Two summers ago, when I was interviewing then up-and-coming Ghostly International/Spectral DJ Ryan Elliot for a feature story, the conversation veered toward the difference between real time and something we called "techno time."
"You have to keep staying on your game to keep the edge," Elliot said. Sure, that statement seemed obvious and universal. But what came next cut right to the heart of this elusive, crazy electronic dance music that's both loved and loathed around the world. "Because," he said, "one actual year is like 10 techno years."
I started thinking about that odd-sounding club culture logic again when I began preparing this week's column. Subterraneans launched in September 2004 with the help of Carleton S. Gholz, who's now a scholarly researcher and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pittsburgh. Between the two of us, we produced 47 of these columns over three years, making this week's installment an unsentimental anniversary of sorts. But in the context of techno time, 2004 to 2007 is indeed a hugely long stretch. Tracks are assembled and produced by day and ready for club consumption virtually the same night. The best are released on independently run labels in the E.U. (mostly) and the United States (with increasing rarity), and then the best of the best find new life as remixes by elite studio wizards with names like Lawrence, Luciano, Villalobos and Wruhme. Some approach brilliance; others are pure shit. It's dirty work but someone has to be your guide and dig around in the psychogeographical sonic muck so you don't have to. And, hey, that's me digging, loves.
During the last three years, I've seen and heard most of the innovative electronic music worth hearing. My attention has been obsessive by normal standards, anyway aided by the fact I have friends and contacts in Berlin, Cologne, London, Manchester, Boston, New York and Los Angeles zipping me music by the countless gigabyte (along with CDs and vinyl, thank God).
My curiosity has taken me to interesting places. Soon after we began the column, I went to Berlin to do an MT cover story on the emerging minimal scene there and how Windsor-Detroit expats Rich Hawtin and Magda gave it a push. That piece, "Losing your mind in Berlin," burrowed as deeply as I thought possible into secret histories that only unfold at night at that time, "night" meaning 2 a.m. to 6 p.m. the next day. Now it's even longer. Benno Blome, who runs the Sender label in Berlin, told me that MT story made its way around the Euro club scene. "Everyone read it," Blome said, when we talked about it a year later at the basement bar at Oslo in Detroit. Among those who did were some mysterious kids in the U.K. who used it as the basis of a viciously funny web project called Ubercoolishe (ubercoolische.com). The site, still up and running, parodies three of the main characters Hawtin, Magda and Ricardo Villalobos even lifting some of my original language and using it as dialogue in an 11-part minimal techno soap opera.
Via this column, I've met some wonderful people, who also happen to be making some of the most incredible music of the day, albeit much of it in dedicated obscurity. In Berlin, I met Andi Teichmann, who, in 1999, with his brother Hannas Teichmann, started an influential label called Festplatten. The same night, I met Sebastian Riedl, who records under the cheeky name Basteroid. He and his friends Michael Schwanen (aka Metope) and Matthias Klein (aka Konfekt) started Areal, another label that turned techno on its ear, in 2000.
Also in Berlin, I met Mark Ernestus, whose influence on electronic music has been well documented and championed by insiders but is largely unknown anywhere else. Ernestus and studio partner Moritz von Oswald are directly responsible for a seismic shift in the music that took place in the early to mid-1990s. By creating the Basic Channel, Chain Reaction, Burial Mix, Rhythm & Sound and Main Street projects, the pair combined Detroit, Chicago and dub inspirations by reducing techno and house music to rare essences, akin to the subtlety in making a sumptuous meal or a fine wine. On other occasions, I met fellow travelers Thomas Köner and Robert Henke, who helped retool techno in the late 1990s with their groups, Porter Ricks and Monolake.
Back in Detroit, I've roamed around the Movement Festival with Stefan Betke (who, as the stripped-down, jazzy, digital-dub performer Pole has consistently challenged the techno status quo) and with Kompakt's Superpitcher (Aksel Schaufler) and Thomas Fehlmann, the latter just hours away from performing with Dr. Alex Paterson in the famed ambient group, the Orb. What stands out most about my conversation with Fehlmann, though, is that he told me that, when he's in town, he gets his head shaved at Hamtramck's Hair Repair and makes a point to dig for old vinyl up the street at the Record Graveyard store. Now, that's rare groove.
So, here's to us! The Subterraneans plan to stay alert to all signs of life in inner, outer and artificial space and keep bringing you the best of what Detroit techno no matter where in the world it comes from has to offer. Keep your blurry eyes on the road, kids.
Speak of the devil
For those of you who've been wondering when one of our superstar friends from over the Atlantic would return to the D, wonder no longer.
Paxahau is bringing our old friend Thomas Fehlmann back to town with fellow Berliner Daniel Meteo (who has recorded funky, grooving dubscape jams for Betke's ~scape, Shitkatapult and his own Meteosound labels). Fehlmann a Detroit fave who has worked with Juan Atkins (and von Oswald) in the legendary 3MB group in the early 1990s and was a part of post-punk band Palais Schaumberg a decade before that will likely roll out tracks from Honigpumpe, his newish full-length on Kompakt. DJ support is Drew Pompa of Detroit's Blank Records. The show is Saturday, Oct. 6 at Northern Lights, 660 W. Baltimore St., Detroit. Doors 10 p.m.; $5 cover.
Also at Northern Lights, on the first Friday of each month, a newish monthly called "Republik" is beginning to get some traction. And why not? It's the latest promotional brainchild of Adriel Fantastique, who's been running the Family party in Detroit since 1996 and recently teamed up with Ann Arbor's Spectral Sounds for a bi-monthly series of events. On Friday, Oct. 5, resident DJs Greg Mudge, Mike Servito and Israel Vines tastemakers all spin from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. $5.
Say what? You can't wait until next weekend to get your Detroit-Berlin party on? Then try "We Like You Humans 5," featuring Berliners Chris De Luca (formerly of Funkstorung) vs. Phon.o, who will team up to play live. Also appearing: DJ Godfather, with support by at least a dozen neo-raving DJs and live performers. Look for Kero, Tom Newman, Rex Sepulveda and others behind the decks. It's this Saturday, Sept. 29, at Finite Gallery, 1370 Plum St., Detroit. $10 before midnight, $15 after. The Subterraneans is a regular column dedicated to Detroit dance culture. Send comments or bitch-slaps to firstname.lastname@example.org
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