Raised on Detroit’s westside, Norm Talley and Delano Smith began establishing themselves as artists in the early days of house and techno in the Motor City.
Talley was influenced by music at a very young age. “During this time in my youth there was a strong musical presence on the westside of Detroit. Lots of great record shops and parties to go along with that; they even sold records in department stores like Federals along with records shops like Detroit Audio, Professionals, Chaunceys, Kendricks, etc.”
With genuine determination to explore his love of music, he picked up a paper route to earn money for records as well as another turntable to complete his set.
“Motivation comes from within and if I wanted it I went out and got it, so at this time in my life as a teenager my motivation was collecting good music and dancing before I even had two turntables.” – Norm Talley
Smith was born in Chicago, Ill. but he and his family moved to Michigan when he was maybe 4 or 5 years old. Although his roots stem from Detroit, by the early ‘80s he started to develop a taste for Chicago house music. “There was no place like the Detroit’s westside growing up. That’s where the scene started in Detroit,” he says.
Each artist were influenced by the late and great WLBS DJ Ken Collier, a Detroit-native and pioneer to the techno community. Collier was ultimately known for his after hours sets at Heaven, a gay nightclub on 7 Mile and Woodward. Like Frankie Knuckles and others, Collier played a pivotal role in the era of post-disco, when the energy was high, the scene was pushed further underground and a new sound was brewing.
“I opened for Ken a lot in Detroit at many of his residencies … I already knew how to beatmatch pretty much prior to having the opportunity to open for him. He did advise on little things like blending, EQing and volume, but just watching and speaking with him when we played together taught me a lot,” Smith says, adding that he has too many fond memories of him to reminisce on just one. Smith did begin to DJ alongside Collier and began gaining most of his notoriety at L’uomo Detroit, a warehouse type club.
Talley lived four blocks away from Collier and regardless of being a bit younger at the time, he was still gaining knowledge through the music he shared. Collier was a mentor and a friend to him, providing him knowledge about disco and progressive which developed that signature Talley sound and energetic set. “One great memory of Ken playing was when he got ready to mix a record he would tell the light guy to ‘blacken the floor!’ which meant turn off the lights and when the mix was complete, and the next record was introduced, the light guy would then turn back on the lights!”
Smith took a break from DJing in the mid/late ’80s around the time that house music was becoming more popular. “I’d already been DJing for a long time making no money, so I decided to get a real job and further my education and eventually left Detroit for a few years. When I returned in the early ’90s the music had changed completely. I was at a friends house that happened to have some turntables set up in his basement — one thing led to another and here we are.”
Fully inspired and on the grind, Smith had his mission at the helm and in 2003 joined forces with Tony Foster to develop Mixmode Recordings. Prior to that, Smith and Talley developed the Detroit Beatdown Crew, along with Mike ‘Agent X’ Clarke. Their first compilation LP was released through Third Ear Recordings in 2002. As a trio their sound began seeping into the European scene, leading Smith to Germany where he developed a very impactful relationship with Yossi Amoyal, head of Berlin label Sushitech.
Both artists have performed on an international level, including places like Germany, the United Kingdom, Croatia, Japan and more.
“When I first began to travel internationally overseas they seemed to pay very close attention to detail as far as sound system which was pleasant for me and now I see a lot of clubs in the U.S. paying more attention to details. Don’t get me wrong, there were some clubs in the U.S. in the late ’70s and early ’80s that had great soundsystems but I guess it seemed as all the clubs overseas had great sound systems,” Talley says.
According to Smith, “The music is taken more seriously in Europe and Japan it seems. A DJ can really play from the heart. People that come to hear you are truly your fans, they buy your records and are knowledgeable about the music and the entire scene in general. It’s a lot different in the U.S., and I’ll just leave it at that. There are many factors in the U.S. that divides us musically and culturally.”
Regardless of international differences, “the D” is the birthplace of techno. Creation and community was so poignant during the early days on the westside, it helped spark and develop a culture that remains authentic. According to Talley, “I think DJs and producers living in Detroit at that time were heavily influenced by the rich history of music coming out of Detroit through radio, our parents, backyard parties, high school gigs, DJ crews … so I think it just carried on into our adult lives.” The city is still growing with new waves in the scene, many shaping the next generation of music from that city and carrying on the legacy. From two artists who have seen the city’s evolution, they shared with Sequencer who they find to be an important player in shaping the next generation of music from the 313.
“Really hard to say as there are so many and I like a lot of them,” Smith says. “Too many to name actually, but I will say – with the new younger generation of music producers, the scene will be left in good hands!”
Talley continued, “A lot of producers and DJs have brought their sons into the music business and I think they will carry the house and techno torch when we’re old and grey. Guys like Jay Daniels, Kyle Hall, Dantiez and Damarii Saunderson, and Generation Next to name a few.”
Tens of thousands of people will make the pilgrimage to Detroit on Memorial Day weekend for the annual Movement Festival. Movement attracts people from all over the world, exposing them to the city and perhaps showing it in a new light, breaking the negative connotation that many people might have in mind. There is a culture of art, music and cuisine that is more than a pleasure to explore.
Each person that has a connection to the festival has a special meaning in their heart for Detroit. For Smith, “I like the fact that Detroit is shown in a good light around the world. The guys at Paxahau have a top notch production in the U.S.A., we need this here, and it’s done in my hometown where techno was born.”
Movement, produced by Paxahau since 2006, will be celebrating 10 years this May and has grown to become one of the largest electronic festivals. “It’s a positive thing all the way around exposing people from Detroit – and worldwide – to electronic music from Detroit and abroad,” Talley says.
Talley will be returning to Rochester, N.Y. along with Smith on Saturday, April 23 for the seventh installation of Signal > Noise who have previously presented The Black Madonna, Claude Young and Eric Cloutier. This event has also been selected as an official Movement Pre-party.
Both artists have been friends and DJing with one another for decades. Smith says that he and Norm are like family. “I’ve known Norm for many, many years and we’re very close friends, like family,” Smith said.
“Great friend of mine for many years, and we have held residencies together here in Detroit for over 20 years,” Talley says. “[He is] very passionate about music and pays close attention to detail which is right up my alley. Great DJ and label owner of MixMode recordings which we have done records together in the past and more coming in the near future!”
Signal > Noise 2.1: Norm Talley and Delano Smith
Saturday, April 23
45 Euclid (45 Euclid St., Rochester)
See the Facebook event page for more details.