Punishing with sound

Aug 2, 2006 at 12:00 am

"Sound has got to be sick," says the Punisher, who away from her turntables is known as Michelle Hermann. "That's the first thing we think about when we set up a show. In control, but out of control. A live, totally sick environment that takes the experience to another level."

"It means everything," agrees the Overfiend (Matt Caputo), Punisher's partner in techno crime. "We want you to have the best time you ever had, an experience that can have a real impact on your life. It begins and ends with the sound."

Walk into any Punisher set, and you know exactly what they mean. The music is blistering, loud, and totally unrelenting, coming out of the monitors at 120 beats per minute. But it's measured, too — techno isn't known for its sense of nuance, but Punisher can usually find a way to vibrate your body three or four different ways at once.

Which helps explain why the duo's events are gaining a reputation for the talent level involved, as well as the volume.

"Michelle has some of the most amazing gifts as a live performer I've ever seen or heard," says Caputo, who also DJs with Detroit collective People Mover Productions.

Hermann started discovering those gifts in 1993, when she would sneak out of her Dearborn house in search of underground music. She quickly became a regular at the Griswold Lofts — the famed downtown community that helped spawn such DJs, producers and promoters as Buzz Goree of Underground Resistance, Plus 8's Theorem and Jason Huvaere of Paxahau — as well as the apocalyptic raves that stewed inside the long-shuttered Packard plant on East Grand Boulevard.

"The energy of the scene was incredible," Hermann says. "I was going out every night of every weekend in Detroit. I went to Toronto to see crazy live shows by people like Space Time Continuum and Orbital. I was going to see everything I could."

All this before she turned 16.

"I was a good student and I had the support of my parents and some of my teachers," she says. "I used to make tapes for my teachers. They liked the music. It helped when I would come into class after spending all night at a party."

Hermann bought some generic equipment at a pawnshop as a sort of DJ starter kit before eventually acquiring her first pair of Technics 1200s, the turntable of choice for working DJs. And she bought records — everything from beat-less ambient, abstract and experimental sounds to menacing industrial, drum 'n' bass and acid tracks.

Her initial forays into performing attracted the attention of established performers like Transmat's Thomas Barnett — with whom Punisher once shared a residency at the City Club — and then Richie Hawtin, who was emerging as a global star at the time. Hawtin played mentor, sharing space in his Windsor studio with Hermann and other young producers.

"Richie invited a lot of us to come in, use his 202s and 303s and other equipment," Hermann says. "I brought my own drum machine and went to Canada almost every day to practice."

In 1996, the same year she graduated from Edsel Ford High, Punisher released her first self-titled EP on Sean Deason's Matrix imprint. Another EP followed on Matrix before Hermann and Mike Brickner (aka Cozmic Spore) established their Seismic imprint in 1998. Seismic's catalog is now up to 20 releases, including original tracks and remixes by the Advent and Montreal-based Misstress Barbara.

Caputo and Hermann's partnership arose out of a shared penchant for relentlessly mechanistic grooves and unpredictable breaks. But with their relationship clicking on a professional and personal level, Hermann and the newly-christened Overfiend — "the name unleashes the dark side in me," says the soft-spoken Caputo of the manga-inspired moniker — began planning a number of projects together. The pair organized Shift, one of the better after-parties held during Memorial Day weekend's Movement festival, and recently brought Italian techno producer Marco Carola to the Works. And on Aug. 5 at Labyrinth they'll present Lick My Bass, an event featuring Prototype 909 and Overfiend as well as a tag team set from Punisher and The Suburban Knight of the Underground Resistance crew.

Other events are already in the works. Minnesotan Woody McBride, who started releasing tracks around the same time that Hermann got into the scene in the early '90s, is booked to play a live set at Labyrinth on Sept. 16, and in late October Seismic will bring in Sweden's Adam Beyer for a techno Halloween party. Seismic's wish list for future events includes minimal techno sensation Loco Dice — who has a current club smash, "Seeing Through Shadows," on Hawtin's Windsor-based Minus label — and LA-based tech-house vet John Tejada.

Of course, the impetus of every Seismic event is sound, a wall of rhythm that would be overbearing if it weren't so danceable. "Caution: this event will be extremely LOUD," the press release for Lick My Bass reads. "Complimentary earplugs will be available."

"We want to add great talent to a space that's dark and loud," Punisher says of Seismic's events. "And create something totally incredibly memorable."

Caputo adds emphasis. "Totally incredibly sick."


Seismic presents Lick My Bass Saturday, Aug. 5, at the Labyrinth, 1701 Cass Ave., Detroit; 10 p.m.

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