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.