Continuing on with our debate over Detroit - music/myth/origin - we now have a 4th part to our 3 part series. Cliff Thomas from the Submerge crew has provided us with a view from Detroit. Thanks to Cliff - and everyone in the comments sections - for contributing. To cap things off, later in the week the next ssg mx will be from a Detroit artist, Luke Hess. Anyway, now over to Cliff:
I don’t claim to be the “be all, end all” authority on everything Detroit Techno. In fact I wasn’t listening to it at the very beginning that much. But I do come from the Detroit area and I am an artist for Submerge Recordings and Wallshaker Music so I have access to a different perspective on the subject than most. I’m a member on some forums that tend to discuss this subject on a regular basis. On discogs forums my screen name is “sgt” where I run a forum on Detroit Techno called “It’s That Detroit Shit……”, on mnml.nl I tend to hang around the production forum mostly under the name “Torque” and in the techno world I produce music under the alias “The Plan” and “Thought Criminal”.
There are a few points that I’ve seen people try to make in this type of discussion that I take issue with. One of them being “Techno was created at the same time all over the place, so why does Detroit get all the credit?...” and “Techno would have happened somewhere else if it didn’t happen in Detroit”. Of course there are even more silly things than that I have heard stated but I’m going to save you an even longer read by just ranting on these two statements alone and I should be able to answer them both together. So let’s get started…..
People in Detroit in the beginning never had any interest in what the hell the music they made was called. It’s the press that took a statement by Juan Atkins back in the day to the effect “This is Techno Music” when he was asked to describe the music he was making and ran with it. I think for some reason people think techno just popped up in Detroit the same way it came to their city, with big parties and allot of hype. Back then there was no hype, it was just music. People like the Electrifying Mojo picked up on some of the local electronic stuff and thought it was funky so he played it on his radio show in Detroit which it seemed just about everybody listened to it and before long people wanted to hear it at the club and dance to it. Some people like to look exclusively at what was happening at legendary hangouts like Derrick May’s Music Institute where allot of great advances were made in the music. People tend to forget about the more humble places it was gaining ground like in the Cabaret parties in the neighborhoods all over Detroit where dj’s like Jeff Mills got their start. These places were allot more rowdy and dirty and were held in the lower class neighborhoods in Detroit. Not everybody that was involved was from Bellville and not everybody was middle class and absolutely nobody gave a crap what the music was called. These were places you would hear “Rock Lobster” from the b52’s played next to music by Juan Atkins, Kraftwerk, Parlaiment Funkadelic and house music from Chicago. Everybody would hang out, get drunk, jit and get into fights all in the name of having a proper night out in the D and maybe having a moment away from the hell that was going down on the streets and the people they knew that were not going to survive the Crack epidemic at the time. To them it was all just funky music they could dance to and it was a form of escape. In other places that had money they would probably have picked the better equipment at the time. The music from here was created mainly on the cheap stuff which had allot to do with the sound. This music could not have come from any other place but Detroit and it has nothing to do with any kind of myth. It was not handed down as a grand ideal to anybody on a silver platter from the Gods, it was just an expression of Detroit culture.
Growing up in this area was not like growing up in Berlin, Paris, Chicago, New York or London. Detroit is completely unique in many areas. Detroit first off is one of the most racist areas in the US. Just like Berlin had the Berlin Wall Detroit has 8 Mile Road which granted isn’t exactly the same but it seems to hold the same function. On the other side of 8 Mile is are the shiny white neighborhoods and all the money of the white community that abandoned the city after the ’67 riots and the black community has had it made clear to them over the years that if they cross 8 mile they’re going to have trouble from the police. This division runs deep in Detroit and the mentality seems to have affected everybody, both sides view the other with suspicion. In a way it seems like a racial version of a cold war that has never stopped. This is somewhat ironic because besides the condition in the neighborhoods we have all experienced the same culture. Almost everybody comes from a family that is tied into employment with the big 3 car companies, whether it be for the big 3 themselves or for many of the smaller factories in the area that make parts for them or the businesses that cater to all the auto workers. Everybody listened to the same radio stations, everybody follows the Lions, Tigers, Pistons or Red Wings. Everybody’s laughed at the same goofy ass commercials from Mel Farr (Superstar), Howards Jewelers where a guy in beard dresses as a woman and tries to tell you about his latest sale on jewelry or the Wonderland Music commercials where this dude would just be smashing drum sets and guitars while claiming he’s slashing prices. Everybody woke up on Saturday morning ate smurfberry cereal (which made your shit turn blue BTW) watched cartoons and kept sitting in front of the tv to watch Sir Graves Ghastly sit up in his coffin and introduce the next horrible B rated horror flick he’s going to play like “Night of the Lepus” (Which gave me nightmares when I was a kid because we had pet rabbits at the time) and other movies about science gone array like “The man with two heads” etc…. and the “creature feature” which was where they played Godzilla movies to death. Our culture here seems to be fascinated by strangeness and failed science experiments. Maybe because in a way everybody feels like Detroit itself was a failed experiment in a way.
With all this stuff being thrown at you as a kid all you could do is bury yourself in comic books and fantasy material while your parents were working their 14 hour shifts at GM. This is why I think music acts like Parliament Funkadelic and Kraftwerk caught on here because they took you to another place and let you escape the thought of your entire society going to shit around you. Escapism is what drove the sound and concept of Detroit Techno and still does. Nobody was thinking of what people would do on the dancefloor, they were thinking of what would happen when all those robots that took our parents jobs at the Ford River Rouge car factory would do when they revolted against their makers. This is why I think that Techno could not have happened any other place but here. Revolution runs deep in Detroit and it goes back to the days where people were getting shot trying to form auto workers unions. Later we had the black community revolt with the ’67 riots. Detroit Techno is the product of another revolt against all of our local society at once by people that refused to accept what they saw as the truth so what they did is try to create another world that they could escape to. Of course later it turned out that people here weren’t the only ones who felt that way and the music caught on. It’s the press that felt the need to tack on a genre name to it so they could package it and sell it.
The problem lately seems to be that people are having a hard time looking past the name to hear the music. If that refers to you, it’s your fault, not Detroit. Apparently those are the kind of people that need the “Myth”. To the people here it is not a “myth”, it’s just music and a way to get away for a minute. It just so happens that the people that do make this music here have allot more time to sit back and become very adept at putting what they think into musical terms than most. It’s probably because there isn’t shit else to do but make music. I’m sick of hearing people bitch and moan about Detroit getting all the credit, well they should god damnit, everybody else got all the money. How many Techno legends in Europe drive around in beat up pickup trucks? I’m guessing not a whole lot. Yeah some Detroit artist get payed pretty good to go play at some clubs overseas off of the music they made, so what, all the club owners and record labels over there have made a shitload more off of it then they could ever dream of and when they come back to Detroit the average joe on the street has no idea what the hell techno is. What more do people want? The music never stopped coming from here, people never ran out of ideas and there are plenty of new artists to listen to. Maybe not as many new artists as Berlin or some shit but god damn, this city only has about 800,000 people or something and if you look at history in electronic music Detroit has a pretty good batting average when it comes to hot tracks. Contrary to popular belief artists in Detroit don’t have much of a superiority complex. Yeah they might fly over for a night and rock the club but all of them know that feeling when they get back on the plane of dread when they know they have to come back to Detroit and be just another dude back in the hood. You won’t find many elaborate studios here. Most of them just have one or two pieces of equipment in their moms’ basement they can afford. I say if Detroit can’t have the cash at least give them the credit. Most of them would gladly trade you for the cash if they could. So if you’re an artist and you’re mad about all the credit coming to Detroit you should just come and live here for a while and see how long you last. I know a legend or two from some other places that tried that and didn’t last much longer than a year. Respect came with a price.
Being from the Detroit area hasn’t done me allot of favors monetarily. I don’t make enough to quit my day job. What it has done is give me the opportunity to become involved with some other very good artists and learn allot which is awesome in itself. These people have earned the respect they get and even though it would probably work in my favor to downplay what they did so maybe I wouldn’t have to exist in their shadow being from here I’m not about to make the claim that what they did didn’t matter hugely. Genres that are more popular right now like trance and minimal owe their lineage to what was done by Detroit artists and they are still affected by what is being done here now as we speak. Detroit isn’t done making music and if you think it’s over it’s only because you chose to look away for a minute, there is allot more to be said by new and old artists here alike. Sub-genre names aren’t real and if you rely on them to tell you what’s cool then you need to get a life because it’s all just Techno. Ignore the hype and keep your ears open. Techno is music about the future so when it was made should be of no consequence. If you like Techno most likely at one point or another you’re going to come across Detroit stuff because Detroit has made a whole lot of it. Just forget the bullshit and enjoy the music…….