More Techno and Race...

So last night we went to see Underground Resistance play for free in Highland park.
They did a very jazzy set under the name Timeline, with a saxophone player and
a slick, flowy guy on keyboards. It was a nice mix of techno and free jazz. After that the
revelation of the night came on, DJ Al Ester. Swinging and dancing like a madman,
he played a very housey set, with singing divas and all, but the way he mixed it, and how
much fun he had with the FX's and taking out the high's, mid's and low's in a super synchronized
set was a true joy! After that the highlight of the night was supposed to be Juan Atkins
"the Godfather of techno" as he was announced, who was part of the legendary "Belleville Three", the other two being Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. But this was a sad, sad affair to have to watch, Juan couldn't mix two tracks
together to save his life, and he dropped records on the floor, had the needle skipping back and forth on a track for bout 20 seconds (which is a loooooooong time if you're DJ ing in front of a extremely knowledgeable crowd (I am not talking about me here...hehehe)).
A couple of times UR's manager Cornelius, who was the MC of the night between the acts had to try to save his ass, by encouraging people AND Juan to get into it again. Juan just looked lost and looked as if he was suffering more than we did. I TOO mix like shit, but at least I do it because I think that is they way it should sound, it is part of my "vision" (or lack of it) and I am really into it while DJing, but with Juan it was just painful. He seemed to be totally somewhere else. He fucked up a reunion of "the Belleville 3" at Awakenings in Amsterdam, by mixing like crap and just not being present. It was extra sad because you could really feel the potential of the music, the track selection was awesome, his own mega hits
as Cybotron "alleys of your mind" and "cosmic cars" and Kraftwerks "numbers" boomed out of the system, and for a moment you felt "wow" this is why I came to Detroit, to be able to hear Juan Atkins pump Kraftwerk into a beautiful summer night at Highland park. But the overwhelming feeling was one of sadness. Well at least Underground Resistance and DJ Al Ester was blockrocking!!! After that we went to the incredibly sleazy temple bar in the most run down part of town, an AMAZING bar! So the night was still perfect in the end.

I was talking with a Dutch artist who now lives in Detroit,
as we were dancing in front of the stage.
We were SOooOoooo surprised to see so few people at the festival.
If you have Underground Resistance, Juan Atkins and DJ Al Ester (trust me he is one for the future) playing for FREE on a warm beautiful summer night in Vondelpark, you would probably be able to get more than 80 people to show up???!!!
Ok..earlier in the evening there were more, and it also had to do with Juan Atkins crappy set, but STILL???!!!.

One of the reasons that she came to Detroit was her love for techno, the same as me.
And it's a story often told, Detroit Techno is HUGE in Europe and Asia but has soooo little support in Detroit itself (or the rest of USA for that matter).

Last weekend I went to a Chicago house picnic festival IN Chicago.
The 21st annual edition of the Chicago House Music picnic and it was PACKED!!!!
Even though you had to pay 10 $ to get in, 1000s of people were grooving and dancing to Frankie Knuckles and the Chosen Few among others.

And what was also very interesting, I was the ONLY white person at this picnic, I am serious!!??
Here...check this video from last years picnic and try to spot any honkies...


I don't know why race, class and music is so interesting to me, but you could make tons of anthropological studies on this subject and it would be very revealing. Rio de Janeiro was another very interesting case, with its Baile Funk, Samba and Bossa Nova, but Brazil is much more racially mixed than Europe and USA.
The Brazilians that we had living with us in Bijlmer last summer in Flatstation were shocked to see the extreme separation between the very black Bijlmer and the very white grachtengordel,
they couldn't believe it!

see for more information...




Anyhow...So Chicago house music has MASSIVE local, black support and Detroit very little local, black support. At the Underground Resistance concert, there was a bunch of De.Bug t-shirts and European football shirts (soccer), which made you suspect that at least part of the audience were European fans who had come a long way to see this spectacle.

So why does Chicago House connect and Detroit techno not?

While in Chicago we also went to see Moodyman, a DJ using the Chicago sound, though originally from Detroit and according to his wikipedia page...

"He is outspoken on the current state of dance music, decrying the lack of black techno and the white domination of the genre."


"An outspoken voice in the normally non-confrontational world of electronic dance music, Moodymann (Kenny Dixon Jr.) is committed to keeping a distinctly black imprint on techno and house."

So for all of us who thought house was..."one nation under a groove" where race, gender, class and sexual orientation would all be absolved into one fruity love juice drink.
Moodyman is again bringing RACE into the mix!

I once read a very interesting little piece about house music in De Appels F.R David publication
where someone wrote a piece about house music debunking the myth of all the love bullshit, saying something like...house was born out of an atmosphere of racism, homophobia, transvestites trying to save enough money to go to Brazil to do sex changes,gay prostitution, drug addictions, and suicides...so this "love dream" surrounding house music needs to be at least more nuanced. If someone knows who wrote this text I am happy to include the name
(I couldn't find it) in this text.

After the Moodyman concert me and Chris had a small after party together with two black transvestites and a white gay guy in their very tiny appartment.
Stumbling out into the bright day light the morning after, I thought we had a very fitting ending to a night out in Chicago, sampling the local house music scene.

But I DO have a little theory as to why Chicago is so succesful and Detroit less so when it comes to hooking up to local (black) support. Chicago house music is much more linked to soul, gospel and R n B. Tons of screaming little divas who sing on top of the house tracks, so the links to other classical black forms of music is very clear. Detroit Techno's VERY obvious flirtations with Kraftwerk (especially) and European (white) electro pop and new romantic music (as they called it in the UK). Takes the music into an another direction, less rooted in classical black music forms.

Detroit techno is much less connected to classical black music styles such as Gospel and Soul. On the other hand it is very much connected to the ideas of "Afrofuturism"that you can find in the works of Sun Ra, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Funkadelic & Parliament, Africa Bambaataa or even Grace Jones.

There is something very sad about the state of music, if we STILL have to discuss race and music, as in...
Can black people sing the opera and country music?
Can white people techno?
Can white people rap and sing reggae?

Just like we whites know what we mean by a whigger (me?!), someone who totally wants to jump into blackness, Detroit techno kids could possibly be seen by the local black population as bounty's
(brown on the outside, white on the inside).
But this is not something I know enough about, but I will research this further here in Detroit.
The problem with this kind of knowledge is that it is often not spoken out loud, it is a gut feeling, and maybe something that you would not say to a white person (if you were black).

But on the other hand these stereotypes DO play a role and to try to totally ignore this debate would do a disservice to the development of music and the ideas surrounding it. In the case of Techno I think that black Detroit Techno stars are TOTALLY accepted in Europe and no one even thinks of race
as an issue in techno, whereas in Detroit I get the feeling that the black population in general thinks that the local techno kids got a bit TOO close to European electronic music, as if they were not proud enough of "their own" musical heritage.
Almost like a sort of betrayal, and of course betrayal is different if you are part of the majority
i.e. whites going black, than if you are a supressed minority, blacks switching to white music.

But to even be able to TALK like this we would have to accept certain musics as "white" and "black" and I think this could be very dangerous. BUT...on the other hand it could ALSO be dangerous to NOT see the history of music and its links to its past. How could you understand reggae or hip hop OUTSIDE a context of racism and the history of the oppression of black people?
I guess it is important to understand where a music comes from and its roots and history, but music is in its essence is universal and it explains why hip hop now works as a great vehicle of expression for oppressed people all over the world, be it Banlieu kids of Arab descent in Paris or Palestinians in Israel.

And I think THIS brings me back to my old argument...Europeans are VERY good at contemporary art for A REASON! Which is also why Indonesians in general are less good at it, but good at other things, such as shadow puppetry for example. And this is NOT meant as a racist statement that Indonesians can never get good at art, or that white people can't rap. Everyone can get good at anything...BUT, you need to live in an environment that stimulates that growth
where you can develop, and compete against the best. That Eminem could get good at rapping growing up in Detroit does not surprise me, or that Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson could get impulses from abroad AND at home and develop a scene that later influenced the rest of the world.

And this is where racism get's confusing when I give lectures. When I for instance say...if you lived in New York in the 80's with the possibility to listen to KRS one and Public Enemy,
and having radio station playing hip hop 24/7 chances are GREATER that you too could become a good rapper, no one has a problem with that.

But If I say that...if you grew up in Europe with the Dokumenta, the Venice bienale, amazing museums where the best of the best are collected and discussed, with newspaper articles on a daily basis discussing art shows, with the best artists, critics, collectors, galleries and so on aso...chances are that you will become a GREATER artist faster in Europe than in Indonesia, who lacks the necessary infrastructure to feed this necessary development...then I often have a problem and people accuse me of racism.

The chances of there being TRULY great contemporary art outside of Europe and USA is smaller, just as there are slim chances of there being fantastic samba bands outside of Brazil, NOT impossible, but less probable.

This is the problem we now get when we debate the globalization of every art biennial, we need THIS many artist from Sudan, THIS many women, this many gays and this many peadophiles and rapists, it just doesn't automatically create quality.

And in general I think this is the most amusing aspect of the Venice biennial for instance, to see the amount of crap art from Uzbekistan or Iran. Would it be possible to assume that democracy is neccessary to create good art? Probably not...Brazil did amazing stuff during the fascist era, China is also doing amazing art. In the case of China you could also add that they have different taboos than in Europe, which creates a interesting grey zone (from OUR perspective) the by now very famous performance "I'm gonna eat a little fetus with a glass of chardonnay" would not be possible in Europe. So so much for freedom in the democratic world hehehehe...
So here the west and the east are complementing each other in the taboo world.
In China the artists can't talk about Tibet and democracy, and in the west we are not allowed to eat fetuses or use dead AIDS women on ice in our installations, but we STILL get by.

But of course, every year the gap is closing, and the best way to increase quality is to let the Sudani artists compete with the best of Europe, just look at football.
And this is also why it is such a good idea to have artists in residencies, to spread the knowledge.

BUT...also infrastructure is necessary, if there are no contemporary art museums in Sudan, or art magazines, or artschools, or critics, or galleries, or biennials, or or or....HOW are they gonna get good? And if there is no critical mass who is interested locally it doesn't HAVE to be a HUGE dilemma. Look at Detroit techno, but it would help!

But on the other hand, what is the problem if not every country in the world are good at contemporary art, I am sure that they are good at other things. If they have drive and fantasy they have to get rid of their energy somehow.

At the Sao Paulo bienial last year there was this HUGE debate of how underexposed the Nigerian artists were, or the Sudanis or the Angolans and I basically said...well maybe you should get GOOD at art first and THEN we can talk!

Of course I know that this is a radical thing to say, but imagine if we would come with quotas for the next reggae sunsplash festival in Kingston!!! You don't have ANY artists from Mongolia, zero reggae artist from Poland and no gay white dancehall stars...what's up????!!!
We would get laughed out of town!!!

So to the all the Nigerian artists of this world I say, you want to participate in the next major biennial in Europe? Then make sure that you create a good art scene where you live, start art schools, galleries, debates, art magazines, radio programs, academies and so on...
create a critical mass, create a scene...Just like they did with Baile Funk music in Rio de Janeiro
or with Kwaito music in South Africa or Kuduro in Angola or Dancehall in Jamaica or Country music in Nashville and so on aso...
Or to quote KRS one "If you can't rock your own neighbourhood...". And of course this will take time and money, but it is not really about money, as we have seen in the examples mentioned above.

Of course it is also unfair to compare art and music, since we can't upload installations, paintings or sculpures and send them as MP3's as of yet.
So music has an ENORMOUS advantage in how fast ideas can spread over the world,
with a decent internet connection you can be on top of all the developments in music ALL over the world. We are not there yet with art. Which is the reason why London, Berlin and New York will REMAIN art centers for the forseeable future. Whereas in music, Rio de Janeiro, Angola and South Africa can EASILY overtake London or New York in musical invention and probably already has.

Of course, developments in the art world is also related to first world power, racism and economy also. Look how hard women had to fight to enter the art world, but they did it and the developments in Europe have been very succesful on that front...

Ok I am blabbering on...I don't really know what I am saying, but that is why I am saying it...
to find OUT what could be the truth...so please feedback me with ideas and critique.

finally I will give you two links to an old Detroit Techno argument...

1. Underground Resistance- AfroGermanic

celebrating the links between Germany, Detroit and Africa...
And as a piss take off that, another Detroitian (DJ Ass ault), who is basically just ripping up that argument with his hit "Nigga Music", which the first time I heard it... I just thought it was a bad/good joke, but if you understand the heated debate about techno music and race here...it is much more subtle and deep than I first thought.

2. DJ Assault-Nigga Music

Jonas Ohlsson reporting from Detroit, thanks to Expodium in Utrecht!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous15.10.11

    Interesting read. I do think that you are NOT racist, but I do think that what you think of as great art is Eurocentric. If you show cutting edge asymetrical glass art in Indonesia, they'd probably think it would be crap.