It's a grimy life. You spend way too much time in beer- and liquor-stained rooms, inhale plumes of smoke, get jostled and bumped by intoxicated geeks and freaks, expose your sensitive eardrums to some of the planet's most intense sustained sonic vibrations. Yes, it can get ugly down there in the dark among the mongoloids and cave dwellers.
But life at 160 beats per minute does have its charms, obviously; when it's going at full throttle, you become part of an undulating dreamscape of such vivid color, intense raw power and real (or is it hallucinated?) community that you feel like you're living in an eternal summer of love. Really. And, no, it's not the drugs talking, unless you count the Echinacea herbalozenges I took this morning for my scratchy mid-November throat.
In this post-millennial playhouse, everyone and everything are (theoretically) equal. The DJs, the dancers, the tunes — all part of a heaving movable feast cooked up by passion and desire. Of course, smart club owners, savvy sound people, promoters with great taste and press flacks willing to work for next to nothing but the thrill of it all help a helluva lot. Without them there can be no scene.
Proper due respect
And even with all of the above in place, it's hard enough to build a dance culture that works. In today's sputtering global economy, techno's in retreat. Sure, it's been called out for dead several times before, only to reconstitute in some, well, far out places: Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Bratislava, Szczecin (in the far northwest corner of Poland), some resort towns on the Black Sea in Romania and others.
But where is it flourishing now? Berlin remains the destination for all up-and-coming producers and DJs, largely because it is the most affordable cultural capital in the world and the density of artists is thicker than a Carl Craig bass line. It's become so dense, in fact, with ex-pat Yanks and Canadians, that some of our German pals have requested we take them all back. That's right, all you North American loafers and Euro-trash upstarts, get the hell out of there and c'mon back home to Detroit and Windsor where you belong. This is the soul center of the original scene, after all, where electronic musicians the world over still come, psychogeographically speaking, to mine our golden vibe.
The real heroes are the visionaries and grunts who stick it out on the local level. They lay it down every time they put on a show, scratching out their last dimes to upgrade equipment, secure sympathetic clubs and art spaces, book exciting but expensive talent from overseas and pay their own DJs whatever loose change is left at the end of the night.
Proper|Modulation is the latest Detroit promotions group to dangle its feet above the cool techno fire. It has a nice corps of worker bees and talent buyers, looking out for good artist product and getting it. Over a two-year span, PM has brought in Efdemin from Hamburg (as part of an official pre-party for Movement 2008), Sweden's Mikael Stavostrand, Kompakt/Anticipate artist Klimek from Berlin and has coordinated efforts (wisely) with other promoters, party brands and labels like Paxahau, Auxetic, Detroit Techno Militia, Sass, Beretta, Ghostly International/Spectral Sound, Minus and others. That's smart business in a shrinking but still vital marketplace.
The group is part of a regular Wednesday night showcase at Hamtramck's Trowbridge House of Coffee, and this Friday brings one of the world's best minimal techno and house producers to the same spot for a rare live stateside appearance.
Peter Kersten is known in the underground by two names: Sten and Lawrence. He and longtime partner Carsten Jost run the Dial imprint in Hamburg, but have recorded for other labels, including Kompakt (which released early Lawrence recordings that critics called "heroin house" for its deep, narcotic, melancholy, introspective but danceable grooves) and Ann Arbor's Ghostly (which issued the wintry Spark EP in 2004). A new release, Divided, will be released on Ghostly subsidiary Spectral Sound in January.
Kersten will perform Sten and Lawrence material this Friday (Nov. 28) at THC, 10241 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; 313-285-9822. With support by DJs Aran Daniels, Drew Pompa, Metaphaze, TRS and Buckminister. Doors are 9 p.m.
Home for the holidaze
This being Thanksgiving holiday week and all, there's more damn good dance to suck the chill out of the air.
On Wednesday, Nov. 26 (that's tonight, kids), the weekend party gets off to a strong start with homie Derek Plaslaiko, back from Brooklyn (c'mon home to stay, dude, why don't you?), Punisher, Erno the Inferno and David Cermak at the Russell Industrial Center's Motor City Movie House (1600 Clay St., fifth floor, Detroit). It starts at 10 p.m. and doesn't quit until the turkey gets basted and put in the oven some time on Thursday.
Also home is the great Daniel Bell, whose techno-formative years were spent here and in Windsor, where he teamed up with Richie Hawtin on some titanic releases on the Plus 8 label. He has continued to innovate after moving to Berlin (and, later, Connecticut), recording and playing live as DBX (as he did last spring on the Main Stage at Movement) and DJing under his own name. Performing with Bell at Oslo is Thomas Melchior, whose most recent funky house workouts have found homes on the Perlon, Playhouse and Cadenza labels. Saturday, Nov. 29, at Oslo, 1456 Woodward Avenue, Detroit. Doors are 10 p.m.
Finally, this reporter from the wrong side of midnight would be remiss if he were not to humbly mention the live performance by nospectacle this Friday (Nov. 28) at Cranbrook Art Museum, 39221 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills. The event is part of the ongoing Andy Warhol: Grand Slam exhibition. The scribe tags it not only to disclose that he's part of this three-person electronic hybrid but to alert readers once again to the marvelous talents of Chris McNamara (a founding member of the Detroit-Windsor collective Thinkbox) whose original sound and film productions are the cornerstone of the presentation. Any audio and visuals references to dandy Andy's Exploding Plastic Inevitable are purely intentional. The show begins at 8 p.m.The Subterraneans is a column devoted to Detroit dance culture. Send comments to [email protected]