pride for their city. The public institutions like the library, art, history, and science museums. Theaters and concert halls, sports arenas, public art, there is so much in Detroit to be excited about and be impressed by. It's not an empty, dead city. You can't drive for miles and not see anyone, unless you are only looking for wealthy white people, then you might be missing all the people who don't fit that description on the sidewalks of the city. You might imagine Detroit as a desolate, ugly, nasty wasteland. I don't. So to hear Slug of Atmosphere make such wonderful exclamations about Detroit and Detroiters is strange and confusing and conflicting and exciting all at the same time.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Miscellaneous stuff that happened over the past month.

I’m finally back, and it’s snowing!! But it’s melting…I really love winter. While everyone around me is complaining about the weather, I just keep looking outside loving all the white fluffy flakes and day dreaming of sledding with my kids.

I’ve been taking a break from writing fieldnotes because I spent the past month preparing applications to the Mellon Foundation and to AAUW for dissertation writing grants. Those went out last week and now I can get back to interviewing and fieldnote writing. I did go out to a few events over the past month that I did not get a chance to write about.

Halloween night, Friday, October 31, I went to WhoDat and Marcellus Pittman’s Halloween party at Planet XL. Some friends were there, it was really nice to hang out. The club is still getting set up. I haven’t been there in a while, I should go to Rick Wilhite’s Thursday “Speakeasy” party there again soon. I think they’re actually doing it this week on Thanksgiving night! Anyway, when I got to the club, Marcellus was playing and seemed really into it. He was hunched over the tables playing records and making adjustments on the mixer. It was a really empty club, it’s Detroit – so that’s not much of a surprise for most events. I wondered how difficult it is to play to an empty club – from what people have told me, you just play for whoever is there, but you also just play for yourself. I expected Marcellus to play some really dark, deep intense music, but he played a lot of funky things, lots of vocals which I also didn’t expect from him. It all sounded great! He played a White Stripes song which sounded so good in the midst of all the other music he was playing. Some folks came from another party at the Russell Industrial Center – it’s an artists’ collective/community with gallery spaces, artist studios, and other spaces. That’s where the People’s Art Festival was that James sold photos in. Anyway, I think on the fifth floor is a space for parties, a friend who went said it was more like a rave and way too loud for them. Mike Clark and some others were playing there – it was a pretty big lineup. Here is the email from someone who posted this to the 313 listserv:

The Russell Industrial Center hosts 2 parties for Halloween night...

Hallowpalooza. $10 entry

Mike Clark, Swayne Jensen, Benjamin Hayes, DJ Body Mechanic, John
Johr, Jay Langa, Franky Banks, E Spleece, Major Taylor, Todd Westin
aka Jit Wiggins, DJ Dez, Nick Speed, Danny Brown, Fat Ray, United
Souls, Giant Slyde, Blackmale he Band, Enemy Squad, The Process, Benny
Stoofy, Emily Rogers & Friends.

Fashion hosted by Ziam.

Funk Night $5 entry

Frank Raines, Scott Craig, Will Sessions

Some of the musicians listed, I don’t know. But there are some hip hop artists in there as well as some electronic DJs. Ziam, the fashion hoster, is apparently a well known figure in the Detroit club scene. He is a performance artist who always is expected to have on some wildly creative clothing.

That’s a Metro Times article about Ziam. There’s not much current up about him – I mean over the past year. But he definitely seems like an interesting person, and an interesting part of Detroit. Anyway, I guess the party at the Russell was like a rave from what I heard. So we all hung out at Planet XL, and Marcellus played some really nice music. At one point he cued up a record at the very beginning and got ready to drop it right when the other track ended – it was so precise and sounded excellent, just really dramatic. I wish I could remember what the tracks were like, I didn’t know what they were, but now it has been so long that I don’t really know how to describe them. Oh, I forgot to add, Kyle Hall came in briefly and brought a record to Marcellus while he was playing. Marcellus put it on almost immediately and announced it. It was quite nice. Also, he was hilarious on the mic during his set. The set was broadcast on, same as WhoDat’s weekly radio show. He was doing a devilish laugh into the mic for Halloween. He mentioned a few birthdays, and then said it was the Devil’s birthday – it was pretty funny.

A few weeks later, I had a DJ lesson with WhoDat. She asked me to bring my own records. So I mainly spent the lesson by myself at her turntables while she cleaned up around downstairs and we talked about the records. It was a lot of fun. I have a few records that I bought on my own over the years, mainly from a trip that James and I took to Detroit when we lived in Bloomington and were trying to figure out where to live in Detroit. It was in winter 2006 a bit over a year before we moved here just so we could explore the area and figure out where to live and what the city looked like. We went to Record Time in Ferndale, when it was still open, and listened to records. They had a pretty extensive electronic music section, and a big part of that section was dedicated to Detroit music. Well, I was sitting over in that section the whole time and James and I each got our stacks of records and went over to the listening station to play our records and listen to them on headphones. Vince Patricola worked there at the time, he moved away from Detroit last spring, shortly after I started my research here. We never got to do an interview, but we met a few times and he was certainly an important part of Detroit’s music culture. He was the editor of Detroit Electronic Quarterly, a local magazine with great interviews of local musicians. He put out a number of issues. Anyway, I didn’t know who he was at the time, but he came over to me while I was listening and asked me if I was a DJ. I said no; I didn’t know it then, but he probably knew everyone who came through there and listened to records. We talked a bit and he looked at the records I was listening to and then went to get me a few more. I still remember the DJ Bone record he brought me – it was great, I bought it and got to listen to it at WhoDat’s. So I listened to most of my records at her house that night – oh, I don’t have turntables right now so that’s why I haven’t heard many of my records since going to Record Time. It was fun to spend time listening to what was on my records with a new level of attention than I was used to. I was listening for what WhoDat talked about at the beginning of the lesson – she described what a DJ might listen for when she goes through records trying to learn what is on them – you might like the whole thing, you might just like one song on the record, you might just want to use one section of one song – the intro or the break or something. She also talked about how DJs try to figure out what will sound good with other tracks, trying to figure out how to use your records in a set. I also had some records that a few other Detroit DJs gave to me – quite a nice stack of things, most of which were all excellent. There was one track, however, that when I was listening to it, I said aloud that some tracks just don’t need vocals – the vocals made the song sound really goofy. I really liked the music except for the vocals and I kept hoping that the vocals would stop so that I could enjoy the rest of the sounds, but the voice just kept going all through the track – it was pretty cheesy, deep male voice, I’d have to look at the record to see the song title, then I could remember what he was saying. It was just so frustrating. Anyway, WhoDat thought that was pretty funny and said that she wanted to use my voice saying that on one of her tracks. It was a great night. Next lesson, tonight!!, she said to bring my records again and we’ll try to mix them. I will choose the first one, then she will choose one and I’ll have to blend it, then I will choose the next one and blend it, and just keep going like that. I’m excited!!

And after doing all that writing and editing and re-writing for grant proposals, I have yet another proposal to write. I am planning to go to IASPM (International Association for the Study of Popular Music) in San Diego in May, the weekend after DEMF! Some ethnomusicology friends and I are going to submit a proposal for a roundtable discussion. My first submission to a major conference!!

And finally, I was just looking on last night and after some pretty quiet weeks in Detroit, there are three fantastic parties in one weekend. Of course, just when we can’t really afford a babysitter and I’m going to be exhausted already anyway, there are three great parties to go to. Well, I’ll be writing!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

That's right.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Planet XL Thursdays - Rick Wilhite & Theo Parrish!!

Now you know I'll be down there if I see Rick Wilhite will be playing!

This weekly night started two weeks ago, Theo Parrish and Rick Wilhite are starting it up. I missed the first week, but then headed down there with my good buddy, WhoDat. Planet XL is a new club that is in pretty good shape, although they're still fixing it up a bit. It's at 6452 E Jefferson. There are two levels, a nice dark wood bar, it's a cool place. WhoDat does her Wednesday radio show from there too. Netmusique,...yes! There were about 20 people down there at one time. WhoDat introduced me to almost everyone.

Some other nice parties are coming up at Planet XL. Halloween - WhoDat and Marcellus Pittman!! Then, on November 22 at Planet XL, Rick Wilhite is doing a show with Nu Bang Clan.

AND...Rick's album will be released next year in February!! I am so ready, I'm going to set aside money right now.

I have taken a small break from my lessons with WhoDat because I have been working on grant proposals (Mellen Foundation wants a dissertation chapter too – so that has been quite a challenge). But doing these lessons has heightened my awareness and understanding of what happens in a DJ’s set. It has also helped me “tune in” in different and more intense ways to the various sounds and their sources during a performance. It was so great to watch Rick. Some of these details that I include in my blog posts are for my own documentation purposes, but it's also for people who might not know what I am talking about when I say that the DJ "cues up a record." Some readers of my blog, but also of my dissertation and fieldnotes, might need more info. So here it goes... He puts a record on with the audio coming only into his headphones which he usually has around his neck and then picks up one ear to hold to his ear in order to cue up the record. He spins it to the spot he wants by putting his finger on the label in the center of the record and spinning it. Then he lets it go and adjusts the tempo. He might do this once or a few times to get it set up and then brings it in slowly, or drops it hard and loud into the other track that was already playing. He doesn’t put his fingers on the vinyl much when he is cueing up a track. It was pretty smooth to watch. The way I am learning is to put the record on and put the needle down at the beginning or near the beginning of the track (on a 12 inch or an EP). Since I don't yet know the records very well, I don't have any idea where else I might want to start the needle, so I just start from the beginning and listen. I listen and start counting the beat coming through the head phones while listening to the beat of the other track coming through the monitor and the speakers. Once I find the beat and count, usually in 4s, then I can catch the record (headphones track) on the 1 touching one or two fingers to the vinyl near the outside edge of it. Then I follow the beat of the other track (coming through monitors and speakers) and move the record (from headphones) back and forth in a scratching motion to the rhythm of the track playing through the monitor. Once I am confident that I have them matched or once I think they might be matched, I let the record go. Sometimes they are blended well, but usually they are not and I have to try again. If they go out of sync a bit I can use the lever on lower corner of the turntable to adjust the tempo slower or faster. I can also spin the record that is slowing down using the label in the center to speed it up. It’s good to write about this. I’m almost ready to start processing and analyzing beyond the surface level that I have been dealing with until now.

So, now back to my dissertation chapter on genre in Detroit!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Busy ... busy

Things have been pretty hectic for me lately. I have been working diligently on a grant proposal for my dissertation writing stage. Seeing as how I did not secure funding for the fieldwork period of this project, I am really getting serious about getting a grant!! Having a full time job and being a parent and doing doctoral field research has been pretty crazy, but I have been able to handle it and accomplish what I have wanted to accomplish within the time frame that I set out with initially. Writing a dissertation while working full time and being a parent, however, is not going to work out so well. Writing at night after a long day and an exhausted Mama brain will not work. So getting a grant is really what I need to do so that I can write this sucker and get moving on to the next stage of our lives.

That said, my blog posts will be slowing down at least until mid-November when two of the proposals are due. I'm sure you've noticed the slow down already! So I'll check you later...hopefully sooner.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Amazing and Timely article by Tim Wise

I cannot believe that I have never heard of Tim Wise until this week. I was reading a mothering blog that I love,, and she had a link to Tim Wise's blog,, and this amazing article on white privilege and racism. Not at all about techno or music, but race is a major issue in what I am doing here in Detroit. Enjoy!

This is Your Nation on White Privilege (Updated)

September 13, 2008, 2:01 pm

By Tim Wise

For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.

White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can call yourself a “fuckin’ redneck,” like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll “kick their fuckin' ass,” and talk about how you like to “shoot shit” for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.

White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you’re “untested.”

White privilege is being able to say that you support the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance because “if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me,” and not be immediately disqualified from holding office--since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the “under God” part wasn’t added until the 1950s--while if you're black and believe in reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), you're a dangerous and mushy liberal who isn't fit to safeguard American institutions.

White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you.

White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto is “Alaska first,” and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you're black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she’s being disrespectful.

White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do--like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor--and people think you’re being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college and the fact that she lives near Russia, you’re somehow being mean, or even sexist.

White privilege is being able to convince white women who don’t even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a “second look.”

White privilege is being able to fire people who didn’t support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.

White privilege is when you can take nearly twenty-four hours to get to a hospital after beginning to leak amniotic fluid, and still be viewed as a great mom whose commitment to her children is unquestionable, and whose "next door neighbor" qualities make her ready to be VP, while if you're a black candidate for president and you let your children be interviewed for a few seconds on TV, you're irresponsibly exploiting them.

White privilege is being able to give a 36-minute speech in which you talk about lipstick and make fun of your opponent, while laying out no substantive policy positions on any issue at all, and still manage to be considered a legitimate candidate, while a black person who gives an hour speech the week before, in which he lays out specific policy proposals on several issues, is still criticized for being too vague about what he would do if elected.

White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God’s punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you’re just a good church-going Christian, but if you’re black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you’re an extremist who probably hates America.

White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a “trick question,” while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O’Reilly means you’re dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.

White privilege is being able to go to a prestigious prep school, then to Yale and Harvard Business School (George W. Bush), and still be seen as an "average guy," while being black, going to a prestigious prep school, then Occidental College, then Columbia, and then Harvard Law, makes you "uppity" and a snob who probably looks down on regular folks.

White privilege is being able to graduate near the bottom of your college class (McCain), or graduate with a C average from Yale (W.), and that's OK, and you're still cut out to be president, but if you're black and you graduate near the top of your class from Harvard Law, you can't be trusted to make good decisions in office.

White privilege is being able to dump your first wife after she's disfigured in a car crash so you can take up with a multi-millionaire beauty queen (who you then go on to call the c-word in public) and still be thought of as a man of strong family values, while if you're black and married for nearly 20 years to the same woman, your family is viewed as un-American and your gestures of affection for each other are called "terrorist fist bumps."

White privilege is when you can develop a pain-killer addiction, having obtained your drug of choice illegally like Cindy McCain, go on to beat that addiction, and everyone praises you for being so strong, while being a black guy who smoked pot a few times in college and never became an addict means people will wonder if perhaps you still get high, and even ask whether or not you may have sold drugs at some point.

White privilege is being able to sing a song about bombing Iran and still be viewed as a sober and rational statesman, with the maturity to be president, while being black and suggesting that the U.S. should speak with other nations, even when we have disagreements with them, makes you dangerously naive and immature.

White privilege is being able to say that you hate "gooks" and "will always hate them," and yet, you aren't a racist because, ya know, you were a POW, so you're entitled to your hatred, while being black and noting that black anger about racism is understandable, given the history of your country, makes you a dangerous bigot.

White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism and an absent father is apparently among the "lesser adversities" faced by other politicians, as Sarah Palin explained in her convention speech.

And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren’t sure about that whole “change” thing. Ya know, it’s just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain…

White privilege is, in short, the problem.

Some cool shit

Tour of Submerge with Cornelius Harris, The Unknown Writer

Saturday, September 20, 2008

James and I got to go down there together because my mother was visiting and she took care of our kids. It was so nice to be able to do something research related with my husband! We had a really good time together and ended up exploring Detroit way more than I would have thought to do had I been by myself. I probably would have felt a strong need to get back home to the kids and wouldn't have wandered around the city.

Touring Submerge with Cornelius was great. He repeatedly referred to the space as a "living space" because of the constant use it gets by people in Detroit's electronic music community. It's a four story building that used to belong to a labor union. Submerge folks purchased the building around 2000, and renovated it completely. It was falling apart when they bought it, and they turned it into something amazing and beautiful. It is definitely not an empty, quiet space. There is a record store in the basement called Somewhere in Detroit. It is not open regularly, but it is open during the festival weekend on Memorial Day weekend in May. Otherwise, they sell music through Detroit Threads, a record store in Hamtramck. On the walls of the store are signatures and messages from people who have passed through. Cornelius handed me a felt pen and told me that Submerge exists because of the people who pass through here, so that is what the pen was for. It was really neat to sign the wall. Here is what I wrote: "I love Detroit. Thank you for the music. Denise Dalphond, the techno student." I was really excited, and honored, and grateful to be asked to write on those walls. There were lots of interesting things written on the walls. I saw Dan Sicko, author of Techno Rebels, signed the wall. That was cool.

Then we walked up to the second level, and Cornelius pointed out office spaces, Detroit Techno Militia office, and then took us into his office. He showed us the Detroit artists' work on the walls in the central stairway. And a large photo of Jeff Mills hands in the stairway! Submerge is just a solid, living dedication to Detroit people, culture, and history.

After James and I left, we went to get coffee and then to an art store near Wayne State to get some photo supplies for James. Then we went by the sports complex downtown with Comerica Park (Detroit Tigers, baseball) and Ford Field (Detroit Lions, football), and all the other amusement and restaurants in the vicinity. The parking lots are right on edge of the highway so that people coming to see game don't even have to drive in Detroit much at all. They can just drive from highway to parking lot and then back to the highway again. What a convenience for all those suburbanites to come into the city and not have to be bothered by the rest of Detroit. Yes, that is nasty sarcastic.

We did some more driving around the area, then on to Harmonie Park where Spectacles clothing shop is and Lolas – still need to go there. Friday nights are described as being reminiscent of the Music Institute.

Here's a couple of things that I still want to do and can't believe that I haven't gotten around to them yet:

Motown Museum

Record store outing

Museum of African American History

Detroit Historical Museum

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Placid at Oslo last Thursday

Placid is a DJ from the UK who is described as the "world authority on acid house music" according to the flier for this party. He posts a lot of Detroit related mixes on the 313 listserv, many of which I have downloaded and store on my computer – I have a Placid file! I was a little wary of going out on a Thursday night because of work the next day, but things went okay for me the next day, even though I was pretty groggy. But I went out and it turned out to be one of the most fun nights I have had here in Detroit, and there have been a lot of good times! I went alone, and I'm getting a bit tired of doing that. I was at WhoDat's until almost 10PM for my lesson, then came home and watched part of Good Will Hunting with James and then left the house at about 11:40. I got to Oslo just before midnight, took a look around, Kevin Reynolds was playing. The music was really good – acid house – I'll have to explore how to describe that. People who make it and love it describe the sound as a squelch.

The following link and paragraph are from Wikipedia:

Acid house is a sub-genre of house music that emphasizes a repetitive, hypnotic and trance-like style, with samples or spoken lines usually used rather than sung lyrics. Acid house's core electronic squelch sounds were developed by mid-1980s DJs from Chicago who experimented with the Roland TB-303 electronic synthesizer-sequencer. Acid house spread to the United Kingdom, Australia, and continental Europe, where it was played by DJ's in the early rave scene. By the late 1980s, copycat tracks and acid house remixes brought the style into the mainstream, where it had some influence on pop and dance styles.

I got a beer, called my brother from a sort of quiet corner of the club – I hadn't talked to him in a while and I wanted to do something other than stand alone in the club. Then I went in and listened to Kevin. Kevin Reynolds was great – lots of fun acid-house. Great to dance to. At one point, someone came into the dance room and loosened all the red light bulbs, actually one person started it and then multiple people decided to make it pitch dark in there. There was still a bit of white light coming in from the bar area and from the bathroom hallway, but it was pretty hard to see. I got bumped into a few times. At first I was kind of freaked out. I quickly picked up my bag off the floor and tied my hoodie around my waist. It just felt kind of weird to do in a public place, I guess it felt a bit on the boundary between public and private for the people there. It was almost like, 'this is my music, this is my town, this is my space. Let's turn the lights off!' After a bit, I felt more comfortable, could see better, and then started to dance again. The music was excellent – squelchy! On the flyer, Placid was described as "the international authority on acid." I sat for part of his set, danced for most of it, had some water, danced some more, and then after a few comments from the club promoter and Kevin Reynolds between 2AM and 2:15AM, Placid ended his set. It's still strange to me that I repeatedly am out until the DJ set ends, or until the night ends in a club. It's mainly because the clubs are legally required to close at 2AM, so usually I can handle staying up that late. What I have experienced in Chicago and NY are clubs that stay open until 4AM, but not in Detroit. It makes for a much different performance style. DJs often have to be reminded multiple times to end their sets, they seem to be annoyed and want to play longer. WhoDat and Theo Parrish, and others, have explained that it takes them 2-4 hours just to get warmed up and then it becomes this meditative state, or a different level of consciousness in performance – Theo Parrish has said he likes to play for about 11 hours, and there is no space in Detroit where this can happen. Usually these types of lengthy performances happen in places like Japan, or somewhere outside of the US. WhoDat referenced the idea of imagining everyone naked when you are giving a public speech, then she talked about getting comfortable enough to imagine yourself naked while giving a speech, and then she explained that it takes her about 2hours of "playing records" before she can get naked.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Race and Ethnicity

Just writing some fieldnotes and started to think, again, about grammar, culture, and history. Here are some important discussions about capitalization of Black when referring, in print, to African Americans.

DiversityInc - The interesting discussion comes in the comments.

Also, I just googled "capitalize Black," and came up with some useful links. Results include those calling for no capitalization for grammatical consistency.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

One Whole Year

I was just thinking last night, one year ago I was eight months pregnant. I was getting ready to write my Ph.D. qualifying exams and was feeling pretty freaked out by them. I was in Bloomington, IN at the end of summer and with my giant belly, I was HOT! We were planning our move to Detroit, but really it was almost impossible for me to think beyond my exams and then beyond birthing my third child. My husband worked at Starbucks and we were also living off my student loans. I was preparing unsuccessful grant proposals to fund my fieldwork in Detroit. It’s amazing to me that that was a year ago. So many incredible things have happened since then and this year has been really exciting. But, it’s been incredibly hard too, all the changes for our family – crazy.

Well, I’m happy I’m here and I really feel like even though there is a lot more that I want to do research wise here, I can see the end and I can see myself jumping over that little hurdle called a dissertation!

Anyway, check out this very cool blog post:

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I love meeting people who are studying electronic dance music in some form in an academic setting. Makes me all excited to merge minds and experiences and approach this music from a vaguely related perspective. Especially ethnomusicologists, whooooo, there need to be more of us coooks out there!

This past weekend was great and it was disappointing. Friday night at Oslo was great with Kelly Pink-O (a boy DJ, not a lady like I thought, but that's cool too!), Brian Gillespie, and Todd Osborne. First off, I should say that Oslo was great and the disappointing part of the weekend was that I ended up being way too tired to go out the next night to see Derrick May, Norm Talley, and Shake! So that was quite a bummer!

Anyway, Family at Oslo was very cool. I had planned to videotape Brian's set, he had given me permission. So I was all geared up to get there - we put the kids to bed, then I had a quick minute to slap a hem on some new jeans I just got, and then gathered my equipment and headed down to Oslo. It was nearing 11pm, and usually that is still early for club events. But I was excited about the videotaping plans and so I was stressing about feeling late and trying to get there in a hurry. When I arrived, of course, there was no one in the room where the dance floor and DJ booth are. There was a small crowd at the bar, no one who I knew, though. Brian, thankfully, showed up a few minutes later and we chatted for a bit. We talked about the club and the crowd. It was a very gay friendly, mod/hipster, young kind of crowd, oh and white. But there were a few people there of various ethnicities. Todd Osborne arrived and Brian introduced us - and now Todd and I get to do an interview!! Very exciting!

Videotaping did not go so well. It's a tight space in the DJ booth at Oslo. I tried really hard to stay out of the way, but I still seemed to impact the set a lot. Brian seemed distracted and he kept apologizing - but there really was nothing to apologize for from his end. I just felt like my presence there with the video camera was not working for him. What I did not realize was that the three DJs usually trade off, so Brian played for about 1/2 hour, then Todd for a while, then Kelly again, and then Brian. So I really only got 1/2 hour of video because the second time Brian got up on the tables, he was pretty over being filmed.

One issue that Brian was concerned about was that I was going to take the video and post it on YouTube or somewhere else on the web. And he didn't want to have a bad set and then have that posted publicly. We had already talked about this and I tried to be clear that I would never do that - I had no plans to publicize the video footage. It was for my own use for my research and I planned to give him a copy with which he could do whatever he wanted. Clearly, its an industry and a culture where mistrust and dishonesty are common - not entirely so, but people are skeptical for good reason. So let me write this loud and clear: I WILL NOT POST ANY OF MY VIDEO OR AUDIO FOOTAGE ONLINE ANYWHERE. IF I WANT TO POST IT ON YOUTUBE OR SOMEPLACE, I WILL GET YOUR PERMISSION FIRST. AND IF YOU DO NOT GIVE ME PERMISSION, I WILL NOT PUT IT UP ONLINE, AT ALL, EVER. Did someone say contract?...Yes, that's a good idea.

Anyway, Brian's set was great, and during the part that I was filming, it was hard not to drop the camera and start dancing. And Todd Osborne - I knew it would be fun to see him play again because I saw his Soundmurderer set at the Movement festival this year and it was fantastic. Well, he was awesome at Oslo, and I thought he was playing records at first. And I tried to pay attention to what he was doing back there, but I kept getting distracted by the music and just dancing. I eventually noticed that he was not flipping through records and he kept turning to the laptop. It turns out he was using Serato Scratch Live, a computer based live DJing software with special vinyl or CDs that the DJ can use with the software to manipulate the songs that are playing through the computer. The Serato website has some really interesting information on this software. So far in my research here in Detroit, I have spoken to DJs who use Serato, and to DJs who don't and are very explicit about their dislike of replacing vinyl with computers. Reasons for using Serato: less to lug around, easier, cheaper, who knows. Reasons not to use Serato: vinyl sounds better, a DJ is supposed to use vinyl - that is part of the instrument, it's a totally different approach to music making - no grooves in each record to follow, not such a warm, full sound, it goes on. So far, DJs who I have seen use something to replace vinyl completely have played sets that were pretty different from a "regular" DJ set with two turntables and a mixer. I don't want to insult anyone, it just sounds different and the energy between the DJ and the crowd is different. But I have to say, Todd's set was excellent - it was really exciting, he played great music, I was not bored, it was clear that his skills were on point.

Okay, one last thing - even though Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson have been interviewed endlessly and anything written about Detriot electronic music has some part on the Bellville Three, I want to talk to them too! I am spending a lot of time interviewing DJs who are active in Detroit now and who have been really significant to the history of this music in Detroit, but who have not yet recieved much attention. However, it would be a real shame if I ended this project without talking to Atkins, May, and Saunderson. So let's get on it!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Record Stores

So I learned about Rick Wilhite's record store, Vibes New and Rare Music, closing earlier in the summer, but forgot to post something about it until now. It has been a well respected cornerstone in electronic dance music both in Detroit and around the globe for years. It was on 8 mile road in Oak Park in a strange, but interesting office building. He had a suite on the second floor. It was a nice shop with an excellent collection of records – not that I would know for sure, because I'm not a record collector, or a DJ, but you know, I've heard, I've heard! It was sad news to hear that Vibes closed, but hopefully he will keep something going – whether internet based or some kind of mail order something or other.

I'm tired, so tired, I just typed "I'm tire"…


The following is to be sung with happy, excited voice and, you know, make up your own melody:

I blended records
I blended records
I blended records
I put two records together!

It was so much fun learning how to blend records last week during my "lesson." WhoDat has been so generous with her time, her equipment, her knowledge. I got there and brought some beer to share – she is not charging me anything, so I decided to bring some nourishment each time. So we were chatting about interviews I've done recently (Marcellus Pittman and Brian Gillespie) and the class she has been taking this week. It was Wednesday and Thursday at the Detroit Youthville Community Center, a class on Abelton and Reaktor taught by Mike Huckaby. Abelton and Reaktor are music production and editing computer programs. The two days were free. I wanted to sit in on them, but it started at 4pm and I didn't find out in time to adjust my work schedule. He has taught them before, so maybe I'll get to sit in on one another time. I am getting so overwhelmed with all the people that I want to talk to and sit down with to interview here. I recently typed a list of people that I have already talked with and people that I still want to meet and interview and that side of the list is LOOOOONG!

We talked for a while and then she got me set up with two records. She was trying to find something a little simple for me to blend. So I put the headphones on with one record coming out of the monitor and one coming out of one ear of the headphones. She started with an M. Pittman track and something else (I can't remember what it was). She cleans her studio space while I practice. She wipes down her Hammond organ, rearranges her cords for her studio equipment, she just organizes things. It's interesting to have control over what comes out of the speakers and what only I hear through the headphones. WhoDat can't hear what I am doing until I raise the volume of the turntable that I am trying to mix in to the track that is playing through the monitor. It's interesting because I can play around and still know that some of it is just for my ears – it takes away some of my initial self-consciousness and then when I am ready, I raise the volume for her to hear what I have blended. Sometimes the beats are matched and it lasts, but sometimes they fall out of rhythm pretty quickly. It's so much fun – it's so new and really satisfying when I do the blend correctly. I was asking her about albums and 12 inches. There are different types of records. An album, an LP, of course we all know, holds multiple songs (usually more than 2) on each side. A 12 inch holds a single song on each side of the record. An EP holds about 2 songs on each side, sometimes different songs, or different versions of the same song. Usually she plays 12 inches or EPs when she is spinning because they are much louder. She picked out an Erykah Badu album and a 12 inch with a song from that album to show me the difference. The album was Worldwide Underground and the song on both the album and the 12 inch that she played was "Danger." It made such a big difference comparing the two sources playing the same song.

Doing this is really helping me hone in on words that some DJs here use to describe sounds and records. Heat is a major quality that people pick up on and use to describe music. A track can be hot, records and analog equipment produce warm sounds as opposed to digitally produced music. WhoDat commented on the "pops and hisses" of a vinyl record being valued over the cleaner, more sterile sounds of a CD or computer produced music. Anyway, the difference in sound levels and density between the LP and the 12 inch was remarkable. I could really hear a more complex density of sounds and of layers of sounds in the 12 inch. Since the sound of a single song is stretched out across the grooves of an entire record, there is a lot more space for the song; more space within the grooves of vinyl for a greater density of detail and sound.

So it's already Wednesday again and I have my lesson tomorrow night! I'll try and get some posts out sooner this time around. I've got a busy weekend ahead of me: possibly Oslo on Friday for Family with Brian Gillespie and Todd Osborne, Saturday night at the Johanson Charles Gallery for Norm Talley, Shake, and Derrick May! I'll make sure to get some updates up to this blog this weekend. Good night.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

DJ “Lesson”!!

I actually touched a record while it was spinning on a turntable! It feels silly to exclaim that, I'm such a nerd. It was really cool though. When I was in high school, no it was when I was in college, I was home for Christmas or something, in NW Indiana. And I was hanging out with my brother and some of his friends. This was when my brother, DJ Gregory Dalphond, now from Chicago, was starting out with DJing. We were at a friend's house and Gregory and I sat down in front of the friend's tables and mixer, which was set up on crates or something low to the ground. He showed me how to blend two records together. Then he left me to try and figure it out myself. I sat there for what seemed like hours (probably only half an hour!) trying to figure out how to separate the two tracks that were pouring into the headphones and then trying to match the beats. I couldn't do it that night, and I never had another opportunity again until last Thursday.

I came over to WhoDat's house and was kind of nervous. She took me downstairs to her studio and started to show me all the parts of a DJ setup. The TV was on and was kind of distracting, but it quickly fell to the background as my focus sharpened on what Terri was showing me.

She walked me through her setup – described her turntables to me, her mixer, then showed me two other mixers. Doesn't really use crossfader – it's a cheat, she explained. She was taught to use other adjustments first to control the output from each record. On her mixer now, crossfader does not work properly. She showed me her mixer with needles and a gauge to monitor sound. Then we went back over to her turntables and she played around with a few tracks, showed me different ways to control the sound output, mixing with both tracks coming through in the headphones, with one record coming in through monitor and other through one ear of headphones. She showed me how she counts and how to catch the record and then drop it in rhythm with the other track. She showed me how to control the speed of the turntable and how to adjust it when blending two tracks. Then she gave me the headphones and told me that I could touch her record and play around. I tried first with two tracks playing, to make the beats match up. It sounded like chaos in my head. I could not figure out what was coming where, first I automatically associated what was coming through the right ear of the headphones with what was coming from the turntable on the right – but that's not what was happening and I kept confusing myself, because it can switch depending on what you are bringing in and from where. Then she played around a bit more showing me again how to blend the two records. Then she put on a track by Marcellus Pittman – it was beautiful. I could have just stood there and listened to that record over and over and over. Then she put on a Kerri Chandler record. She told me that she picked those two in the hopes that they would have fewer complex sounds and rhythms in order to help me get a grip on things. Eventually, I just tried with a single record, getting used to counting the phrases, catching the record and then releasing it imagining that I would be doing that with another record. It was great! I got a bit more comfortable actually touching the record. The way the needle moves through the grooves going backwards was really smooth – I knew that already just from watching DJs, you can tell that its really soft and easy to reverse a record, but doing it with my own hands was completely different. It was neat to learn about the equipment and how the turntable arm is balanced with weights and needs to be leveled every once in a while. Dust really bothers the equipment. Some types of needles can damage the grooves over time. Some needles are good quality in terms of sound production, but wear out quickly and then skip easily on the record. WhoDat showed me the grooves and pointed out a break in the record. It was really clear once I knew what the difference in texture meant.

I am so excited about doing this every week. It is going to impact my research in major ways! And she's doing it for donuts!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I need to post more photos!!!!

Isn't that like a blogging rule - lots of photos, include brief posts - ha ha! How can I be brief about all this. I need the details - and so do you!

That's Punisher, kind of blurry photo, but that's what we've got to work with right now folks. If you want to see some nice photos of DJs, check out James' website -


The vinyl is ready! Terrence Parker again.

Now, here comes a storm on Belle Isle...

Well, there you go.

Belle Isle

3rd Annual Detroit House Music Picnic
Backpack and School Supplies Drive
Belle Isle (Shed 19, NW corner of island, near river)

So many festivals this summer. And free festivals with great music! This past weekend on Saturday, August 9th, was the 3rd Annual Detroit House Music Picnic and Backpack & School Supplies Drive for a few Detroit public elementary schools. My Mom & her husband were also visiting this weekend, so we had to work out cars and kids and family time as well. It really worked out well because I was able to spend a lot of time at the house music picnic while my mother took the boys to the playground and then headed back home for dinner and a bath and bed. Otherwise, I would have probably been back and forth between home and the picnic, which was on Belle Isle, trying to take care of the kids. Plus, James and I would not have gotten to spend as much time together at the picnic as we did. It was great! So we headed on down to Belle Isle at about 1pm – I wanted to get there sooner because it was supposed to start at 10AM and I wanted to see some of the DJs who were "scheduled" to play early in the day, like DJ Cent and Bruce Bailey. The schedule was posted on the event's website about a week in advance and I knew that I shouldn't expect it to go according to plan completely, but I did not expect that the posted schedule would become almost non-existent as the day unfolded. It's interesting to me that even though I have been a fan of electronic music since the early 1990s and have been going to various types of DJ performances since that time, I am still surprised at issues of time at these events. It often seems like everyone except me, knows how late to arrive. Everyone else knows the rules except me. Definitely not supposed to arrive right when the event begins. And no matter who is scheduled to spin first, whether it is 10AM, noon, or 9PM, there is hardly anyone in the crowd. So when we were still eating lunch at home at 12:30PM on Saturday, I was trying not to feel too much stress about what and who I was missing. As it turned out, nothing even got started until 11:30AM, an hour and a half later than was scheduled and posted on websites and on the flier. Now, is that concept of time something from African American culture, is it just an element of electronic dance music culture, is it a mixture of things? I don't really know, but it's definitely something to explore.

So we drove around most of Belle Isle trying to find Shed 19 where the picnic was. It's a pretty big island, so you can't really just "follow the beats" to get to the picnic. We finally found Shed 19 and then happened on a gravel parking lot just past the lot where the picnic was happening. We were close to the water on the NW corner of the island. There were sailboats docked nearby and two other picnics going on nearby. The island was actually really busy with all kinds of gatherings – family reunions, picnics, parties. There is a whole corridor down the middle of the island part of which was just packed with cars and people, especially near the big playground and giant slide. It's really giant – we haven't gone on it yet, but it seems like fun. A vast majority of the people there were African American.

It felt funny coming up over the dry, grassy hill with my two little boys in a double stroller, big boy walking, husband, my mother, and her husband (who is 77). It felt like we should be out of place, but I knew we weren't. We set up a blanket and got some food out for the kids. My mom and I walked over to the table set up with t-shirts and CDs for sale and I delivered my school supplies donation and my mom bought a CD and made a donation. The crowd there was pretty tiny and spread out. Saw a few familiar faces. My mom's husband, eventually walked over past the DJ tent to the river and set up his chair to sit and read under a willow tree. It was so nice outside, sometimes a bit sunny, but really cool and breezy. Being by the river was really nice. There was a little inlet and pond nearby as well. He was pretty bored and anxious to get to the playground.

I just remembered this conversation I had with my mother the day after the festival. She commented on being the only white people at the playground area when she took the three boys over there and James and I stayed over at the picnic. She said a few people talked to her and were friendly, although she did get some strange looks, especially from younger girls. There was a group of girls, about 11 or 12 I think she said, who were really checking her out. My mom said she didn't know what to expect, if "they" felt that she shouldn't be there because it's "their" space. They and their meaning all the Black people there – it was really busy and crowded, so I'm sure it was really different for my mom who lives in northwest Indiana in a town with a largely white population. That's what I grew up around as well, mainly white people, and a lot of racism, in small town Indiana. It was interesting that my mom described the situation as being "them" and "their," it was clear, to me, that she did not really intend any kind of racial lumping together of all Black people. But with her word choice, that is was happened – and I think that this is the automatic interpretation of social interaction and social groups for a lot of white Americans. Because of the history of racism and segregation in the US, there has been an "us against them" for both Black and white sides for decades, maybe even centuries. Racist oppression against people of African decent created an atmosphere of cultural survival for African Americans – Black people had to fight hard to maintain and continue to create and innovate cultural heritage. At some point, white people began to interpret that impetus as an exclusion of white people from Black cultural events and expressions. This exclusion, however, was fueled by "white flight" when white people gradually moved out of neighborhoods, and eventually whole towns and cities that became increasingly occupied by African Americans. So, the current situation is one of assumed exclusion and separation from both white and Black sides, even though when white people and Black people get together in social situations, it is often not a struggle for power or control. What I have found in my field experiences so far is that I am often the only white person or one of few at the events that I am going to, and although I sometimes feel out of place, it's not like I am invading "their" space with my whiteness. I don't get that feeling from anyone. And most importantly, when talking about they and their, we need to remember that not all Black people think alike, act alike, talk alike, not all Black people hate all white people. Like any socially or culturally defined group of people, even though there is something linking a group together, there remains a wide diversity of perspective and experience from which people act.

Okay, back to the picnic. Eventually, my mom took the boys over to the playground and James and I hung out at the picnic. I was feeling tired and winy for the first while, even though the music was good – Craig Alexander was one of the early DJs playing. He is from Chicago and played a great set. I didn't realize they would have people from outside of Detroit coming to the picnic. I don't imagine any of the DJs made much, if any, money from this event. As the wind picked up, Shake went on and had a frustrating set. I think the wind was blowing the needles around on the records, so he couldn't really play properly. Then someone moved the truck that carried the DJ equipment and tent setup over behind and to the left of the DJ tent to block the wind. That worked, then Shake's legs gave out – he has MS. So he decided to stop playing. Then, a huge rain storm came through and we drove over to check on my mom and the kids. After it stopped pouring, we walked to the cars, got the boys ready to go back with Nana and Gramp, and they drove back home while James and I stayed for the rest of the picnic.

When we got back, we hung out with WhoDat for a bit. And then it got fun – Rick Wilhite started to spin, and he was fantastic. James played softball. And I started meeting people. WhoDat was introducing me to people, I started to see more folks that I knew, and my shirt actually helped me meet Piranhahead. I had on a Women on Wax shirt – that's Minx's label and Piranhahead is on it also. I was dancing under the tent and Piranhahead walked over to me and thanked me for representing. I introduced myself to him not realizing who he was. He really doesn't look like he does in photos. I told him what I was doing here in Detroit and he was really interested. We walked away from the tent to get away from the noise and talked for a while. I can't wait to interview him. He seems really knowledgeable about Detroit music and history in general, beyond house and techno. He plays multiple instruments in addition to DJ/producer equipment. We exchanged numbers right away and planned to meet up soon for an interview. He asked me what kinds of questions I am interested in. It was a really great conversation. Oh yeah, and he was talking about Art Blakey's music, and Detroit's musical sound – that there's something underlying it all, uniting the various forms of music that are produced in Detroit in foundational ways.

I also met Angela Slate, promoter for Strictly House, a label that Bruce Bailey and Reggie "Hotmix" Harrell are a part of. WhoDat introduced us and Angela gave me her number so that we can set up an interview. Then, WhoDat introduced me to Martine, she described herself as being a fan of house music since before it was house music. I like that. So Martine and I exchanged numbers as well. It was so great – WhoDat, my advocate and sponsor! It's great to have that kind of help because just going up to people and explaining what I am doing here has not worked for me so far. Emailing a DJ or sending a MySpace or Facebook message to a DJ has been a successful approach when it's someone I don't yet know. But just going up to people, especially fans, not DJs, I am usually met with distrust and suspicion.

Another highlight of the day was Kenny Dixon, Jr. He was scheduled to play at 3pm – I knew that would not happen, but I hoped that he would show up and play. And he did! Some time around 5PM or so, I noticed him up on the grassy hill playing football with a boy. Then, when I was talking to Piranhahead, Kenny walked up to the DJ tent with his record bag. Piranhahead called out hello to him, and I thought for a moment that I was going to meet him, but he didn't come over. He just said something to Piranhahead and kept walking. Then Piranhahead said that some people would think they had just seen God walking across the grass (referring to Kenny Dixon), but he has known Kenny for years and he's just a regular guy. I often have these kinds of conversations with DJs about fame and it being such a weird experience for them.

So finally, Kenny went up to play and it was great. When I have see him play in Chicago, he plays an educational set – trying to teach those in the crowd about Detroit's musical history, and the history of techno and house, through the music. He sometimes has an angry, aggressive way of doing that. Like, one show at Smart Bar in Chicago, he was playing with the 3Chairs (Theo Parrish, Rick Wilhite, and Marcellus Pittman). KDJ wore a black mask covering his face below his eyes. He played the same disco track for about 15 minutes and then let it finish completely in silence – it is funny to think about it now. I think there was some sort of disagreement about money or location or something, and it was coming out in the music. But he plays other tracks and in other ways that make the event seem like school. But seeing him play in Detroit, it's home for him. He clearly knows everyone. People love him – the tent was full for most of his set. He played classic funk songs and most people recognized the songs and screamed out when it came on. He also played Wanderer – which has always been a rave track from my past experiences – it was interesting to hear him play that. And fun to dance to – I did not expect it. During Rick's set, he almost completely cleared the tent at one point. The music got really dark and deep – he adjusted the mixer so that he could use the single headphone as a microphone. As he plugged the cord in, it made a high pitched sound, he seemed to like it and as he was adjusting the mixer, he kept plugging the cord in halfway to make the sound. Then he plugged it in all the way and started talking on the mic (even though there was a regular mic back there). He said something about this being deep underground house (?). I'm not sure if he called it house, but I am certain about the deep underground part. Then he said something about how most of the people there didn't understand what they were hearing, but a few got it. Then he said "If you had been in my basement back in 1983…" It is cool to hear what DJs say when they get on a mic. I just have to say, I really love everything Rick does when he's up there.