An abandoned Detroit building with an infamous leaky roof. Twelve hours of sonic exploration and psychological liberation. Interdimensional Transmissions. Ten years ago, No Way Back became a party like no other that would last throughout the years, constantly evolving yet the unchanging threads have maintained that inexplicable enchantment.
Detroit native Brendan M. Gillen, otherwise known as BMG, founded Interdimensional Transmissions in 1994. Just a few years later Erika Sherman joined as conspirator. With years worth of history and memories, they celebrate their 10th anniversary during Movement Festival in Detroit this weekend (Saturday, May 27 – Monday, May 29) with three very special events. Coined “313: Return To The Source” the name draws parallels of each unique party, and how as a whole they create a story arc between them.
Gillen says, “My original inspiration for the Return to the Source name comes from the Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia “Exit 23” where they sample Timothy Leary saying ‘Return to the Source.’ That song still gives me chills. I heard it when it was new – it just became part of my brain, so when we were trying to name the whole weekend, it just popped in and I felt like it really said it. This is a chance to do just that, through carefully curated events, stellar sound, venue transforming decorations and a strong connection with music. It’s important to do this ritual at least once a year, it ultimately leaves you feeling inspired and refreshed. And in today’s insane news cycle, we need this reset more than ever.”
But first, let’s start at the beginning. A party’s growing years.
No Way Back came to fruition as a means of reigniting the local Detroit scene after a lull at the turn of the millennium. Derek Plaslaiko received a call from Gillen with an idea to throw a 12-hour party to get feet moving and reawaken the scene.
“We kinda just discussed what we thought was needed at the time in Detroit’s somewhat stagnant state. Don’t get me wrong, there were good things going on. But, we kinda longed for the old days when a great party was just 3-4 DJs in a dark room with a punishing sound system. There was definitely a party in mind to model it after: Hardware. That was a small set of parties that Dean Major (Syst3m) put together circa ‘95-96 in an old hardware store up on Jefferson near Belle Isle,” Plaslaiko says. “For me, it defined exactly what I felt an amazing party was. I’m guessing it was about 150-200 people maximum, completely losing their shit in just a simple sweatbox. Things were often like this in Detroit. While other cities were focused on making their parties bigger and brighter, Detroit just seemed to find a pure formula that worked perfectly for us. I hold those times extremely precious, and I think all of the No Way Back crew agreed.”
Plaslaiko continues, “Eventually he told me he thought he had a perfect space for it (he was right!) and Erika, Patrick and Brendan started putting it together. At this time, Erika wasn’t DJing and Servito wasn’t in the mix yet. So, the first one was just Carlos, Patrick, Brendan and myself. The party was perfect! Even with the rain/mud and sweat dripping from the ceiling, the party was incredible. Brendan, Erika, Amber and Patrick all did a phenomenal job of transforming that space into what I remembered best about Hardware.”
The location was an abandoned bank near the Woodbridge Historic District. Regardless of the dilapidated structure, the crew worked together to launch the first ever No Way Back. Gillen paints an image of what the party was like, the space itself and how in just a matter of 12 hours, something special was created.
“Fucking crappy building. It was so bad. We had to bring in a giant jet engine heater and porta johns, there was no running water. The roof shocked up and leaked all night, as the snow melted from the dancer’s heat. Maybe at it’s peak it was around 150-200 people. The party felt magic, I can’t describe it. We had imagined people needed this, and it turns out it was even more profound than we had thought. So many original ravers and promoters came through. A highlight was Dean Major, of Syst3m, volunteered to run the door for us, himself a major inspiration for these kind of parties. His Hardware parties were the last real underground thing in Detroit of the original rave era. This party was a nod to the rave, taking inspiration from that Detroit outlaw vibe, but advancing the music with much finer curation, insanely deep selectors. Many cycles of life experienced in one party, and the energy was just so amazing. We were supposed to end by noon, but went until 5 in the afternoon. Derek ended up running through the wall. It was crazy. It was so special that we wanted to share it with more people, it was what we wanted to show visitors about Detroit. What they couldn’t get anywhere else.”
A rekindling of the grassroots, underground world that the sound was born in, this party served as a reminder. The name deriving from the classic acid track by Adonis perfectly reflects the raw and unstoppable energy the party invokes. Plaslaiko, BMG, Patrick Russell, and Carlos Suffront played records that night into the early afternoon.
“Well, I was in attendance at the inaugural party, and these stories have been told many times…the leaky roof, Derek’s head going through the wall, etc. I had actually gone home and then I got a call around 9 in the morning from a friend who said the party was still going, so of course I gripped a cup of coffee and went back until the end,” says Israel Vines, who records for IT’s sister label Eye Teeth. “That was probably the first time I ever properly met Brendan, but I already knew the rest of the bunch. I do remember thinking early on in the night that this is what an underground party should be. And I must say that last year’s NWB was one of the most intense and immersive party experiences that I’ve ever witnessed. I’m really looking forward to the whole weekend at Tangent once again this year.
The following year the 12-hour party moved to the Atlas Building, this time as an after party during DEMF weekend. A few No Way Back events, including this one, were split-structured with Too Far Gone lasting from 9 p.m. until 1 a.m. and then No Way Back until 9 a.m. the next morning. Too Far Gone, presented by Dethlab, was the segment of the night that had some room to expand beyond just heavy-hitting techno and acid records.
“‘Too Far Gone…’ was a way to have a more free-form, open-minded exploration through music. It’s totally another kind of DJing. It didn’t have be dance floor, dark room, totally lost in it stuff – just appropriate for the time and context, before the main event of No Way Back. Music that represented our wider view on music, and a place for people to be before the party that wasn’t somewhere else,” Gillen says.
Added to the bill was Detroit native Mike Servito, now based in New York City where he also holds residency for The Bunker parties. From this grew a long lasting love affair between Servito and IT, as he played nearly every year following.
“My favorite No Way Back memory is the very first one I played in 2008 during Movement at the Atlas Building on Gratiot. I have such vivid memories about that late night into morning,” he says. “I remember the energy and that space and the excitement. I played an extra hour because someone was having a little too much fun (nudge nudge Plaslaiko!)”
For the next few years, No Way Back nestled into the Bohemian National House, a historic structure built in 1914 by the Bohemian Society on Tillman Street. By 1960 it transformed into a Lithuanian Cultural Center, and then in 1996 was sold and redesigned to be a multi-cultural performance and art space.
“The space initially was magical. Off the beaten path, in a neighborhood, kind of looked like a school from the outside. It’s a building from the 1900s that had been created as a space for people from Bohemia,” Gillen says.
The “Bo House” had a controversial foundation. John Sinclair, co-founder of the White Panther Party (a far-left anti-racist white American political collective) previously resided there and would be constantly bothered by the CIA after a political bombing in the ‘60s. Due to this the space became a target for additional surveillance, which would play into the transgression of the location a couple years later.
“This venue had the most renegade feeling of them all, even of the first No Way Back in the leaky bank. The building itself was a maze of rooms and corridors, with many different spaces contained inside – it had several levels, with many staircases and hallways and rooms,” Sherman says. “Over the years, I experienced so much different music there – bands performing on a stage, jazz musicians moving around the room, a disco party with an elevated dance floor installed for the night. For the parties we threw there, it was possible to create completely unique experiences for each party by using different rooms, dividing or orienting rooms differently – even using rooms that had never been used before, or creating new pathways and connections between spaces.”
Recorded live that night was Plaslaiko’s 4:30-6 a.m. set. Looking back over the past decade, he shares with Sequencer his favorite No Way Back memories over the years.
“Jesus, where do I start!? I guess everything about the first one would be the first favorite moment. Brendan at the one where Serge From Clone played (who was also incredible). There was also the time Traxx jumped on near the end and tagged a bit with Carlos. That was pretty mental. I guess I sorta think of every NWB as a continuation from the previous one. The party generally feels the same, but different records are playing. As a whole, I’ve always felt like we are all playing one long set together at each one so it’s rare when any particular set stands out for me. We are all attempting to play our absolute best because we know whoever is playing before and after our sets are in the exact same mindset. As I stated in my previous answer, this party isn’t for everyone. But, if you like crazy acid freakout records, you’re gonna hear all of us playing our favorites and you’ll likely go home happy and hopefully saying “that was my favorite No Way Back yet!”
The following year No Way Back took place within another area of the Bo House. Gillen says, “Our new space was the Ukrainian room. It’s hard to fully describe, because the place felt anarchic, I think that was the magic – it felt outlaw.” IT also brought back the Too Far Gone…No Way Back format that year, allowing the 12-hour party to diverge in energy as the sounds and sunlight shifted.
“No Way Back has a specific vision, but we enjoy so much more music than what fits it. Too Far Gone let us open up and explore different types of music by having bands play and inviting people to play non-techno sets, starting early and building the vibe before transitioning the room to NWB. It let us explore music within the confines of a single room,” Sherman says.
That year the venue’s longevity came to an end. Gillen recounts, “The owner started to focus on other projects, neglecting to renew his licenses, or to protect the building from mold, and in 2011 a special task force came right at the end of Carlos, Scott Zacharias and Sal Principato tagging as the Too Far Gone portion of the program was coming to an end. They had the crowd divide into two lines, one for people over 21, one for people under. Only one line formed, the youngest person was 23. Then they asked us if we had heaters. CCWs? The crowd had no idea what they were asking and spontaneously laughed when they finally asked us if we had guns. They threatened the sound guys with impounding all their gear if they had to come back. They failed their mission and were disbanded over wasting so much resources over nothing, but we couldn’t do our music safely there again. Rare moments like that never last, but it sure was special.”
A pivotal moment for future No Way Back events, and other parties thrown by IT, safe locations became paramount.
“The prime thing to us is that people be safe. I don’t want the people to have to deal with police, task forces, any of that. The place can’t have mold, toxic waste, all these things in old Detroit warehouses that could alter your health and change your life for the worse,” he says. “The place has to be legal, clean and safe. Tangent has one of the only 24-hour occupancy licenses in Detroit; it’s a very rare license. We even added another fire exit off the main No Way Back room this year, so people can get outside easier.”
From the Bo House, IT made their way deeper into Downtown Detroit to 1515 Broadway.
1515 Broadway was previously known as the Music Institute. Inspired by Chicago, the club was developed by Chez Damier, Alton Miller and George Baker. Sparking the second-wave of the city’s techno producers and performers it served as a unifying place for Detroit’s legendary DJs Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson among pioneers Eddie Fowlkes and Blake Baxter.
“I first met the place when I went to the Music Institute as a teenager. I had seen Derrick May annihilate the universe in that room in a way I wish he still did. I want everyone to experience that. The place was small, with a floor made of marble and terra-cotta. They had a few stage risers for shows that we would put out for a partially wooden dance floor, so the DJs and the dancers could be on the same level. It was really dark in there and you couldn’t see what was in front of you, barely. You entered off the street, we had a zone where you could buy records and shirts and buy a wristband to get in,” Gillen says. “That was the entrance, the exit was through the same door, but on the other side of a stairwell that went upstairs, and there they sold juices and coffees and fresh organic food. From either side you could walk into the dance room, which was a hot box. On the left of the DJ you could walk back to the bathrooms and the outside alleyway. The venue was already under siege by investors who were trying to buy the whole block. We had to hire a guard for the back door to explain to people where not to stand in the alley – because the building next door that was owned by a circuit court judge was experiencing ‘demolition by neglect’ – bricks would occasionally fall off of it.”
In addition to a new venue, New York City’s The Bunker began officially working alongside Interdimensional Transmissions to put on No Way Back. This collaboration came to fruition with the connecting link of Plaslaiko. Gillen explains, “Derek had moved to NYC and was The Bunker resident, and introduced me to Bryan Kasenic. I checked out Bryan’s taste in music and it was deep and we really connected on so many levels, we love so much of the same things, that it just felt natural. They had done some other weekend things at Oslo earlier and decided that No Way Back was what they wanted to be part of in Detroit, so we discussed it and it grew naturally from there.”
Kasenic says, “Despite the lineup being almost exactly the same every year, each edition of NWB is it’s own beast, and there are so many great memories attached to each one. I think that’s why people keep coming back for more every year, it always delivers, and is a unique event that can’t really be re-created any other place and time than Memorial Day Weekend in Detroit!”
“One of the defining things for me about NWB at 1515 Broadway was the small size of the room, it would be packed wall-to-wall with people – but not by cramming in like sardines at a rock venue. People were there to dance, so there was room for dancing and expression. The DJ booth was on the same level as the crowd, so you were connected right to the people and their energy, the vibe was a two-way street…the room had a very special, super tangible feeling when it was really going off.” – ERIKA
Carlos’ set was released under IT’s podcasts. The description of the mix paints a perfect picture. “Come experience the edge of your consciousness in distorted rhythms and dirty acid. Here is Carlos Souffront playing the prized 4:30 AM slot at No Way Back At All, Sunday 5/26/13 at 1515 Broadway during the Movement weekend, where Carlos fulfilled the promise of his legendary ‘truth in advertising’ set at the original leaky warehouse No Way Back. Vinyl artifacts intact, set includes one record that was stepped on at the first NWB. Set begins with Carlos mixing in the AFX’s ‘Elephant Song’ over BMG playing the unreleased Shake Remix of Alpha 606.”
Resident Advisor chose Mike Servito’s 2014 No Way Back set as Mix of the Year, which not only gave the party serious exposure but also helped fuel Servito’s career as a DJ.
“2014 was the last year the party took place at 1515 Broadway before it moved to Tangent Gallery. My friend Mike Servito’s set has become rather infamous from that evening. He smashed it. Mike came swinging with new records stitched together in a way only he can do. That was a pretty special moment! Things really took off for him after that.” – JUSTIN CUDMORE
Servito shares his reflections of that night. “All I can really remember about that party was that it was maybe one of the hottest on record, and by hot I mean warm. I can’t believe no one died, seriously. Orphx had just finished and they were so phenomenal. The room was waiting for more. No pressure there. I think I was ready to have a good time. I had specific records that I wanted to play and I think I managed to get it all in and deliver what I wanted to. It’s still a surprise to me that RA recognized that mix as online mix of the year. It was such an honor and a launching point for me! That night and that mix was validation not only for me, but for IT and The Bunker family; that we can doing things our way and succeed.”
Patrick Russell also reflects on that night as one of his favorites. “It’s difficult to pick one favorite moment from all the years, but I’d say the impromptu three-hour tag set with Carlos Souffront in 2014 is right up there,” he says. “None of it was planned whatsoever, it just happened in the moment. Packed, hot, and completely unhinged, I think that night as a whole really made a statement and set the bar for following years. Completely unforgettable!”
As interest grew for No Way Back, so did the need for a bigger space. Tangent Gallery became the new home for Interdimensional Transmission’s annual party. Among the varying transformations, even the decorations have had their own evolutionary process and have become an iconic visual for underground techno heads.
Gillen says, “Before even No Way Back, Amber [Gillen] has always been about creating fascinating environments. I will take this story back to Syst3m, who we threw the Love From Beyond party with in 1998, and Amber and Dean Major collaborated on the Burns Room at St. Andrews Hall. She brought this projector and a series of images, and Dean was so inspired by her aesthetic and her Infinite Dimensions crew that he created this clear plastic shell to the room that she could project on – it was an amazing collaboration.”
Beyond the doors of the Ballroom techno dungeon you become enclosed in womb-like darkness. Large parachutes stretch above with simple (but at times disorienting) laser projections. Military netting drapes throughout the room which sends you to another time and place and behind the DJ stretches the signature hand, glowing like a signal for your surrender. The room allows you to expose the deepest parts of your mind. Memories might rapidly make their way into your conscious vision. You start to deal with it. You have to listen to it. With simple but well-thought out decoration, a box with a door becomes something else.
Gillen explains, “At first the parachutes and netting were a nod to Syst3m and to Tim Price’s decorations at Plastik Produkt parties. But as Amber interpreted these things, they came out in an all new way. She was already an accomplished artist, but with her collaboration with IT a whole new thing has developed with it’s own organic logic. What started as very male and military has morphed into a very mentally liberating environment. She says she thinks about it like a cave, something that surrounds you. I personally feel that when you walk into the space, you see visually and feel viscerally that this is safe space to let go and be yourself. You can actually see that we are committed to this, which makes it easier for the audience to commit and be able to fully connect to the music.”
With multiple rooms the crew was able to construct lineups fitting for two very different, but complimentary, environments. The notable Outer Space Room is where the party explores a more ambient, cooled out setting. Sherman delves deeper into what makes this room special in the scope of the party.
“It’s somewhat similar to Too Far Gone, but since we can run two rooms at once in this venue, we are no longer bound by a strict timeline. So it is an evolution of this idea, designed as a companion rather than a warm-up, allowing the presentation of an even wider range of music, while being tied even more closely to NWB as its true companion, in that the chill out room was separate from the dance room at the parties we experienced in ’90s,” she says. “And it’s a rare opportunity to hear this style of music be so enormous, through such an amazing and enveloping sound system. The focus is truly on the experience of losing yourself in music without dancing, being able to come and go from the intensity of the dance room without leaving the overall experience. The room itself undergoes a complete transformation over the course of the night, beginning as a chill out room but in the morning, it transitions into a slo-mo free-form dance party, as a comedown, not a warm-up.”
“Most of my NWB memories are not for public consumption, however I will say Carlos playing Current 93 in the Outer Space room last year was one of the highlights of my raving career. I was super into Current 93 in high school and kinda put them on the shelf when, all of a sudden, there is Carlos radically re-contextualizing them to make one of the trippiest things I’ve ever experienced. Oh, and my track ‘Ground Score’ was inspired by real life NWB events, but that is all I can say about that.” – JASEN LOVELAND
The Outer Space room happens simultaneously as music beats down in the main room of Tangent Gallery. While the main room will send you into a realm that you may have not experienced before, the gallery is a perfect space to grab a seat, take a deep breath and experience consciousness in an easier environment.
“Ambient, chill, experimental music means so much to us. People deserve a place to decompress, to just be, and explore inner and outer space. That is what this room is about. It turns out that now this is the only place in Detroit where you can experience this kind of environment all weekend,” Gillen says. “Everywhere else you are being constantly bombarded with the beat. It’s at the restaurants, it’s everywhere. So here is a place where you can let go and experience the music. Chill out rooms were always such a pleasure, having seen Mixmaster Morris play so many cool weird records, or Clark Warner or Carlos in the chill room was always a highlight. But to me this is an evolved version of that, with music perfect to let your mind go. It is the perfect contrast and foil to the main room at No Way Back, it really completes the whole vision of a place where you can really stretch out your brain.”
313: Return To The Source will consist of three events: “Berlin / Detroit – Building Bridges” – a night presented by IT and Tresor, the 10th year of No Way Back, and an evening with The Bunker. For those dedicated to completely immersing themselves at Tangent all weekend long, the IT crew has offered a Super Deluxe Weekend Pass which includes entry for all three parties as well as a tote bag and T-shirt from Interdimensional Transmissions among other gifts. Gillen says, “The Bunker is giving us CDs of their new Gunnar Haslam album, one of my favorite artists and people, and he’s on our Acid Series with Tin Man as Romans. Tresor has a few special gifts, the one I can tell you about is Drexciya’s ‘Harnessed The Storm’ album on CD. Drexciya is such a giant inspiration for me, I was very excited at the idea of sharing this music with more people.”
Berlin and Detroit have a long-standing symbiotic relationship when it comes to techno. Respectively shaped by their own unique destructive history, from the struggle grew communities that sought freedom and unification. After techno originated in 1980s Detroit, the German sister city became incredibly influential in the growth, support and reciprocation of the genre’s creation. Among rusty safe deposit boxes, Dimitri Hegemann helped make music history by opening Tresor Berlin in 1991 after the fall of the Wall. “Detroit and Berlin – both cities represent the most singular, resistant and significant correspondence in the history of electronic music – the Techno Alliance,” he says.
On Saturday, May 27 the second annual collaboration of IT and Tresor will pay homage to that history. The title “Building Bridges” discerns this party as an effort to provide a continual bond between the cities that once fed each other during the birth of techno, and have continued to do so since. Gillen says, “The event celebrates the storied history of Tresor and it’s place within Detroit, balancing the past with the future.”
Hegemann offered Sequencer some exclusive insight about the significance of this weekend’s collaborative event.
“In 1989, when Mr. Gorbatschow opened the Berlin Wall, he triggered off an incredible euphoria in Berlin. People and families that had been divided for over more than 30 years came together again. Following the fall of the wall, from 1990 until 1994, authorities had to deal with fundamental issues, such as bringing a socialistic system and a capitalistic system together on one ground, under one administration. Subcultural movements used those years of freedom.
Berlin became the platform for many artists to start an international career. The circumstances of this historic moment were perfect: incredible energy, no curfew, many empty spaces and the new sound that came from Detroit. Germans from both East and West loved this hard instrumental form of music, coming from a hard city. Techno became the soundtrack of the country’s reunification. Yes, the real reunification took place in different dark basements of Berlin.
The peaceful togetherness of people became a mythos that lured people from all over the world into Berlin’s nightlife, to discover a new quality of freedom and tolerance. It was the start of what came to be one of the largest youth movements in the world.
With time, an entire economy shaped around the nighttime, influencing many new startups, transport, accommodation. The spirit of Berlin was the natural incubator for the recently found sharing economy. A new capital was rebuilt based on humane rules. Techno also gave yet another new direction to Berlin: Culture and appreciation for the alternative arts. Today they call it creative industries.
After 25 years, Berlin’s techno-club Tresor continues to identify with Detroit’s techno music.
Berlin’s history has shown how the power of disused spaces mixed with Detroit’s original music has changed the image of a city entirely. Let’s then compare both cities and their creative advantages.
Learning from Detroit – Learning from Berlin.” – DIMITRI HEGEMANN, TRESOR
Last year, the Berlin club celebrated its 25th anniversary during the evening prior to No Way Back during Movement weekend. Tresor’s Diana Alagic had been attending the Detroit party for years. Completely inspired she told everyone she worked with how much it meant to her. Eventually IT and Tresor collaborated not only for the anniversary but have delved deeper, further strengthening the already established trans-Atlantic connection. A round table initiative titled “The Potential” has developed on behalf of the Detroit-Berlin Connection to help bring even more growth to Detroit’s music environment.
Gillen says, “When I first went to Berlin in the early ‘90s, you could feel this visceral connection to Detroit. Underground Resistance had become to their scene what Minor Threat had been to American punk. The kinship is so strong. It was time for the Cold War to end, and who wanted out of that more than Berlin and the forgotten people of Detroit?”
A live debut performance from Berlin’s Flowing and Detroit’s Terrence Dixon will serve as the proverbial bridge. Flowing is prominently known as one half of The Orb and a founding member of 3MB with Moritz von Oswald. In the ballroom you will find an opening set from Silent Servant, a live set by Civil Defence Programme, Christina Sealey of Orphx with a hybrid live/DJ set, and a closing set from L.I.E.S. founder Ron Morelli. Moving the floor in the gallery will be Claude Young, Marcellus Pittman, and Intergalactic Gary. “This year promises to be even more sonically adventurous and fearless,” Gillen hints. “Not to mention all the surprises that you’ll only find out about when you arrive at the party…”
Extending its hours for the 10 year celebration, No Way Back will start on Sunday, May 28 at 11 p.m. and will continue on until Monday at noon.
“No Way Back is special for so many reasons. What started off as a raw ‘back-to-basics’ party in 2007, a real anomaly in the post-minimal Detroit landscape at the time, has grown into a destination of like-minded folks from around the world. Seeing the love, devotion, and energy the audience brings to this party makes my heart swell every year. For me personally, it’s where the IT family gets together to present something sonically unique; we get away with playing some really out-there stuff, music we wouldn’t dare play any other time, and yet people go nuts and love every minute. They just…get it. The party is a true symbiotic relationship, and I feel deeply honored to play for that crowd.” – PATRICK RUSSELL
Sounds from the usual suspects will be heard throughout the caverns of Tangent Gallery: Erika, BMG, Derek Plaslaiko, Carlos Souffront, Mike Servito, Bryan Kasenic, and Scott Zacharias. There will be a special lineup for the Outer Space Room, an unannounced guest, in addition to a live set from Outer Space (John Elliott and Drew Veres), as well as Grant Aaron.
A man who has been influential since the party’s inception, Plaslaiko expands on how he has seen No Way Back change over the past decade. “Well, it’s definitely gotten bigger! The first NWB probably had around 100 people come through the whole night? Maybe more, maybe less… I’m really bad when it comes to numbers for these things. When we started doing them during the festival, we weren’t concerned with getting tons of people there because the spaces used couldn’t necessarily hold tons of people anyhow. This party wasn’t for everyone, and we knew it. So, we started making sure NWB was thrown on Sunday because that’s when the boat party would normally take place. I guess we felt like anyone who might come to NWB and then complain about it would probably prefer being on a boat rather than a dark, dirty and sweaty party on the outskirts of downtown (when it was at the Bo House). It was all about quality, not quantity. It still is, but it’s gotten way bigger than I think any of us possibly imagined. I attribute that to the right people coming over the years, and then they in turn invited the right people for the next year and so on. It’s been amazing to watch, and we are all extremely proud of it.”
Wrapping up the marathon weekend will be the second annual presentation of The Bunker during Movement on Monday, May 29. Although the full lineup will be announced May 28, it’s already pre-loaded with Chicago’s Hugo Ball co-founder Eris Drew, Antenes, Israel Vines, Hot Mix (comprised by Servito, Cudmore, and Haslam) as well as a surprise international guest closing each room.
“I’m part of the extended [Interdimensional Transmissions] family, as it were. We’re all folks from the same era of Midwest techno, particularly the Detroit scene – so there is a particular background that binds the crew, but everyone has their own take on things, which is what I think makes this group a special one.” – ISRAEL VINES
Tweaked to be geared for the energy and context of Monday night, Gillen says one room during the party at Tangent will mirror the classic second room at a typical Bunker party. The Ballroom will have “echoes of the highlights that you would experience in the main rooms of their parties, again altered for this context, and a little more personal and fun – it’s Monday night!” he continues.
Although IT and The Bunker have worked so intimately for No Way Back itself, there is something particularly special about the dedicated Bunker night at Tangent. With many people gone home after the conclusion of the festival the floor is more intimate, elevated and lucid.
“No Way Back could only ever be on Sunday night. Saturday night people are still nervous, they want to achieve something, goals of what they imagined they would do in Detroit during the festival. On Sunday, people have invariably experienced something incredible and now are just in the groove. The Sunday night energy is what makes No Way Back so special. Monday has another energy altogether. People are exhausted but still up for it, the music now has another meaning,” Gillen says. “The whole night starts strong, so you can get there early and be already seeing headliners and if you need to crash early, you will have experienced something special, or maybe the music and the people will provide all the energy and motivation you need to make it through the closers’ sets. I remember seeing Voices from the Lake one year at a Monday of Movement Bunker and thinking I would just go check it out and becoming so captivated and excited for the music that I stayed to the end.”
He says he hopes that The Bunker party will resonate with more people and perhaps this can be an event to be held every year to come.
Interdimensional Transmission’s label has been picking up creative momentum with a project that will be unfolding most likely over the next year. Several records will be released for the Acid Series, each production drawing upon personal inspiration from the evocative energy of No Way Back.
“I began the project last summer after I got so excited by so many demos I was receiving. Anyone who runs a label knows how rare that is. I had been thinking about a way to celebrate there being 10 years of No Way Back and this record series seemed like the perfect way to do that,” Gillen says. “It was a chance for the ideas to come together, for there to be a series of music on IT that directly communicated the sound of No Way Back. The series will last until all the records come out, it may take until next year’s No Way Back because there are so many great ones (all so different from each other) to come.”
The Acid Series will include productions from Tin Man and Ectomorph, BMG and Derek Plaslaiko, Jordan Zawideh, Romans (Tin Man and Gunnar Haslam) and Dona. All of which will be packaged in a special sleeve adorned with a design inspired by the iconic decorations of the party itself. The first two records come from Jasen Loveland and Justin Cudmore and will be available at the merch booths of all three parties.
“NWB is not a party for the faint of heart. You will be uncomfortable. Amber manages to turn the space into a predatory jellyfish. It gets hot. People turn into animals. You can’t get away from the sound system. It gets into your mind. This was what I wanted to try to capture in the EP. The paranoia, the claustrophobia and even the fear that grips you when you are at a party that is too much for you.” – JASEN LOVELAND
Los Angeles-based Acid Camp producer Loveland kicks the series off with his debut recording. “I’m from Chicago and cut my teeth raving in the Midwest during the ‘90s. This record amounts to my raving resume. It’s what I’m about. Each track is stripped to its bare essentials, using only a couple pieces of gear. No superfluous bullshit. Intentionally demented, the tunes aren’t meant to be light-hearted party bangers or even playable outside of a NWB context. Music to embrace The Void to.”
Originally from Illinois and now based in Brooklyn, Cudmore lays down productions for Volume 2 of the Acid Series. The Bunker resident had his debut release on Honey Soundsystem Records in 2016, shortly after Gillen asked him to contribute a record for this series. With instruction from Gillen to “make it sound like No Way Back,” Cudmore says he had two months to produce the four-track record. He continues, “I tried to keep my point of view, but try something a little tougher, headier, bass-heavy. ‘Sleazy’ is the word BMG uses most often to describe No Way Back, so I tried to approach the tracks from that angle.”
Gillen explains, “The idea to represent the sound of No Way Back as a series of records was inherently absurd, we know we can’t do every aspect of the sound, but in a record art kind of way, this communicates something. In this kind of music, there is way through releases that we communicate ideas all around the world, you might connect with something and never meet the person, but still know so much about them. The series starts with artists I met in the crowd at No Way Back. They were inspired by the feel and sound of the parties and started sharing unreleased songs with me.”
With the commencement of this 10 year celebration, let us embrace the expansion of time. Let us reunite together on the dance floor as we share laughter and joy. May we heal together. Embrace the wounds from our past and relish in the beauty of a bright future. Return we shall to our roots. A return to the dark underground of which we were born in. Let us return to the beginning. Return to the source.
The week of the reckoning is finally here. People have gathered their best pieces of black clothing and the requests off from work have been approved. Starting tomorrow and through out the weekend folks from all over the world will begin arriving in Detroit for debauchery and impeccable dance music. There are a lot of great parties to attend and, of course, the festival itself has reached almost legendary rapport.
One thing that strikes me every year at some point or another is the realization that each year I hear a few tracks with out fail. There are records that are so well made – so fantastically funky, that it’s essentially never a bad idea to play them. Pepe Badrock’s “Deep Burnt” always gets a spin or two; Scott Grooves’ “Movin’ On” also comes to mind. But the one that always jumps out exactly when it’s needed is the lead track off New For U, the premier LP on Andres’ record label La Vida.
The record was released in February 2012 and ever since has maintained a massive following of fondness. Astonishingly, 5,000+ Discogs members want LA VIDA 001, which is pretty impressive for a somewhat newer release. It’s a very unassuming little slab of wax; sealed in a flat white cardboard sleeve and featuring track listings and small label logos on a white label.
While A1 “New For U” is the breakout star of the record, the second cut on the A-side is a wonderful piece of music as well. While not a dance floor igniter like the former track, it’s made with such amazing warmth and perfection of sampling that Andres is famous for. Lo-fi drums and delicate vocal looping at a slower tempo make it great track for very early in the night. It’s hard not to love based simply from the skill in the arrangements and mastering.
The flip side gets a bit back to the groove of things with Jazz Dance. A lot of DJs have told me that they actually like B1 the most of all. It’s more stripped back and has a lot of breathing room. From a mixing standpoint it layers very well. The juice of this tune lies in the rolling bassline that doesn’t quit very often. The filtering and frequency of over all of each instrument sit astounding well in the mix, creating a splendid finish to an amazing record.
These tracks all bring a bit of something to the table. Part of the reason people champion Andres’ work so much is because the engineering involved in the sound design is so admirable. When you have these massive, expensive, top of the line sound systems to work with, Andres records will always shine on them very well.
People trade this record around a lot. There are constantly new listings on Discogs and I personally got this record only this year when a copy was found in the backroom at my local shop and then put on the shelf. Stay vigilant for it if you dig the tunes and want to own it yourself.
See you in Detroit!
Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.
Historically the dance music scene has been intertwined with recreational drug use and will definitely continue. But a recent uprise of deaths and emergencies, especially in a festival setting, have gotten people talking more and more about harm reduction. This public health approach helps curb dangerous risks by providing information and practical strategies that will ultimately help guide decisions and keep people and dance floors safer when engaging in potentially risky behavior. DanceSafe is one of many organizations that is on a mission to provide harm reduction services specifically within the electronic music scene.
First and foremost it is important to note and disclaim that by publishing this piece I am not encouraging or discouraging recreational drug use. I firmly believe that preventative health and making an educated decision is always the best measure. If you choose to use, be aware of the general effect of certain drugs but also understand that each individual has different reactions. Prepare yourself appropriately and treat yourself with care. Harm reduction efforts throughout the world are striving to help others make confident, educated decisions by ensuring certain levels of safety services are available when taking risks.
DanceSafe was founded in 1998 by Emanuel Sferios in the San Francisco Bay Area. After initially using MDMA in 1986 as a form of therapy, 10 years later he started to learn about the misuse and abuse of substances and the deaths arising from fake ecstasy pills. Inspired to help he established DanceSafe so people that choose to use would be doing so knowing exactly what substances they were taking and how those substances might effect them. As a designated 501 (c)(3) public health organization, DanceSafe embodies an ethos to promote health and safety within the nightlife community by operating under the guise of two fundamental principles: harm reduction and peer-based popular education. The organization upholds a non-judgmental attitude that neither condones nor condemns drug use.
“A nonjudgmental approach denotes an approach rooted in acceptance, genuineness, and empathy. This allows drug users, who are often stigmatized, to feel comfortable talking to us about their concerns and asking questions,” says Kristin Karas, director of programs for DanceSafe. “A non-biased approach allows us to remain credible with our participants. Scare tactics don’t work because individuals will discover what they were told was not true and will develop a mistrust for the information provided to them. Because we don’t shy away from mentioning the positive effects of substances, our participants take us seriously when we warn them of the risks.”
Karas completed her bachelor of science degree in public health studies with a concentration in community health at East Carolina University. In addition to her work with DanceSafe she also founded the Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter at her alma mater, and has done work with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, Pitt County Coalition on Substance Abuse, and Insomniac’s Ground Control Team.
DanceSafe, and other similar organizations, use a “safety first” approach to reduce drug misuse and empower young people to make informed choices. Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is a national organization which funds medical research on MDMA, LSD, and other psychedelic drugs. They continue to fund harm-reduction strategies for events where such drugs are taken recreationally. “We need to discuss this not in a prohibition context, but an education context,” explains MAPS Founder Rick Doblin in an interview with the Toronto Star. “You will still end up with the fact that there are risks, but how do we, as a society, respond to that?” Additionally, the group recognizes that cause of death from party drugs is usually obscured by calling it an overdose. “What the person could die of is whatever it’s mixed with, or dehydration, or some other constellation of factors.”
Given the legal climate and general stigma regarding recreational drug use it is important programs such as DanceSafe exist. A prohibition-style approach can often lead to misinformation. This lack of education during an individual’s risk assessment will more than likely result in an uneducated decision, potentially putting a person in physical or mental harm.
“Prohibition, simply put, does not work. It didn’t work for alcohol in the ‘20s and ‘30s and the War on Drugs has failed. Scare tactics have been ineffective and led to a general mistrust of information and treating drug use as a criminal issue has contributed to a wide variety of health issues,” Karas explains. “Harm reduction works best because it recognizes drug use as a public health issue – not a criminal one. Rather than stigmatizing drug users, harm reduction treats them with dignity, compassion, and understanding because harm reduction recognizes that individuals are inherently going to engage in risky behaviors such as sex and the consumption of substances and thus it’s best put in place measures to mitigate such risks.”
It is important to discern that DanceSafe (and organizations like it) are directed to assist non-addicted drug users. Recreational drug users are stigmatized by the public eye and underserved in the health community regarding harm reduction and preventative safety.
“Non-addicted recreational drug users have lacked access to care and have been stigmatized for their personal choices regarding their own body. Many drug education programs, such as DARE, have contributed to the health gap by utilizing scare tactics instead of factual, unbiased education,” Karas says. “Furthermore, many individuals lack access to important harm reduction services such as drug checking. This is especially true in the nightlife community where promoters are hesitant to work with organizations like DanceSafe due to The RAVE Act.”
In the beginning of the new millennium the United States began specifically targeting and utilizing scare tactics as a means to control the electronic dance scenes. The RAVE Act, or Reducing American’s Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act, was introduced in 2002 by Senator Joe Biden; it was passed by Congress the following year and renamed the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act. As a piggyback on the Controlled Substance Act (otherwise known as the Crackhouse Law), the RAVE Act expanded “findings” that identified specific criteria that would deem an event one that promoted drugs, by legal definition “a rave.”
Rave became defined by this legislation as a movement of young people being “initiated into the drug culture at ‘rave’ parties or events (all-night, alcohol-free dance parties typically featuring loud, pounding dance music)”. Although drug education, free water, and an air-conditioned “chill room” for party goers could help save lives, these findings became paraphernalia and grounds for prosecution under penalty of law. In response, fear began to grow. But the music will never stop, so dance music events pushed further underground and off the radar, sometimes into more dangerous environments.
Many began to recognize that by inhibiting harm reduction services there was an increase in emergencies due to a lack of education and preventative health. Amend the RAVE Act is a campaign developed in 2014 by Dede Goldsmith in response to her daughter’s death. At a club in Washington D.C. her daughter, Shelley, died from hypothermia and then cardiac arrest. Her mother thought, possibly, it was due to an adulterated substance since no one else had died that night. But after receiving the toxicology report they found the diagnosis to be pure MDMA. “I had to look into what MDMA (Ecstasy) was, and the more I looked into it, the more I realized that probably wasn’t what killed her,” Goldsmith said during Catharsis on the Mall: A Vigil for Healing the Drug War. “More than likely it was the situation that she was in.”
Her mother recognized that there were factors about the venue that had unsafe measures such as no crowd control, and inadequate water with bathroom attendees that forbid people to fill their bottles. She identifies The RAVE Act as the fear inducing wall keeping promoters from implementing safe setting measures. With this effort she petitions that language be added to the pre-existing law “to make it clear that event organizers and venue owners can implement safety measures to reduce the risk of medical emergencies, including those associated with drug use, without fear of prosecution by federal authorities.”
For example, the chill out room, has been frequently incorporated into parties for safety measure. Whether using a substance or not, an enclosed dance floor can become hot due to the collective energy and movement of numerous people. If a person happens to take Ecstasy (or any other substance that effects the regulation of body temperature) a chill out room acts as a space for people to cool their internal body temperature and stabilize their heart rate. Doing so decreases the chances of physical emergencies. However, due to The RAVE Act, chill out rooms can now be seen as “paraphernalia” and grounds to be deemed as a drug party.
“Many venue owners and event organizers refuse to allow harm reduction workers into their events because they are afraid that even acknowledging that drug use occurs will make them liable to prosecution under the RAVE Act.” – DEDE GOLDSMITH
In response to that need for education and assistance, DanceSafe’s chapters throughout the U.S. as well Canada can be found at events and festivals to provide a number of services. Most importantly, they provide a safe space to engage in dialogue about drugs and health topics relevant to the dance community. Information provided by DanceSafe is unbiased fact-based information about the effects of substances and potential harms. Volunteers of DanceSafe are also present to offer a first point of contact when someone may be in a risky or challenging situation.
To help people make informed decisions DanceSafe has capability to provide a drug checking service at events and festivals. The adulterant screening, or pill testing, within nightlife communities is pivotal in keeping dancers safe. Karas says “when we do provide drug checking, it is with the consent of key stakeholders such as promoters, venues, and law enforcement. In its most effective form, drug checking is provided openly and combined with an early alert system. Early alert systems will give updates to medical and compassionate care services (psychedelic harm reduction) so that they may be better prepared to treat their patients. Additionally, early alert systems will warn patrons of adulterated or misrepresented substances being sold onsite so that they may avoid the ingestion of such substances.” In addition to on-site testing, DanceSafe also founded the only public accessible lab analysis program in North America for Ecstasy. It is currently hosted and managed by Erowid at EcstasyData.org. This platform provides a public search system for pressed pills, their characteristics, test results, date and location.
“When I was growing up, my father always told me to stand up for myself, others, and what is right. I strongly believe that ‘what is right’ is providing factual, unbiased information to individuals so they may make educated decisions about their own body – free of stigma.” – KRISTIN KARAS [DanceSafe]
Volunteers have water and electrolytes available at event booths in an effort to prevent heatstroke and dehydration. Safe sex tools are provided for free to prevent pregnancy and STIs as well as information about safe, consensual sex practice. Free ear plugs are also available to help prevent hearing loss from booming sound systems.
Beyond the booth, the DanceSafe website houses a multitude of informative content on various topics including safety tips as you prepare for any upcoming events or festivals.
Use the buddy system. Always travel with a friend and communicate openly about what substances you have taken or plan to use. Also, don’t be afraid to let them know how you’re feeling. If you are starting to overheat or maybe things are starting to feel a little too weird, your friend should be able to help you, talk you through it, or get the help you might need.
Non-stop dancing and dehydration go hand-in-hand, especially when you factor in a substance, crowded dance floors and hot temperatures. Heatstroke and dehydration can happen and can cause fatalities, even without the use of drugs. Make sure you take time to cool down, drink 500ml of water every hour and eat a salty snack. Be sure to also replenish your body with electrolytes which serve as a supplement for maximum hydration. Drinking too much water (hyponatremia) can be fatal, causing the sodium level in your blood to dip too low.
Know your dosage and your source. Remember that old adage: you can always do more but you can’t do less. Be conscious of how much your dose is and make sure your source is reputable. Unless your substance is tested, you can never be too sure what you are taking. For example, the New York State Drug Enforcement Administration reported that of all drugs in 2013 reported to be “Molly” only 9 percent were actually MDMA. Also, if you choose to start mixing substances (like combining stimulants and depressants) be aware of the possible effects on both your mental and physical health.
Be sure you are getting proper sleep and nutrition. This may seem difficult to do (especially in a festival setting) but your body maintains a natural balance when you have proper rest and nutrients. Eat healthy meals and be sure to rest before and after dancing sessions.
Use earplugs to protect your hearing. Sound on the dance floor can reach 115+ decibels which can cause irreparable damage in a matter of seconds. The DanceSafe booth has free earplugs available but if you are looking to invest in your own pair there is a range to choose from. Basic models land in an affordable range (check out DownBeats or Earpeace) or you might choose to invest in a pair of custom earplugs, like ACS. Although a bit more expensive, these help protect your hearing while also maintaining better quality of sound.
DanceSafe promotes safe sex practice by urging people to use proper protection from unwanted pregnancy and the spread of STIs. The organization also has tips to protect yourself and others from sexual assault. In safe space environments it is natural for people to let their guard down. Unfortunately our world is not free from predatory people who will try to take advantage of that. Adhere to consent and have open communication and respect for others regarding sex in any form. If something is making you or someone else uncomfortable, speak up and address the situation directly or tell someone else.
What can you do to help? Educate yourself. Don’t spread misinformation. Learn about substances and their effects through academic books and articles, and truthful website sources, such as Erowid.org. If you participate in recreational drug use make sure your body is healthy and fit, be conscious of underlying health conditions you might have and be sure to exhibit self-care before, during and after. Protect each other on the dance floor. Be aware of your surroundings and if you or someone is disrespecting the space and/or others, do something about it.
Don’t forget that if things start getting uncomfortable – no need to freak out, it is only temporary. Find a safe place to calm down. This might require removing yourself from the environment, having some water, taking a seat or getting some sustenance. Just keep breathing!
If you are attending Detroit’s Movement Electronic Music Festival this Memorial Day Weekend, stop by the DanceSafe booth. They will not be providing on-site drug testing, but you can engage in a number of their other services. Say hello, get some information and grab some earplugs if you need them. They are there for you.
Keep talking, keep learning, and remember – just say “know” to drugs.
With Detroit’s Movement festival inching closer and closer by the day, excitement continues to grow across the stratosphere of dance music. Whereas last week’s Wax Runoff contained a few records from the crucial early days of Detroit techno, this week we take a look at some of the modern labels representing for the D.
Visionquest, Planet E, and Blank Code all manage to pump out splendidly solid Detroit tunes, each with their own flavor and take on the booming rhythms. Though bending the rules to be interesting, fresh, and new, these imprints preserve the nature and vibe of the best the Motor City has to offer.
Seth Troxler, Shaun Reeves, and Lee Curtiss’ powerhouse label Visionquest is an instant talking point when discussing the important Detroit players of the last decade. I’ll be the first to admit that there is some really corny and imperfect music on Visionquest, but the releases that do hit the mark always seem to remain on heavy rotation. The 35th release [VQ035] from 2013 Jadore featured one of Norway’s most enjoyable exports – producer Terje Bakke. This record actually introduced me to Terje, who has had some amazing releases across a handful of labels before and after this release. Somewhere between house, minimal, and techno, this record takes a lot of what is loveable about European dance music and breathes in the classic fat and dry Detroit sound. Plenty of loops and subtle changes make it perfect for a pre-midnight DJ set or a relaxing Sunday drive. And if you’ve ever been to Movement in the past, odds are that someone at some point has recommended you find yourself at the Need I Say More party thrown by the Visionquest crew every year on Monday morning. It’s without a doubt one of the best sound systems in the city brought in for a day of delightful classics, rare gems, and forthcoming heat. Definitely not a label or party to sleep on.
Planet E has actually been around since 1991. Carl Craig has been the mastermind behind its development which could play a part in why it continues to put out sturdy, relevant techno tracks. The Last Decade EP [PLE65350-1] is credited to Carl Davis which is a single-use alias taken up by Carl Craig for this release. The tracks are broken down into “Sketches” that truly put classic Detroit styles front and center. Most notable are the nods to the electro and bass styles that originally got Detroit started on the path of electronic music. Dark and stiff tracks litter the A-side, but the true secret weapons of the record are Sketches 5 and 6 that feature more downtempo and chilled out beats. The juxtaposition of production styles traditionally used for hard, slamming tracks against the soft and slower soundscapes is nothing short of fantastic. Carl is always around the Motor City on Memorial Day weekend and his sets are not to be missed; if given the chance, make sure you stop by to enjoy his grooves.
Of course, no modern Detroit sound discussion would be complete without touching on the heavier, more grinding style of techno. Blank Code is the youngest of these three labels, but has wasted no time making a very respectable name for itself. Rituals Of Submission [BCR007] by Luis Flores could not have a more appropriate name. The record features two originals and two remixes containing tight drums that slap and big powerful synth blasts. With kick drums that could knock your wig off, the tunes are wonderful odes to the confusing and at times terrifying sonic onslaught experienced at true Detroit parties. The tunes just feel like a warehouse when you hear them. Blank Code is also responsible for the Interface:Scene after party which happens each year on Sunday night during Movement weekend. The back room of The Works is transformed into a mini warehouse with only a single pulsating strobe light and enough sound to disperse a small crowd of protesters. As one friend once put it, attending the party is like “having your brain-grapes crushed into wine”. Tickets for this year’s shindig are currently at final tier, so act fast if you want to secure your seat in the spaceship. An added bonus: Mr. Flores is on this year’s lineup and promises to be a delightful set.
So whether you’ve been knee deep in 303s since ’92 or you’re just getting into the Detroit sound recently, there’s plenty of tasty sounds and labels associated with and dedicated to Detroit. The city is truly a deep catacomb of influence and output. There’s really so much to find and talk about – this piece could easily be 10 pages long. One consistent aspect is the undeniably crisp style present in all Detroit releases. As for the releases here, they can be hard to find and expensive but at least are not as tough as the classics from last week.
Consider swinging by Detroit Threads during your visit to the 313 to support the local wax peddlers. And if diggin’ in the crates is your thing, Record Graveyard comes highly recommended, complete with an authentic old and dilapidated Detroit feel to it. Even if you don’t have time to support the local record scene, enjoy your Movement weekend by getting out to as many different spots and parties as possible. The wide variety of music bearing Detroit’s proud heritage is seldom matched anywhere in the world.
Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.
It’s mid May and that can only mean a few things. Kids are excited about ending the school year, gardeners are preparing to watch their seeds bloom, and techno heads are gearing up for their annual pilgrimage to the mecca of electronic music.
Each year thousands of people descend upon the Motor City to take part in Movement, formerly known as the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. The party will rage on in the streets of Detroit and within the scenic riverside Hart Plaza from Friday night until Tuesday morning this Memorial Day weekend. We here at Sequencer thought it was appropriate to have a special Wax Runoff series for the weeks leading up to reflect that. This week’s will showcase the early Detroit labels and records that pushed the city to the legendary regard it now holds.
Intercity’s Groovin’ Without A Doubt [KMS 008] in 1987 set a new bar for production and style during a time when most electronic music producers were still focused on electro styles. The deep rolling bass and compressed drum machine claps began captivating club dwellers and after party know-it-alls rapidly. Kevin Saunderson was exploring new four-on-the-floor rhythms at higher tempos and the reaction from crowds was undeniable. Whereas Adonis was impressing more hip and trendy dance music lovers in Chicago via the legendary Trax imprint, the Detroit boys were hard at work crafting grittier, more rigid and raw tunes that aesthetically reflected the city’s reputation as a working class production powerhouse. These early KMS releases would cement Kevin Saunderson in the techno hall of fame, where he’s been ever since.
That same year of 1987, Transmat records released its second press from Rhythim Is Rhythim [MS 002] featuring the timeless title track “Nude Photo” by Derrick May. With frenzied bass blips and the same hard drum machine reliance as other innovative artists that shaped techno at the time, this track instantly became a frequent choice of all late night Detroit DJs. To this day, it’s rare to spend Memorial weekend in Detroit and not hear this tune, or one of the countless remixes and edits of it. And what’s particularly interesting is that on the flip side “The Dance” took off in Britain, where huge numbers of people that dwarfed the size of the Detroit scene at the time would go crazy for it at warehouse parties and outdoor field raves. It is absolutely one of the records that started a long and storied love affair between the U.K. and Detroit.
The following year in 1988, Metroplex was starting to stylistically catch up with other groundbreaking labels of the era. It was clear that fans of dance music were really responding to this new techno genre. A good friend of Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May – Juan Atkins – was well aware of the shifting trends and released Interference / Electronic [M-012] to create another incredibly influential 12”. There were quite a few versions circulating the city, but all of them featured “Interference” mixes 1 and 2. These two tracks were Detroit’s take on the acid sound that would become internationally known. A relatively inexpensive and disregarded Roland synth known as the 303 was given new application to create wildly slippery mid-range bass patterns that modulated over the course of a track. These acid tunes put dancefloors in a hypnotic state, with long playing times becoming a norm for the style. A recent recovery of the foundations of acid music in past years is a testament to how incredibly important these early Detroit compositions are.
The true beauty of the Detroit sound is rooted in the fact that these records are timeless. Good, solid techno music has not changed much in terms of definition. It is often hard to tell if curious techno bangers are the work of some savvy young producer or are old forgotten gems. While newer stuff may be more technically advanced, the whole idea of techno has never existed as something that aims to exist as a grand gesture. There has always been an infinitely larger focus on rhythms and grooves – the same rhythms of the factories and street life that dominate the city known for it’s most respectable work ethic. Anyone can dance to techno; anyone can become part of the family.
These records are hard to come by nowadays. The early presses of Detroit techno were plagued with shoddy vinyl quality, misprints, and pressing plant disasters. On Discogs, the sneering in-the-know record hoarders will charge at least $20-30, with some Metroplex and Transmat releases selling for hundreds. As with all old records though, there is the constant chance of coming past them in dollar bins at record stores nationwide, presenting an enjoyable and rewarding hunt for those who know.
So whether house, techno, or even newer genres are your thing, for this Memorial Day weekend enjoy yourself in Detroit and look after one another. Be a friend and welcome new people into your world with open arms in the spirit of the original Detroit scene that launched all this crazy music we enjoy so much. And perhaps most importantly, keep your ears peeled for the classic tunes we all love.
Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.
Tevo Howard has been a fixture in Chicago’s dance music history for decades. An artist who wears many hats, he is an accomplished DJ, composer, writer, instrumentalist, and live performer.
In 2014, I picked up The Drapes in the Living Room EP at Gramaphone Records in Chicago after seeing it featured prominently on one of the recommendation walls, among the many prolific local house producers. Before even listening to the record, what drew me to the release was the beautiful black and white hand-sketched artwork on the cover from the Chicago-based street and fine art creator, Slang. Thug Records out of Sydney, Australia was a label I was unfamiliar with prior to picking up this release, but it’s catalogue contains offerings from Larry Heard, Jeff Samuel, John Tejada, and even DJ Slugo.
Recorded at Tevo’s own Beautiful Granville Studios in Chicago, all four of these tracks are lush, warm, and intimate, perfect for home listening or perhaps an early evening opening set or late morning after hours gathering. I tend to shy away from including a lot of melody-driven music in my own DJ sets, but these tunes are groove-driven enough to work well when transitioning to and from more beat-driven tracks. As with many of Howard’s releases, all four tunes feel familiar in terms of their connections to the classic Chicago house “sound” paying homage to those traditions in their structure and classic drum machine samples. However, they have a clean and modern finish. The EP was impeccably engineered by Dietrich Shoenemann at Complete Mastering, which contributes to their polished and professional aesthetic.
What stands out in all four songs, for me, is the thoughtful balance between the forward-moving bass lines – which have a touch of funk – and the rich, velvety pads. They’re dreamy, but not meandering. They’re persistent, but not at all repetitive or pedantic.
When my son was about three months old in 2015, I was on maternity leave from my day-job, trying to figure out how to navigate the beautiful but often stressful “newborn” phase while itching to get back to DJing. I had a baby that was a great night-sleeper, but had a difficult time taking those necessary daytime naps. Baby-wearing and mixing records saved my sanity during those early months because I would play a few tracks for him and within a few minutes, he would drift off to sleep in his carrier, allowing me to keep enjoying my favorite hobby. I ended up recording these practice sessions at home once a month and released three of them in a little mix series I called “The Lullaby Sessions.” Tevo’s “Shaquanda” from The Drapes in the LivingRoom E.P. is the third track on the first mix. The baby always really loved that one.
Unfortunately, this EP is out of stock with most online record retailers and very few sellers have it listed on Discogs, so if you find this gem in your local brick and mortar shops, definitely pick it up for a gorgeous addition to your house collection. The more I revisit these tracks, the more I appreciate their simplicity and sensuality.
Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Guest writer Elly Schook (aka “Kiddo”) is a DJ and vocalist living in Chicago. She has been DJing since 2004, but has been collecting vinyl since she was a little kid. She still gets as excited about buying a new (or “new to her”) record as she did when she was five years old.