Friday, December 19, 2008

Race and Music

Just found this on the Moodmat blog:

Moodmat One Question Interview: Theo Parrish

Amazing and on point about Detroit, the US, and music. The comments at the end of the interview by other readers are disappointing. You know, it is possible to be white and not get offended when a person of color points out that racism is alive and well throughout the United States in all its guises.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winter Research

I came here in winter last February and now we're back here again…it's cold and snowy and I love it. The kids went sledding today with Pops while I sat at work and stuffed envelopes. Well, it's a good thing they have such an amazing father who will stay home full time! Blessed boys! Anyway, research has been picking up again. I just got home from a great interview with John Johr. We were at a restaurant in Ferndale called The Emory. I got to drink some nice beer and have an interesting interview with a young Detroit DJ. It was super loud in there though, I hope the recording turned out well. I should probably listen to it tonight to find out...he was speaking pretty loud into the mic, so that should help! So we had a great conversation, he was really friendly and interested in what I was doing here.

Oh yeah, that Scan 7 photo below – totally not mine. Copied and pasted. All the other photos on this blog are taken by me or by my husband. But I wanted to include that photo of Scan 7 so readers unfamiliar with them could get a visual sense of what I was talking about when I was describing that DJ Surgeon/Scan 7 party. Is that cool in blog world? I don't know, still sorta new at this.

And, a few days ago I googled record stores in Detroit trying to plan out a record store outing – not that I have any money to spend on anything, but I thought it would be cool to check out places that Detroit electronic musicians buy their music. Anyway, I stumbled on an article from the Metro Times, a local free paper, by Carleton S. Gholz, about record stores in Detroit from 2003. Then I found lots of other articles he had written from 2000 to 2008 on Detroit electronic music and remembered that he contacted me a few months ago through this blog. So now I have my very own Carleton S. Gholz archive!! Yes, I printed them all out – double sided though!

Friday, December 5, 2008

The sonic sources in electronic music are evasive.

I went down to see DJ Surgeon and one of the Scan 7 DJs play at TV Bar a few weeks ago. Its part of the Thursday series at TV Bar. They often have local DJs play on this night. I didn’t know anything about Surgeon, but I knew that I was excited to hear Scan 7 play – I didn’t know how many members would be there of Scan 7 (there are 7 of them), but I knew it would be good. It was an interesting night. It’s called TV Bar, so there were wide, flat screen TVs mounted all over the place. It’s a relatively large place, there are two main rooms. In the first room is the bar and lots of chairs and tables and couches – there were TVs all over playing sports. Some were hanging from the ceiling away from the wall, some were against the wall at the bar. In the second room, there was another, smaller bar that was not in use. There were TVs hanging from the ceiling above the bar there and there were TVs on the wall opposite the bar. There was also a TV on the wall behind the DJ equipment setup in the DJ booth. Some of the TVs in that room were turned off – there must have been at least 6 TVs in that room. But the TV behind DJ Surgeon was on while he was playing. It was tuned to Cartoon Network – so there were some goofy nerdo late night cartoons playing while Surgeon played – it was really weird and distracting. I found myself sitting down in a really tall bar chair listening to the very loud and excellent music (Surgeon was fantastic) and watching cartoons. I tried really hard to ignore the cartoons, but when I am in a club, I usually turn my eyes toward the DJ most of the time. I just find that the most interesting to watch. So my eyes automatically went to the DJ booth, and the TV was just so bright and alluring, it was difficult to avoid staring at. The volume was turned down completely and the closed captioning was on – so I could even read the shows. It was just weird. Thankfully, Surgeon turned off the TV when the Scan 7 DJ came on – then it felt more official, like all eyes and ears were finally focused on the music. It was a relief for me.

DJ Surgeon was really fun to watch. He was more like a turntablist than most other DJs I see play in Detroit. Kind of like what Terrence Parker does, but still very different. They both have their own distinct style and flow. Also, Terrence plays more house and “inspirational” music; Surgeon plays more techno and electro music. So that alone makes their sets sound different from one another. I was reading online about DJ Seoul today, and he seems like a turntablist as well. But I don’t see this term associated with any of these DJs in print at all. I’m using it because in my interview with TP this weekend, he described himself using the word turntablist. Surgeon seemed like a sonic surgeon – cutting and dissecting beats and other pieces of music to create a whole new musical performance. Terrence Parker was talking about this this weekend during our interview (yes, it was a great interview!) – he was describing his own DJ style, and turntablism in general, and he even brought up mashups as another example. He said these DJs take two pieces of music from two different contexts and manipulating them to create a whole new piece of music in its own context. It was very exciting to hear TP describe music and DJing using those ideas and terms – just along the lines of what I was hoping to discover here. Back to Surgeon – he was really precise, seemed like he was cutting records on the spot and melding new sounds together. It was strangely dark up in the DJ booth, but it was mainly because of all the insanely bright TVs around. That made everything else look really dark. Surgeon had a head lamp with a red light on – that was interesting. The crowd was mainly white and young, although there were a few African American people there. I was surprised by this – since both DJs were African American, and pretty important to Detroit’s electronic music, there might be a larger proportion of Black people in the crowd. But I have found that with events where the DJs play more techno music and less house music, the crowds are usually predominantly white. Still not sure why, trying to figure it out in my interviews.

I don’t know the Scan 7 DJs very well, or if they even call them selves DJs because they play live PA with drum machines, samplers and other electronic equipment. But the man from Scan 7 who was playing that night was basically hanging out with Surgeon in the DJ booth the whole night. When it was his turn to get on, he had a mask on covering everything but his eyes. He wore a Scan 7 baseball cap, and a long sleeve shirt and jeans. I think he had a UR shirt on. One of them turned off the TV and the Scan 7 guy got set up. Surgeon introduced him using his records – he put on a Kraftwerk track, maybe it was “Numbers” and made the “7” on the track play over and over. I can’t remember how he did it since I am writing this so long after, shame shame. There are three possibilities: Surgeon had two records playing the same song and he was going back and forth between both while Scan 7 played some sort of droning, ethereal sound on his equipment. Second possibility, Surgeon had a track that played the “7” segment on the Kraftwerk track over and over with an echo and some kind of droning music in the background. And third possibility, Scan 7 had that segment on his sampler and was manipulating it with other sounds to introduce himself. I don’t know, it’s often difficult to figure out where particular sounds are coming from. The sonic sources in electronic music are evasive. His set was magnificent. I had never heard Scan 7 before and he was really cool. I didn’t know what to expect. The music was super intense and so much fun to listen to and dance to. I was thinking there about something a DJ who used to wear a mask during his sets told me – that the mask that he used to wear was not about militancy or trying to scare people, he wanted to keep himself invisible and let the music stand out there alone for people to take and appreciate. I don’t know if that is the same philosophy for Scan 7, but that’s definitely the vibe I got. He was kind of in a corner, in the dark, with that mask and hat on, and really focused on what he was doing. He wasn’t oblivious to the crowd, I could tell he was aware of what was going on around him and how we all were responding to the music. But he was successful and being almost invisible behind the music. Surgeon would play with him periodically, adding some beat juggling or other turntablist techniques to the set.

I did not recognize anyone in the crowd. There were two drunk girls there, one was completely wasted and dressed up – she kept going up to guys and staring them down. Some guys were into her and would dance with her. There was this one guy who was clearly into the music during the Scan 7 set. He was kind of an indie hipster guy with some scruff and goofy glasses and skinny jeans. She kept going up to him and getting in his face – it was so silly, he was clearly uncomfortable and annoyed. A few other annoying things happened too while I was there. Sometimes I get really tired of going out by myself, but there’s just a few people that I know well enough here and who enjoy the kinds of shows I am going to. James often stays home with the boys because we can’t always afford a babysitter, but he also gets tired and really doesn’t want to stay out all night and then have to parent the next day. WhoDat and I sometimes go out together and we always have fun, but she doesn’t always want to go to the places I’m going to. My friend Ellen lives about an hours drive outside of Detroit, so that's not always easy for her either.

Anyway, it was a fun night. At the end, Surgeon called out that he had CDs. I went up there and he was really friendly. He had 2 mix CDs that he made and then a double disc of his own music that he produced. I bought that one for $10. I didn’t know what it would sound like, I just was in the mood to support and I had some money. It turns out the CD is excellent – I love listening to it. Well that was the end of my night. It was a good one.