Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I'm pretty sure that I met him once over a year ago on a December visit to Detroit. My husband and I went to the Ferndale Record Time to listen to records and maybe even buy some records, even though we didn't have a turntable! Anyway, I picked out some records to listen to and got set up at a turntable to listen. And Vince, I'm pretty sure it was him, came up to me and took a look at the records I picked out (they were all Detroit techno and house records). He asked me what I was into and then picked out some more records for me to listen to. I just remember being surprised by his friendliness and his willingness to share knowledge.
At the party last night, I met Carla , an American studies scholar. She wrote her dissertation on Detroit electronic music and did ethnographic research also in Detroit. She and I have been in email contact for a while, but never actually met. I was sitting talking to DJ WhoDat (Terri) and Carla came over to say hello to Terri. She introduced me to Carla and we soon realized who the other was. She was so friendly and open to talking about her and my research, and not at all bothered by the fact that our research focuses on generally the same subject area. That's so refreshing. Yeah, sure we both study Detroit techno and house, but we come from different disciplines and have completely different perspectives and approaches to the research. There is certainly no competition and nothing to worry about between us. It's great to be able to have support and respect among scholars. It's also great to be able to talk with someone so knowledgeable and local.
Also saw Rick Wilhite, DJ Raybone, and Mike Clark at the party. I saw a lot of people thatI recognized from other parties, but I don't know who they all are yet. Hopefully I will get more opportunities to talk with fans, not just DJs. I want to learn from DJs about the music, but I also want to get a good understanding of the community as a whole.
Oh yeah, I have an interview with Theo Parrish tomorrow!! Freakin' exciting - I'm loving my interviews so far!
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
The techniques that TP uses are scratching, beat matching, and beat juggling (using two copies of the same record and alternating between the two turntables creating a loop, or some type of really amazing musical segment using the two copies of the same record).
This particular night, TP seemed a little off and most of the times he got set up with two copies to doing some juggling, things wouldn't work out quite right, a record might skip, or he might cue the track to the wrong spot, just a little early or a little late. That can throw off the whole beat juggling segment of a set. He seemed frustrated by it. Now, I'm certainly not being critical of TP's djing in any way. Any type of musician playing live can have an off night, or make mistakes. Things can go wrong. I think these moments are really interesting to explore. At most of the parties and events that I have attended so far in Detroit, a DJ has had at least one record skip. They all handle these moments in interesting ways. Some shrug it off and move on, some have a skip continue and have to cue up a new record right away so they can take off the skipping record, some look seriously surprised and disappointed that one of their records is damaged.
Monday, April 28, 2008
April 28, 2008
DJs Terrence Parker, Thomas Barnett, Punisher (these were the DJs that I saw)
Johanson Charles Gallery
1345 Division St, Detroit
Saturday, April 26, 2008
This party was amazing. Found out about it Friday night when I remembered to check the Detroit Luv message boards. I had seen something about this event earlier in the month, but at that time there was no location and I forgot about it. Ellen arrived at our house at about 11pm. I had been sitting in the kitchen having a snack, a bit of coffee for the night ahead, and reading Daniel Reed’s book, Dan Ge Performance. It’s about his fieldwork in Cote d’Ivoire. It’s an excellent book for folks involved in ethnomusicology, anthropology, ethnography, and the general study of music, but for those of you who don’t fit that category, it’s still a fascinating book. It’s really helping me figure out fieldwork, allowing me the confidence in my research and reminding me that I really do know how to do this and I am doing things the way I should be.
We headed out to Eastern Market, went on a small detour around some construction, and found the place. There was at least one other event going on in the same building. Ellen and I were confused about where to go, but we found the music and then found the correct door to enter. Expensive party, $15. Terrence Parker wrote in an email following the party that the Johanson Charles Gallery is a legendary spot for house music in Detroit, almost like loft parties in NYC. Looked almost like a small warehouse, chipping white paint on brick walls. Valences with lit candles on walls and support posts, pretty high ceiling, free beer, but $1 waters. The colorful strobe lights were the other sources of light – pretty dark most of the time. Lots of cigarette and pot smoke (my hair was so nasty when I got home, and the smell…I had to wash the sheets after sleeping on them for not quite 3 hours Sunday morning). And it was pretty hot and sweaty in there, making for a humid, dirty, smoky atmosphere. But all that really didn’t matter, the music was so great.
First the crowd: Mainly white people in their 20s, probably a lot of ravers. Not dressed in big pants or other types of raver gear, just looked like Midwest kids. Some women dressed up a bit with dresses on. Some Black people, maybe 4-5 from when we arrived until about 2am or so. Surprising because most of the events that I have attended in Detroit with an African American DJ spinning, the crowd is predominantly African American as well. But here, even though Terrence Parker was the headliner, the crowd was predominantly white the entire night. It was the largest crowd that I have experienced in Detroit so far, but still small enough that I could walk around and get a sense of the people there.
The music was excellent. When we arrived there was a white male DJ spinning, I don’t know who he was and we just caught the end of his set. I was excited to see Punisher getting set up shortly after we arrived. She is a white female DJ from Detroit who plays mainly house, but not funky house like some of the other Black DJs I have been writing about. She plays more of a hard, acid house sound (that’s my attempt at describing what she played with a few very general terms; still trying to figure out how to describe electronic dance music). It was really good music. She had a pretty laid back presence on the turntables. The set up was, from DJ’s left, turntable, mixer, turntable, CDJ, CDJ. Flashy, colorful strobe lights all night – pretty confusing when we first entered. Interesting visuals, but I actually rarely pay attention to that. This is actually the first time that I have been to a party or club event in Detroit with a film (“visuals”) playing behind the DJ. Her set was almost 1 ½ hours. Good music, didn’t dance much. Drank a beer and a half, waited in line for about a half hour for the bathroom – only 1 toilet for entire club audience. Took some photos. At one point during her set, I stepped over to the wall to put my beer down on a little table by some candles so that I could write down some observations in my notebook. After writing a few lines, a guy came over and told me that someone had puked near where we were standing. I realized that I had actually been smelling it, but didn’t know it was right near by. I laughed and thanked him. After feeling so conspicuous with my notebook out, his friendliness was really appreciated. And, no, Terri, he did not think I was a cop! I did an interview a few weeks ago with DJ WhoDat, and we were talking about a show I went to at Oslo recently by myself. I was writing a lot of notes about the night in my little moleskin notebook while I was sitting at the bar, and in the lounge area of the club. Terri said that the people there probably thought I was a cop, especially if I had been wearing the bright pink and white tie-dyed T-shirt that I had on for our interview. Ha ha! I was NOT wearing that shirt at Oslo, and I had not worn that shirt out in public for at least a year, for good reason. Why I decided to wear it to my interview that day, I don’t know. But now I get to remember that whenever I step out with my little notebook making my observations.
Anyway, after Punisher, Thomas Barnett came on. Don’t really know much about him, although I read on his myspace page that evening before the party that he worked with Derrick May early on in the history of techno in Detroit. There was also a lot on his myspace page about him being left out of techno’s history and not being very well known. Music was good, pretty funky, more like what I have been hearing from Detroit’s Black DJs, a different kind of house than what Punisher was playing.
Terrence Parker arrived and you could just feel the crowd and the atmosphere change in the club. By this time it’s about 1:30. He talked to about 15 different people who came up to him before he was able to get set up. I was still feeling shy, so I didn’t go up to talk to him until it was too late. By the time I made it over to the side of the small stage, he was already serious about getting set up. He brought his own yellow slip mats for the turntables (slip mats go under the record), and his own needles for the turntables. He put on the first record that meshed really well with Thomas Barnett’s last track, oh, and Barnett lowered the volume at the end of his set and motioned to TP as an introduction. It’s always interesting when something like that happens – when a DJ gets introduced, either verbally, or through some other physical or aural means.
Then TP got out his telephone receiver with a coiled, beat up, taped up old cord and plugged into the mixer. That is what he uses instead of headphones. He played so much great music. “Strings of Life” Rhythim Is Rhythim (Derrick May), “Clear” Cybotron, “The Bomb! (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind)” Kenny Dope Gonzales & Bucketheads, a really cool remix of Temptations “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” some great funk, and some nice gospel.
I'll post again, hopefully tomorrow night, to continue describing TP's fancy spinning!
Sunday, April 20, 2008
It was a beautiful two square blocks of decorated homes and lots filled with sculptures. Colorful dots and other images were painted on houses, sidewalks, and wooden panels. Faces and crosses were painted on the sidewalks and street. The empty lots were filled with all kinds of different sculptural "installations." The artist who created the Heidelberg Project, Tyree Guyton, cleaned up houses and lots in his neighborhood around Heidelberg street in 1986 and turned the "junk" he gathered into art - shoes, tires, telephones, an oven, toys, cars, scrap metal and glass bottles. He used all these items to transform an impoverished neighborhood into a beautiful and inspiring place. His work was initially in response to the damage that took place in Detroit during the Detroit riots in 1967.
Sorry, I have no photos up yet of the Heidelberg project. My 6 year old son only got in two pictures before the battery died in my camera. Bad planning on my part! So, Ellen is planning on sending me some of her photos, and then I'll be able to post those. But the Heidelberg Project website has some nice photos.
After walking around there for while, we drove around downtown a bit, through Harmonie park area, then headed for the Michigan Central Station. This was a huge transit station in downtown Detroit active from 1913-1988 which rivaled Grand Central Station in New York, in size and traffic. The building is fenced off, but seems pretty easy to get into. Clearly we did not venture past the fence with our three children in tow. However, we did take a lovely family portrait outside the vandalized, broken down building! It made me laugh to think about how we spent our Sunday together, exploring the remains of an abandoned train station.
We then walked under the train tracks of the station and found that we were really close to Mexicantown, which was our next stop for food! So we walked back to our car and drove under the tracks, past this bright blue adobe house for sale, and into Mexicantown for some eats. After this we drove around downtown a bit more and then headed up to Royal Oak for some chocolate at a sweet shop and then home for some tea.
It was a great tour of some interesting spots in Detroit. It's great to be getting to know the city some more and to be venturing into so many diverse areas.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
The primary things that I want to learn in my interviews with DJs are as follows: Background/Bio in Detroit electronic music; historical information about this music in Detroit; details about performing a set - planning for it, choosing records/other pieces of music, how things come together in club, what influences set in the midst of performing, and other important things that come up in a show.
So was that last post about geography a little random? Sure, but I am in a new place even though it is still the midwest. (I'm from Indiana.) Every little detail about being in this new location is important because it impacts what I am learning and my perspective of things, and it affects Detroit folks' perspectives and culture in general as well. I really am fascinated with the everyday details of living in Michigan and comparing those experiences with my preconceptions of Detroit before living here. Last night I was listening to a radio show from BBC Radio One by Mary Ann Hobbs that took place in May 2005 during the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. Hobbs was interviewing Dan Bean, another British radio DJ. She asked him to describe what things looked like in Detroit. He described the city as being desolate, lifeless, empty, and strange. He explained that you can drive for miles and not see a single person, buildings are empty, even skyscrapers are abandoned. These comments led into a discussion about how inspiring the landscape of Detroit is and how amazing the music created there can be. So the intentions were positive, but the observations were extremely short sighted and, for the most part, untrue. I have been living in Detroit for 3 months now, and I have not had this experience once while driving within Detroit's city limits. I don't actually live in the city of Detroit, I live just outside in Ferndale. But I have spent a lot of time in Detroit, and it is a hard city. There is definitely a lot of poverty, many abandoned buildings, and some areas that are clearly desolate and impoverished. However, this city is full of life, full of people. There is so much beauty, so much art, such a vibrant grouping of cultures and communities, that it just seems unfortunate that most people from outside Detroit perceive of the city as being a wasteland.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Michigan is currently struggling economically and that seems to be much of what I hear on radio stations, on TV news programs, and from many Detroit citizens. So many times in my 2 1/2 months here, I have heard about husbands being fired, people losing their homes, not enough funding for social services, and terrible public school systems, particularly within Detroit proper. So this struggle is a major part of Detroit culture.
Another interesting element of Michigan life is the mastodon population buried deep under the soil and dug up and preserved in museums around the state. Here is an interesting link about mastodons:
What does this have to do with DJs? Everything - because I am learning all I possibly can about the mitten state made up of 2 peninsulas with its trolls, mastodons, and unemployment!
Thursday, April 10, 2008
I have been busy though, I have to say. A couple of interviews, and then transcribing interviews...Also went to a few events, listening to some radio shows.
Check out WhoDat Wednesday nights 8-10PM, netmusique.com
Adam Francesconi, Rhythm Gallery Wedneday nights 10:30-midnight, CJAM
Mike Huckaby Show Monday nights 10:30-midnight, CJAM
This past Monday, I went to Submerge, 3000 E Grand Blvd, Detroit, for a Red Bull Music Academy event. Submerge is a record company, record store/distributer, Detroit techno museum, and headquarters of Underground Resistance (UR), a very important DJ crew in Detroit. Dennis Coffey, Funk Brother, was the featured guest, interviewed by Detroit DJ Brian Gillespie. It was so great to see such strong connections between musical generations in Detroit. Motown and Techno. Gillespie played a number of Coffey's recordings, "It's Your Thang" (instrumental!) Isley Brothers, "Cloud 9" Temptations, "Smiling Faces" Undisputed Truth, and some others. The room was packed on the second floor of the Submerge building, a beautiful three story building in an area of Detroit that is not otherwise filled with beautiful buildings. Saw WhoDat there, she introduced me to DJ Raybone, long time Detroit DJ. We are going to set up an interview! Also talked to Cornelius Harris of UR, interview next week!
So here are some photos from the Submerge techno exhibit:
Sorry about that flash, I'll get some more professional shots up eventually. These are the display cases at Submerge. Left image is of important releases in Detroit's electronic music history. Middle image is of important analog machines for electronic music product ion. There's a Roland 808 in there, but I didn't write down what the others were and now I can't see very well in my own photo. I need to learn more about equipment. Third image is of Dan Sicko's book, Techno Rebels.
This final image, even though rather small and illegible, is a memo sent out to Music Institute members about policies, fees, membership cards, etc. This was such a cool museum. I'll have to come through here with a better camera, and my kids are interested in coming down!!