The year in BPM culture

While the national press slagged major label electronica’s failure to boost sagging record sales in 1998, Fatboy Slim and Stardust — half of Daft Punk and contender for the year’s won’t-go-away single with the retro-disco "The Music Sounds Better With You" — scored respective, and respected, successes. Meanwhile, Tricky dropped the ball with a lackluster album, but Massive Attack picked it up with a rockin’ reinterpretation of trip-hop on its album, Mezzanine.

Locally, the more bourgeois techno scene took a backseat to the wildly popular ghetto-tech booty bass, as artists such as DJ Assault and Godfather and their labels Electrofunk and Twilight 76, respectively, prospered, one raucous track and mix tape at a time, bolstered by mixshow airplay from Wax Taxin’ Dre and Gary Chandler, culminating in DJ Godfather’s Player Haters In Dis House album, itself player-hated for using the n-word. Meanwhile, Direct Beat capitalized on ghetto-tech’s neoelectro fetish with lackluster releases by Aux 88 and X-ile. Ann Arbor’s Interdimensional Transmissions did the same with its From Beyond compilation, bringing vintage synth eccentrics Ectomorph, Le Car and Keith Tucker to the attention of Spin readers. Even Underground Resistance mixed its grouchy militancy with electro on its release, Interstellar Fugtives. But despite retooling its appeal for urban audiences, UR got hamstrung on its own militancy when press time came: LA-based hip-hop magazine Urb pulled a planned cover story when UR leader Mike Banks refused to be photographed.

Godfather of Techno Juan Atkins rejoined the fray with a long-awaited mix CD for Wax Trax/TVT, while Kevin Saunderson offered remixed hits of his E-Dancer persona, but scored a radio hit with a 10th anniversary rerelease of his Inner City classic, Good Life. Derrick Thompson’s Soiree Records found a sexier side of techno — yes, there is one — while Carl Craig’s Planet E label steered clear of techno with releases by the Common Factor, Recloose (the DJ-formerly-known-as-Bubblicious) and the insta-classic "4 My Peepz" 12" by Craig’s house music alter ego Paperclip People. Craig’s jazz-techno hybrid Innerzone Orchestra drew befuddled live reviews but still garnered major label offers. Richie Hawtin dared people to buy into his myth with the things-that-go-bump-in-the-night sounds on his album, Consumed, while his Minus label became the No Limit of techno, with five high-concept releases for the year and one of the year’s best parties, "Consumed."

Detroit’s house underground re-emerged; Eddie Fowlkes re-launched City Boy Records by joining R&B promoters Nouveau, and Scott Grooves teamed up with George Clinton and Roy Ayers to make the soulful, sincere Pieces of A Dream. Clubs such as Better Days — the year’s best Saturday night — and Johannsen Charles Gallery became beatdown house hot spots. Motor thrived with high-profile guest deejays (Frankie Bones, Grooverider), time-honored off-nights (Tuesday’s Family), and the consistency of resident DJ Bone, but lost partner Steven Sowers along the way.

BPM culture spilled into smaller clubs such as Hamtramck’s Lush and Detroit’s the Labyrinth with party-kid nights, following the lead of Ann Arbor’s Solar which brought together promoter Jon Layne and resident DJ Disco D — who, barely out of high school, signed to Chicago dance conglomerate MCM to make electro and booty.

Ravewise, the bust of last winter’s "Tighter" party foreshadowed the zero-tolerance policy of the Detroit Police that a Fox 2 News rave scene exposé would later inspire. Old(er) school promoters Poor Boy threw a not-quite-final Packard party, while System bowed out with the massive "Fuck The System" benefit for the homeless which drew 4,000 partygoers and collected 15,000 canned goods. But megaraves-raves became too top-heavy; August’s "Freaks Believe In Beats" was pure rock spectacle, right down to headliners Rabbit In The Moon having one of its costumes stolen. Newer promoters threw good parties — Full Circle’s "Aquavelvet"; Flavor Fools’ "Summer’s Lust" — but lost money as new jacks split the scene with competing parties and turned-off ravers made their way back into the clubs. Better Days indeed. Hobey Echlin is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]

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