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Traxx : Files #4 - Detroit Special

This weekend the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, now known as Movement, hits its tenth anniversary. Over the last decade there have been many changes to the festival, some good, some bad, but in terms of representing dance music to a nation still not quite sure what to do with it, it's one of the biggest of it's kind. Ironically, of course, Detroit is one of the home towns of modern dance music but over the last 10 years the festival has moved away from purely giving a stage to local heroes and instead has focused more on getting international acts, with the non-Detroit artists far outnumbering locals.

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This brings about a lot of mixed emotions and reactions from people. Since taking over the festival a few years ago, the Paxahau promotion group have taken a more commercial angle. The event was originally free but this resulted in a lot of debt - ever year the event always seemed to hang in the balance. It is now a much more commercially successful festival but with this comes the bookings of dire acts like Benny Benassi, Carl Cox and dull Euro mnml fodder like Loco Dice. It is certainly less interested in representing what the city has to offer internally and more interested in attracting the suburban 'candy ravers'. That said, there is more of an effort this year to represent Detroit than the last couple of years. Maybe not enough to attract as much of a foreign crowd as six or seven years ago but it certainly makes for what looks like a lot of great Detroit music.

Saturday this year especially is focusing a lot on Detroit house music, which in recent years has become probably more exciting and invigorating than the techno emerging from the city. The Detroit Beatdown - featuring Norm Talley, Mike Clark and Delano Smith - could be the highlight of the day, or perhaps the festival. Not nearly as well known as they should be, these guys have been DJing and putting out records for well over 10 years. Their take on house music is thrilling and eclectic, yet they are still a niche outfit. Following on from these guys Rick Wade and Mike Huckaby should keep things rolling.

Sunday sees a couple of old Detroit war horses rolled out, Octave One and Jay Denham. Little has been seen of Denham in the last decade but in the 90' he produced some of the most forward thinking, abstract yet highly danceable techno around, focusing on the harsher end of things. It will be interesting to see what he's up to these days. Octave One are at this stage one of the most reliable live acts on the techno circuit. Again on Monday a few heavyweights are coming out to play: UR's Los Hermanos, Carl Craig (sadly past his best at this stage, and on seemingly a continuous slippery slope) and former festival director Derrick May, who closes the party. Along the way there is also the likes of Kevin Reynolds, DJ Godfather, UR's Buzz Goree and representing the old school Chicago ghetto house crew, Deeon, Slugo and a host of others. Be ready to get yo booty down.

So with the week that it is, it's time to look at what Detroit has to offer on the new release front - via some help from their Dutch friends.

Underground Resistance are one of the most recognised and respected techno labels to have ever emerged from the city, though in recent years the output of Mad Mike and cohorts has not matched the initial 10 years or so. A few interesting releases aside, little has come close to 'Final Frontier', 'Seawolf' or 'Codebreaker'. Most recently there has been a couple of surprising remixes emerging from the extended crew, the first one being of Anthony Rother's 'When The Sun Goes Down' a let down due the inclusion of the dreadful vocal line from the original. For some reason Rother thought it a good idea to ditch the vocoder about five years ago - it's done nothing for his music. It just doesn't sit well over Mark Flash's otherwise enjoyable re-shaping of the original, which leans towards the famed hi-tech funk sound of the 'Galaxy 2 Galaxy'-era.

More successful is the brand new remix from UR's Atlantis, of the unknown Polar Pair's 'This Is What Happens' - definitely the best work attached to the UR crew since the G2G remix of Raiders of the Lost Arp's 'Beyond the Dark' from 2007. Again it's the funkier, less abrasive side of UR on show. The massive string stabs that drop every couple of minutes should cause some major damage across dancefloors this summer. Great UR records may be few and far between compared with the way it once was, but it's not dead and buried yet.

As reported last month the Dutch label Clone has relaunched itself with a series of six - six! - new sub-labels that brilliantly - but maybe foolishly? - defies logic in a world in which we are constantly told vinyl is on the way out. The Detroit/Clone connection continues with the latest Reggie Dokes 12', 'Chicago Pimp' dropping on the Clone Loft Supreme Series. Dokes reputation for making superb, deep original house music has been building slowly but surely recently and this should see his star shine brighter. The shuffling jazzy drum patterns twinned with intense, dramatic strings make 'Wear the Mask' on this two track ep. Also on a re-issue/repress tip, Dokes insanely good 'Rain, Redemptive, Love' EP released last year on Philpot has appeared again for purchase recently. You got to be quick though!

One of the most enigmatic artists ever to emerge from Detroit is without a doubt Gerald Donald, one half of Drexciya and Dopplereffekt. In possibly the most bizarre of all the new Clone sub-labels, the Aqualung series focuses on all things Drexciya with the first two 12's on the label coming courtesy of Donald's latest alter ego; Zerkalo. Never one to shy away from the abstract, this music is unmistakeably Donald, with hints of latter day Dopplereffekt, Arpanet and Black Replica - especially in the unsettling vocal styles - coming through over the course of the two releases, 'Stoi Storoni Zerkala Parts 1 and 2' (And, no, I've no idea what that means)

Donald has also brought back his Heinrich Mueller alias this month on the latest 10" from Kontra Musik, where he is on remix duties alongside 2562, both taking apart cuts from the recent Jason Fine album 'Our Music is a Secret Order'. Donald's work here is as dance floor friendly as he's been in quite some time, at the same time he doesn't make it easy, with obtuse drops in the beat making sure you're never quite sure what is coming next. Donald's work, especially that of recent years, is not to everyone's liking but his is a musical repertoire which keeps on giving over repeated listens.

As mentioned earlier, Norm Talley is somewhat of an unsung hero of the Detroit music scene and a recent reissue of his 10-year-old 'The Journey' is a timely reminder how great a producer he is. This mid-tempo disco influenced cut is available again on ten inch from Third Ear Recordings and is backed with the previously unreleased 'In Yo Soul' which has a rawer electronic feel, with atonal melodies creeping in and out of a beat that is sure to please fans of Theo Parrish's lo-fi workouts. Delano Smith, another part of the Detriot Beatdown crew is also getting some repress action this month with the 'The Detox' 12 from his own Mixmode Recordings, which also features D2 (Derwin Hall) and Tony Foster. Old it may be, but it's house music that has aged particularly well.

Finally, moving away from Detroit, Jamal Moss' Mathematics label from Chicago continues to go from strength to strength. Italy's Marcello Napelotana is first up from the label this month with the 'A Prescription of Love' EP, an abrasive house five-tracker which also contains some great jazzy elements along with more direct Chicago influences. Andres Grehm follows this with the 'My So Called Robot Life' EP that wears it's Chicago influences on it's sleeve quite blatantly. Maybe a little bit too much on 'Part 1', using MLK's 'I Have a Dream' speech most famously sampled by Larry Heard on 'Can You Feel It' all those years ago. This is the weakest element of the release - but 'Part 2' shines with the slow emergence of an acute acid line that seeps inside your head intensely. Like Moss' own productions, the Mathematics label is not always easily digestible but it is a label mining it's own path.


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  • AidanKelly @ 23 May 2009 13:54

    An interesting piece, I did enjoy reading it. But as an article, it's far too biased by your own view of what's good and what isn't. Three examples - your description of Carl Cox as "rubbish", your description of Carl Craig as "past his best" and your review of Anthony Rother as "dreadful", these aren't objective statements, but subjective personal opinions, possibly best left to forum banter than an article on the festival. You've a great writing style, but it would be better to leave your personal taste out of the subject matter in question (difficult I know, particularly if you're a Detroit techno fan). Great piece overall though.

  • AidanKelly @ 23 May 2009 13:56

    Apologies - "rubbish" should have been "dire".

  • Sledgehammer255 @ 23 May 2009 17:22

    If carl craig is past his best, then why has he been asked to be creative director for Movement 2010!

  • gaganggang @ 23 May 2009 18:55

    His dj sets are shite.

  • AidanKelly @ 23 May 2009 20:00

    Carl Craig is possibly the most talented artist in electronic music period. i think his C2 remixes are disenfranchising some of his fans, but are gaining him plenty of new ones at the same time, I personally love his recent remix of Matrin Buttrich's "Stoned Autopilot", sure it's not groundbreaking in a "Climax" or "Throw" sort of way, but it's still remixes for the dancefloor, I think the "C2" concept may be about expressing a different side to his musical personality, who knows. I also don't accept that his DJ sets are "Shite", I think if anything he's improved enormously as a DJ in recent years, I went to see him on NYE in London a couple of years back and he was great. I am surprised to see he's being installed as Musical Director for the DEMF, I thought he was removed (back in the 1990's) as the Musical Director and filed a subsequent lawsuit against the festival for breach of contract. Time heals all wounds apparently.

  • gaganggang @ 24 May 2009 16:57

    Shite", I think if anything he's improved enormously as a DJ in recent years, I went to see him on NYE in London a couple of years back and he was great.

    Eh, he just wheels out the overplayed classics in his dj sets, I don't know, perhaps that's what you think is great.

  • Sledgehammer255 @ 25 May 2009 0:25

    Its Movement now, not DEMF anymore. Was taken over by a company a few years ago. First DEMF was 2000 and he was sacked in a bad way for the 2001 DEMF event. He has been re-installed by the new company running it. Its great news as people have been complaining about the last few events. Maybe he can bring back the glory of 2000-2003 events:)

  • Sledgehammer255 @ 25 May 2009 0:26

    And he makes the classics his own in his sets. Weaves them like few others.

  • AidanKelly @ 25 May 2009 9:46

    Eh, he just wheels out the overplayed classics in his dj sets, I don't know, perhaps that's what you think is great.

    Maybe you should read my post properly before responding with stupid "Eh" remarks. I never said Carl Craig was a "great" DJ, I said he wasn't "shite" as you put it. I heard him play in London and he played some classics (like Donna Summer, or Audion's "Mouth to Mouth"), beside lots of fresh and upfront records too, but it was a good mix of old and new. I'd love to know how many times you've actually seen Carl Craig DJ, I never saw anyone complain when I saw him DJ anyway.

  • gmos @ 25 May 2009 10:03

    the problem with much of Carl's recent work, especially his remixes is that he's using an obvious formula. he keeps reusing similar "Epic" synth lines in "Epic" arrangements specifically made for the major European dancefloors. Where's the originality, innovation and musicality that made him the very best for so many years? I can put up with not liking all his output but when it smacks of becoming formulaic in order to please a specific demographic, then it's really disappointing, I never thought I'd be using the word formulaic to describe Carl Craig!! :( 5 years ago I would have counted him as one of the greatest living musicians in any genre, now he's churning out fodder, not shite but nothing special or even that interesting. Paris Live was interesting, the remix of Tony Allen was decent, but most of his output is average at best at the moment. Too much talent to write off, and achieved too much in the past to remain too angry with him - like Prince or Stevie Wonder ;)

    as a DJ, I've always thought he was fairly average, actually he used to be rubbish but practiced and isn't too bad anymore I guess, still not someone I'd get excited about seeing

    having said all that, the announcement that he's due to be creative director of the next Movement has really pleased me. I'm one of those that feels the festival has gone too far away from it's original ethos towards a more commercial event. my feelings about Carl's current output musically doesn't dampen my enthusiasm for what he might achieve with a much better organised and funded festival to work with.

    ps. Carl's dispute was with Carol Marvin who has long since left, as pointed out it's not actually DEMF anymore it's Movement run by Paxahau, so no conflict there anymore in that regard

  • gmos @ 25 May 2009 10:08

    totally agree on that Anthony Rother remix too, actually quite liked the remix but that vocal ruined it for me too unfortunately.

  • AidanKelly @ 25 May 2009 10:18

    Very good points made there. I guess I don't find his remix work anywhere near as innovative as his own original productions, but as remixes they still stand head and shoulders above most minimal noodle out there. He's also much more active as a remixer in recent years, and has developed a higher reputation too (not necessarily amongst the converted, but other audiences who may not have heard of him previously). It is good news that he's going to be the creative director of Movement, hopefully it'll bring back the original catalyst of the festival.

  • Tayor @ 25 May 2009 14:56

    great article Kenny, enjoyed that . never heard of that Mathematics label , must check it out

  • matagouri @ 26 May 2009 10:34

    great article kenny. i would love to check out this festival, and detroit, sometime soon. carl craig definitely isn't on a "slippery slope"... might have gotten a bit formulaic with his last few remixes, but i'm sure he still has plenty more great shit up his sleeve for us.

    i've seen him dj loads of times.... first time was nearly 15 years ago (think it was a big powderbubble night in the red box... still have the flyer for it somewhere). back then i thought he was amazing. now that i know a bit about djing, i've realised he is an absolutely godawful dj. even with a laptop.

  • Richard NBrophy @ 26 May 2009 16:27

    i've seen him dj loads of times.... first time was nearly 15 years ago (think it was a big powderbubble night in the red box... still have the flyer for it somewhere). back then i thought he was amazing. now that i know a bit about djing, i've realised he is an absolutely godawful dj. even with a laptop.

    He played live as Innerzone Orchestra at the powderbubble gig

  • Tayor @ 26 May 2009 16:48

    playing a gig in london this summer as Innerzone Orchestra too , full band , think he's playing before Orbital actually , sounds like a great gig anyway

  • interstellar_fugitive @ 27 May 2009 2:03

    I too am excited about Craig being reinstated as festival director, but I just don't think he's ever gonna be a great dj. And his remix work is shite these days - and thats most of what we see these days, hardly any new original material. Stoned Autopilot is more than anything really fucking boring. Prog nonsense imo. his set this weekend was the definition of average. Harmless new techno, not great, not very offensive plus a few HUGELY overplayed classics. And there was nothing remotely exciting about how he blended them in. The crowd didn't really respond either. full report of the fest in a couple of days...

  • Sledgehammer255 @ 27 May 2009 4:10

    Inner City has reformed for Benicassim on 16th July too. Great to see with Innerzone Orchestra doing a show this summer aswell.

  • Sledgehammer255 @ 27 May 2009 4:10

    And an old skool "Wizard" set by Jeff Mills at Sonar by day.

  • Tayor @ 27 May 2009 7:12

    CC remix of Stoned Autopilot - brillant . love it

  • Tayor @ 27 May 2009 7:12

    jeff mills is playing Sonar ? didnt know that

  • gmos @ 27 May 2009 8:43

    Jeff Mills doing a Wizard set??? Holy shit, that's my dream gig.

  • AidanKelly @ 27 May 2009 13:56

    It's all a matter of opinion I guess, but I don't accept that "Stoned Autopilot" is a "progressive house" track. I think it's a bit like a Henrik Schwarz record, could be played by a progressive, house, or techno DJ, the first time I heard it I felt that it could easily fit into a set by Dixon or Sasha. I would agree it's hardly groundbreaking, particularly when compared to some of his original tracks (like, Throw, Climax, or "4 my peeps", which is possibly my favourite CC record), but it's far from a bad record.

  • FreshFan @ 27 May 2009 15:04

    I quite like the Rother remixes, but I have listened to it a lot so maybe I've just blocked out the vocals at this stage. The Flash record on UR is nice too. Nomadico has a good remix on Nublu Records from the last couple of years.
    It sounds like Banks and some of the other UR heads have been concentrating on touring and producing with Model 500, looking forward to those releases. I think Skurge and some of the other DJs have been playing them.
    Ican and Santiago Salazar have been releasing great records, probably the best releases on Planet E recently. Other than the Kenny Larkin album I can't think of many decent records.

  • interstellar_fugitive @ 28 May 2009 21:47

    Re; Aiden's posts the reference to Rothers vocal was in a review of the UR remix 12" not to do with anything regards the festival.

  • Sledgehammer255 @ 29 May 2009 4:09

    Mills is playing twice at Sonar. Doing audio-visual project called "The Trip" on sonar pub stage(biggest ouside one) just before Carl Craig finishs up festival on that stage with sunrise....what dreams come true!!

  • interstellar_fugitive @ 29 May 2009 13:40

    I saw Mills at an after party in Detroit at the weekend. ain't seen him in years as thought he was kinda passed it, but he played one of the most insanely intense sets of techno i've ever heard. nothing like old style mills, slow, deep and veering on industrial through to beatless and then building it back up in the most abstract and intense manner, he turned my head inside out. don't think i've ever heard a set like it, def something he'd never do in ireland.

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