Monday, February 2, 2009

Detroit as a landscape for musical innovation

I've been thinking lately about the landscape of the city of Detroit being the backdrop for intense musical innovation and creativity. I’m thinking of a blog post of mine from last spring. Many people involved in electronic music from outside of Detroit describe the landscape of Detroit being one of desolation, abandonment, emptiness and emphasizing the profound suffering and ugliness that they see as evident within the city's borders. For many, this image is a backdrop for the innovation of Detroit electronic music. Now this is sometimes an idea that Detroit musicians espouse, but not to such a severe degree. There admittedly are many problems with life in Detroit; there is a great deal of poverty, the state of the public school system is dismal, and there are pockets of the landscape that are abandoned, destroyed, or simply not being used for their original intended civic purposes. However, like I wrote in that blog post last spring, this city is thriving. Amidst all the poverty and crime and abandonment, there is a profound degree of community development and civic mindedness that many non-Detroiters assume does not exist. Detroit is the second most populous city in the Midwest after Chicago. Detroit proper with a population just under 1 million is larger than Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and other Midwestern cities that don’t get nearly as bad a rap as Detroit does. Here is some of the data:

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.


pipecock said...

the thing that impresses me the most about Detroit is the sheer number of independently owned (also usually black owned) businesses that are just EVERYWHERE in the city. even if theyre not raking in millions, it is still a very different kind of feeling than any other city i've been to. there are a lot of people doing their own thing in detroit, and that's not limited to just music. i think that has to have some influence over the music culture!

i don't think of Detroit as a desolate place, even though it is in some areas. i think it is really quite vibrant in many places.

Denise said...

Right on! Thanks for the comments, I hadn't yet made that connection in my own mind - definitely something there.

This is the reason I started this blog, for this kind of dialogue. Thanks for reading and writing!


jason fine said...

wow, denise.

i am thoroughly impressed with your field of study and where you chose to do it. really liked reading this post. always happy to hear about more people that are aware that detroit is really a great city and has such a strong undercurrent of civic activism.

much respect.
jason fine

roowlant said...

Nice writing, Denise.. I'm from Holland but am interested in Detroit music for more than 15 years. I hope to attend DEMF in detroit next year. I think that if you like detroit techno you have to be at DEMF once in your lifetime..

Andrew said...

Really good to hear music...

Thank you very much...
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