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.
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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