Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Research issues and ideas

Here is an attempt at revising my thesis/research question, for those of you interested in where I am coming from:

I am researching the African American culture surrounding Detroit electronic music. This includes the history of techno and house music in Detroit, the people who first began to make this music, and the music that inspired its creation. More than this, my research addresses the present state of Detroit electronic music in Detroit, and, to a lesser degree, its impact around the world. Therefore, my fundamental theme of inquiry is the following, how do DJs and fans construct an African American identity for Detroit electronic music? In making claims for the African American identity of this music, spacio-temporal elements are key. Who is making the claim and where/when are they situated? In order to investigate this research objective, I plan to engage phenomenology and performance theory as a means of analyzing the production, circulation, and reception of this music by DJs, fans, and other people involved in the electronic music “scene” in Detroit. Experience and consciousness of the music in the context of time and place will be important elements in my ethnographic research with DJs and fans.

Definitely a work in progress!

Missed a Jesse Saunders party AND Minx at Oslo

Yes, that's right, I missed both those events. What a sucker. What an amateur - so tired from regular life with three kids, including a baby who is up a lot at night, that I couldn't get up and out last weekend. Well, I have decided to devote some more time and energy to interviews now that I have my equipment. I have one set up for next Tuesday!!! Very exciting!

I keep thinking about all these things I want to write about throughout the course of a day and then when I actually get a chance to write after the boys are in bed, I forget most of my ideas. I want to write more about getting around Detroit and different things that I have noticed about the city and its suburbs. Driving around the city is interesting – I’ve never experienced such a dramatic difference in traffic/road layout and direction as in Michigan. U-turns are a central element to traffic control in Michigan. And I'm writing about this because it is still new and strange to me. For example, if you are coming to a major road, like Woodward or John R, or Big Beaver, you cannot just get into a left turning lane and turn left onto that major road. Instead, you must get into the right lane and turn right onto that major road, even though you really intend to go to the left. Once on the major road, you must merge over to the far left lane and turn around at one of the many U-turn locations on that major road. Sometimes there are traffic lights directing the U-turn traffic, other times, just a stop sign. Then, once you have turned around, you are now heading in the direction you intended. However, even after living here for 1½ months, I still forget about the U-turns built into the major road and the NO TURNS signs for left turns onto major roads, and then end up having to continue straight through the traffic light, only to manage a random U-turn, or drive into a parking lot somewhere up ahead to get back around to be able to then turn right onto the major road. I am surprised how often I still do this.

I have done quite a bit of traveling around Detroit and surrounding areas. Homeschooling activities have given me that opportunity. We have been up to Flint to the FORMAR nature center for a space travel class (about a 1 hour drive NW), we have joined a gym day at the Troy community center (about a 15 minute drive NW). That community center is something else. When we walk in and head over to the gym on Thursday afternoons, we have to pass by the indoor pool with at least one slide, a small children’s pool, big fountains and buckets that dump from the ceiling. Unfortunately, only residents of Troy and people who work in Troy can use the pool and most of the other facilities there. Troy seems like a pretty wealthy city. We have also been to the Madison Heights nature center a few times and plan to keep attending a few times a month for their homeschool classes. Madison Heights is really near Ferndale. The nature center is at John R and 13 mile – yes, the names of roads in Detroit are fascinating just like the city. There are the mile roads – 8 mile, 9 mile, all the way up to about 23 or 24 mile. Telegraph rd., John R. rd., the Lodge, Rosa Parks.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Updates to research

So a friend of mine that I went to high school with lives up here and she and I have gone out a few times to clubs. This past weekend she let me borrow her copy of Future Shock (1970) by Alvin Toffler.

This is an important book in techno's history in Detroit. Juan Atkins read it and passed the ideas on to Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson in the early 1980s. From this came the name techno and other important terms in techno's history like Metroplex, which became Atkins' label in 1985. I'm so excited to start reading this book.

I found some clips of the Electrifying Mojo radio program the Midnight Funk Association on YouTube recently.


I'm going to keep a YouTube profile collection of Detroit related video and audio clips. Here is the url for it:

I recently learned that Kenny Dixon, Jr. (Moodymann), who refused to do interviews for his whole DJing career, finally did an interview in November 2007 with Giles Peterson on RadioOne in the UK.

Kenny Dixon, Jr. Interview

It's a great interview. However, it comes one year too late for me. I invited him to come to Indiana University in Bloomington, IN to participate in a conference on Detroit house and techno music in October 2006.

He agreed for about a minute and then I received an email explaining that he wanted to keep to his no interview policy and decided not to attend. Oh well, maybe I'll get to meet him soon.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Woodbridge Gallery, Saturday, March 8, 2008

The day after going out is a rough one for me. My three boys are always up early and ready to go. I made the mistake of taking them all out to the DIA (Detroit Institute of Art) today and was barely able to think clearly. I should probably just stay home with them the day after I spend all night dancing.

So, last night's party was excellent. It was a Still Music show (record company).

From their myspace page, there is a flyer for a show at a club called S.O.B.'s in NYC. I was so surprised to see that - I used to go to that club when I lived in New York about 8 or 9 years ago. Anyway - DJs last night were Cordell Johnson (Chicago), Jerome Derradji (Chicago), Rick Wilhite (Detroit), and Karizma (Baltimore). I got there pretty early, usually electronic dance music clubs don't fill up until about 1am or 2am if it's a late night show. Some clubs close at 2am here, but some parties go until at least 4am. So getting there early, I guess that's all part of me being an "outsider" and a field researcher. I end up doing things that make me conspicuous -like getting to events early, early, early. But, I'm going to keep heading out early because it gives me a chance to experience all the different stages of a night in a club. Plus, there's often good music being played early in the night and I would definitely miss out on this part of the night if I tried to be cool and not arrive until 1am.

Cordell Johnson was pretty nice - I think I heard a Kenny Dixon track in there. I didn't get to hear too much of his set though. Jerome Derradji was pretty good too. He was definitely having fun. Played lots of vocal tracks, r&b and disco. Rick Wilhite was, of course, fantastic. Played some perfect Stevie Wonder tracks and a Marcellus Pittman track, always love his sets! Karizma was pretty interesting - only used CDs. By this point in the night, I was pretty wiped out so my attention to detail like tracks and performance description was pretty minimal. Also, I really didn't recognize a lot of what Karizma played. It's going to take me a while to be able to recognize what people play in clubs on a more regular basis.

I tried to start meeting people that I have been seeing around town at other parties, but with minimal success. People look at me like I'm goofy when I introduce myself - but so far, when I actually get the chance to describe what I am doing in Detroit and describe my research, the person I am talking too gets interested and agrees to do an interview with me. Just one more aspect of being a field researcher - being conspicuous and different from the norm. I wonder how many different ways someone can feel like an outsider and isolated as a result of difference.


Saturday, March 8, 2008

Going out again - finally!

Tonight I'm going out with my friend to Woodbridge Gallery to see some DJs - Rick Wilhite again, and some others. When I get back and get some rest, I'll write about it.

Finally got my field recorder for interviews. I'm just waiting on a mic, and when I get that, then I can start interviewing!!!


Monday, March 3, 2008


Okay, so here we go. I am using this as a way to report on my experiences in Detroit studying techno and house music in Detroit. I am a graduate student doing doctoral field research on this music and that is why I am here in Detroit. For those of you interested in the more academic aspects of fieldwork, ethnomusicology, and using the blog as one form of fieldnote, I am aware of possible conflicting issues that posting online will raise. I still think it is a worthwhile experiment and an intriguing way to interact with a larger public while I am engaged "in the field." For readers less interested in the academic aspects, it is going to be interesting to see how this pans out as a form of communication with people I don't even know yet, or at least don't even know to be interested. Bare with me and I'll make sure I do Detroit justice.

What follows are some excerpts from some fieldnotes that I have already written about techno and house in Detroit:

Electrifying Mojo Tribute

Bert’s Motown Room, Eastern Market

The Butcher, S.G. Detroit, Marc Ducan, Rick Wilhite, Kenny Dixon Jr.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The party was in the Eastern Market – I have not been there during the day, but it’s supposedly a very large, year round, farmer’s market. Definitely deserted at night. Eastern portion of metro Detroit. Lots of parking lots, storefronts with metal gates covering the fronts, older buildings, almost like an industrial area. Bert’s Motown room – located next to jazz club, also Bert’s. Came in to club – Rick Wilhite on tables, not very full yet. It was about 10:45. Marc Ducan was frequently on the mic for the first few hours of the night. He was funny, calling people down to dance when the floor was empty, also reminding crowd of what this night meant – tribute to Mojo. Also emphasized that it was Black History Month – fascinating link, clearly African American history and cultural background are important. DJs were all over the mixer, when one was playing, another would come up and make an adjustment on the mixer or listen on the headphones when the DJ on the decks was looking for a record or cd. Two turntables, two cdjs and a mixer. Rick played Peter Frampton live solo portion.

Another DJ, S.G. Detroit, played Tears for Fears “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” Rose Royce “Car Wash,” James Brown “Body Heat,” some “Sunshine” song, but I don’t know who it was, maybe Earth, Wind, and Fire (?), Kraftwerk “Robots." For most of the night, the crowd was largely African American. By midnight there were about 5 white people there. Some of the crowd before midnight seemed like they usually hang out in that club on the weekends and they just happened to be there during this party. I am assuming this because many of them left relatively early in the evening, like before 1 or 2 am. White and Black people, I’m talking about.

S.G. Detroit also played Christopher Cross “Ride Like the Wind,” it was so funny to see him grooving to this song the way he was dancing to other songs he was playing. This song sounded so good so loud – I wasn’t ready to dance yet, but I should have gotten up. When am I going to hear that again in that type of setting, and so loud? Then he played some segment with a man, maybe Mojo (?), talking about the Midnight Funk Association. That was the name of Mojo’s radio show. And he was talking about being a part of the MFA. On the cover of the DEQ that we picked up that night, there was Mojos MFA ID card with his signature on it. Really cool! S.G. Detroit, and Marc Ducan really liked to lower or silence the volume of the song and let the crowd sing along. It was great to hear so many people know these lyrics to so many different types of songs. By this time, it seemed like the growing crowd was filling up with people who were there to see these DJs specifically and who listened to Mojo as teenagers or young kids. A lot of the African Americans in the crowd were in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Some were dressed up. A lot of the women were either in all black or had tight jeans and furry boots pulled up over their jeans. Slowly, more white people trickled in. Mainly white men in their 20s and 30s, one boy who looked pretty young and was clearly a raver from the way he was dancing. Other white men were scruffy, lumberjack, urban white men – I don’t know how to describe this look, but it reminds me of my brother, and a lot of men in Chicago and Bloomington. Maybe it’s a Midwest, kind of mod, kind of indie style.

Rick now playing Cybotron “Alleys of Your Mind,” Marc Ducan got on the mic again and reminded us all that it was Black History Month – this was a really serious, powerful part of the night. He kept mentioning this. It was a really interesting, exciting parallel. Saying something like, this is black history month, this is black history! He also mentioned how Rick used to work at Buy Rite Records. I don’t know much about this place, except that it was an important record store for Detroit DJs. I’ll have to do some research and ask in interviews. Rick then played Queen “Another One Bights the Dust,” Michael Jackson “P.Y.T.”, a Carl Craig track, and Devo “Whip It.”

Then Kenny Dixon came on, about 3am. Kenny Dixon is an excellent DJ - other DJs were really watching him and studying what he was doing. It was pretty cool. I don’t yet know how to describe the difference in sound and technique, but I know that I heard it and I want to be able to study what he does more and understand what really makes someone a talented and skilled DJ. Because, just like guitar players, anyone can be a DJ, but it takes a lot of years and practice to become talented. Like any art form.

Alright now, how was that? I'm heading out again this weekend after a break last weekend - I'll post again soon.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Never thought I'd be doing this!

I'm in Detroit - been here for a month now - doing field research on techno and house in Detroit and the African American history and culture from which this music was/is created. I just read a brief article about Sydney, another ethnomusicologist, and her blog:

I was impressed and driven to my computer to create one for myself as a more public and immediate way of recording my experiences researching this music in Detroit. Hope you enjoy it - now I'm off to watch the Simpson's before my baby boy wakes up!