The Detroit dance scene endures by any means necessary. From its pre-rave beginnings in the early ‘80s at the Music Institute, to massive illegal underground parties 10 years later at abandoned factories (like, most famously, the Packard plant), to the more recent rise and fall of clubs like Motor and Panacea, the culture has always found ways to keep on keeping on. While DJs spin, dancers dance and love is just a kiss away, there are nasty little realities like permits, licenses, city ordinances and the police.
The most recent test for Detroit’s long-running reality series came Jan. 15, when Detroit police shut down what many in the scene were calling a historic collaboration between avant-techno promoters Paxahau and house-purists Organic. The event was at the Tangent Gallery/Hastings St. Ballroom, where numerous parties — including an official Movement after-party in 2003 — have gone off without interference. The venue, in a rusted sea of old factories, is blocks from the nearest residential neighborhood or commercial site. In other words, it’s perfect for a loud party that asks nothing but that guests be left to their obscure but usually innocent desires.
Why, then, did police crash this party? They apparently arrived because of a noise complaint (who complained in a neighborhood without many neighbors is unknown), then returned when the volume wasn’t sufficiently lowered. Then, according to our sources, the cops got into the technical details regarding permits and licenses with Paxahau’s Jason Huvaere, who was ticketed for failing to provide a cabaret license. For the city’s side, we were directed to Lucius Vassar, the mayor’s corporate and civic director, but our calls and e-mails went unreturned.
The promoters scrambled to find alternate venues. People were sent to Oslo, where Berlin’s Monolake was to reassemble his new audio-visual set. But the intimate clubs lacked the capacity, and other DJs (the estimable Three Chairs) were already on the decks. People were sent five blocks south to Foran’s Pub, where the fortunate survivors witnessed Monolake and Montreal producer Pheek finish the long, cold night.
Huvaere and Chris Galea of Organic are taking the high road. They aren’t pointing fingers at each other, the venue or the cops. “I don’t blame them. Those guys are just doing their jobs,” Huvaere said of the cops. For its part, Paxahau has issued an apology. (See paxahau.com.)
Organic and Paxahau are underground Detroit’s finest, and have brought one stellar artist after another to the city. (In February, Paxahau brings Michael Mayer, one of Europe’s most in-demand DJs, to Bleu.) Each plans a make-up party, though it is unknown whether they will combine forces. Organic apparently has a commitment from Joe Claussell, who did not play anywhere on Jan. 15, to perform at the next event. Stay in the game and keep your heads up, crews. Detroit needs you in the worst way.
As if we didn’t have enough hard hard techno news this week, we need to raise the question many insiders dare not ask out loud: Will there be a Movement Festival this year? There are just four months to the Memorial Day weekend when the internationally recognized event — called DEMF for its first three years, and then Movement in 2003 and 2004 — is scheduled. At its best, the event brought the world’s top electronic performers, media attention and countless “techno tourists” to the city. But we fear the city’s allegiance to the event may be approaching an end. Given Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s recent announcement of layoffs to deal with Detroit’s dire finances, the city may be too distracted and cash-strapped to support the festival. Usually the city green-lights the festival in January, and unpaid, stressed-out volunteers work until the morning of the event to pull it off.
When we casually broached the topic with festival organizer Derrick May at a recent benefit for tsunami victims at Oslo, he told us that the city’s commitment to the festival was such that “today there is no festival. ... Monday there could be a festival.”
We called fellow Movement organizer Kevin Saunderson to see if he was on the same page. And he was, more or less. Saunderson told us that he sent a festival proposal to the city last September, but wasn’t contacted until early this month. He described his subsequent contact with the city as “inconsistent.” We asked point-blank: Does he think the city is committed to electronic music? (We would have asked Lucius Vasser — Saunderson’s contact in the mayor’s office — the same question had he returned our calls.)
“The way they act it makes you wonder,” Saunderson said. “It definitely seems like they have other agendas.”
Saunderson said he wants to stay positive but he is not sure how a festival would come off at this point. He suggested that charging for tickets might be a way of saving the festival. Another possibility, he said, was to take the year off and pitch it again in 2006. We’ll keep our ears to the speakers.
So how did we get over the bad news of the past two weeks? We checked out some new nights, some old nights and special events that featured jaw-dropping talent. At Agave, DJs Delano Smith, Norm Talley, Mike Clark and Rick Wilhite offered up their power-house night called Rehab Sunday; at Bleu, we heard New York DJ Erick Morillo drop Roman Flugel’s “Geht’s Noch,” a club smash in Europe; at the State Bar, we found Depth, a new Friday event that featured DJs Shortround and Jan D. Unfortunately, Mu postponed its show at Oslo (the group's entire tour was canceled), though promoters from Soft Curls (soft-curls.com/) assure us a new date will be scheduled. Everywhere we went, we tried to dance the pain away. When it comes back, we know we’ll have to do it again. We will endure.
Thursday, Jan. 27: The War. Raybone vs. DJ Genesis vs. Felton Howard (Half Past 3, 2548 Grand River Ave., Detroit; 313-965-4789).
Friday, Jan. 28: Mark Farina at Oslo (1456 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-963-0300).
Friday, Jan. 28: Rescheduled Tsunami Benefit. Terrance Parker, Sean Deason and many others (Fi-nite Gallery, Cary Building Lofts, 229 Gratiot Ave., Fifth Floor).
Saturday, Feb. 5: Luie Vega and Driving Soul (Bleu, 1540 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-222-1900)
Saturday, Feb. 5: Jennifer Zerri and Vince Halliburton (Fi-nite Gallery, Cary Building Lofts, 229 Gratiot Ave., Fifth Floor).
Saturday, Feb. 5: Scan 7, Carlos Suffront, manasy T, Trent Abbe and George Rhame (Detroit Social Club Grand Opening; call 313-467-CLUB for location).The Subterraneans is a biweekly column devoted to Detroit dance culture. Send comments to [email protected]