Chilling in obscurity

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More than 20 years after it (re)imagined the dance party as an art form, simultaneously elevating producers and DJs to star status around the world, Detroit Techno is still looking for love in its hometown. Never mind that the Detroit Electronic Music Festival-cum-Movement has claimed millions of visitors since it began throwing the world’s biggest free dance-oriented music festival in 2000, or that an exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum (Techno: Detroit’s Gift to the World) gave techno highbrow cred. Most Detroiters are still indifferent to the layers of electroni-talent in their midst.

At last Thursday’s ArtServe Michigan Governor’s Awards gala, greater Detroit’s art establishment gave due respect to three originals who combined soul and funk with synthesizers and glamour to create a scene that has been circling the planet nonstop since the early ’80s. The International Achievement Award was presented to Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson for their contributions to the global music scene. May and Saunderson picked up their awards in person (Atkins was a no-show) at the event, which was held at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. Salutations to the Belleville 3; the local love finally comes trickling down.

Dump Days: The Journey of Ferrispark

For the past three years, the artists at Ferrispark cooked their music using the Theo Parrish and Kenny Dixon Jr. recipe for underground house. Meaning: It was deep and flavorful, but often only available on sparsely distributed white labels (an insider DJ tradition that usually puts choice vinyl only in the hands of those who know). In 2001, Scott Ferguson’s jazzy-electro-house-banger, “Dump Days,” busted out of this scene — so deep it’s located in Highland Park, not Detroit — by finding its way onto recordings by international party peeps DJ Hell and Doc Martin.

But chilling in obscurity is, well, chill. Ferguson and label mates Marvin Belton and Keith Kemp have added some heat to their sonic mission by inviting the world to visit Ferrispark via a stellar new CD, Sounds Vol. 1.

For Belton, who has done backing vocals for Parrish and DJ Genesis, that invitation extends to his “Bleed to Be Free,” his soul-stirring and danceable power-groover included on the new comp. Kemp has gained a much-deserved local following for his work as a producer and as a live performer/DJ. On Sounds Vol. 1, check his “Follow the Path with Heart” and try not to ask yourself: Is it techno? House? Dub? The answer is yes, yes, yes. Now turn up the bass, put your mind on pause and just move to it.

Even better news from this camp: “In the Light,” a new LP featuring Belton’s poetry and Ferguson’s production, will drop in 2005. We’ll be all over it. Shine on, brothers.

Techno: The future sound of the Albanian Diaspora

Currently distributing more than 20 labels — including KMS, Transmat, and Metroplex, as well as promoting artists like Rolando and Underground Resistance — Submerge Distribution (3000 E. Grand Blvd.; 313-972-3000) is keeping the fruits of the Detroit Techno industry alive around the world. One important cog in the Submerge machine is Franki Juncaj (aka DJ 3000), who works nine-to-five as sales manager for the label, produces music, spins and still finds time to run his own imprint, Motech Records ( DJ 3000 recently dropped a Submerge-focused mix-CD called True Colors, and he will have a full-length recording featuring his own production released next year.

Juncaj says the Submerge camp encourages its artists to explore their roots, something he has done on earlier singles like “Drume,” titled after the village in Yugoslavia where members of his family still live. Juncaj uses traditional Albanian instruments — such as the Llautë (which has a deep sound like a violin) and the Çifteli (essentially a two-string guitar) — on his recordings. He laid it out this way: “Anyone can make techno. It’s when you start adding in your background that the music becomes interesting. When you bring in culture to the music — like Rolando and Gerald Mitchell have with Los Hermanos — no record sounds the same.”

“I love Detroit/I hate Detroit”

That’s been Oslo’s slogan for November. We like it so much we’re thinking of tattooing it on our knuckles. But then again: we’re pretty ambivalent about being that ambivalent. We do know that Detroit’s only Italian discotheque and sushi bar is feeling a lot more love this month. Damn if Morgan Geist (Rapturous remixer of 2002’s club hit “House of Jealous Lovers,” a member of Metro Area and founder of the Environ label) didn’t rule the house with Ital- and other crazy disco tunes on the first Friday of November. The following week, Berlin’s ~Scape label brought its five-year anniversary party to Oslo. That star-filled night of experimental hip hop and dancehall reggae, dub and lo-fi tech-house came courtesy of a live set by Bus, and pressure-dropping DJ sets by Daniel Mateo and Ann Arbor’s Dabrye. It was topped off by Gigolo DJ International’s Savis Pascalidis, who played an alien form of electro and disco that freed our minds so thoroughly that we thought our feet would dance into outer space.

Speaking of alien — sorry, make that Ellen Allien — we encourage total astral participation for her first-ever live performance in Detroit, at Oslo tonight (Nov. 24). The spacey Berlinette will be joined by Detroit DJs Mike Servito and Sharif Zawideh. Then, on Thanksgiving, bring your holiday spirits back to Oslo for the return of Magda, the Detroit girl who is now breaking her deep minimal beats in Berlin. Clark Warner (DJ set) and Marc Houle (live) complete an all-Minus/Plus 8 program.


Coming to a local dance floor:

Wednesday, Nov. 24: Humpsgiving featuring The Surgeon (Corktown Tavern, 1716 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-964-5103).

Sunday, Dec. 5: Swayzak with Matthew Dear (Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700).

Saturday, Dec. 11: Defibrillate, featuring Crackhaus, Portable, Vrop and Rich Horach (Alvin’s, 5756 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-4577).

Contact Carleton S. Gholz and Walter Wasacz at [email protected]
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