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!