Category: Essays (page 1 of 3)

313 Techno

Memorial weekend is undeniably our ‘techno holiday’ in Detroit. The long running electronic music festival, rescued from the ashes of mismanagement by the talented crew at Paxahau over 11 years ago, has become an annual pilgrimage for all those who love electronic music and the culture that has grown from it. Paxahau’s relentless pursuit of perfection, combined with the world class sound production of Audio Rescue Team, has propelled this annual event to the top of the list. It is because of their efforts that Movement is the bedrock of this weekends plethora of events.

Detroit was the birth place of techno in the the 80s. Although many genres have built upon it, Detroit Techno laid the foundation. The nascent club scene of the 80s also ignited the fire of what was to come. The Music Institute and Heaven provided a multicultural environment of sound and bodies, a perfect introduction to a new sound on the dance floor. The fusion of electronic music with post-punk industrial sounds in clubs such as Todd’s and City Club helped usher in a new culture that mixed genres and educated club goers.

The early 90s brought underground parties and rave culture into this mix here. Young, creative promoters let loose on our industrial canvas and defined what after-hours in our city was. Their uniquely Detroit style is still evident in the parties that are being produced now. 365 days a year there is a DJ playing in a venue somewhere in Detroit; in restaurants, clubs, warehouses, anywhere they can set up. From generation to generation the spirit of what the original creators of this sound established has evolved and flourished.

For those who have traveled to Detroit to celebrate this holiday of beats, and those that live it every day in our city, let’s get lost in the rhythm together and celebrate what we all have been a part of creating. Musicians, promoters, venues, and dancers are all responsible for creating this movement that we call techno.

Thank you Detroit.

Photo by Baboo Photography

Cultural (Im)Balance

The manifestations of collective cultural growth, experimentation and development should not be limited to a mainstream timeframe. Creativity flourishes around the clock, in unexpected locations, among disparate groups of people who come together to form truly unique communities. While some restrictions are necessary to protect citizens from harm, those restrictions should be carefully considered so as not to extinguish the spirit of cultural ingenuity.

Culture in Detroit is open for business until 2am, when the clock strikes 2, it has struggled to establish itself in a continuous way.

In the nineties we would build environments to safely express and grow an alternative habitat after closing time. We played a game of whack a mole with authorities, building up venues and waiting for the power of the city to break them down. The underground played an important role in the development of a new cultural revolution in our city then. We were a city hitting rock bottom in every way. Collectively we created a new vision of our city that was unique in sound and vision, one that shined a positive light on integration of city and suburb, black and white, gay and straight. Eventually the authorities won and muted the afterhours.

Fast forward to today. The New Detroit is thriving on one side of the cultural spectrum. Our achievements in the mainstream have been remarkable. The art, food and regular hours nightlife are growing impressively. Unfortunately it is unbalanced and not well integrated. Once again Detroit is struggling to establish an afterhours, underground subculture. Seeds are planted, begin to sprout new ideas and environments, then they are uprooted and killed, never fully realizing their potential. Unable to provide an avant-garde counterbalance.

Out of town visitors often commented on how reflective our underground was of the Detroit they had heard about and desired to experience. Something they found nowhere else. Some of the best DJs in the world wanted to travel to our city to play an after hours party and be a part of the energy of it. Many have been booked for parties around Movement this year, but with the most recent crackdown, cancellations are inevitable.

Recently we’ve lost venues such as Russell Industrial, Grenadier, and Tires. Michael Lapp tried relentlessly to work within the system to create a safe legal space at Tires, without any luck.

As the police were aggressively closing down a venue this weekend one officer commented, “There’s no place for after hours in the new Detroit’ and “All of you fuckers from the burbs can’t keep coming here and think you can do whatever you want’. Interestingly that last quote was said to all longtime Detroit residents. This lack of vision and understanding is counterproductive and ignorant. In the year that Grenadier operated there was no violence, no need for cops or ambulances. In contrast, on any given weekend in Greektown, the police presence is pervasive, violence common, and safety uncertain.

Constant attempts at establishing a forum for underground environments in the after hours and outer edge of the establishment will continue. It’s time for our city and those in charge to recognize this and help find a way to support those who want to create safe, alternative spaces. I challenge our local government to participate in the development of a 24 hour city.

Bringing the underground into the structure of our city would also be financially beneficial in many direct and indirect ways. Revenue from properly licensed and taxed after hours venues could be substantial. The expansion of entertainment options would also draw more tourists.

Detroit is often compared to Berlin. Our industrial aesthetic, expansive urban ruins, and electronic music scene are amongst the reasons why. We could learn a few things from the way culture has been allowed to thrive there. They have clubs such as Tresor and Berghain that are considered among the best in the world. There is no equivalent in Detroit, a city considered the birthplace of techno, and there never will be in this restrictive environment.

This is a shame.


I’ve heard people say that Detroit is color-blind. I call bullshit!

In my Detroit, we are all different. We have different lives and different struggles and different preferences. Many of those things stem from WHAT we are as much as who we are. We are black and white, gay, straight, Mexican, Serbian, male, female, gender neutral, privileged, oppressed, loved, hated and everything in-between.

In my city, when you want to be equal there is only one place to go…the dance floor is the Detroit I love.

On the dance floor it all falls away for a while. It doesn’t matter what continent you originated from, or what state or city you live in, when our bodies are speaking the same language. It doesn’t matter that our moves are different, our hearts are beating to the same bass, our souls grooving to the same rhythms. On the dance floor our bodies communicate hope, joy, and love better than we ever could with words or thoughts. I’ll make a crass joke about being too white to dance very well and, hopefully, you’ll laugh and we’ll tell each other stories with our moves.

On the dance floor I have laughed, cried, and screamed at the top of my lungs. I have been drunk, sober, and a million other things. I have danced well and I have danced badly, but I’ve always danced. I have made lifelong friends on the dance floor and I have fallen in love, sometimes for just one night. We don’t come to talk politics, religion or philosophy. We don’t come to talk at all. We come to move, to love, and just to BE. And we are.

The Detroit I love sees you. ALL of you. My Detroit sees your colors, your roots, your beginnings, and your daily struggles. The Detroit I love knows all about you and this city loves you and everything you are.

Photo : Robert Guzman

Make A Way Out Of No Way

The late Grace Lee Boggs begins the documentary American Revolutionary (by Grace Lee, no relation) standing in front of the ever-dilapidated Packard Plant, covered in wool winter clothing, 97 years old, saying, “I feel so sorry for people who are not living in Detroit.” Contrary to popular belief, Detroit’s heyday was just before auto manufacturing hit hard, effectively creating the Fordist model of middle-class living in the United States. But, of course, when you have one part institutionalized white supremacy, one part classism, one part outright greed, and one part clinging to the past, you get the American experiment that is Detroit.

Sometimes I think this experiment was a failed one. When you build your economy around the hyper-individualism that is cars leading to freeways leading to suburbs, you shouldn’t be surprised when your economy doesn’t work out. Despite this feeling, I echo Grace: I feel sorry for people who don’t understand our city. Detroit is a place where, as many activists say, people “make a way out of no way.” There’s a pretty short list of cities where residents started [illegally] growing their own food because grocery stores decided to follow the cars/freeways/suburbs, and Detroit tops it. There’s a pretty short list of cities where a resident polices his own neighborhood with a video camera to keep out dumpers/Johns/drug-dealers, and Detroit tops that one too. There’s a pretty short list of cities that [until recently] had just one recycling center open 3 days a week instead of instead of curbside recycling. But of course, that’s what makes this place the Detroit I love. When city services and private interests leave you for dead, you either start killing each other or you start working together.

The Detroit I love is an underground place. Once you find the caverns you’re pretty much in. And once you’re in, you can contribute to whatever community you call home as much as you want, be it taking your neighbor’s recycling to Recycle Here, playing records at your local bar, buying a coffee for a beggar, putting your neighborhood garden to bed in the fall, or painting a mural on the thousands of canvasses around the city.

I feel so bad for people when they talk down on my city. They’ll never know the heart, soul, and mind that Detroit fills. These people’s inability to see past vacant lots, boarded up buildings, and beggars (who are are not them but still us) is what happens when your measuring stick is made out of dollars, cents, and media portrayals. Yes, this city has some glaringly embarrassing problems; including city workers who don’t really actually care about the city, non-existent regional transit, crime, and more. But the Detroit I love is proof of what happens when people are sick and tired of being left out of the game. They create their own future together, without permission or shame.

Untrue Grit

The Detroit I love is a messy, challenging, and sometimes heartbreaking place. It’s a city full of chest-beating pride (and rightly so) and quiet, stolid patience. I could list descriptors of Detroit and her people for ages, but one word I refuse to use any longer is the one the outside media tends to recycle ad nauseam: “gritty.”

Why do I cringe at the word every time I see it? I’m not sure. It’s a gut-check response from having read it in article after article. These articles are thinly disguised ruin porn, backhanded compliments if anything. You know the ones: the headlines talk about “putting Detroit on the map” or “saving Detroit” while showing recycled photos of Michigan Central Station in its pre-window installation days.

These new hype articles highlight Gilbert and Cooley, Ilitch and the big funders. Sometimes they’ll trot out a small business owner, usually in Corktown. They’re endless circle jerks of White Saviors and Blank Slates. Do a Google search for “Detroit gritty” and weep at the hackneyed coverage of our great city. Heck, even Deadline Detroit created a drinking game based on all the clichés.

We deserve better than this. Detroit is a staggeringly big city: large enough to contain within its limits the cities of San Francisco, Boston and Manhattan combined. We’re more than just Corktown hipsters and downtown Quickenites. And, though we’ve seen more than our share of problems, whether created internally or foisted on us by a changing world, I hold us against any and all comers as a first-class city built and bred on the backs of individuals, not conglomerates.


I’m sick and damned tired of the exploitation of Detroit’s tribulations. An especially egregious case of blightsploitation: American artist Ryan Mendoza ripped the front off of an abandoned house, carted it off to Europe as an “art installation”, and left the rest of the home to rot for months while horrified neighbors begged for the property to be taken care of as promised. Here’s the link to the Freep article, if you feel like getting as pissed off as I am.

We’re not perfect. One minute I’m in awe of the resilience of Detroiters, the next I’m aghast at the glacial progress and insider politicking that holds us back. And I’m definitely not saying that endless ra-ra listicles of “Ten Things to Do in Detroit When the Sun is Shining” are the answer either. Honest and well-researched investigation may be too much to ask of any media coverage at this point, but boy, I’m still holding out hope.

Next time I’ll sing a song of love and devotion to all the beauty and bravery of Detroit’s history and people. For now, though, I think it’s fair that we stop and think about how others are shaping the narrative of Detroit, and maybe a little bit about what we want to add to that story.


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