The Detroit Underground

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Kero is on the beach. Behind him, the Detroit River glistens dirt-brown and puke-green as it roils and sways in the fierce November wind.  On the opposite shore, vertical cannons on Zug Island fire white-orange flames skyward. On the Canadian side, rusting metal carcasses of old appliances lay partially hidden in the tall grass.

“Whoa, dude, this is so ill.” The voice belongs to Andrew Lochhead, Kero’s compatriot in the Windsor-based Detroit Underground electronic music crew and record label.

“This is, like, terminal-serious fuckedupness,” says Seth Troxler, a DJ/musician/scenester who’s standing nearby. Troxler has put on events with a Detroit-San Diego promotions team called Baretta Gray.

“Dudes, it’s awesome,” Kero says. “I love it.”

This frozen little party has the air of weird celebration.

What’s to celebrate? This: Detroit Underground is on a roll, now with six EPs, each filled with crazy, unclassifiable music and illustrated by optically challenging graphics. They have forged a relationship with Cologne’s Traum and Trapez, two labels currently issuing some of the hottest dance floor product in the world. And they are now working with Troxler and his Baretta Gray cohort Ryan Crosson, a rising young producer from Clinton Township.

The four are producing one of the year’s most anticipated parties. On Nov. 25, the newly formed team brings in two of Europe’s most engaging minimalists, Sweden’s Andreas Tilliander and Oliver Hacke of Germany. Also performing at the event — which is called Det.Raum — is Canadian Jesse Somfay and Kate Simko from Chicago. Kero and Crosson will also play the event at Detroit’s Corktown Tavern.

The engine that makes all this go is Kero, who was born Sohail Azad 28 years ago in Windsor to Pakistani parents. His family moved to Michigan’s Oakland County, where Azad attended Birmingham Public Schools (“I was kicked out of every one, I think,” he says), graduating from the district’s alternative high school in 1996. He attended the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, where he honed his design skills. At home he made crazy-ass electronic music and digital videos that got the attention of simpatico musicians and DJs working on the fringes of the Berlin scene.

In 2000, Kero dropped out of CCS to tour Germany for the then-fledgling BPitch Control and Shitkatapult labels and eventually settled in Berlin for a short time.

Back in Detroit, he turned his attention to Detroit Underground, which has released tracks by Berliners Phon.o, Modeselektor, Atlanta’s Richard Devine, and Detroiters Jimmy Edgar, 000 and Kero, among others. Two full-length remix projects, scheduled for 2006 release, will include tracks by Soft Pink Truth, Pita, Quintron and others.

Next year, Kero will also have a 12-inch on Traum, for whom he’s creating minimal techno tracks, not exactly his style these days.

“I’ve been making this fucked-up experimental shit that you can’t really dance to,” he says, cranking the bass on his sub-woofer s as he drives his silver VW Beetle from the riverfront to his home area near downtown Windsor. “[Riley Reinhold of Traum] heard one of my early tracks from 1999 and liked it. So I’m going back in time.”

It’s likely that Troxler and Crosson, who spent the past summer living in Berlin, have had some influence over Kero’s time traveling.

The pair returned from Germany transformed, touched by the German capital’s art and music community. Troxler, 20, says that he attended parties that began on Sunday afternoon and stretched until Monday night. He left Detroit with the dreads he started growing out when he was a high school sophomore in Lake Orion; now he’s clean-cut — on the outside.

On a recent late night at Detroit’s Oslo dance club, Troxler held court by telling anyone who’d listen about creating music made exclusively from the sound of water.

“It’s in 90 percent of the music happening in Berlin, where people party by the river and the canals, day and night,” Troxler says. “It’s the sound of water you hear in every track: gloop-gloop-gloop-gloop, at 120 (beats per minute).”

Crosson, 24, appears equally inspired. His energies are focused on production, with a 12-inch release (“Say So”) now out on Trapez LTD; one on the way for Paris-based Telegraph label; and still another set for Windsor’s Minus, for whom he’s recording under the name Berg Nixon.

Later, Lochhead leads the Detroit Underground family to a tavern in nearby LaSalle then to a downtown coffee shop.

Two hungover girls, who say they haven’t been to sleep from a party the night before, make coffee for the guys.

Lochhead spots something outside and makes a dash for the street, where the girls say a Remembrance Day (equivalent to Veteran’s Day) parade is breaking up.

“It’s real-life Canadian Mounties, dudes. Come on,” he says, recruiting all to join in on the spectacle. “There’s a mad scene going on, and we’re missing it.”

See Also:
Avant in the house
by Walter Wasacz
The skinny on Tilliander and Hacke.

Friday, Nov. 25, at Corktown Tavern, 1716 Michigan, Detroit; 313-964-5103. Presale tix, $7 at Neptune Records; $10 at the door. 10 p.m.

Walter Wasacz is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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