True People.

It's strange how easily and fast the perception of the world changes, even on such a supposedly easy matter as the definition of an underground music style bred on a certain place.
By world I mean not only the hype-feeding media and the info-consumers that devour the issuing crap, but also the rest of us that happen to live on the same planet. I mean, I notice that lately when people say 'Detroit Techno', they mostly talk about the (otherwise beautiful) works and releases of:
- Soma Records and Slam, Vince Watson, Alex Smoke and other Scot artists
- Modern Love (English label)
- Delsin (Dutch label) and related artists,
- Music Man Records (Belgian label),
- Styrax and Arne Weinberg' labels (both German)
I hope you get what I mean. The Deepchord/ Echospace guys certainly fit the Detroit niche easier, yet musically they borrow more from Berlin dub techno than George Clinton. As Convextion also does, hailing from Dallas, Texas. Canadian labels hypothetically have more direct access to the Motown vibes; sadly the clinical minimal they offer has little to do with Detroit's feeling. All above names mentioned strictly as mere examples of the effects of Our Lady Discordia's toying with us Confused People.
To put some things right, many current releases of MMR are from Detroit artists and this also stands true for other euro labels (often run by DJs) like Orlando Voorn's NightVision, the Clone subs-labyrinth and of course Tresor. Also some European artists published in Detroit, dropping techno or fat bass beats (Aril Brikha is Swedish I think). And of course I don't forget that Detroit music spread around the world through Europe, at first via UK, later through the Tresor Berlin- Detroit axis and finally through the Gigolo connection.

Has the music changed? Of course it did, otherwise it'd be boring. Did it lose its special character? Well..

The main question for me is this: How do you define a subculture? I don't know actually, I haven't studied this or something, I'm just thinking. If the new form maintains certain elements of the main tradition and rejects some others, it evolves into something new, with an individual character. When does it count as a continuation of the older path and when does it become a new evolutionary current?
Let's take neo-Detroit, as it is often called (I think I first read this term in Hardwax store). I love it. It's good music, centered and deep and sometimes powerful. What's the common in all music of the above mentioned artists? Fat productions, lots of bass, lots of reverbs, minimal song structure (see loops), sometimes deephouse elements and dubby echoes, often made by synths and boxes. Still the occasional string stab (a la 'Knights Of The Jaguar', you know) doesn't hide the fact that it has more to do with Basic Channel than with Metroplex, or with deep Chicago stuff than with 'The Punisher'. And of course it's Minimal (as in the music style called 'Minimal', not just minimal music). And all these styles have similarities, but also differences in some essential characteristics. Neo-Detroit sounds to me more tame, if you please.
I admit I was utterly bored when hard techno ruled the clubs at the end of the '90s and a lot of Detroit (and Chicago jack) DJs pushed towards this direction, I'm the last one to say or think this music is 'too soft'. Yet it's a bit single-minded. Jeff Mills released a banger and an ambient CD at the same time. Robert Hood released hardcore and mini techno and the 'Nighttime World' LP at the same year. This all-beautiful, all-deep sounding, all-loopy minimal thing is lovable, but not really Detroit for me. It lacks the funk, and it lacks diversity.

It is admitted by the first wave of Detroit that their music, this mix of house, soul, funk, EBM and breakbeats was named 'Detroit Techno' just for a certain record release that borrowed its name from Juan Atkins' 'Techno City' track, trying to 'find a way to characterize their music. Styles and ideas changed and interlocked, Techno was actually such an abstract term as 'electronica' or 'acid jazz' are. Techno was everything that wasn't house or garage or hip hop or any other of the mainstreams and Detroit Techno came to be the synonym of experimentation and funkiness combined. Later it came to be understood as banging records for amphetamines, but most artists were apparently too multi-faceted to focus on such a limited style so new things kept springing out. During the Gigolo era the electrofunk aspect was a bit accented, with an excellent result: the partial recognition of some UR artists from people outside the underground.
Nowdays I'd say that only the UR and Drexciya related releases are properly revered, when it comes to oldschool Detroit artists. Even the once superstar Jeff Mills seems to have fallen from grace in the eyes of the Market, I guess the others are barely managing to make a living.

I purposefully didn't mentioned anything above on the Space Afrocentrism, the Aztec cultural references or the political content of some of the older Detroit releases. It needs a lot of space to talk about that. Also, racial discrimination is something I hate and try to avoid at all costs. But I will lay my shields down for a bit and ask: isn't it strange that most if not all of the 1988-1995 Detroit artists were Afroamerican or Hispanic (they were not called that way back then...), when most if not all today's neo-Detroit heroes are white?

Now, all that I can say about this compilation is that it's a nice introduction to the second and third wave of Detroit music. If you've never heard stuff this old you'll be surprised. More from Detroit soon.

VA - 1996 True People. The Detroit Techno Album

CD1: Part 1 - Part 2
CD2: Part 1 - Part 2

Info here.

P.S.: Robert Hood mixed the new Fabric and issues HoodMusic #3 on MMR. I have high hopes again. Respect to the Master. Check HisSpace here.
P.S. 2: Only 220 friends... Shame.
P.S. 3: A YouTube video of a famous track. That's what comes in mind when I think about 'True People'. Here.


Anonymous said...

hey, great blog. looking forward to hearing this. excellent thoughtful commentary too.

what's great about detroit techno, i think, was that there were few rules to define it. hip-hop was the same way in the early days. People made the rules later and it became a genre.

these days, detroit techno can come from anywhere. i think the days of regional scenes are pretty much over.

Nightlight said...

That's exactly how it is, in theory. Through the Net all place is one, there are no boundaries, etc etc. The thing is, you don't sell records that way. Especially in Europe.

Have you ever been to Germany? If you buy a Kompakt record in Berlin it's very possible you'll hear from the shop guy something like "Ya, it's a gut record, ya, but we don't hear this kind of music here"... Hell had to move the Gigolo offices to Berlin to make some impact there. I haven't been in Cologne but I guess more or less the same goes there too. And french people mostly like french music, English people like English music, etc.
Which is normal, because producers and fans living in certain conditions (say the same city or country) have many things in common, live similar situations and like similar things. When a creative core is created (around a venue, through a label) it attracts similar thinking artists and it grows. And so it goes. That way, different environments lead to different styles. I mean, it's not really unnatural to get creative energies focused differently in different places.

What I really don't like in this situation is how certain people (journalists, labels) tend to name something with purpose to define it for promotion, regardless of relevance or history. It started in the late '90s, when Daft Punk showed the Business people that dance music really can sell. First it was disco-house that just used disco samples and no other connection with the disco feeling at all. Then the '80s revival, where every track with vocals and crappy synths was called electro, even though it had nothing in common with early '80s hip hop or Miami bass or Italo or what. Then 'minimal' where Profan and BC records are considered the same thing as crap made in half an hour with Abl. Live. Then the nu-rave thing, which has nothing to do with open air raves and acid and repetitive music (that's a rave, as I recall).
And now it's 'neo-Detroit', not of Detroit. Even though I like many of those producers, it's stretched to the limit to compare them to Juan Atkins and Stacey Pullen and Godfather. Labels like Technoir, Motech or FXHE really are part of the Detroit tradition. Delsin and other dutch labels, Peacefrog, MusicMan, etc. publish many Detroit artists. From that they get bookings and promotion and are able to make a living. But there are a lot of others cashing on the Detroit name, even though they probably have never even been there, while Detroit artists stay unknown outside their city.


thanx a lot for this compilation too!