by Steven Reaume
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 after-hours.
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.