We Weren’t All Misfits
by Bileebob Williams : Originally Published in DEQ Magazine
We weren’t all misfits, but most of us were pretty close. Hardcore ravers, DJs & event promoters occupied 7 out of the10 beat-up loft spaces on Griswold that sat over a burned out restaurant. There was 15 to17 of us living there between 1993 and ’94. Maybe 2 or 3 of us had credible 9-5 jobs. The creative spirit of that building and the brotherhood that was cemented continues to thrive in the current underground.
Most notably, the seeds of Paxahau were planted in Jason Huvaere’s blue loft space. It had a windowed office and was the perfect setup for things to come. Paxahau did not exist yet, but the foundation was surely being set. My roommate, Alan Bogl, was one of the founding members of the legendary promotion group VOOM. VOOM was the cornerstone of Detroit’s early rave scene and set the precedent for the way Detroit after-hours events should be thrown and hosted. Alan and Sam Fotias (who went to the same high school) partnered with Jason, forming the group, 3. Sam did not live at the lofts but was always there.
They held closed-door meetings and brought the underground to the club. A picture from a blue magazine hung in the office, reminding anyone who stood in the path of 3’s objective would receive the unspeakable “treatment”.
One wall of Jason’s loft was adorned with a giant mural spray-painted by a Detroit graffiti artist. A looming UFO hovered over the door. Ambient music pulsed out of his stereo pretty much 24 hrs a day, while his parrot, Buck, cawed at you or followed visitors around the room.
It was a time of pro-activity and everyone was involved. The lot of us had been immersed in the scene since the late 80’s and knew nothing else but the underground. Now was the time to take an active role and make things happen. We were smart, hungry and straight up crazy.
Buzz Goree moved into the building in1990. “1217 was a school of promotion. Being there taught us all how to do it and what it takes to do it right.” Rich Hawtin occasionally stopped by. Mike Huckaby would visit Buzz. Derek May rode his bike through the neighborhood. Blake Baxter lived in the lofts on the corner of Griswold and Grand River and opened up a record store across the street called Save The Vinyl. On my floor, visual artist Maureen Maki had an art gallery in her space at 2 South. Buzz Goree would DJ with Twonz and me, the volume nothing less than bangin’.
Capital Park is nestled in front of the building. Most of the 1217 lofts had giant windows that nearly stood floor to ceiling. There was always action down below, either from folks waiting eternally for a bus or homeless vagrants sitting on the splintered benches stained with pigeon crap. The vagabonds and pedestrians would chat up the kids milling out in front, inquiring if there was a club inside. Sometimes it was hard to tell who actually lived there because kids camped out for weeks.
Music emanated day and night. White Room Studios is kitty-corner from the lofts at Griswold and State. Detroit rock n roll spilled into the park and got stirred in the exhausted air that intertwined with the cacophonous reverb from our electronic alien tones and tom toms.
Buzz, Twonz, Alan and I would DJ all day and make multiple mix tapes, drink 40’s and consume brown and green carcinogens. We would eat whatever we could with what little money was made from gigs. Mr. Faulkner and I were emaciated. We were constantly tortured by the Bermuda Triangle of food choices available on the block- the florescent glow of Domino’s was directly across the street. Ted’s Soul Food was on the corner and was open 24 hours. A greasy Coney Island sat on the other corner under Blake’s apartment. And of course, Lafayette and American were within walking distance.
My love for creating music zines started here, first with the one-sheet Little Brother Love, then Detox- Detroit Oxygen mag with help from my clubbing friend, Adriel Thornton and other heads. A vacated bedroom in my apartment became an office and the wall by the phone became our yellow pages. Phone numbers of national and international contacts were inscribed on the paneling, as everyone’s productions grew larger.
Within a year I had lived among some of the most creative promoters and underground fixtures including Nancy Mitchell, Jon Santos, Dean Major and Leto, an ex-pat from the house at 655 W. Alexandrine.
I made music into the wee-hours with Greg Campbell and Dale Lawrence, who lived upstairs. Dale solidified a deal with Rich Hawtin’s Minus label and worked under the moniker, Theorem. Because most of us hardly worked a regular job, we got creative when it came time to pay the bills. Some tenants were rumored to get the landlord high in an attempt to defer payment of rent.
Loft parties were always a pretty quick solution. Whenever rent was due we had to double check with each other to make sure no one else was throwing a party the same night. Many times there would be a gig on Friday and Saturday. There were never any noise complaints because all the neighbors were at each other’s parties. Paris and I tag-teamed as Heckle & Jeckle. Dat, and Eric Haupt were given spotlight at many gigs. Buzz, D.Wynn, Mike Huckaby and Claude Young brought the sweat and heat to the kitchen.
The building was structurally crippled. The lobby door could easily be pried open with a forceful tug. The rickety elevator was a potential death trap, when it worked. Stephan White and Matt “Toby” Tobias were roommates in 3 South. They figured out how to climb up the indoor fire escape and un-jam it when it broke down.
We were unstoppable.
My loft rested above a burned out eatery called the Restaurant Du Soliel. But the condemned venue could be accessed through a door inside my space. When our parties started getting busted, Dean Major convinced my roommates and I into letting him and some others gain access through our apartment to host an event. In theory, there was no way it would get busted because all the entrances were sealed and boarded from the street. We would go as long as we could without getting shut down.
On paper, it was shaky, but convincible.
In reality, it really worked.
“Hard To Believe” was one of the most renegade parties in Detroit. Sasha was #1 on Mixmag’s ‘Top 100 DJs’ list. He was booked alongside Derek May to play at the lofts on a Friday. Toby and Stephan booked Sasha a 2nd night for a gig they hosted the next night in Toronto.
We were unstoppable.
After a year’s time, events and relationships started to fray. Stephan and I often talked about the Phoenix- the mythological bird that consumed itself by fire then raised from ashes. I constantly refer to that image. I have always viewed our scene in a spirit of regeneration and reinvention. The friendships and memories formed during that time will stay forever. There was something alive in that building. Dean Major lived on the top floor and noticed that the ornamental Gargoyles had been removed. Symbolically, even though hideous in countenance these creatures were to ward off evil.
The hedonistic debauchery was ever present. And we were products of the environment we created.
But I have to smile when I look at the clock and it reads 12:17.