Detroit, you have a secret admirer. Admittedly, we’re not terribly local, not all of us are single, and you certainly wouldn’t want to come round to our place for a steak supper; but we can at least profess a burning love.
For your bands, that is.
This week, London’s hugely influential New Musical Express will put Detroit’s White Stripes on its cover, along with supporting features on "the Detroit scene" And it’s a timely decision: the Stripes just finished a nine-date UK tour, including two sold-out shows in London, with another secret show or two planned for the first week of August. Except the phrase "sell-out" really doesn’t come close to the hype, hysteria and general hullabaloo that accompanied their arrival. "You didn’t stand a chance of getting a ticket," says MTV presenter, Zane Lowe, "Did I try? Oh, yeah, and I couldn’t get one!"
The last time the British music industry got so excited about a band was back in April, when NME ran its "We NY" issue, starring the Strokes. Since then, countless New York bands have followed in their tsunami-sized wake, and it seems likely that the White Stripes’ success over here will have the same knock-on effect for their Detroit garage peers. Geoff Travis, head of Rough Trade Records and the man who signed the Strokes, is just one of their UK fans. "I made a special trip to see them in New Orleans recently," he says, "having already seen them in Austin and three times in New York. I’d love to sign them, full-stop."
Travis also reveals that he’s a fan of both the Detroit Cobras and the Dirtbombs — two bands featured on Jack White’s recent Sympathetic Sounds Of Detroit compilation. So would he sign another Detroit band if he get didn’t the White Stripes? "Only if I loved them as much," he muses, "but I think there’s a lot of A&R people over here thinking just that."
One such A&R person is Polly Comber from Chrysalis Music, who gasped out a few heat-stricken words after the White Stripes’ second London show to tell us she’ll definitely be pursuing other Detroit bands should she fail to snap up their trailblazer. "There could be a lot of money spent in the next few years on Detroit bands," she said. "People will certainly be going over there." One fan, wearing a Detroit Tigers T-shirt, predicted that the White Stripes’ next London show will be at Wembley Stadium (somewhat overlooking the fact it’s just been demolished). Another could only gurgle "They rocked!" before running home to play his White Stripes collection over and over again. And Jarvis Cocker from avant-Brit poppers Pulp was equally excited. "They were great," he beamed. "I’m not bothered about shit like industry buzzes, but I’d love to see them again."
Jack White himself seems similarly unconcerned with the industry hysteria in London. "It won’t last!" he laughs. "A year ago, these people wouldn’t even return a phone call."
Is Detroit the new New York?
"I don’t think there was an old New York," he shrugs. "Scenes don’t mean anything to me. But we’d love to come back with the Detroit Cobras and the Von Bondies, and I’d be really glad if they did well over here. We’ll try and get back while England likes Detroit for the next six months!"
NME editor Ben Knowles thinks it might last a little longer than that. "Seattle lasted for about two years on a buzz basis," he says, "and five or six years commercially. So I reckon it’ll last for quite a while yet, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we put more Detroit bands on the cover by the end of the year. The White Stripes are probably the most exciting live band to come out of America in the last four or five years, but they’re coming out of a city which seems to have many pots bubbling over, some really exciting musical talent."
Of course, Detroit and Michigan sounds have always found a welcoming ear in the UK, from the golden era of Motown, through the proto-punk explosion of Iggy Pop and MC5, right up to the groundbreaking techno of Derrick May, the unshakable pop tyranny of Madonna and Eminem’s current stink bombing of the British charts. The essential difference being that, for the first time in years, everyone’s aware of where these sounds come from. And, just as British music fans went crazy for anything Liverpudlian in 1963, anything from Manchester in 1989 and anything Welsh in 1998, we’re all set to feel exactly the same about anything from Detroit in 2001.
"The great thing about Detroit is that it’s never been shy of being at the forefront of music," continues Knowles, "and, since Motown, it’s never really got the credit it deserves for that. But I think the White Stripes will manage to turn the spotlight away from the shadow Eminem’s cast over Detroit and onto bands like the Von Bondies, the Soledad Brothers, the Come Ons — of whom I’m quite fond myself — and the Dirtbombs."
One member of The Dirtbombs (and The White Stripes’ e-mail-answering sidekick) finds this all bewildering. "I keep getting this feeling where I'm like: ‘Oh, my god, I can't believe this is happening,’" says Ben Blackwell, when asked about the Stripes’ success and his own band’s recent NME review. "But most of the musicians here are still dealing with shitty jobs, so it doesn't really feel like the record industry is paying any special attention to Detroit."
It is over here, Ben. See you in our charts.The Hot & the Bothered was written this week by Robin Bresnark, a London-based journalist who has written for Melody Maker, Arena, Later and other publications. Send comments to [email protected]