8.02.2011

The Political Techno of Underground Resistance (Detroit Techno part 3).

Hello People!

The Detroit techno research is going great. I have seen a lot of concerts,Juan Atkins (twice),
Moodyman (twice) Underground Resistance, DJ Al Ester, Matthew Dear and a bunch of small unknown acts at a 2 day picnic that UR organized for the benefits of "backpacks for school children" and another festival they organized in Highland park.
I have been to a sleazy after party in an industrial warehouse
(wasn't as good as it might sound, some straight 4 to the floor DJs from the suburbs).
But it all adds up to greater knowledge of the situation in the city and the history of techno.

I have gone to a lecture given by the label manager of UR, Cornelius Harris and had a good talk with him afterwards. And I have gotten a guided tour of Underground Resistance's HQ.
I have seen the very cute little Techno museum above their record store Submerge.








Cornelius Harris, label manager of Underground Resistance, tells the history of Detroit Techno in their own little
"Techno Museum" above their record store Submerge.











In the glass display Box containing "inspirations" there was of course a bunch of Kraftwerk stuff, as expected...
but just as much Yellow Magic Orchestra records, (Kraftwerk but with MORE humour from Tokyo),
which was interesting.











They also had another glass box with all their old drummachines and samplers.
Yet another with posters & memorabilia from their first tours abroad to Europe.
Holland was on the list.














I got some signed UR 12 inches and bought a T-shirt, and basically lived out all my girly
little Justin Bieber fan dreams (but with Underground Resistance).
I was also asked to sign the names of Baba Electronica and DJ Lonely on the walls of Submerge...next to Richie Hawtin, Sven Väth and DJ Hell and many others.
A proud moment for the DJs of FUCK!












Submerge is a closed record store and you only get in by making appointments in advance, they say that the people who really WANTS to come to Submerge will find it anyway.
It is an interesting approach to business, but maybe understandable if you know that they sell 70% of their records overseas, Europe and Asia mainly, and some to South America.

Shook hands with "Mad" Mike Banks of UR, (an imposing figure for sure with a very natural charisma) who with his booming moral anger and political awareness has made UR the Public Enemy of Techno and while we were there Juan Atkins!!!???
(the originator and founding father of Techno in the Early 80's)
knocked on the office door while Cornelius Harris was showing us videos of police violence in Holland (By the way Underground Resistance is boycotting NL for the moment, since one of their friends in Holland, who helps organize their tours, got beaten up by the police in Den Haag during the culture cut demonstrations). Juan Atkins knocked on the door and came in and sat down. A very gentle, almost shy person, with tiny skinny legs sticking out under his shorts. Very polite and unassuming. Outside URs HQ his silver Hummer was parked, which was kind of a contrast to his very shy, introspective, quiet persona.

UNDERGROUND RESISTANCE...














"Mad" Mike Banks OF Underground Resistance is pissed off at the European Techno world and feels that some of the enormous amounts of money circulating in Europe
(think Sensation white and black in Arena for instance) should somehow trickle back to Detroit in the form of Technological help for Detroit's inner city kids, the next generation of Techno stars. He feels that Europe took Techno and ran with it and nothing trickles back to "the motherland", I don't know how realistic that is.

One of the questions I had for myself concerning Underground Resistance
(who in Europe (I sometimes get the feeling) sells more T-shirts than records).
Was...just HOW political can you GET with instrumental techno music?
But they heroically built their own ideal world thru their record label, networks,
studios, record shop aso...
And in the often sleazy world of dance and the music industry as a whole they
have managed to set their OWN standards and lived by their own rules.
And when you see their commitment to their community, they sponsor little leagues baseball teams for inner city kids (just like Snoop Dogg by the way), and how they get all their mega stars DJ buddies to play for free in Detroit (Both Juan Atkins, UR and Moodyman could get paid much more playing in Europe, or moving to Europe). Also the faceless appraoch of UR, who usually DJs with masks, makes sense in a Techno world more and more focused on Star DJs, like Sven Väth, Richie Hawtin and Ricardo Villalobos who cruise from Ibiza to Miami to London fetching HUGE fees along the way. The local dedication of UR and their dedication to their own city makes them something else. There is also something very endearing about certain levels of their amateurism, for example in their cute little UR Techno Museum. It is NOT the high tech madness of Richie Hawtin or even Jeff Mills (founder of Underground Resistance together with Mad Mike Banks). It is something else. Their political involvement also stretches to Indian tribes in the amazonas who they support with video cameras to film and document the abuse they get from lumber companies there.

So behind the cool look of UR, there is something very genuinely angry, commited, aware and dedicated. I am attracted to the realness & grimness of their message (and image I have to admit) plus the fact that their "from the roots up" approach is so refreshing, which takes them into a league of their own and sets them apart from much of the so called political art of the vanilla left, that I ridiculed in my other blog
"My (THE) problem of community art...and why William Burroughs eat Superflex any day of the week". (see blog below).

All in all it has been a great period for me and for my increased understanding of this city...
Also I have spent a lot of time researching what there is to research on the internet about Detroit Techno and the city of Detroit....See the links in my other blog below.

A BOOK.....

Dan Sicko's book
"Techno Rebels...the renegades of electronic funk"
is a must read for anyone interested in Techno and
the city of Detroit in general. Very well written.
Dan is a Detroit native who in his book remembers the high school parties that nurtured the scene and gives enormous insights. He is a huge fan of Italo/Euro disco and connects Detroit Techno to this often forgotten source of inspiration.












According to Dan Sicko's book, there was an absolute craze in Detroit about Europe
(much like our whigger fascination with gangsta Rap, but reversed).
All the clubs had Italian names, and everyone was wearing fake Italian suits and trying to look suave, cosmopolitan and European.
Some of the HUGE Euro/Italo hits in Detroits early highschool parties were.
Kano-I'm ready
Telex-Moskow Diskow
Alexander Robotnick-Problemes D'amour
As well as Kraftwerk and YMO of course, that the lyrics were often in French or German
(that none of them could understand) was seen as a chic, cosmopolitan bonus!

The Detroit Techno scene has become so big now worldwide and the influx of money and attention creates a lot of tensions locally.
There is jealousy and infighting between the various scenes and generations.

The Ghetto Tech people (DJ Assault, Starsky & Clutch & DJ Godfather among others), feels that they don't get the respect they deserve from the old school garde, who often helps programme the annual Movement festival which is Detroits one and only festival with a large international audience. They also feel that their sleazy brand of Techno is more working class and bluecolor than the more intellectual approach of the legends, and that THAT in itself is seen as a problem.
A bit the same debate as you have on Jamaica, roots reggae vs. dancehall.






Daft Punk's favorite DJ, DJ Funk (left) from Chicago, next to Detroit's finest Ghetto Tech DJ...DJ ASSault







Usually the Ghetto Tech DJs perform mid day,and the late night spots are reserved for the legends, and even the legends fight among each other who should finish the night off.
Derrick May or Juan Atkins? Carl Craig, Kevin Saunderson or Blake Baxter? Plastikman, Eddie "Flashin" Fowlkes or Jeff Mills?
and with Underground Resistance, Suburban Knight, Stacey Pullen, Moodyman, Kenny Larkin
on the reserve bench you have a DEEEEEP team.
So of course tensions may arise, as the picking order and hierarchy has to be settled.


There is nothing minimal about Ghetto Tech!!!
















There is also some resentment towards "white boy" Plastikman,
aka Richie Hawtin's world wide success.
Is Richie the Elvis or Eminem of Techno, coming to steal a culture from the black Techno Detroitians to make buckloads of money? Of course, releasing a record called "the future sound of Detroit" when you live in Windsor, Canada doesn't help your cause much.
Even though it is only a 5 minute bridge ride away.
But probably one bridge too far in the eyes of many local Detroit Techno purists.


















And there is a sense that Richie was given chances and opportunities that the others did not get. On the other hand, just as with Eminem, there is no one, black or white, young or old in the Detroit Techno scene doubting Richie Hawtin's qualities. His stuff IS amazing and you could maybe argue that he injected much needed innovation and depth into a somewhat stagnant scene.
If you listen to Plastikmans early records you realize, this is something else! This is a totally brand new chapter, MILES above and ahead the (at times) overly Kraftwerk inspired sounds of Aux 88 for instance.

I myself had a somewhat complicated relationship with Detroit Techno.
Since I grew up listening to Human League, Heaven 17, OMD, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, YMO, Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA and so on...
I at first failed to understand what was NEW with this so called "Techno music".

But as time grew I could see the developments and innovations.
That much of it was instrumental for instance, was new...NO lyrics?!
It had a more direct link to black funk, Cabaret Voltaire, and others would sometimes be called "white electro funk" and Detroit Techno had a very direct relationship to the dancefloor, whereas with Industrial or Synth music, that was more a happy bi effect in some cases, but in most cases totally not. It was not "made for the dancefloor" in the same sense, even though you could sometimes consider dancing to it.
Techno was also born out of a DJ culture. Most Detroit acts has at one time or another DJ'd, either before they started making their own music or afterwards.
Depeche Mode and Cabaret Voltaire were BANDS and none of them even thought of DJing as a culture in itself.
That most Detroit Techno artists are NOT in bands, but do things on their own, as DJs and/or artists are also a difference.

Techno is also interesting because the mental idea traffic between USA and Europe (and to some extent Japan) has been so heavy...back and forth, back and forth.
Maybe you could argue that Rock and the Rolling Stones who also borrowed from the blues had some inter atlantic traffic, but probably not as much back and forth as Techno.
Of course also aided by MP3 culture, internet and cheaper air tickets (relatively speaking).

If we compare it to Hip Hop or Reggae, the idea traffic has been VERY dense indeed,to the extent that you have no idea anymore what or where is the centre of the Techno universe.
So it's an extremely international movement. Helped of course by the fact that it is mainly instrumental, so you bypass the debate "should we rap in Dutch or broken English".
It is freed from the language hierarchy...Techno as the esperanto of music.


And even though Detroit has been a place that has had is heavy, heavy share of race riots and racism, and there might be some resentment towards Richie Hawtin from less fortunate (and in some cases, just less talented) Detroit Techno acts. Techno (and House) is unique in its relative color blindness when it comes to race and music. Especially compared to Hip Hop, Country, Soul, Funk, Reggae or Punk music, Maybe Ska music could be an equally racially mixed music style, but I don't know enough about it.

You could argue that Hip Hop is ASLO very international and racially mixed, but then we sidestep the fact that everyone knows who's the boss and originator in Hip Hop.
African Americans acts like KRS One, Public Enemy or NWA! And I know from up close in East L.A. how hard the Chicano rap scene had to work to get (a tiny little bit of respect) and no matter how good and talented the Bijlmer rappers will get, it will take some time before they can outdo their American buddies in influence and respect worldwide. From an Amercian rap perspective it will never be more than a curiosity what their French compatriots can do with "their" music, rap.
So the hierarchy in Hip Hop is much more set. Even people in the UK (who speak decent English) could not get much influence or respect in Hip Hop until they just gave up and invented their own version of it and called it Dubstep, Drum n Bass or Jungle.

Last weekend Underground Resistance organized a small 2 day Techno picnic for the benefit of "backpacks for school children". The Picnic culture is an event that I don't think we even have in Europe, everyone brings there own food and drink and set up their little tents to protect them from the sun, people BBQ and sit in their fold out chairs, it is free and there is nothing to buy??!! As I noticed in Chicago at the House music picnic there, no beer!!??
It is a mixture of a family picnic (which we DO have in Europe) and dancevalley.It was a small intimate event no more than 80 people and everyone hangs around and dances to each others DJ sets, Juan Atkins in the background nodding his royal approval to Moodyman's housy set. Juan Atkins (the originator of Techno) DJ'd on Saturday and did a really good set, MUCH better than two weeks ago in Highland Park. Even squeezed in some obsure Michael Jackson track, if I 'm not totally mistaken (didn't recognize the song, but for the voice). Juan also came out on day two to check out the competition. Moodyman is the better DJ to be frank, and so is DJ Al Ester (who is phenomenal!!!). But of course if Juan DJs, the younger DJs stand behind him in awe, trying to check out his LPs and giving him high fives. At Moodymans concert I counted 45 dancing people, and at Juan Atkins Saturday gig there was not many more and this is of course mindblowing for us Europeans, imagine a free Underground Resistance, Juan Atkins, Moodyman, Suburban Knights and Al Ester concert on a warm summer night in Vondelpark, I think more than 45 people would show up, some of the other "family" picnics in the park had more people. But this is of course the charm of seeing Techno in its birthplace, Detroit, the intimacy. DJ Al Ester swinging like a madman to Juan's set, while Underground Resistance gives their approval from from the sideline, and while Detroit Techno Militia is watching from the back. It is a cosy event, for free...





( Juan Atkins aka "the originator", Cybertron, Model 500 and Infiniti DJ's on Underground Resistance "Backpacks for school children benefit" picnic event on Belle Isle in Detroit, July 30 2011).













Detroit is a very warm place!

PS...I post a lot of links to Detroit Techno music on youtube on my facebook page.
Befriend me and you have access to a pretty vast library of handpicked, filtered diamonds.

you will find me, Jonas Ohlsson here...

http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=530006830



BLUES PICNIC every sunday in our hood

PMS...here are some photos from our neighbourhood Blues picnic that happens every Sunday.
All the black motorcycle gangs show up and it is always very cozy, as with almost every event in Downtown Detroit, we are one of the very few white people showing up.



























What is nice with this event, is to see all the old people getting down, I think the average age of this Blues picnic audience is around 60, but no bingo for these mo'fo's!!! It's songs about sex and rock n roll, sung in VERY badly disguised code, (rock n roll of course being one code word used for "the old in and out") And the old grand Mamas get up (out of their wheelchairs) and GET DOWN....
Griiiiiiiiinding the old Grandpa's!!!













From Detroit, Jonas Ohlsson reporting thanks to Expodium in Utrecht...

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