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Electronic > The Subterraneans

D-pressed

Cash-hard times has led to a dearth of dance ... though good stuff rises

MT Photo: Walter Wasacz
Mike Huckaby
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Published 10/15/2008

In the partisan politics of electronic dance music, it's historically been a case of techno vs. house vs. electro vs. drum 'n' bass vs. disco vs. experimental rock vs. whatever else is out there to which you can shake ass.

But political wiggling in club culture has become largely irrelevant, giving way to the dreaded economic realities of these demon days (to borrow Carl Craig's spot-on phrase). Don't believe there's a recession? Well, check out your local dance floor and then report back to me to say it ain't so. That is, if you still even have a local dance floor. You know? That place you used to go to see and hear your favorite DJ or that rare live performer crank the sub-bass as low as it can go?

In Detroit, which helped teach the world to dance to futuristic beats beginning in the early '80s, the scene is running on E — uh, that's empty, not ecstasy, for all you ravers and club kids still playing spin the bottle in the vertiginous techno dream.

To borrow another metaphor from the current financial crisis, this flame-out is not the result of a sudden lightning strike but a steady slow burn over several years. For the sake of a neat argument, let's say that the Detroit scene reached its peak sometime around 2000, when labels like Planet E, KMS, Transmat, Submerge, Plus 8 and its fledgling subsidiary Minus were not only regularly releasing new material but had the promotional muscle to stage live showcases for local artists and special guests from abroad. Ghostly International was one year old back in 2000, the same year Paxahau, now stewards of the Detroit Electronic Music Festival (DEMF), launched its mega-party mission. The seeds of influential promotions projects like Untitled and Soft Curls (associated with events programmed at the Shelter and Oslo, respectively) began around this time as well.

Those were the days, my friends! The three rooms at the Motor nightclub were humming in Hamtramck; the City Club was hosting semi-annual Richie Hawtin all-nighters; the DEMF was putting all the pieces together into a three-day world party (not to mention all those after-parties) that drew techno tourists from Europe, Japan and elsewhere.

What happened? Well, a better question is: What didn't? We had an idiot in the White House and trickle-down cultural incuriosity; terrorist strikes at home and bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan leading to the tightening of U.S. borders and misplaced scrutiny of foreign artists invited to perform here (Ricardo Villalobos, probably the most gifted techno-house producer of the moment, refuses to play in the United States as a form of political protest over our global policies; dozens of others have been turned away because they were either on watch lists or had improper or nonexistent work visas); and the devaluing of the dollar, leading to economic crisis from Wall Street to Woodward Avenue.

We may feel the absence of life more passionately in the D, maybe because we like to rip it up so much it kills us not to be able to bounce to good, weird beats in a room filled with people. But folks just don't feel much like dancing anywhere in the lower 48 (maybe Hawaii and Alaska? Nah ...) when they're cash-poor and credit markets are teetering on the abyss. Not to mention you feel like a provincial piece of shit walled inside an increasingly fortressed and unwelcoming America.

Detroit brand still bad as hell

But, hey, there's no point in going totally negative in this campaign. The badass Detroit brand remains indelible, just waiting for enterprising and creative artists and promoters to wield its raw power. We simply need some change we can believe in.

Some positive signals remain or are emerging: Detroit artists are still hot all over the blogosphere and old print media, where news of new music by Theo Parrish, Kenny Dixon Jr., Aaron-Carl, Mike Huckaby and Rod Modell often leads the pages of Resident Advisor, Earplug and XLR8R. While you might have a hard time finding records by these guys in Detroit (and that's a shame), you'll see them listed and ready to buy on various UK sites like Boomkat or Phonica, Rush Hour in the Netherlands, or Hard Wax in Germany.

While you're shopping online, look for a couple of newish releases featuring the electro-funky Aaron-Carl, whose supergay "Safe & Sound Remix" of German supergay disco star Justus Köhncke's "$26" is the first time a legit Detroit artist has appeared on Cologne's Kompakt label. It's a huge track, with booming bass drum blasts, pretty keyboard runs and synthetic strings, all delivered with a hip-swiveling side-to-side shuffle.

Even better is A-C's "Crucified," reinterpreted by Port Huron's Modell and Germany's Quantec on Japan's Millions of Moments imprint. Modell uses Aaron-Carl's voice as a synthesizer, much like London's Burial employed disembodied vocals on his widely-acclaimed beyond dubstep LPs in 2006 and 2007. But the backbeat on the Modell remix has a dirty Detroit dub techno density, equaling the grimy retouches he made earlier this year to Model 500's 1995 classic "Starlight."

Also track down Huckaby's remix of Pole's "Dusseldorf" (one of my top 10 records of 2007, incidentally) on Berlin's ~scape label, as well as upcoming Huck remixes of Loco Dice's "Black Truffles in the Snow" and Vladislav Delay's "Recovery Idea." Huckaby heads to Berlin soon where he will be based until January, filling up his calendar with gigs across the EU.

Closer to home, those of you looking to get your long-overdue art techno fix should be happy to learn that Sebastian Meissner — who records under the name Klimek for Kompakt and New York's Anticipate Recordings — is making two local appearances this month. Klimek is performing a live audio-visual set Oct. 24 at Cranbrook Art Museum as part of the Andy Warhol: Grand Slam exhibition; and then playing a DJ set at Oslo the following night.

The Oslo show is brought to you courtesy of Proper Modulation, a promotions group that invited Sweden's Mikael Stavostrand to Detroit last year and has booked Hamburg's Sten (aka Lawrence, real name Peter Kersten) for a date at Oslo in November.

Subterraneans is a column devoted to Detroit dance culture. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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