Theaking outside the box

Mar 25, 2009 at 12:00 am

Sound and vision aren't just words in one of David Bowie's best songs. Increasingly, that phrase has come to describe a typical night out of experiencing live digital fun.

In the clubs, in the galleries and museums, in festivals around the world, varied artists are using electronics-based multimedia to create the kind of immersive experience that will leave patrons believing they're Neo or Trinity, raving in the Matrix together. (I'll be Morpheus, if you don't mind.) And it doesn't matter if you take the red pill, the blue pill ... or no pill at all. The technology is a form of brain candy that can make you feel you're tumbling down the rabbit hole and back up again — and without the skidding aftereffects!

But what mode is best for enjoying this strange virtual fruit? Standing perfectly still? Dancing madly in the corner by the speakers? Or just politely sitting down to listen? Well, Rob Theakston will accept all three as the correct answer.

Some of you might recall that Theakston was one of the founding members of Les Infants Terrible (no, not the Cocteau-book-turned-Jean-Pierre Melville film, smarty-pants!). That troupe was also known as team Dorkwave, a DJ crew that terrorized the Detroit club scene from 2004 to 2007 with glammy faux-violence and ecstatically grim dance records such as Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart."

Theakston didn't want me to reveal that ... but he knew I probably would because, among other things, Theakston is a music journo with keen instincts about what the kids should know (or need to not know). But he's much, much more than that guy you might remember swatting CDs with a baseball bat at the Corktown Tavern back in '05. He also performed at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival as part of the Canadian-American sight-sound laptop collective Thinkbox in 2003, and again at Montreal's Mutek in 2004 — the same year the group was selected by Urb Magazine as one of the world's 100 "next artists to watch."

Thinkbox's impressive archive was unveiled as a touring show that originated at the Art Gallery of Windsor in 2006. For that show, Theakston exhibited a "meta sound piece," a completely original sonic amalgam whose source material was a whopping database of more than 700,000 records. Not enough? Well, in his spare time, he also worked for Carl Craig's Planet-E, Sam Valenti IV's Ghostly International and penned descriptive profiles on artists, both great and small, for the All Music Guide book.

Now based in Lexington, Ky., Theakston is into his second (or is it third?) wave of production and performance: He's preparing the release of his first solo LP (petulantly titled I'm Waiting For You to Stop Being Mad at Me) this summer on Brooklyn-based Moodgadget as well as working on a live show with Jason Corder (best known for his work as Off the Sky) that one can find this weekend at our own Cranbrook Art Museum.

On the phone from Lexington, Theakston says he's been rejuvenated by his time away from Detroit, a move that he says has filled him with confidence. And why's that?

"I look back from where I am now and see such a wealth of talented people that were doing it in Detroit," he says. "I mean, there was the second coming of Herbie Hancock (Craig), a Tony Wilson equivalent (Valenti), Liz (Copeland) and Clark (Warner). Tadd (Mullinix) and Todd (Osborn). Windy & Carl all doing different kinds of music. I felt constricted by all that greatness."

But Theakston says he's now "ready to go for it" from his new home base, where he can "drive out to the country and just get lost listening to music." Meanwhile, partner Corder, a Lexington native, says the town is the perfect incubator for what he calls his "gravitatious" music, inspired by 8-bit video game tunes and one of the best college radio stations in the country, the University of Kentucky's Radio Free Lexington.

"I found out about industrial, and heard techno for the first time on the radio in the early '90s," Corder says. "Having the university here gives this place a sense of youthful energy, evolution and constant movement. If it weren't for that, we'd die here from sheer boredom."

Corder and Theakston show will be a special live audiovisual performance as part of Cranbrook's current Superheroes in Action exhibition, taking place this Friday, March 27. Anticipate moody comic book imagery and allegorical, atmospheric, gravity-defying sounds. And expect the unexpected. Admission to the museum, 39221 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills, is $7 and free for members. Showtime is 8 p.m. with discussion to follow the performance.

Movement countdown

And now for something completely different! Set those calendars for the weekend of May 22-25, when Paxahau presents its fourth version of Movement, Detroit's world-famous Electronic Music Festival. The Memorial Day weekend party at Hart Plaza was launched in 2000, but had gone through several administrative dramas and traumas before the Ferndale-based promoters simplified things by asking people to pay for what they get — namely, about 70 electronic artists of international renown assembled on four stages, all powered up with massive sound systems.

About half of the scheduled performers were announced last week, with more promised to trickle out in the coming weeks. The opening party (Friday, May 22) at downtown's Fillmore Detroit features the Prodigy, sure to bring a "where were you in '92" raver vibe to the gathering, with Paxahau homie and festival talent buyer DJ Chuck Flask rocking out in the more intimate bar next door.

Other announced artists include Detroiters Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Carl Craig, Buzz Goree, Los Hermanos, Mike Huckaby, Rick Wade, Luke Hess, Seoul vs. Linder and Windsor's Kero (and former Windsorite Heidi, now based in London, where she runs Phonica, one of the world's top record shops).

National and international talent will include Afrika Bambaataa, Adam Beyer, Steve Bug, Marco Carola, Carl Cox, Ellen Allien, Flying Lotus, Francois K, Damien Lazarus, Loco Dice vs. Luciano, Osunlade, Onur Ozur and the long-awaited Detroit debut of Germany's Wighnomy Bros. Thank you for coming, Robag Wruhme and Monkey Mafia.

We'll say more when we know more. In the meantime, festival weekend passes are now available for $40, worth the price of seeing the Wignomy Bros alone! Passes and tickets for the opening party are available at

The Subterraneans is a column devoted to Detroit's electronic music. Send comments to [email protected]