If I Have Seen Further, It Is Because I Have Stood On The Shoulders Of Giants
by Gustav Brovold
It’s been four years since I had to leave my old home in Capitol Park. I didn’t quite know what I had then, nor did I know where I was. I thought it was a cheap loft in a lucky spot. I was eating predominantly ramen and scavenged fare, pulling bread and bags of peas out of dumpsters – generally being a broke-ass kid with a job that didn’t pay enough. But there we were in a 2500 square foot loft, paying pocket change for rent, too much time on our hands, too much imagination, and our caution lost to the wind.
It began as three people – myself and my roommates, Randy and Drew. Randy and I played together in his outfit, Deastro, and Drew was on his own train producing as Solid Liquid. Others came and went– my brother Thor, my girlfriend Priyanka, Randy’s girlfriend Mel. Although there was a rotating cast, the true holdouts were Drew and me.
The space was amazing– and truly filthy. A place with age, thoroughly used. Two elevator shafts– one missing a car, the other stuck between the second and third floors. The pipes froze every winter without fail, we never had a stove that worked and the ceiling constantly leaked. The back window was missing when we moved in, but thankfully our trusty landlord fixed it with a misshapen piece of particle board that made almost no difference. I could go on.
It was begging to hold naught but hedons and debauchers, and it was all ours.
Not long after moving in, we began to save pennies to amass some sound equipment from Craigslist. We wanted sound but didn’t have sound money, so we made do with broken and fire-damaged cabinets Frankensteined together with car subs, old amps with only one working channel, and cables soldered directly from amp to speaker. We didn’t quite know what exactly we were doing but we still trudged down a path that manifested the results we wanted. We already had the space, now we had a loud sound system through which to play techno.
We began throwing shows. Thanks to my knowledge of the Detroit DIY, a solid friendship with the folks- Alex, Conor, Nick, Jeff, and others – who ran every iteration of Scrummage and North End Studios, we had access to touring acts and the people who wanted to see them.
The parties I threw there spoiled me. I was in the audience of serious talent and I didn’t realize it. I didn’t know who Andres was, but I was all about his set when he played in my loft. I didn’t know it was Carl Craig who I had to push past to get to the sound system because Kyle Hall was red-lining it. I didn’t know BMG was the effort behind Interdimensional Transmissions, but in hindsight, I’m surprised he asked for no guarantee to play there. I thought Kevin Reynolds’ accolades were coming from a coked-out, burned-out raver, not the well-rounded producer he is.
The space was held together by duct tape and an abundance of hope. The music was loud, the lights were dim, the DJs played late. it was, in its entirety unclean, unorthodox, and uncouth, but we transformed that raw space into what we wanted it to be.
We finally decided on a name to plant a recognizable foundation for our ridiculous late-night ventures– Adult Contemporary.
AC gave us our place among the elites of 1217 Griswold. We were on the fourth floor surrounded on all sides by other young hi-tech malcontents. Bands, other bands, two screen printers, a brewer, a taxidermist, and a skate park– we all had this place as our home. It was camaraderie and companionship. Youngins thrown out into the world, loss of their family and of familiarity, finding friendship in others flowing down the same river.
It was the presence of being around these contemporaries who were also doing weird, home-brewed things that gave us the power to maintain our momentum. The sight of one loft brewing their own beer, another being a skatepark, another holding punk shows, one stuffing animal conglomerates – all of these showed us that they wouldn’t mind, and rather encourage, our ravenous, late-night endeavors.
The vision of our loft was fixated on electronic music. Randy, Thor, and another fellow Marty, and I would work on music as Deastro, which was my gateway drug to the endless world of electronic music synthesis. Drew would be off in his corner making techno pulled from the deep dark– the kind best fit for the 5 a.m. tweekers. Our bookings had shifted from moody indie-pop boys and wannabe Grimes girls to an unintentional throwback to the building’s roots — late night/early morning techno.
I didn’t understand the magnitude of the talent who walked through our front door. Old heads from Manuel Gonzales (aka MGUN) to Jay Simon, Dj Andres, Kai Alce, and young bloods like Kyle Hall, and Jay Daniels, or John FM, all pulling serious weight when they came to play on our beat up sound system.
Did they think I was a naive kid who lucked out? I’m not sure what they thought, but damn was I ever, and may also still be.
It’s only really now as I sit here researching the history of the place and chatting with some old heads that I’m learning how deep this rabbit hole truly is. Capitol Park was a center node of Detroit’s dance scene in the ‘90s. Big names in techno frequented the building’s great parties that gave birth to the likes of Paxahau. You could throw a rock and hit a party promoter.
“A big part of what No Way Back is about formed there,” said Brendan Gillen, who produces and DJs as BMG, is half of Ectomorph, a seminal member of Interdimensional Transmissions, and responsible for one of the best Movement after parties, No Way Back.
It was a fertile, rich, environment from where much of the city’s techno grew. Occupied by promoters, hi-tech malcontents, and creative trendsetters like Steven Reaume, Jon Santos, Buzz Goree, Bileebob Williams, Jason Huvaere, Alan Bogl – frequented by some Techno greats, such as Derrick May, Carl Craig, D Wynn, Ariel Thornton, Mike Huckaby, and Claude Young. Only now am I realizing how tall these giants were, on the shoulders of whom I was standing.
But like the days in the ‘90s, our time at 1217 passed. I remember getting the notice that the building had changed hands to the mitts of Dan Gilbert’s subsidiary. I remember the whole building coming together to try to discuss what footing we could find to stand against it. I remember fire marshals coming to inspect the building, chipping paint from around the loft, looking around, jaws agape at the water damage from the leaking ceiling. I remember the day I found the eviction notice, January 29, 2014.
I can still feel that fit of rage and the fear when I was shot forthwith from the space into which I put so much effort. I remember everyone scrambling to get their things together. The last week, the stairs were a steady ruckus of the thump thump thumping of people carrying important things down the stairs. I remember our pile of garbage in the middle of the room and the wonder of how to remove it. I remember the moment of reckless abandon when everyone began to just throw our couches, cabinets, credenzas, chairs, paintings, bags of garbage, and all the refuse 20-some folk living in five units could get rid of, out of the back window, and the 15-foot-tall pile of filth it became. I remember the polar vortex chilling us thoroughly the month we had to move out. I remember running down the stairs with minutes left before they locked the door. I remember driving away for the last time.
Through all the asking around and digging through the internet to find folk who were there to experience it in all its glory, I realized how saturated the ethos of Detroit Techno is with this building’s energy. The reverberation of the howls and hollers of the people who lived there are still ringing through its walls today, whether or not they know it. I was lucky enough to be there for its end. It was a heartbreak to see it and walk out the door that last time, but I am grateful to have been there then, to have been drowned in the throes of the rave life, and to have had an audience with the masters.