Blank generation

Jan 27, 2010 at 12:00 am

Five years might as well be an eternity in the here today, gone tomorrow underworld of dance music culture. Raise your hands, clubbers and ravers — who can remember what made you sweat 'n' shout during the dark winter of '05? Well, if you were in Cologne, Berlin or Detroit, it was probably some variation on minimal techno (as in Wolfgang Voigt's Kompakt; the dub-stylin' Hard Wax crews headed by Ernestus/von Oswald and Richie Hawtin's still high-flying Minus); or a slight detour into avant-pop and electro-disco (including artists associated with Ann Arbor's Ghostly International/Spectral Sound and NYC's LCD Soundsystem/DFA). Still others kept their bets on solid '90s-built Detroit franchises, such as Underground Resistance/Submerge, Carl Craig/Planet E; and funky house commanders Moodymann/Mahogani and Theo Parrish/Sound Signature.

That's the short list, of course. There was a ton of electronic music being produced and played out in '05, the year a fledgling label and art-music collective calling itself Blank Artists first jumped into the flames. 

The project was born out of a friendship nurtured on a message board for Midwest ravers. Josh Dahlberg and Drew Pompa found each other there — virtually! — and then later connected physically in Lansing's small, but fertile music scene. Originally from Owosso, Dahlberg arrived in Detroit first, enrolling at Wayne State University and — more importantly for our story — taking on extracurricular activity as an intern at famed Submerge Recordings. Pompa (whose family has roots on the southwest side of Detroit but settled in Alcona County near Alpena) came down soon after, also to go to school at WSU and hit the city's global dance nexus full throttle.    

The duo recently joined Subterraneans at Motor City Brewing Works to talk of personal histories, inspirations and influences, mixing digressions with sidebars, pizza and beer. It's clear that Dahlberg, 25, and Pompa, 27, have entrepreneurial savvy to match their artistic vision — not to mention an attraction to barley wine and its, ahem, healthy 9-percent alcohol content. They run Blank Artists out of a Woodbridge house, along with mates (er, make that comrades) Chris DeVries and Dan Kinney (ministers of finance and operations, respectively). UR-esque formalities aside, Dahlberg and Pompa are unpretentious and charming, easy to laugh and eager to discuss such topics as analog vs. digital, Detroit vs. Williamsburg vs. Berlin, and the past, present and future of their humble enterprise.

"I love the fact that we're doing it in Detroit, even if some people might think we're crazy," Dahlberg admits. "I suppose I could sell off everything, move to Brooklyn or Berlin and go to lots of parties and take lots of drugs. But I accept the challenge of operating a small business in Michigan, where we have great friends and family."

Pompa agrees. "Don't get me wrong. Williamsburg and Berlin are wonderful, creative places with more of a social scene and opportunities to get personal exposure." But while comparing those two hotspots to Detroit, he also calls them "places to cash in or capitalize on current prevailing trends. Here in Detroit, you can really plant seeds for long-term growth, which is how we approach Blank Artists."

Another approach that's working for Dahlberg and Pompa is the collective's emphasis on bringing like-minded friends and fans together into the big tent of future music the old-fashioned way — that is, via practicing hospitality and delivering the promised goods. We're talking good danceable times here, featuring a tasty blend of techno, house, electro, soul and funk. And they genuinely like collaborations, which is an admirable tendency in a town that too often leans toward paranoid individualism over sharing the D-love. Accordingly, they've worked with party crews from Interdimensional Transmissions, Proper | Modulations and others. Blank Artist parties have included performances by Ghostly/Spectral's Todd Osborn, Kevin Reynolds, Patrick Russell, Keith Kemp, Andy Toth, Scott Ferguson and John Johr — all Detroiters, past or present. 

Late last year, Blank Artists brought René Löwe and Peter Kuschnereit — both affiliated with seminal Berlin labels Basic Channel and Chain Reaction since the mid-1990s — to town for individual DJ sets and a live performance as the dub techno two-piece Scion. "True gentlemen," Pompa says. "They kept a packed [Bohemian House] dancing all night."

Still, the dance party is not the end all for Dahlberg and Pompa. Blank Artists has released original productions and remixes since 2006, when Dahlberg issued his debut Control Theory EP, followed by the "Ego/Timid" digital release. Over a dozen pieces are in the label's discography, including last summer's limited edition Guiding Light EP. Dahlberg contributes a naughty electro beaut called "Ass on the Floor," backed by Secrets' (that's Matt Abbott aka Vacuum) funky electro-house romp, "Homesick." It's a nice little package worth seeking out. Other local artists making noise for the duo include Jared Wilson, E-Spleece and the rising Codine, who has a track on 2009's Primates Love Fun EP. 

Dahlberg says his time spent under the tutelage of notoriously secretive but uncommonly generous Underground Resistance co-founder Mike Banks was the best education a combo electronic musician and budding businessman could have. "It gave me a better scope of how to navigate the vessel that is a record company," Dahlberg says. "I learned the importance of proper introductions quickly and helped maintain the online store and aid in event production. I feel a certain bond with UR for the opportunity."

And through Josh and Drew, local audiences get a chance to feel it too. And there's no better time than Friday, Feb. 5, at downtown's Park Bar. That's where the crew will be celebrating five years of Blank Artists' musical diversity with three featured bands — Agents of Woe (Memphis/New York), Innerphonic and Madis One — along with DJ sets by Abbott, Dahlberg and Pompa as well as a special DJ set by longtime Detroit radio queen Judy Adams. The 21-and-over party starts at 9 p.m. Get there early and load up on Romanian sausage and fries at the Bucharest Grill! Cover is $8 before midnight. The Park Bar is at 2040 Park Avenue, Detroit; 313-962-9233. 

Walter Wasacz writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]