Before Detroit techno, there was Detroit house music. And, as Cedric McDougle of Detroit house label Nouveau Riche Entertainment is finding, theres house after Detroit techno as well. House may not be as visible as it was a decade ago, hell admit, but it still has relevance to Detroit and the world. Even if, as he and his partners in Nouveau Riche are finding, the world and Detroit are two very different marketplaces for Detroit-bred house music.
With two new 12-inch releases of jazzy, future-retro house by Detroiters Jevant and Niko Marks, McDougle and NREs Fred Darwin Mosley and Arbie Mosely are heading into their third year as one of Detroits most ambitious labels.
Some would argue just being a house label is ambitious these days. Times have changed from the days when McDougle saw high school pals such as Jeff "The Wizard" Mills evolve from a local celebrity DJ to a world-renowned techno heavyweight. Back then, house music and techno were what Detroiters danced to, before major labels abandoned urban dance music for rougher, tougher hip hop and R&B, and before weekend mix shows replaced house with the lowbrow but wildly popular electro-bass sound.
McDougle and Nouveau Riche Entertainment think the fight for Detroit house music is still worth fighting. House music is making a worldwide comeback of sorts, even breaking into the occasional U.S. pop-radio playlist via a fluke retro-disco house song like "Music Sounds Better With You" by house producers Stardust (who are heavily Detroit-influenced). And Detroit occasionally exports its own hit; one half of Stardust remixed a track by Detroiter Scott Grooves which became an international club hit this summer.
But as Mark Finklestein, president of New Yorks Strictly Rhythm Records, the worlds biggest house music label, observes, "Eighty percent of our business is overseas. And until major labels get back into dance music here, I dont see that changing. I thought we might have seen it with Chers dance record, but it just hasnt happened yet."
McDougle takes it in stride. "Marketing-wise, we have the same plan, whether domestic or overseas: If a records hot, its hot!"
To get a record hot, he gets a test pressing to all his old Detroit pals, including Mills and Derrick May, who likely will drop the record into their sets overseas. "These cats Ive known for years are taking the seeds and spreading it out over the whole world," he says confidently.
"Well always be based here, but Detroit doesnt show us the love and respect. Whoevers paying the bills gets the musical thrills," he says.
It isnt always that easy, though. "Weve had a lot of headaches with overseas distributors. They see were from Detroit and theyre like, You got any electro? And were trying to tell them, Man, that was 10 years ago; weve got whats happening right now!"
"Detroit is looked at for what it used to do, and for what it used to be," he continues. "Were trying to be the new school."
NRE is doing a decent job of representing Detroits talent while simultaneously playing the game for the world market with records by such esteemed producers as Norm Talley and first-wave techno-house personality Eddie "Flashin" Fowlkes. But its NREs two new releases by lesser-known artists that show theyre heading in the right direction. Marks 12-inch mines a classic techno bass sound over a cool-groove beat, but continues the current trend of using male vocalists rather than the traditional female house singers. Jevants single has a B-side, "Aquarian Swing," that funks up a classic house sound with pitched-up female vocals and an exaggerated hi-hat flourish that puts it right in line with the breakbeat-garage/speed-garage sound popular in England on taste-making pirate radio stations.
But for all the talk of business overseas, McDougle knows the party starts here. Last year, he and NRE threw the summers classiest, funkiest record release party, "Breaking the Chains that Bind the Mind" (who says dance music has no personality?), which brought house music back to the upscale urban audience that spawned it.
This years party, scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 29, at St. Andrews Hall, is no less ambitious. Called "Resurrection of Soul," it features internationally acclaimed East Coast house music heavy hitters Tony Humphries and Teddy Douglass, as well as performers and DJs from Nouveau Riche Enter-tainments roster.
It aint called "house" music for nothing: "Were taking it back to the backyards and the party-goers," McDougle says. "All yall are invited," he adds, "Just dont forget whos throwing the party."
For one night at least, Detroit isnt just in the house, it is the house, again. Hobey Echlin is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]