Michigan music scene report, summer 2015

Goodbye pork-pie hats

Timmy Vulgar
Timmy Vulgar

Things are a little bit quiet around these parts just now. It does feel like some new thing is about to pop off, though — perhaps a new Detroit-based musical movement? More likely a bunch of little, inter-connected scenes will rise in prominence across the state.

It very likely will not be as cataclysmic as the great garage rock explosion of 2002, or the Slum Village/Dilla-led Detroit hip-hop implosion of the mid- to late 1990s. During our interview with producer Al Sutton in this issue, he said "I kind of feel like Detroit's going to have another big boom in music. It seems kind of quiet right now, and every time it seems kind of quiet, there's always something that comes right after, popping out in a wild fashion. I've seen a lot of these people moving in from Brooklyn and different cities who are musical types.

"That's going to have an influence on the scene in Detroit; it's all going to mix together and get busier." The idea that new transplants will aid in revitalizing the scene is intriguing. But are that many music people really moving here? I thought it was only weirdo do-gooders, and the very broke.

I do know that the trend of tepid, fake-authentic folk music (which we kindly refer to here as vest-folk) seems to be dying, finally. No more cutesy-pie "string bands." Fewer pork-pie hats is a great sign for all of the culture, and we hear there are fewer banjos and stupid vests in Corktown, Ann Arbor, and Kalamazoo. Across the state, young kids into hard rock are making even harder-rocking hard rock, digging back to before screamcore or death metal to be influenced by the heaviest 1980s hardcore bands such as Negative Approach, Nig-Heist, and Void. This is an excellent development. (In Detroit, the Armed is poised for massive national success based on a similar musical formula.) I think 2015 will be a good year for Michigan noise music, judging how excellent and relatively well-attended area shows from newer (Pain Computer, Body Morph) and older (Nate Young, Sick Llama) performers have been.

In Detroit, three new-ish clubs have shaken things up a bit, and hopefully each will continue to thrive. Downtown, Populux (formerly the Magic Stick) has proven it's profitable for a rock-based venue to switch to only booking EDM acts. In Corktown, UFO Factory has proven it's possible to book acts that don't fall easily into the MC5/bar band or dance-based genres of other clubs and to still draw crowds. They've learned that people will go and check out something more quiet and weird, just because they trust the taste of the people running the place. Similarly, the esoteric, large, and awesome space Trinosophes in Eastern Market has shown it's possible in Detroit to do the same thing in more of a jazz/ethno/electronic realm, and to be successful even without serving alcohol on the premises.

I have high hopes for Timmy Vulgar — of Clone Defects, Human Eye, and various solo guises — to do something a bit more pop-oriented, and ascend to NPR/late night TV fame. Vulgar already oozes rock star abandon, is super talented, and he seems to be settling down a little bit in his middle age. I feel like he could seriously be the next M. Cronin or Ty Segall, if he simply chose to connect to his inner Cheap Trick/Bowie/T. Rex vibe. It might help if he were to pour a few less gallons of paint on himself per show, as that kind of thing probably scares off young Pitchfork writers. But honestly, I'm also super happy with Timmy in bedroom freakout/don't-give-a-single-fuck about "stardom" mode, as he was in for one of the very last releases on American Tapes, last year's Genetic Armageddon record. That one-sided mess was one of my three favorite records from all of last year.

The greatest hope for a bust-out release hang on Tunde Olaniran's debut record, Transgressor (Quite Scientific), an aggressively excellent, sweetly danceable and incredibly smart record by the self-described Afro-futurist artist. If you've no idea who he is, imagine Danny Brown genetically spliced with Antony, for starters. Everyone from The New York Times to Pitchfork has sung the praises of this singing rapper, with names dropped including Kanye West, David Bowie, and Missy Elliott. A host of other exciting new releases are poised to drop late in the summer into the early fall, including new albums from Ypsilanti-based solo guitar outfit Shells, and the debut of Detroit's art-punk saviors Mountains and Rainbows (a double album for Thee Oh Sees leader John Dwyer's Castle Face label).

Beyond that? We can expect more excellent, sample-based hip-hop, as well as Nick Speed's exciting productions leaning hip-hop toward the electronic end of spectrum. And looking back, while the long-awaited book on Detroit's incomparable R&B-and-everything label Fortune Records, which is being co-written by local music scholar Michael Hurtt (of the band Haunted Hearts) and Brooklyn-based raw R&B fanatic Billy Miller (of the label Norton and the magazine Kicks) was dealt a dual setback when both writers took gravely ill, both are on the mend and the project should see completion within the year.

Whew. Maybe it's not so quiet around here!

About The Author

Mike McGonigal

Metro Times music editor Mike McGonigal has written about music since 1984, when he started the fanzine Chemical Imbalance at age sixteen with money saved from mowing lawns in Florida. He's since written for Spin, Pitchfork, the Village VOICE and Artforum. He's been a museum guard, a financial reporter, a bicycle...
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