Oh, Detroit brothers and sisters, where art thou? When we say Detroit, we mean Detroit as a soundscape with a bass-drum pulse, where a city's bleak reality was remixed with grand myths and legends to create the greatest technopolis the world has known.
From here the music spread virally from parties in west side backyards, black boxes in shitty neighborhoods, and in abandoned factories and warehouses in distressed industrial districts. Records produced, mastered and cut here raced around the globe, touching nerve centers in Berlin, London and Tokyo. Techno from Detroit even became the template for a creative scene that developed in Slovakia, its capital Bratislava one of the many places in Europe dubbed the next Detroit.
But who's holding it down now? Who's making the music that taught the world that any surface below your feet could become a dance floor? Where is the scene that spawned countless electronic music innovators over the last three decades?
It expanded and went global, it reduced and became digital. But a local performing sonic art built on stacks of amps, speakers and ... vinyl still has its devoted champions. And what better way to celebrate the Detroit than with a crate filled with records?
That's the idea behind Cratesavers Muzik, a label founded by Trackmasta Lou (Robinson) of Scan 7 and William "BJ" Smith aka Posatronix, formerly of Aux 88. Although the label does release music in CD and MP3 formats, it insists that artists use analog equipment when performing their tracks. Old-school fans that have seen the way Scan 7 and Aux 88 set up live can attest to the bands' painstaking attention to hardware detail. And what would an old-school Detroit crew be without a manifesto?
Cratesavers delivers several, including this one, in a recent press release: "(The label) is strictly for seasoned DJs who have accepted the mission to overthrow the collective of weak track dropping DJs." Overthrow weak tracks, indeed.
Robinson says, "We are trying to preserve the art of having a crate, and the actual culture of DJing and digging for records."
Some of that digging must include a search for new product on Cratesavers, including a 2x12 release of six "You Have the Right" remixes. The track, originally a b-side of Scan 7's 2001 "I Am From Detroit" EP (on Belgium's Elysia label), is reinterpreted by Aaron-Carl, DJ Surgeon, Jay Denham, T Linder and the Moderator.
Other new releases on Cratesavers include the "Kill and Kill Again" EP by DJ Surgeon and Arthur Oskan's "Stereo Soul." Dig deeper to find Scan 7's 2005 release, "No One Listens to Techno," where the genre's naysayers are confronted and bludgeoned with a 4/4 on the floor roar. See DJ Surgeon July 28 at the Hook Up, at Fi-Nite Gallery, 1370 Plum St. Also appearing: DJ Seoul, Mike "Agent X" Clark, DJ Korie and more. Doors at 10 p.m. For more info on Cratesavers go to cratesavers.com.
But who else is holding it down? Recent defections by minimal ravers Ryan Crosson, Lee Curtis and Seth Troxler to Berlin left a gaping hope on the leftfield side of the Detroit scene.
Try Kevin Reynolds, a Corktown studio rat who cut his teeth working for Derrick May and Transmat and now operates his own Todhchai (that's future in Gaelic) label.
Two years ago, Reynolds released "Built for Athletic Response" as a CD-R on the label, and in 2006 he dropped "Afrik/Anonymous Room in the Corridor of Last Night." But Reynolds who cites wide-ranging influences like Babel Gilberto, Donny Hathaway and the Cure along with Detroit techno, house and hip- hop greats veers into exquisite new territory on a recent remix of a Detroit Symphony Orchestra recording of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." Hear the track at www.myspace.com/kevinreynoldsdetroit, then beg him to roll it out live at the Buzz Bar on July 20. Headlining the event, called All over the Place and put on Instant Vintage, is the UK's Spiritual South, a trio that fuses samba with Afrobeat and nu-jazz. Also on the bill: E Spleece and David Victor.
Sometimes the Detroit vibe leaves, becomes embedded in another culture and comes back sounding reinvigorated and transformed by, say, the grimy inspiration of punk rock and the freewheeling influence of neo-liberal societies in Europe. It doesn't get much freer than in the Netherlands, where kids found the Detroit techno bug difficult to resist. The Dutch liked it loud, hard and futuristic back in the, uh, day, and they still like it that way now.
The clearest evidence of this is preserved on Bunker Records, a label run since 1992 by self-described "white and Eurasian suburban middle class nerd punks" from The Hague. The label took many of its cues from Underground Resistance (who didn't?) and set up a compound where bespectacled electro-acid geeks could make a racket and a little bit of dirty cash making sick-sounding records. They represent live as well, loud as hell and weirdly danceable. Check it at Members Only, a party at Fi-Nite on July 27. The best of Bunker will be there: Legowelt, Orgue Electronique and Cosmic Force all performing live with DJ sets from TLR and AVE. Doors 11 p.m.The Subterraneans is a column devoted to Detroit dance culture. Send comments to [email protected]