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.