The best music from in and around Detroit in 2016

There was a lot

Dec 28, 2016 at 1:00 am
click to enlarge Bevlove. - Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

This fucking year is quite nearly over, finally finally. As you've come to expect from the music section in an alt-weekly, we are here now to provide you with a look back at the year that was, in local music. Ready for a slew of Top Tens? Sorry; those are such an outmoded form of communication, and the fake hierarchies they create are so lame. That said, our music editor posted an annotated list of his Village VOICE 'Pazz and Jop' poll ballot online the other day.

We've parceled out some of our best-of-the year content across a few issues. Last week, Ana Gavrilovska wrote about His Name Is Alive, who she argues might have made the best Detroit rock album of 2016. Kahn Santori Davison reviewed what he considers the best collaborative hip-hop album of the year — Apollo Brown and Skyzoo's Easy Truth (Mello Music). And next week, we will have a wrap-up of the best electronic and dance music from the year thanks to resident expert Rachel Skotarczyk.

This week, we've asked local musicians, writers, and artists to tell about their favorite show/event, release, or important artist from this terrible year. Detroit has one of the greatest local music scenes in the universe.

2016 Artists


One of the only positive things about 2016 was Bevlove. Every moment witnessing her perform, and just being in her energy, was striking and awe-inspiring. I think I saw her five or so times. Her performance at BFF Fest is what really blew my mind. Seeing her and Protomartyr in one night was a testament to how Detroit houses killers in all genres. Bev oozed confidence and the combo of her dress, her expressions, her movements, and her voice, makes her show more than just live music — it's theatre. And it's interactive theatre because her songs are so anthemic. She is hands down my favorite current performer in Detroit.

— Jen David (Third Wave Music)

click to enlarge Bonny Doon. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Bonny Doon.

Bonny Doon

I declared Bonny Doon the best band in Detroit pretty much right after hearing their four-song demo a couple years ago. I played it a ton, along with the tape they did after that. For a month or so, I've had a copy of their almost-released Salinas Records full-length. And even though it's not gonna make it out this calendar year, I'm still reppin' them as band to beat in 2016. It's so loose and charming and catchy by accident, sometimes catchy on purpose, with words that come around to surprise you right as the tune has you in lull. It's got all the things that make Bonny Doon great, just more of it in one sitting.

— Mike Dutkewych (Soul Deep)

George Clinton

In April, I did a book event in Tallahassee with George Clinton, who for my money remains Detroit's most underappreciated musical genius. (He lost his farm in Ann Arbor in a legal dispute and now lives in Florida full time.) We'd spent a few days together the previous year, when I profiled him for Rolling Stone, so I was no longer surprised by his vitality and presence — despite multiple decades of heavy drug abuse, the guy remembers everything. I wrote a novel about Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and of course George, who has had brushes with everybody in the music business, had stories: about seeing Jay at the Apollo in the Fifties, about nicking his coffin schtick for the Maggot Brain tour. When my reading went on a bit too long, George did his own version of dancing me off the stage at the Apollo: he started singing "I Put a Spell On You." (If anyone at the DIA or MOCAD is reading this, aren't we long past due for a major P-Funk exhibit?) — Mark Binelli (author, Detroit City is the Place to Be)

The Drinkard Sisters

I have to be honest. I spent most of 2016 in a cocoon of political debating and never-ending election coverage. So much so that I only emerged to see a small handful of live shows (shout-out to the ambient set from Bitchin' Bajas and Bonnie Prince Billy at Marble Bar). I consumed most of the superb music of the year online and stumbled on the folk harmony of the Drinkard Sisters. I was instantly taken and a little haunted by a single two -minute track. I listened to "Tennessee Waltz" on repeat for days. It reminded me of the scene at the end of "Before Sunset" when Celine nervously plays a song for Jesse, slowly strumming her guitar. The finale is not entirely certain, but you're satisfied with just that moment. It's vulnerable, a little crushing and that's the Drinkard Sisters. I dragged myself to a set at the UFO Factory earlier in the year and I'm glad I did. They did not disappoint with a full backing band completing their divine Americana sound. P.S. It melted my heart, just enough, to hear their tender rendition of "White Christmas" on their Lost Christmas album.

— Monica Isaac (Cairo Coffee)


The most underrated local artist might be Husky, aka Alex ARC. His dripping retro-techno-lofi-hip-hop-house sounds are so good. Last week, I "liked" almost every track on his Soundcloud, stalker-style: listening, loving, shaking my head, like "whaaaaat the shit" because those are my adult words. He's that good, man.

— Rachel Skotarczyk (Metro Times)


Shortly is a solo project done by a metro-Detroit raised, Alexandria Maniak. She released a single in August called "Matthew." It feels like a bad dream, with lyrics about losing friends to drug addiction, paired with slow drumbeats and light guitar riffs. Her angelic voice brings the entire song together, and the tune broke her into the alt-emo scene right away. If you want to hear more, catch her at the Magic Stick on January 13. — Selena Aguilera (Metro Times)

2016 Releases

The Bibs, From the Fish Houses (Soft Abuse)

The Bibs already released a couple of cassettes on Chris Durham's All Gone label, but their debut LP came out this fall. The Bibs (Chris Durham, Alex Franzen and Travis Galloway) remind me of Ohio early-punkers the Mirrors, and play screwed-up and unhinged psychedelic rock in a strange and bent manner. The basement-born four track recordings come from Durham's vaults, and From the Fish Houses starts pretty sad and mellow and stays that way for the most part with good songs and a fine blend of addled guitar and vocals that sound like a teen fan of Lou Reed slowed down on cough syrup. If you ever wished to hear more garage rock from people really into the Velvet Underground during the early '70s, then you'll love The Bibs.

Durham — songwriter, vocalist and guitar player for unique rockers Roachclip and his current project, Quilt Boy — keeps, "doing his thing" and putting out great cassettes and records and the Bibs continue this trend. I believe the Bibs have been inactive for a few years, so consider this document of lost Detroit garage rock a missing link between Ohio and Michigan punk that popped up out-of-the-blue. We'll have to settle for new styles and frontiers from the restless Durham, and appreciate these recordings finding their way onto wax. Look for the pink sleeve with the couple of deranged pudding-heads fishing behind a brick wall.

— Glen Morren (The Intended)

Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibition (Warp)

The beginning of Atrocity Exhibition is up there. The moodiness of Detroit they got on that record is for better or worse the most relevant soundtrack to the political/social/environmental hellscape 2016 is closing out as. #fuck2016.

— Swoozydolphin (Captwolf)

Chatoyant, Psychic Hieroglyphs (Detroit Cosmic Sounds)

local warped astronauts

of post-jazz ambient stoner music / a sound everywhere

and nowhere / a shadow

inside an echo chamber of the Miles O-mind / the children

of Sharrock, Ayler & King Crimson / right now

a card game with no faces

at the casino of ruins

side one:

longish track w/ jeweled Egypt mountain

dashing sonic waves / astral lightning bugs / a tombstone

rubbing from Max Ernst / the pagan Viking dust

squints a new language of Moondog

second course:

side of blind cave fish / wandering the lost lagoons &

cherry blossom snow showers

with juicy nugget center

dazzled by Kandinsky and Mucha light fountains

dessert course for Christmas:

Dali's diamond encrusted éclairs

and the crème-filled stopwatch of McCoy Tyner / a twinkle

from the stolen dreams and golden apples

of Captain Hook

Chatoyant and the art of un-fixing a sound

dig fellow time-travelers /

— DJ Ratfink aka Cary Loren (Monster Island, Book Beat)

Jay Daniel, Broken Knowz (Ninja Tune)

I knowz (sorry) that I mentioned it before, but it deserves another, as this is my favorite local release of the year. Daniel is the global underground, Detroit's next house legacy. Trust me, it's cosmically ordained.

— Rachel Skotarczyk (Metro Times)

The Intended, Time Will Tell (In the Red)

At least three generations' worth of fucked-up, artful underground/garage sounds get folded together on the Intended's long-awaited debut for In the Red. Each track is different from the one before, but it never sounds like a compilation album or an art project. You will hear echoes of so many subterranean heroes, from TV Personalities to The Index, Red Crayola to the Desperate Bicycles — but it's a thicker, meatier sound, powered by rocket fuel. This is wholly inventive, relentlessly fun music. I cannot stop listening to this record.

— Mike McGonigal (Metro Times)

Mover Shaker, Michigania (Mover Shaker)

Even with its December release, Michigania ascends as one of the best local albums in 2016. From start to finish, each song is a complete surprise with the band's genre-bending talent. But each track flows perfectly into the next creating a cohesive piece of art. The lyrics sung by Gabriel Miller and Jack Parsons sound soft and beautiful, but hold skin-piercing connotations. The instrumentals sound time-altering and smooth, and leave the listener with lingering goosebumps.

— Selena Aguilera (Metro Times)

White Stripes, Icky Trump t-shirt

(Third Man)

"White Americans? What? Nothing better to do? Why don't you kick yourself out? You're an immigrant too," Jack White sneers on "Icky Thump" — an atypically political White Stripes song originally released in 2007, during the George W. Bush days. The lyrics took on a renewed meaning this year, with president-elect Trump's campaign promises to build a wall on the Mexican border and massive deportations for illegal immigrants. In the final stretch of the campaign White's Third Man Records tweaked the title to "Icky Trump," which was emblazoned on T-shirts available just in time for Election Day. Why did it take so long for White to make the connection? Is he really anti-Trump, or is he proof that you can "be a pimp and a prostitute, too?" What is clear is he's sure to sell loads more shirts during the next four years.

— Lee DeVito (Metro Times)

Ziemba, Hope Is Never (Lo & Behold!)

The most mind-blowing release that came out of Detroit this year is the debut full-length album by Brooklyn-based Michigan native René Kladzyk, who goes by Ziemba. The album was released on vinyl and cassette by Lo & Behold! in Hamtramck. I fell in love, and the cassette was on heavy rotation in my old car (RIP) for a good few months before I had to upgrade to a newer car without a cassette deck.

— Lauren Rossi ( Seraphine Collective, Casual Sweetheart)

2016 Live shows

March 4, Terrible Twos @ Kelly's

I'll never forget how it felt to discover the great, weird shit that I could finally relate to musically in Detroit. High school sucked and college was fine but I, like everyone else, learned many of the most important things about life at a shitty bar with sometimes dozens and other times hundreds of other disaffected people who were all suddenly very much affected together as soon as the band we all came to see struck that first familiar note. Anyone who used to see the Terrible Twos play their frenetic arty-ish synth-punk during the height of this shit in the latter half of the 2000s remembers it well and extremely fucking fondly. They still play occasional shows around town or festivals or whatnot, even though everyone's busy with numerous other cool projects too, but for one night during Hamtramck Music Fest — at the fittingly tiny Kelly's — we were all transported back to one of those disgustingly packed nights of finally feeling alive among your fellow weirdos. If your heart wasn't beating out of your chest during "No New Thing" or "Pipebomb" or "Fat Cats" or "Chinky Glass Eye," you weren't there, and that's fine, but if reading this makes you wish you were, sorry.

— Ana Gavrilovska (Metro Times)

May 26, Sean Blackman's 'In Transit' @ The Garden Theater

In 2010 Detroit guitarist, Sean Blackman staged In Transit, a multi-cultural blending of international musicians, ethnic dancers, and Detroit jazz masters to a sold out audience at Orchestra Hall. That concert reunited the collaborators featured on Blackman's In Transit (Complex Records, 2009), and established a format that continues today as In Transit Detroit, a monthly concert series at the Garden Theater. Each In Transit Detroit arrives at a different musical destination, and the May 26 edition, A Night in Paris, is my favorite concert of 2016.

Judy Adams, Detroit's iconoclastic radio host, helped set the mood as prelude DJ, while patrons enjoyed delicious french cuisine, presented by caterer, The Clean Plate. Blackman was joined by In Transit veterans and Detroit legends clarinetist Wendell Harrison and percussionist Larry Fratangelo. As if dropping in and out of Parisian nightclubs, the music was jazzy and juicy, as served up by enchanting vocalists Genevieve Marentette and Allison Laako. Gipsy jazz guitarist, Evan Perri delivered Django Reinhardt with requisite dexterity and style. There was just enough spontaneity and edge to flavor the evening french with friendly informal interaction with the audience.

Slight flaws included some distraction from the bar patrons and less than complimentary lighting, neither of which spoiled the marriage of Blackman's careful talent curation and superb performances.

Paris was just one stop, as the series' eight other concerts circled the globe featuring music from Africa, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Argentina, India, Spain, and Armenia. The final concert returned home with the all-star-laden Detroit Show, featuring 39 of our best artists. Happily, Blackman plans to bring In Transit Detroit back in 2017 and I look forward to any and all destinations.

— Larry King (Make Music Detroit)

click to enlarge Marshall Allen. - Courtesy photo,
Courtesy photo,
Marshall Allen.

May 27-30, Movement 2016 @ Hart Plaza; Trip Metal Fest @ El Club, Trinosophes

A longtime friend who currently resides in Brooklyn pulled me aside this weekend and said, "For years, whenever I came home people would tell me, 'Detroit is changing,' and I would say, 'Sure it is," but this is the first year I actually believe them."

Movement is a cemented thing in our city now. It has morphed, matured, and turned into a tightly run celebration of our city's direct impact on electronic dance music. And while it is no longer my cup of tea is in unarguably the kick off to summer in Detroit, the celebration and return of hometown electronic dance music heroes and pioneers, a chance to see something unbelievable in Hart Plaza, and the yearly reminder that we invented this shit. Already shining with a line-up deep in local legends plus worldwide Detroit ambassadors, Movement 2016 brought the return of Detroit dance music's adopted German parents, Kraftwerk. Kraftwerk! At Hart Plaza! A band burned deeply into our Detroit dance subconscious by the Electrifying Mojo and the Wizard, are heard at any Detroit party worth going to in the last thirty five years, and who you can draw a direct line to from any techno record pushed out of our great city. And as Movement has blossomed and grown downtown it has sprouted countless after parties all over the city, a dizzying amount of late night once-in-a-lifetimers, and too many got-to-be-there places to be. The whole city is buzzing with activity.

At the same time, a different sort of thing was going down. Trip Metal. A smaller festival similar in its inclusion and dedication to Detroit artists and crowning jewel headliners of living legend pioneers but separate in its vibe, location, and cost. As the billboard said starkly and the slogan that went viral: "Trip Metal Is Free." Trip Metal was three-day-long, free festival located in the east at Trinosophes and in the west at El Club that featured an amazing line up of past, present, and about to stain your brain noise, jazz, and electronic artists. Ground-floor electronic music pioneer, making his first recordings in the 1960s, Morton Subotnick leveled the crowd opening night. Former Sun Ra Arkestra players Marshall Allen and Danny Thompson teamed up with Hieroglyphic Being to bring us ancient sounds from the future. Sunday saw the reunion of Andrew WK, Twig Harper, and Nate Young and then Wolf Eyes, the standard bearer for all that is weird and good and unique about music in our region, closed it out. The days were filled with subversive films and in depth artist talks while the nights were crammed with the latest sonic offerings by AA/Ypsi/Detroit noise veterans. A statement was made with Trip Metal. If there is going to be a new kind of Detroit, our fuzzed-out noise freaks, space jazz warriors, avant music heads, and permanent weirdsville residents are ready to carve out their place in it. Trip Metal was the perfectly organized and free underground music match to Movement's well-oiled worldwide EDM celebration.

Detroit has a lot going for it but there are few weekends where I feel like I am at the cultural and musical center of the entire fucking universe. This was one.

— Aaron Anderson (Street Corner Music)

June 9, Flag @ Small's

The band absolutely killed it. How could they not? It was Dez, Keith, Chuck, Bill, and Stephen doing what they've been doing best for decades. It was barebones. It wasn't flashy, and it wasn't a production. It was four guys in their fifties somehow taking music that's only two decades younger than they are, and playing it off as totally ageless. On the floor at Small's, with "My War" blasting, there was an electric feeling of camaraderie between the old hardcore guys and hipster punk kids who crowded the floor that I've never experienced at any other show. Ever. It was a show. I swear to God, they didn't pause between songs. The longest stop was after some jackass leapt onto the stage and snatched the set list off, and Dez stopped to shame him into giving the it back so they could continue, and told him to ask for it after the show like a civilized person. Even the pit was a friendly cesspool for the generations to mix up in. It was the best show of the year, hands down.

— Debbie Miszak (Metro Times)

July 16, Plexus @ Concept 56

I can say Plexus blew my mind this year, because I got so drunk I missed my whole set, and the concept was pretty cool. In the midst of seeing some of my favorite musician homies rocking the stage, I began drinking and chilling not thinking about how many shots of Jäger I took back. So I sat in the back on the couch to get myself together before I got onstage. I lay down and got really comfortable. I ended up falling asleep, and what I thought was a 15-minute nap was a two-hour slumber. I woke up ready to DJ, but the party was over. I don't drink much at shows, now.

— Sheefy McFly (Sheefy McFly)

Oct. 15, Complex Movements' 'Beware of the Dandelions' @ Talking Dolls

Complex Movements' Beware of the Dandelions was the most innovative live music experience I had. I have been following the work of the Complex Movements collective as a student and comrade of the same emergence science ideas. It was thrilling to see these concepts of adaptation, interdependence and complexity realized in the multi-modal immersive experience of BOTD.

The music, performed live to an audience in a pod with several screens surrounding us with visuals that enhance the story, carries us on a journey to the future. We learn about a revolutionary moment where movement has to relinquish binary thinking in order to proliferate viable futures.

The music itself — produced by Detroit native/legend Waajeed and performed by my comrade/collaborator Invincible — is irresistible. It might be the first time I wanted to dance during an apocalypse. The physical experience, from the wild and fertile imaginations of Wes Taylor and L05, is made accessible and exciting with the facilitation of Sage Crump. It's a dynamic effort in collaborative creation that generates material outcomes including, so far, button making stations, a memorial mural for Sheddy Rollins, and gorgeous vinyl.

This work was my favorite juxtaposition of art and justice in the D this year.

— Adrienne Maree Brown (writer/social justice facilitator)

Sept. 3, Stanley Cowell Quintet featuring Billy Harper and Charles Tolliver @ Jazz Fest, Pyramid Stage

Oct. 22, Phil Ranelin celebrates the 40th anniversary of 'Vibes from the Tribe' @ Trinosophes

Both these shows showcased connections to important black-owned jazz labels here in Detroit. The Quintet were part of the festival's expanded Homecoming Series, with the connection coming through via Stanley Cowell, accomplished pianist and co-founder of seminal jazz label Strata-East Records. He wasn't born in Detroit, but he did get a Master of Music from the University of Michigan, play with trumpeter Charles Moore and others in the Detroit Artist's Workshop Jazz Ensemble in the mid-'60s, and draw inspiration from Moore and Detroit pianist Kenn Cox with Strata Records.

Fellow Strata-East co-founder and trumpeter Charles Tolliver and saxophonist Billy Harper (whose debut album on Strata-East, Capra Black, I called out in my Jazz Fest overview this year as required listening for its moving sonic portrayal of '70s black consciousness) also headlined, with Jay Anderson on bass and Carl Allen on drums to complete the quintet. Their excellent performance this year was an intense combination of emotion and skill, a sonic homecoming in the sense that their playing seemed to express a youthfully powerful reflection of their own initial entries into the post-bop jazz world of the '70s.

The following month in October, Phil Ranelin came through for two sets at Trinosophes. Though not a Detroit native proper, Ranelin will forever be remembered as a co-founder of Tribe Records, a Detroit label making some of the most adventurous independent jazz in the '70s. They only released a handful of albums, but all are essential, especially Ranelin's. This show honored the 40th anniversary of his 1976 album Vibes From the Tribe, some of Detroit's deepest, funkiest soul jazz, honestly spiritual and always well composed. This year, the live set included a lovely rendition of that album's song "Wife." The personnel for the two performances was a reunion of the Vibes From the Tribe Quartet Ranelin put together in the late '70s after the dissolution of Tribe Records, and they offered a thoughtful set with tremendous, visible energy behind some seriously infectious playing. It's a thrill to see any original Tribe material in action, and Ranelin even brought with him several original records and versions with rare covers. Anyone who slept on either of his two generous performances should regret it.

— Ana Gavrilovska (Metro Times)

Nov. 5, Survive @ El Club

This was definitely a highlight of 2016 for me. Not just because of their performance, which was spectacular, but the size and diversity of the crowd. You saw bros squeezed in next to your bearded Midtown baristas. Survive performed songs spanning their catalogue with a full set-up of analogue synthesizers and drum machines to applause all night. It was incredible. I think it's wonderful how much attention they earned from providing the score to Stranger Things. I mean, I just read they're up for a possible Grammy? Tangerine Dream has even covered them. "Synthwave" is becoming a buzzword. As someone who has been running a night celebrating cold, analogue electronic music it's really interesting to watch!

— Justin Carver (Something Cold)

Nov. 30, Tatsuya Nakatani and Makoto Kawabata @ Trinosophes

These two wizards made my mind explode; I knew they would. Each of them explored their own ideas and instruments to their fullest extent and yet were linked at the axis. Using the power of friction, clatter, staggered rhythms, fragmented melodies and feedback, to create soundscapes that ranged from peaceful meditative drones to full on, assaultive sound explosions. At no moment was I bored during this performance. They were both so in sync, so plugged in to one another in spirit. Kawabata sat there peacefully, in a trance, waiting, droning, searching for little melodies and defining sounds to emerge. Nakatani was frenzied with energy: pounding on drums, banging on cymbals and bowing gigantic gongs, pushing himself to the limit. It seemed as if they were drawing from a deep well of knowledge from the past, while fusing together progressive ideas about the future. This is music not easily forgotten.

— Raphael Vincent Brim (Diamond Hens)