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Music

Progressive Heroes: Mike Banks

Urban music rebel

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Published 11/10/1999

The fact that Mike Banks’ Submerge records even exists is reason enough to celebrate. Submerge and Banks’ militant electronic music collective, Underground Resistance (formed with techno luminaries Jeff Mills and Rob Hood), have, in just nine years, become synonymous worldwide with Detroit’s urban-future-funk-techno sound. Just as importantly, Submerge has maintained an equally militant pro-Detroit stance. One constant in Submerge/ UR’s actions is a dedication to the city, its neighborhoods, and its musical and visual art. (Another constant for Banks is avoiding photographers and the usual publicity game.)

Submerge/UR’s retail outlet, Somewhere in Detroit, occupies the kind of building many folks speed past without ever taking a second glance. Detroit is full of such buildings, but few have been repurposed as international hubs of progressive music culture. Through the years, Banks has gotten the world’s ear. Visit the message board on Submerge’s Web site (www.submerge.com) and you’ll find postings from Scottish pop stars, German techno artists, expatriate Detroiters, Australian tourists, Japanese music-lovers. What they all have in common is an appreciation for the progressive, underground spirit that Banks and his compatriots embody. Their musical invention is outstripped only by their ability to unite the massive international dance culture.

Much of this appeal is due to Submerge’s grass roots, independent distribution network, which thrives in the face of both a music industry that actively seeks to squash independent voices and the perception that Detroit’s rebirth must start with stadiums.

Indeed, part of Banks’ mission has been to support the very Detroit neighborhoods in which he grew up and lives. From sponsoring neighborhood semipro baseball teams (Banks is an avid player) to trying, metaphorically and physically, to bring Detroit’s often-disparate neighborhoods and cultures together through music, Banks extends himself to many fronts.

Part of his mission is to extend the hard-won knowledge he’s acquired through his years in the music business as producer, DJ, label head and artist to up-and-coming music practitioners. Submerge includes many new labels run by aspiring entrepreneurs/artists who have had their budding abilities fostered by Banks. And, when Underground Resistance performs overseas and at home, Banks and company have been known to conduct DJ and music workshops for kids in youth homes and for folks from less-fortunate communities. The message: Music can help them transcend their seemingly inescapable surroundings.

Simply, "Mad" Mike Banks practices what his records preach. That is, a future in which anything is possible, an awareness of community is key and music is in the hands of the masses.

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