The DJ is on the phone. So whom is Terrance Parker calling? No doubt the great spirit living in Parker’s rousing genre-blending set of gospel, house, nu-soul and rare grooves, which has about 30 members of this devotional crowd nodding heads, raising hands and shaking hips with joy. And this was done with not a drop of booze in the house.
This sonic sermon took place earlier this month at 1515 Broadway, on the same block that once housed The Music Institute, one of the historical signposts of the Detroit dance underground. TMI is revered as a key jumping-off point for the ongoing electronic world party, built on the funk that three suburban black kids found living in every synthetic beat they began creating in the early ’80s. The thirtysomething, born-again-Christian Parker — who eschews conventional headphones for a rotary phone receiver when he spins — claims he was saved in July 2002, when he promptly (and mercifully, briefly) gave up DJing because he said the Lord told him to. On this warm September night, he may not have paid direct homage to that secular trinity of Atkins, May and Saunderson: His mission was clearly to lead the assembled flock in a more vertical direction.
Rotating a cappella doubles of diva-vocalist Jocelyn, then bouncing the glorious layers of voices off cranked-up electro and disco beats, Parker masterfully elevated the 30 in attendance to a higher place. Why only 30 people, you might ask? In addition to regional economic doldrums, the subdivision of a dance scene made more fragile by a city diminishing in population — themes introduced in our first column — we suggest another aesthetic concern: the dysfunctional pre-Super Bowl urbanism that has destroyed street traffic for businesses throughout the Broadway Quarter (including house-promoter’s Zana Smith’s Spectacles shop in Harmonie Park, and the much needed, Wi-Fi-equipped Café de Troit on Library St.). No place to park plus no public transportation equals a sluggish club night. But a no-alcohol policy at 1515 also seemed to cut into the numbers. After the party, Record Time’s tech-house lynchpin, LaVell Williams, dryly remarked: “People don’t love music. They love libations. (Parker) was there: everyone else was at home.” LaVell is calling you out, party people. Yes, you.
According to promoter Michael Thompson of Corporate Kingdom Builders — the name lamentably attaches a crass 21st century hyper-business model to religion and music — the gig is intended to become a monthly night for gospel house, with its focus on “music not alcohol, emotional power not lust.” How many ways can you say hallelujah?
What is a worse blemish on recent history: apartheid in South Africa, circa 1985, or educational and social inequality in Detroit in 2004? Electronic producer, world traveler and native South African of color Alan Abrahams is getting schooled on what American haves have and what the have-nots don’t on his first trip to the mighty USA.
Confronted with local stories of almost total racial (dis)integration in Detroit’s public schools, the paltry resources available to the city’s children compared to wealthier suburban school districts, this man of conscience who produces minimal, funky techno under the name Portable (Background/Sud Electronic) was struck silent in disbelief. His eyes seemed to be saying: “How could this be in the greatest economic power the world has known?” The conversation was made all the more poignant and brutally ironic by the fact that Abrahams was talking in between bites of jalapeño sushi at trendy, multi-culti Oslo — where Portable would perform with James T. Cotton (Ghostly International/Spectral) later that night — not more than 50 feet away from the Candy Bar, whose young urban black patrons and Oslo’s international scenemakers might share the same motivations but never, never the same space. Most everyone is looking to groove to music they love, and to find the company of friendly faces. Abrahams was blown away by the fact that, in Detroit, as in most of the United States, these two dance crowds would not be part of the same human community.
(Sad footnote: Hours after Portable’s set, two black men were shot dead outside the Candy Bar. Victims included East Side Chedda Boyz rapper Antonio Caddell (aka Wipeout) and bystander Anthony Roberson. Other witnesses said that violence at the club — which had been known as Pure and X/S in previous incarnations — was not uncommon throughout the spring and summer.)
What’s coming up?
Speaking of Oslo (also victimized by slow-moving redevelopment projects that have left the neighborhood around Woodward and John R in poorly-lighted rubble for months), on Wednesdays a series of “rotating residents” has taken over the decks downstairs. They include hip-hop afficianado Defiant, Color’s John Stoll and Miguel Angel, Mahogani’s Andres aka DJ Dez, Secret Pizza Party’s Joshua Dunn and Anibal Gonzalez, and Jason Bonaquist of Detroit City Council (that’s the band, not the official body that dares not return phone calls to the press). Call Oslo, 1456 Woodward Ave. at 313-963-0300 for more information.
Laura Gavoor (1958-2002), one of Detroit techno’s most dedicated champions, fittingly is being remembered and memorialized two years after her death. Gavoor has been namechecked on recent record releases (notably Kenny Larkin’s new one, The Narcissist) and will have a party thrown in honor of her memory on Saturday, Oct. 2. Tickets are $10 in advance with proceeds going to Detroit’s High School of Communication and Media Arts. The event is at Johansen Charles Gallery, 1345 Division St., in Eastern Market. Guest artists include Philadelphia’s King Britt, Chicago’s Ron Trent, and local (power)house stalwarts Mike Clark and Korie. For more information contact Kelly Frazier at [email protected]
Lord of the Dance
Finally, on a topic dear to The Subterraneans, we couldn’t pass up reading a short piece called “Why men are afraid of dancing” in the current issue of Details. The story is illustrated with perfunctory shot-after-shot of scrubbed, pink-faced white guys trying to cut a rug, and peppered with quotes from choreographers, club owners and events planners. All experts in the field, we trust. While we can’t recommend the entire article, we do endorse its conclusion: Men, get out and join the women in that choice spot next to the vibrating subwoofer. Public embarrassment is good for you.Send comments to Carleton S. Gholz and Walter Wasacz at [email protected]