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.