More than 500 nights. Thats how many times I figure Ive gone out in the last six years in Detroit as a dancing, bullshitting, chin-scratching participant-observer in one of the most intense, competitive music scenes in the world. Its nothing compared to Cliff Thomass 25 years at Buy Rite Records or Zana Spectacles Smiths three decades selling clothes and throwing parties. But it was a time of great change in this shrinking city, one that saw a downtown festival breathe a sense of new cultural capital into Detroits likewise shrinking dance community. The results were there for all: an Adult. performance in the Kresge Court at the DIA, Derrick May laying it down in the Max Fisher Music Center, Carl Craig playing Harry Bertoias sculpture at Cranbrook, and Jerry the Cat creating percussive magic at Detroit Public Library.
In between those times, Ive also seen tech-house anarchist Matthew Herbert rip a Big Mac to shreds and sample it live, and Anthony Shake Shakir beat-juggle a crowd into ecstasy from his wheelchair. Ive witnessed DJ Houseshoes force a multi-ethnic audience to sing Segers Old Time Rock & Roll, and Delano Smith EQ a disco track so hard my gender identity split into shards leaving my inner diva to let loose screaming. I have taught Detroit high schoolers by day and been schooled by Derek Plaslaiko at Adriels Family weekly later the same night. As a DJ, I had the good fortune to play in the same booth at Motor that had been occupied by Londons Gilles Peterson, Warrens Brian Gillespie and DJ Recloose, the only Commonwealth Street-to-New Zealand transplant I know.
I have also seen some of the citys greatest DJs Huckaby, Geiger, Ester, Souffront play to near-empty rooms. I have seen Derrick Mays records spit on by Thomas Barnett at the Temple in Ferndale. I have walked out of the Candy Bar the same night shots rang out and bodies fell dead at the epicenter of downtown gentrification, Woodward and John R.
Detroiters have birthed this twisted, anxious and elegant culture, struggling in the midst of a maligned, deindustrialized, racist geography, cushioned only by the sublime beauty of the human spirit. The Belleville Three (or four, five or six) didnt create this cultural terrain; instead an ocean of lovers and dancers ordained our way of life. So dont wait, as I sometimes have, for techno gods to save us.
I know, I know: There are no bodies, there is no money, and no one cares. The cover at Oslo doesnt get you into the Candy Bar; Minx hasnt met Ricardo Villalobos; Neptune Records Brett Marion hasnt met Submerges Mike Banks; the festival is still in debt; and who from Novi will ever know the situation at Fenkell and Meyers? But I am unrepentant. I shall die a club revolutionist, a techno lover and a dialectical bootyist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable dancer. My faith in the electronic future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed its firmer today than it was in the days of the Electrifying Mojo.
As I leave Detroit to analyze, expand and open the experiences of my heart-mind on other dance floors and through the eyes of the university, let me just tell you how beautiful you are. Blake Baxter is still making pounding acid tracks; Berliner Peter Grummich just delivered his best-ever track to Ann Arbors Spectral Sounds; and Mike Himes hasnt shut down Record Time yet. The beats continue to pulse , and the bodies that we do have are lean and mean. Let Detroits future generations cleanse our world of all trance, watered-down electro and barriers that divide us and enjoy it to the full. Farewell to the D; I miss you already.
Beats go on
While Carleton gets his academic groove on at the University of Pittsburgh, where his experience in the Detroit underground no doubt leaves him overqualified for a Ph.D. program in communications and rhetoric, the beats will go on for the Subterraneans. Club nights, disco lights, weird production in suburban basements and West Side attics, the best of visiting DJs and live electronic performers: All will continue to find space in this column. Keep slinging the dark riddims, kids.The Subterraneans is a column devoted to Detroit dance culture. Send comments to [email protected]