Category: Essays (page 1 of 3)

Detroit Sound Conservancy

The influence of past generations on the creative output of Detroit’s current and future music scene is an asset which can not have a value put on it.

One genre influences the conception of the next, which shapes  those  that follow, and on and on. The preservation of this history is priceless. Blues, Jazz, and Gospel influenced Soul, R&B, and Motown, which flavored the sounds of Rock & Roll, which lead to Punk, Techno, and House, followed by Hip Hop and beyond. The lines blur when trying to understand how one has influenced the other, but it is undeniable that the originality of many of these sounds are uniquely Detroit.

We will not foster the creation of new genres, as we have so many times, without the conservation of the artifacts, stories, and history of our musical legacy.

This is why on this day of giving, I want to encourage you to support Detroit Sound Conservancy. As we all know, there are many other areas of our society that need resources. Our neighbors are hungry, struggling to survive, in need of a helping hand. This is undeniable. But our children need hope, they need to find in themselves a purpose, an outlet, an opportunity to leave their mark on our society. The arts offer many an opportunity to tell their story, find an outlet, and influence the future.

Without the preservation of the unrivaled legacy that Detroit’s creative culture has given to the world through music, the next generation will not have the foundation to build future genres of sound, find purpose, and inspire.

Detroit Sound Conservancy is an organization that is relentless in it’s mission to archive and present our musical heritage, in all of it’s varied forms. It offers hope. It shows what is possible by cataloging, restoring, and presenting what those in our past have accomplished.

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.

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