Electronic > The Subterraneans
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It helps to be nervous in Detroit’s club culture, where the smallest of margins separates certainty and doubt, triumph and failure. What appears lost one day is often found the next — like hope and faith in the organizers of the upcoming Fuse-In festival, which is just about seven weeks away from its promised Memorial Day weekend lift-off. Musiclogical, the production company running the day-to-day affairs for Fuse-In, raised the scene’s collective anxiety bar several notches by remaining incognito for the last month. But then: hot damn. Last Friday, things changed as quickly as a Michigan sky in April when we finally tracked down Musiclogical’s Kevin Saunderson, who talked to us from his Beverly Hills, Calif., hotel. The globetrotting DJ sounded upbeat but cautious when he said organizers are planning a passionate horse-and-pony plea this week before the Detroit City Council. On the table will be a question to charge admission to enter the festival grounds at Hart Plaza. All previous events (known before as DEMF and Movement) were free. Detroit, however, could deny the request to charge money in a public square. The festival is scheduled for May 28-30 at Hart Plaza.
Kevin, what’s up?
Saunderson also told us something we already knew: A free festival can’t pay the bills, including the top talent traveling here from overseas. And something we hadn’t heard (officially, that is): Ford Field is the backup location if Detroit nixes the idea of a paid-admission festival. Saunderson said the cost of that boondoggle would be $300,000 a day for the organizers. It’s unknown how much festival-goers would be charged admission. To be honest, the idea of an electronic music festival in an indoor football stadium sounds less than thrilling to us, more like settling for a field goal when a touchdown is needed. Oh well, it’s better than canceling the whole shebang, which Sauderson says still could happen if the economics don’t make sense. But, he said: “It has to happen. This is the year (leading up to) the Super Bowl; this is the year for Detroit. The festival is the beginning of it all.” Keep the faith.
Blake, what’s happenin’?
Sometimes a good story simply visits us unexpectedly from the underground — with no political strings attached. We’re talking about an impromptu meeting with the great Blake Baxter, one of the key players in Detroit Techno history. During the past 20 years, Baxter has been one of the hardest, dirtiest, smartest, funniest producer-DJs in the world. From the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s, he produced house and techno in Chicago and Detroit, DJ’d crossover electro-rock dance nights at the Majestic and ran a record store called Save The Vinyl on the corner of Grand River and Griswold. Three of his singles were included on Virgin UK’s 1988 groundbreaking techno compilation, Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit. His work has been on featured on the Underground Resistance label, Chicago’s famed DJ International and Tresor in Berlin, and sampled by the Chemical Brothers and others.
Baxter, who now lives in Brooklyn, was in town last week for his monthly visit with his Detroit family. His schedule is still tight. He plays clubs in Europe up to four times a month and has been co-producing tracks with Abe Duque, an Ecuadorian-American based in Queens. Duque might be electronic music production’s fastest-rising star. He’s about to produce the new Pet Shop Boys LP in Naples, Italy.
Last year, Duque and Baxter released “What Happened?” 2004’s most insightful club track. In it, Baxter poses questions to the worldwide dance community that nobody else is asking in public. (“Chicago … the house sound. You gotta be kidding. What happened?” “New York … what the fuck happened?”) over a bed of hard-charging, wicked, minimal acid-electro. Never a techno purist, Baxter prefers to call what he does “poetry and rhythm,” a nod to the multiple influences on his music from house to hip hop, Motown to current R&B. “We try not to take ourselves too seriously or have an unapproachable image,” Blake says. “We want to do things with a sense of humor and have a good time.” Hear, hear.
Magda in the D
Another rising star, our own Magda, is back in town. Born in Poland, raised in Hamtramck, now living in Mitte (former East Berlin), Magda is blowing up in German clubs, West European capitals (Paris and London) and Eastern European villages. She tells us she recently played Croatia at a club with a capacity of 100 people. “So 100 people were there, I played for seven hours and they stayed all night. Everyone was so warm and nice it’s hard to describe to people what it’s actually like. Kids have so much fun they never want to leave.”
Honey, we never want to leave either when we see you behind the decks and effects. Magda is part of a unique U.S. combo tour featuring an impressive group of Minus and Ghostly International/Spectral Sound artists. At Oslo on April 9, she will be joined by Audion (Matthew Dear), TNT (Todd Osborn and Tadd Mullinix) and Marc Houle. Listen to her superb crunchy-dubby track, “The Black Room,” on the new Minus comp, Minimize to Maximize. Look for her new releases (with Troy Pierce) soon on the UK-based Underline label. She describes the new recordings as “loose, catchy, different.”
Thursday, April 7: John Arnold, Ayro and Jared Sykes at Centre Street Lounge (311 E. Grand River Ave., Detroit, 313-963-1300).
Friday, April 15: Louis Royale, Dennis J., Manayst, Black Tony, Annix, John Clees, DJ Lynx, Benji Hayes vs. Tres, Lee Foss, DJ-139, The Butcher and Killbot at The Works (1846 Michigan Ave., Detroit).
Saturday, April 16: DJ Seoul, Geoff Johnson, The Nyhylist, Dankshark, Revolt, Sirius at Foran’s (612 Woodward Ave., Detroit, 313-961-3043).
The Subterraneans is a biweekly column devoted to dance culture. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.