Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Movement festival weekend, 2009, Part 1

I am just going to start at the beginning and plan to give you multiple posts about the whole weekend…there’s a lot to tell! First off, I’ll say thank goodness for mothers who drive up Friday night and stay through until Tuesday morning to help care for my three fabulous little dudes. There is no way I could have done this weekend without her help. Thanks Ma! Also, how awesome is it that both James and I are so into electronic music and Detroit, no actually, we are so into each other, that we can spend much time together exhausting ourselves, exploring, photographing, videotaping, chatting it up with friends, and making new friends, and we really loved every minute together. Oh wait, there was that one moment…but a little sleep cured it all. Yay for husbands!

A few general comments: I noticed a few times this weekend, way more than I wanted to, that a few local DJs played more of a trancey rave set with little to no variation in sound, rhythm, style, melody, or anything else, who at other times in the year, play all kinds of different sounds and styles in their sets, don’t stick to one genre, and certainly don’t try to feed Detroiters trancey rave stuff. But I heard an unnecessary amount of music that was uncharacteristic of these Detroit DJs. Not that I’m intent on holing musicians into a generically defined box, I just heard less creativity than I’m use to hearing in this musically diverse city. And I hesitate to say this because as a scholar, I’m really not a music critic. And no slight to talented writers who critique music and can do it really well, Infinite State Machine, but that’s not my job. That’s not the role I want to play with this blog. I also want to recognize that there are a lot of lesser known artists in Detroit who I adore and don’t want to make them feel like their turn for criticism is right around the corner, because it’s not. I just think it would be really great and inspiring to a lot of people to hear Carl Craig, and other big name DJs, play a set that was as interesting and fun and creative as Craig played at the Mojo Tribute party a few months ago at Bert’s Motown Room in Detroit.

Anyway, Friday night James and I went to Corktown Tavern to see Sassmouth, Punisher and James Pennington. I’m a fan of all three and have heard some really hard, funky, mixing it up sets from each of them. There were DJs upstairs and downstairs at the tavern. It’s a pretty nice space – lots of Detroit Techno Militia stickers up all around. And even though it’s an old building, by the time you have ascended to the landing midway between the two stories, you lose the lower level music and begin to hear upstairs pretty well. For an old tavern/biker bar, it’s got some nice acoustics. It was crowded upstairs, but kind of empty downstairs most of the night. They were grilling in back patio space and there were some chairs and tables set up, speakers from the downstairs set up were out there too. It’s nice to be able to go outside and hear the music, especially on a cool, exciting night like the first night before the festival begins. I was looking forward to meeting some folks that I have been communicating with online for a while, and wondering who I might see out that night. I didn’t meet anyone new that night, but texted with DJ Count Zero, aka Frank Glazer. It’s so great to be meeting people in person that I word it up with electronically. I have never really had this kind of experience of meeting people online and forming relationships in that way and then having it be important enough of a connection to actually want to meet in person. I’m so excited about this.

Another thing I like about Corktown Tavern, and the whole Corktown area in general, is that it’s nice to walk around outside there. James and I went for a walk in the empty lot behind the tavern and went partway around the old Tiger stadium. It was nice to be outside, hearing the music, stars were out, I caught the big dipper when we got home later that night. Pretty fun evening.

Okay, so onto the music. Sassmouth and Punisher played pretty hard techno sets. The DJ space in the upstairs is at the front of the building and the windows were open and street lights were shining in. There were no lights in that part of the upstairs, so the black walls and bright lights shining in through the windows made for a nice scene for watching DJs. James purposely didn’t bring his camera that night, but wished he had. I like how Punisher plays, she’s a tiny white lady who occasionally pumps her fist in the air and nods her head through her whole set. Towards the end of her set, James Pennington walked back behind the tables with his record bag, opened it, sat down in the corner and smiled and nodded his head to her set. I like that, DJs who seem to be from totally separate crews (not that it’s usually that formal, but it sometimes is), joining together and enjoying each other’s musical selections and DJing styles. James Pennington got on and played some fun techno. He clearly had fun. Most of the crowd was white and young that night, seemed like a lot of people were from out of town or from out past the city limits and new to that space or that music. Which was totally different from the crowd at that space during other times of the year. Most of the time, everyone knows each other. They’re all friends, went to school together, often play records together, have formed a label together, and other connections. James Pennington had some people there too, and that group made up most of the Black people in the place. The Butcher was there with them. So mild worlds colliding that night in Corktown.


chaircrusher said...

I wouldn't say 'trancey' but I know what you mean. 'Trance' is a fighting word in Detroit. But Carl Craig, Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May's sets (for example) were all pretty straight up the middle banging sets. I wasn't around for the worst offenders (like Carl Cox), but it seems like when you put DJs like that in a giant venue where they're separated from the crowd, there's a regression towards the mean 'big room' set. Of the 3, Derrick managed to make it work for me because of his relentless tweaking of dynamics and tone. But when I compare it to e.g. Osunlade's set, Osunlade played some banging stuff but controlled the emotional pace by bringing in exquisite deep house tracks.

That's why sets like Flying Lotus and the Wignomie Brothers did stood out for me. Flying Lotus's base 'style' is pretty varied, and what he 'DJ'ed' (I think it was all in Ableton Live) was even more insanely varied, with a lot of insane digressions. The Wignomies were just pure fun, and more into various mutated forms of house music.

And the opening set of the festival by Liz Copeland was just perfect. She played what used to be called ambient, and was all over the map, from Raymond Scott to early Aphex Twin to ... I dunno. It was great.

pipecock said...

i would definitely say that Carl's set was a little on the "trancey" side, for what it's worth. especially when you compare it to what he used to play most of the time when he deejayed. Saunderson always takes it cheesy so i'm not surprised by him doing that anymore, but i wouldn't call what he played "techno" really.

also i know the beatdown guys seem to play much more "electronic" type shit when they play in europe based on the sets of theirs that i've heard. from the little i saw of them before deciding that i couldn't tolerate the underground anymore, they seemed to be doing the same thing at the festival.

Denise said...

Kent, I understand what you mean about "trancey." I feel like I still need to work on my terminology and just describing music in general. Even though I've been studying music, and electronic music, for a long time, it's still challenging to put sound into words. I really enjoyed Liz's set - good selector!

And Tom, thanks for your comment about "trancey." This issue of terminology points to the fact that describing music has alot to do with everyone's individual ears and perspective and experience. I think finding the balance between communication that is mildly universal and necessarily individualistic is challenging but necessary as we keep writing about this stuff.

And I actually enjoyed the Beatdown guys, although I didn't catch Mike, just Norm and part of Delano's sets. And yeah, it was difficult down there!

Well, I'm off to San Diego for a conference, so I'll be writing more after the weekend.

pipecock said...

i always love the beatdown guys, even when they play more electronic stuff. but i can remember seeing them at their own night at Agave with an all local Detroit crowd and they were playing disco, jazz, all those sorts of things. Norm usually plays that kind of shit when he plays in Pittsburgh as well.

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