Underground to the Bone 

He’s been one of Detroit’s better-kept secrets. But after a stellar performance at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, DJ Bone is touring the world in support of Subject: Detroit, Vol. 2, his new mix compilation.

Bone’s style is true to the roots of Detroit techno, which should come as no surprise considering that he’s been a DJ in the area since 1987. Sometimes smooth and calculated, often the beat-juggling showman, Bone keeps his audience guessing as they nod their heads, wave their hands and get down.

Detroit techno wasn’t always about playing the hardest, fastest and most popular records. Bone’s new release allows those who understand this truth, as it was demonstrated at the DEMF, to take the underground sound home with them. According to Bone, the basic funk elements of techno are often lost by those who attempt to exploit Detroit’s sound.

"(People) have never given (the Detroit sound) the respect it deserves because they were afraid of it – they didn’t understand it. People fear what they don’t understand. They would rather try and copy that sound, even if it’s a watered-down copy, (so that) they can understand it. They take the part they understand and try to make it theirs, and that’s where all these other (electronic) music forms came from.

"People basically want to commit genocide on the Detroit techno culture – they’ve been trying for years, by trying to imitate it, trying to rope it up and corral it ... you name it. But that’s where the underground comes in – it’s too strong for that. It will always survive. It’s always made money. We don’t have to be rich. I know underground people who do have millions of dollars, but they don’t have to show people. If you excel with a hot song, you could be wearing some Kmart specials, I don’t care ... that song’s hot. I don’t have to be filthy rich. I’m rich when I go and play for 20,000 people. I’m rich when somebody calls what I do art."

Another aspect of Bone’s craft that is often lost in the wake of the mainstream marketing engine is the element of risk in a DJ’s set. Often, the club audience pays more attention to the name than the music, missing the point of how good DJs separate themselves from the rest.

"My style is all about taking chances. I’ve never been one to be safe. Safe is for people who don’t have confidence in their skills, or people who actually lack skill. (Taking risks) can have two effects: You can scare the shit out of (the crowd) and they’ll think that you’re horrible, or they’ll love you. If I can do the tricks and the beat is still on ... that moves the standard up. No one will see it, but the next time they go hear someone who just does a straight beat-match on every mix ... they’re gonna be thinkin’, ‘Why aren’t I as excited as I was when I listened to Bone?’ I put emotion into them – it’s not just a kick drum, drum rolls and effects. You can’t put funk into something that doesn’t have funk. If I take two mediocre records ... and put effects on top of that and push some button, that’s just too many condiments on the hot dog. You’re just dressing up the bare essence, which wasn’t that good to begin with. You’ve gotta have funk at the core – you have to."

For those still wondering exactly what is meant by the underground ethic, Bone elaborates:

"(Underground) is basically being able to choose for yourself what you enjoy, not having it forced on you, not being fooled, swindled into believing something. That’s hype, not talent. Underground has talent. Underground can move in mysterious ways and still get the job done, even more so than someone (in the mainstream). It’s covert – it’s not to be seen – it’s not for everyone to put a face on it and market it to the masses. Being in a magazine every month, every week ... and being just "entertainment" and not being there for a purpose ... that’s not underground. I set the ball for people to spike sometimes. They look at the dunk – they don’t look at the alley-oop. That’s the sentence I chose, because I’m underground."

A quality DJ set also entails considering one’s audience. For this reason, Bone has created a CD that’s suitable for many moods and environments, yet one that always maintains the funk. Robert Gorell rounds up the sounds for the Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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