Friday, February 27, 2009
Thank you Nigel Richards. And now to check out mister man's blog...
This is a comment from Jacob Arnold, editor and writer of Gridface. He commented on Ethnography and Interviewing. Jacob, I appreciate you reading and appreciate the dialog. The sentiments in this comment about race and generalizing are really important, so this is going to be the basis of this post. I'm not a big proponent of the whole music is universal, it unites everybody, one love, Saves the Day, PLUR business. I definitly understand that perspective and sometimes swing that way when I am moved by a piece of music or at a party that is particularly hot. But, the whole Peace Love Unity Respect business really doesn't apply to a lot of people. It usually applies to primarily white middle class ravers who like to sit in massage circles, shove something in their mouths so they don't grind their teeth, and have an adventure at a rave. And even if that rave happens to take place at the Packard Plant, or some other wherehouse/abandoned space in Detroit, lots of African American Detroiters were often turned away at the door or couldn't afford the $15, $20, or $25 ticket price. I'm not making this up, Terrence Parker and Cornelius Harris (Atlantis) of Submerge talked at length about this at a one-day conference that I organized at Indiana University, October 2006. It was called Roots of Techno: Black DJs and the Detroit Scene. Cornelius referred to it as a safari - white kids coming in from the suburbs and going to raves in poor Black neighborhoods with ticket prices that were obviously out of range for residents of those neighborhoods. There is not much of a rave scene in Detroit now and the crowds at many of the electronic music events here are usually older, like a lot of the events with primarly African American crowds where the househeads go, most are at least in their 30s, and many in their 40s and 50s. People who were in high school when Rick Wilhite was throwing roller skating parties in his basement!
Now I just have to say this...my entry to electronic music was through raves. I went to my first rave in the Chicago area when I was 17. It was called Submerge (ha!) and Lady Miss Kier of DeeLite sang, and I cannot remember the DJs! I'm sure my brother remembers, I'll have to ask him. I knew almost nothing about Detroit music at that time, I probably had heard of Juan and Derrick, but that's about it. Then I went to college in NYC and listened to tapes of Terry Mullan and Nigel Richards and DJ Adam and went to raves and clubs in the NY area. And before all that, I grew up in a small, very white, and really racist, farming town in northwest Indiana. I'm saying this because this is my background, this is the perspective and experience that I came to Detroit with. I'm not a Detroiter, I don't know all there is to know about race and "the Black people." However, my mind and my heart are open to learning about what I don't understand and that means that I can see racism all around me here in Detroit, the suburbs and throughout this country in many systematic and subtle forms! Additionally, I have a strong grounding in African American history (yes, American history) and so that is constantly impacting my experiences in Detroit.
If I based all my understanding of Detroit on going out to clubs and parties all over the city and just listening to music on my own, I would basically have a pretty detailed understanding of my own experiences and perspectives of Detroit music. There's a lovely term for that and it's called "navel gazing!" And that's just not going to produce a worthwhile collection of research that I would feel good about turning in to my dissertation committee, it wouldn't help me become a very good ethnomusicologist or university professor, and who would want to read a book based on that? Admittedly, there is a bit of navelyness in this blog - but that's okay, it's a blog...and my name is in the damn title! What?!
Now to address the welcoming feeling of going out in Detroit...yes, I have always felt welcome and sometimes even embraced at places in Detroit. Going out to places like Lola's on Friday and Saturday nights is a lot of fun. Lola's is a restaurant/bar downtown with lovely paintings on the walls, lots of friendly people, and house music two nights a week. Bruce Bailey plays every Friday night with guest DJs, and he hosts a Saturday night there with Rick Wilhite, Raybone, and Norm Talley. The Friday nights are always packed, it's mainly a Black crowd, and it has been described as having an energy that almost matches that of the Music Institute. I don't feel unwelcome there and I don't feel out of place there even though I might be one of two or three white folks in a very crowded club. But that's not really at issue here. One of the issues is, why don't more white people go to Lola's?
Here's another example: Buzz Goree's Jive Turkey party at The Works, November 2008. It's the fifth Jive Turkey party he has hosted. (I didn't write a post about that night...sorry. I'll have to look at my notes later at home and see if there is anything I want to put up about it later...) Terrence Parker, James Pennington, Jit Wiggins, and John Johr played. There are two rooms at The Works, so everyone got a nice long set. And, it's an 18+ club, so lots of younger kids come out to parties there alot. TP is great at bringing out the younger crowds, which is something that is important to him. Usually, it's a young white crowd, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that, except that he would really like to be able to reach young African Americans in Detroit. But because of lack of spaces for parties where people under 21, and even under 18, can come, and lack of access to radio programming that includes time slots better than 3AM on Sunday morning (!), people who produce electronic music in Detroit really struggle reaching young Black kids in the area, and probably around the country as well. Anyway, at the Jive Turkey party, Terrence Parker was in the front room playing a great set, like always! That room has the bar, a movie screen, couches, a pool table and a small dance space. It was pretty crowded most of the night, and it was a diverse crowd, but most of the white kids were in that room. John Johr (who is white, Paxahau resident DJ) and James Pennington (who is Black, of UR, Submerge, co-wrote "Big Fun" with Kevin Saunderson and Art Forrest) played in the back room, which is down a narrow hall from the front room. It is a much darker space with brick walls, benches along one wall, big industrial fans up in the ceiling and hanging down the walls of one side, a support pole in the center of the room, and the DJ booth is elevated higher up above the dance floor than in the front room. I got there toward the end of John Johr's set, so I can't say who all was in that room during his set. But it was not very crowded in there and he was playing some intense techno. When James Pennington came on the decks, the room stayed pretty sparse for most of the night. He played a great set - really funky techno, pretty diverse, I danced alot. Abdul Qadim Haqq set up an easle and was painting to the music. And this is the weird part...the hallway was lined with white people, mainly young, white men looking on at the scene going on in the back room while James Pennington played. And I don't know if this is what they were thinking, but they really looked scared to go in. I'm serious, they looked aprehensive, like, 'Do we belong in there? Should we go in?' Something made those white boys decide to hang out in the hallway, by the stinky bathrooms, and hear James Pennington's set bounce, and trainwreck, with Terrence Parker's set! And it definitely wasn't any kind of animosity that was being projected by anyone in the back room. The vibe was great in the back room. I think Darkcube was there, maybe T. Linder, but I don't remember for sure. Mike Clark and Mike Banks were there. It was a lot of fun.
This is one reason why I say there is isolation and separation in techno and house music in Detroit.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Ethnographic in Detroit has also come to mean exploring parts of Detroit life that are not immediately associated with techno and house music outside of the city, but I have realized are closely linked for Detroiters. And now here's a humorously disjointed list of things I've been doing: Visiting museums, roller skating, going to all the other summer festivals after DEMF on Memorial Day weekend, the WinterFest (we roasted marshmallows over trash cans that had been transformed into elevated fire pits!), exploring all over the city with friends or on my own, record store visits and some well thought out purchases with my limited funds, listening to lots of different radio shows that Detroit DJs do on a weekly/regular basis, getting to understand the relations between the suburbs and Detroit proper. One thing that has impacted this last point quite a bit for me, besides talking about it with musicians, many of whom live in Detroit, is the fact that aside from doing this research, and working full time at a job completely unrelated to most other things in my life, James and I (mainly James) homeschool our three boys. So we have a whole other circle of friends who are fellow homeschooling families, and all of whom are white, middle class, and live in suburbs - that's just who we have happened to meet! Being involved in multiple circles and communities in the Detroit Metro area is really teaching me a lot about this place.
So, at the beginning of this post, I wrote that I wanted to describe some follow-up interviews that I have been doing that are different from the oral history type of interview...but then I didn't...
I have been doing something that we ethnographers like to call feedback interviews where we present our interviewee with some sort of cultural artifact - a photograph, video or audio of a performance, musical instruments, etc. So my version of the feedback interview at this point relies on the musician to play music and talk with me about it. I ask people if they can play music they have created, or that was influential to them as musicians, or that they think is important to Detroit, and then talk about it with me. I have only done a few of these so far, but they have turned out so fabulously, that I'm going to take some time to do some more of them.
Pirahnahead is one of the musicians with whom I have done this kind of interview. One of the things he talked about while hanging out before doing the interview is the impact of 80's hard rock music on him growing up. He loved Black Sabbath and other hard rock bands and told me that this interest made him too Black for white people, but not Black enough for Black people. I’m almost positive that is exactly what he said, but I was driving and didn’t have my mic out, so I’m paraphrasing. It reminds me of anthropologist, Maureen Mahon’s, book on Black rock music titled Right to Rock: The Black Rock Coalition and the Cultural Politics of Race (Duke University Press, 2004). She writes about how being Black and being a rock musician don’t mesh in most people’s minds, and she writes about this same sentiment in her book, that the musicians she worked with in NYC felt that they were not Black enough for Black people because they played rock music and not r&b or hip hop or jazz or something that was obviously and decidedly African American; and that they were too Black for other white rock musicians and other white people because the mainstream, public image of rock musicians does not include Black people. So that’s how Pirahnahead feels/or felt. This is also the perception of Black DJs and techno music, but also other forms of electronic music outside of Detroit – inside Detroit, it’s the norm, it’s everyday to see Black people make electronic music; but beyond Detroit’s boundaries of 8 Mile, Telegraph Road, and the Detroit River, this is not the norm. The assumption is that usually white guys are DJs, usually white guys make electronic music, techno music and electronic music is not soulful enough for Black people to enjoy, let alone actually spend enough time on to produce or create.
It’s fascinating because in Detroit, there is a great deal of isolation from the surrounding areas and from the rest of the country/world. I have seen this first hand and have had other people tell me this. Mike Banks actually wrote this in an interview:
Where do you see the biggest problems/challenges and the most promising developments in your community? How is the situation in Detroit?
"We need our city and manufacturing leaders to travel overseas and to realize what Mass Transit means to a city. We don't have it and we have land locked communities, with land locked thoughts and values. There is no interaction unless you have the luxury of a car which a lot of people can't afford. The situation is grey."
It’s really true, some who live in Detroit proper don’t like to go past 8 Mile Road heading north and people in the suburbs, primarily white middle to upper class people, don’t like to go past 8 Mile Road heading south into Detroit. There is a lot of segregation of people, of culture, and of resources.
So anyway, back once again to the feedback interviews...It’s fascinating the differences between this interview with Pirahnahead and the similar type of interview that I did with Todd Osborn. Clearly it’s about differences in personality and styles of communication. Pirahna is way more boisterous and outgoing and extroverted with me while Todd, still very generous with his information and story telling, was more introverted and quiet, even a bit shy, which matches my personality, quiet and shy. Todd quickly shifted from track to track on his computer, dragging audio files to his player on his desktop and flipping through most things pretty quickly. He played radio shows – Mojo, Mills, Dan Bell. Dilla tracks, humorous things that he and friends worked on, and some of his own music, but flipped through it really quickly. He also played a wide variety of other peoples’ music that has been influential to him. The connections he made between his own productions and things he realized to be influential after the fact were really clear and profound to my ears. He would play his own track and then tell me that a particular track was influential, even though he didn’t realize it at the time of production. I could hear the connections so clearly and it was interesting to see how he went about producing – having a huge catalog of sounds and tracks in his head, producing his own track, and then hearing a specific connection in something else.
Pirahnahead, on the other hand, played mainly music that he produced. He played a jazz piece that had almost the exact same drum intro that Van Halen has on “Hot For Teacher.” It was very cool to hear that, I don’t know what the song was, but I have it on the recording, so I can look it up later. He played most of the tracks all the way through for me, things he produced with Minx, with Diviniti. And he went into detail about their specific contributions, told me stories about what he does in the recording studio, about working with other musicians, playing the guitar on tracks, keyboards. He’s very demonstrative when he talks and mimics the music with his body movements, sings lyrics, etc. He’s very generous with information and seems really intent on giving me full and honest accounts of what Detroit culture and Detroit music is really all about. Which also means he talks the shit out of an interview, some of my longest interviews are with him.
Well, that's it for now...
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Oh, and I considered using bitches instead of chicks, but then I thought that might be a little too intense: "dudes bitch and bitches bitch and bitch bitch bitches bitching bhtics sitching aaaahhh..." Shit, can you imagine if my dissertation committee actually reads this blog?
Monday, February 16, 2009
Part of the issue of digital and vinyl/analog is that a laptop sometimes inserts a dramatic separation between the DJ and the crowd. Some have told me they get distracted by the glow of the screen on a DJ's face, or that, when a computer is there, the DJ becomes more focused and intent on the screen than on what is happening throughout the rest of the club or the dance floor. Sometimes that's true. But Todd’s set was phenomenal. The diversity and eclecticism that seems to guide his musical artistry in things that he has produced, his Preset radio show on Red Bull Music Academy Radio, his DJ sets, and from the interviews I have done with him, it’s really exciting to me, and just fucking great to dance to! OK, now I'm gushing, and I could talk about a lot of Detroit artists in this way, Mike Banks, Theo Parrish, Rick Wilhite, DJ WhoDat, DJ Minx, Pirahnahead, Kyle Hall; these are all people who are inspiring to me and help fuel my excitement about Detroit (this is a tiny list, I know; but I've interviewed them all, except Kyle Hall - I'm working on it!).
Okay, back to Elements...it really was one of the best nights out for me ever, definitely at the top of my list of nights in Detroit! Todd played Theo Parrish's “Synthetic Flemm” (there - something I can actually identify) which I love to hear out in Detroit – lots of people played it over the summer, but I haven’t heard it for a while. I'll describe this moment in his set in detail because as I was dancing, I was really moved by what I was hearing. Todd sometimes mixes tracks together for extended periods of time, he’s not always just dropping one track after another. So the complexity of sounds is incredible. The track he played before Theo’s, I don’t remember what it was, was really different, but the two together as he was slowly, very slowly, bringing Theo’s in, sounded excellent. I kept thinking, wait, is that what I think it is? I don’t know, maybe I’m hearing something, no that’s what I think it is. And then, after a bit longer still, he brought it in completely and I knew. But the anticipation and the excitement of that kind of DJing style is freaking effective. It just felt really exciting, almost like he was teasing the crowd, and I think that’s what some DJs are doing when they play. I interviewed a DJ recently and he explained that he loves being able to pick out one individual seated all the way in the back of the club, choose a track, and draw that person up out of their seat and all the way to the dance floor and keep them there. That’s a little different from what I experienced Todd doing, but sort of similar in that the DJ is adding anticipation and excitement to an incoming piece of music. It almost impacts the night by adding a sense of urgency and pleasant expectation of what’s to come. And I danced almost his whole set, which was just short of two hours. I just took a break for water and to take a few photos, wish I had taken more of the space and the crowd. It was so much fun.
Okay, that's it for part 2, still a bit more to come...and I'll get some photos up!
2125 Michigan Ave
This party was amazing. It was so worth the exhaustion I felt for the two days after. After finding out that my babysitter got a flat tire on the way to our house, I sadly realized that my husband was not going to be going with me to this party. He was probably happy to sleep, but I missed being able to go out with him. But I went anyway...research, I had to do research! I picked up WhoDat and drove down to the Corktown area. We had great conversation on the ride about her starting up her record store and selling local hip hop and electronic music, she was talking about the importance of licensing your own music so that you can actually earn money from your art! Here's the link to her store (still in it's early stages): Ya Digg Records.
So we got down to Elements, I found it really interesting that the flyer listed important landmarks in the area, some permanent, some temporary to give people an idea of where to go.
It listed the old train station (Michigan Central Station), Corktown Tavern, and The Works. The old train station which used to be a historic landmark in Detroit and is now abandoned, fenced in, and home to many homeless people and explorers with their cameras or graffiti supplies. This is the permanent landmark. Also listed on the flyer is the Corktown Tavern and The Works, both clubs that for at least the past few years, feature Detroit electronic music. The Works hosts a diverse variety of shows and electronic music. I think most Saturdays are a gay club night, after hours. Terrence Parker has played there a few times, Buzz Goree’s Thanksgiving party was there. The younger white, kind of raver crowd sometimes has parties there usually hosted by the Massive Detroit group. Corktown Tavern is more of a Detroit Techno Militia, Bang Tech 12 spot, and I’ll always remember the DTM sticker on one of the draught taps in the upstairs bar (sadly I only have a cell phone pic of that).
So, WhoDat and I parked down the street from Elements and walked around to the back alley. We went in, paid, and set out to explore. There were cloth curtains dividing the space into walkways and seating areas, there was a triangular shaped “lounge” space in the middle of everything, drink ticket table, then the hallway with bathrooms, and then the bar and dance/DJ space. It was pretty full when we got there, around 12:45AM. Chuck Hampton was playing. There were a lot of people dancing for such an early time in the night, there were a lot of people there for such an early time. I was so ready. Shortly after we got there, Todd stepped up and I got ready to dance. His set was incredible. He killed it, of course.
I need to go eat some lunch...so I'll post more later...
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Oh...and I finally figured out why my links on the home page of my blog were that ugly blue color - problem fixed. Sorry about making your eyes sore.
Monday, February 9, 2009
I have been thinking about music that has become meaningful to me since being here in Detroit. I've been here for just over a year now, moved here last February. Here is a list I started about particular songs that have connections to Detroit, and even to electronic music here, that have taught me something about this place.
Captain Rapp "Bad Times (I Can't Stand It)"
I went down to see DJ WhoDat play at Record Time in Roseville one day last spring. The whole family went down so my kids could meet her and see yet another cool ass DJ play. They liked it alot. WhoDat played Captain Rapp, I had never heard it before, because when I grew up in a small town in Indiana, there were no cool radio stations that played music like they did in Detroit! I asked her what it was and she told me about the song being a Detroit jam back when she was young. Apparently it's such a Detroit jam that Felton Howard won't even play it any more! Oooh! I loved the song and downloaded it shortly after...no I did not seek it out on vinyl, I didn't even have a turntable then. Quickly made a CD with that song on it so I could play it in the car and now it reminds me of driving around Detroit in the spring with the windows open.
O'Jays "Use Ta Be My Girl"
I hear this song on the radio alot here. There's not too much exciting going on on the radio in Detroit in 2008-2009, but when we moved here last February, I found a station that has "Flashback" programming on the weekends. In any other place, flashback could mean a whole lot of things, but in Detroit, it means old funk, disco, and r & b. This was just one of the sonic ways that I got to learn about living in Detroit when I first started this research. Incidentally, this same station plays Christmas music (not Holiday music) 24/7 from November 1st until just after Christmas...yeah, we got tired of that in my household after about a week!
Isley Brothers "For the Love of You"
Again, a song that I did not grow up knowing, but love as an adult. I first heard it in a class on Motown that I was the course assistant for as a grad student at Indiana University. I have loved it since hearing it then. Last year at the Movement festival, 2008, I heard Kenny Dixon, Jr. playing it as I was waiting in line to pay to get into Soul Skate. I just had to do a little dance in line because I couldn't skate to it!
Earth, Wind, & Fire "September"
Another Detroit "Flashback" radio song that I sing in the kitchen while doing dishes.
James Brown "Body Heat"
Rick Wilhite played this, and sang and danced to it, at the 2008 Mojo Tribute Party last February at Bert's Motown Room in the Eastern Market district. Awesome party! Got there early when barely anyone was there yet and heard some excellent music - another DJ, S.G. Detroit, played Christopher Cross "Ride Like the Wind" super loud, and it was one of the hottest songs of the night. I wrote about that party here.
UR "X-102 Discovers the Rings of Saturn"
Talk about education, the amount of knowledge that I have gained by studying Detroit electronic music intensely has been really incredible. Sadly, I admit that I did not know about the Rings of Saturn until I did an interview with Brian Gillespie last summer. I've never been one to remember record titles, release or catalog information, or even song or track titles. I'm not a DJ and have never really collected records, so my relationship to techno and house music was through going out and dancing. Learning more about important releases and getting into musicians catalogs has been invaluable to my understanding of what this music means to Detroit, in Detroit, and around the world. Gotta love Underground Resistance!
Roland Appel "Changes"
I heard this played out a few times in Detroit last summer, but didn't know what it was. Then, when I started my DJ lessons with WhoDat, she got it out for me to practice blending with some other records and I just had to listen to it all the way through, a few times I think. I failed on that lesson because I didn't want to mix anything with it, just wanted to listen to the hot, dirty goodness of it!
Once again, another group that I didn't know much about. I had heard a bit about the mystery surrounding them, but couldn't connect the name to music yet. Talking with Mike Banks about them and reading up on them some more sparked my interest to investigate and their music is wonderful. It's just really innovative and exciting to listen to and the fact that the impetus and inspiration behind some of their music comes from strong feelings of hatred toward white people makes it even more interesting! Especially because alot of what I have learned about them here comes from Mike Banks, who is one of the most generous, open, supportive, and innovative people in Detroit - and clearly not motivated by racism or anti-white/anti-outsider sentiments in his musical endeavors!
So that's my list, maybe I'll add more later.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Monday, February 2, 2009
There is this fantasy about Detroit techno music – people imagine it as being a product of a desolate city that is really only imaginable in science fiction. The levels of danger, desolation, desperation, crime, and abandonment that were and are imagined by techno fans who are not from Detroit are so extreme that they really cannot possibly exist in an actual city. Yes, the desolation and crime that have plagued the city and Detroit’s history are real. Many people I have interviewed have described the city as hard, but they also realize and vocalize the many positive things about life in this city. With a population of 1 million, plenty of landscape exists that is beautiful and not abandoned, remaining middle and upper class neighborhoods, mainly in the North West region of Detroit that are maintained and populated, full and vibrant working class neighborhoods as well…all these things provide ample evidence that this city is thriving and quite busy and active in countless positive ways.
So there is a great deal of struggle that inspired Detroit citizens to create amazing and innovative techno music. However, there are many other positive influences that for the most part, hold a more powerful and lasting presence for the musicians and fans here in the city.