Saturday, March 13, 2010
Photo by James M Rotz
House Music Picnic, Belle Isle, Detroit, MI
Moodymann did an interview for this year's Red Bull Music Academy in London. He has been releasing music since the early 1990s, and has done three interviews to date, that I know of. The first was for Real Detroit Weekly in preparation for the first Soul Skate party during the Movement Festival weekend in 2007. It's the May 23-29, 2007 issue, page 28. It's not online anymore, sorry. It's a very short interview, most of the interview questions have more words than his responses!
The second interview was with Gilles Peterson for his BBC radio show. Nice interview...
But my favorite by a long shot, no contest, totally powerful and enlightening and moving is his recent interview with Benji B for RBMA.
He did the interview with a group of four women, including Traci, manager for Mahogani Music. He spent the first bit getting his hair done while chatting about Detroit. I know this presentation of his persona can turn people off a bit, just from reading comments on a few blogs. But it's clearly his representation of his Detroit. I'm not offended by this persona, nor am I wooed by it. I accept his version of Detroit and appreciate what he is going for by bringing it to London. What is way more significant to me are his words and ideas.
He spoke at length about identity and image in Detroit electronic music; specifically about Detroit artists tending toward invisibility, or masked identities. He first tributed this tendency to the Electrifying Mojo, Charles Johnson, Detroit radio DJ during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Mojo is heralded by most of the artists I have interviewed, and by most Detroiters who grew up during those years and were into music, as a defining institution in the history of Detroit techno and house music, but also for Detroit music more generally. Mojo kept his identity hidden. He did not do appearances, shows, or parties. He was on the air doing his thing and that was it.
Moodymann and other Detroit artists keep their identities hidden, mask their faces in performance, and participate very little in any kind of media representation; artists like Mad Mike Banks and Underground Resistance, Scan 7, and Gerald Donald in his many groups - Ectomorph, Dopplereffekt, and Drexciya, to name a few. They are generally not doing this from a philosophy of militancy, aggression, or racism. The philosophy, as expressed by Moodymann in this interview, and by Mike Banks in a few select interviews and in a conversation with me, is that the music is of foremost importance, it should be put out there, up front. The music should be out there for people to receive in some way with no human image attached to it. It doesn't matter who the person is that makes it, it's just music and the listener gets what she/he gets from it. And this leads into the concept that music is universal. This is a fundamental idea that fuels the productivity of a lot of Detroit artists. As an ethnomusicologist, I am not inclined to go along with universalism without interogating the concept. But I am willing to embrace it's importance in Detroit's techno and house music culture.
Finally, Moodyman explains that his reluctance to share his identity, ideas, and experiences also hinges on his daily life growing up in Detroit. He says the only white people he saw were the white man coming to turn off the gas, or the white man coming to take his father to jail. Protection of his identity and of his craft fueled his need for privacy. After years of traveling around the world and realizing that white people outside the US are way different from white people as a mass within the US, he has grown to understand and respect the interest that all kinds of people all around the world have for his music, and Detroit's music in general.
I'm glad he doesn't do a lot of interviews, because this is a really meaningful and important interview.