He is a hustler. He uses music as his platform to inspire, bring growth and spread knowledge. If you have ever seen him play records you will see among the crowd a solid core of community friends up front and center. Bruce Bailey is a true Detroiter.
Being born and raised in Detroit directly developed his love for music, he says. “After all, from Motown to techno, us ‘Motor Citians’ have some substantial musical roots. Detroit is known for hard working individuals and I guess that really rubbed off on me.” Initially entering the scene as a promoter he decided to delve deeper into mixing records as he became witness to the inexplicable energy created by the music, the DJ, and the crowd.
His story’s trajectory truly demonstrates how versatile, grinding effort and an attitude that won’t quit can help you achieve your dreams. Bailey is a DJ, a promoter, a music lover and a businessman. Through various avenues and vessels he has established himself by taking opportunities as they come and perpetuating progress. He says, “It’s like working on my craft 24 hours a day is normal or something. I wouldn’t be able to stay relevant today without that instilled work ethic.”
It stretches back to his time spent as an undergraduate student at Western Michigan University. Centrally located between Detroit and Chicago, Bailey (with a foundation of music history from his hometown) started to become increasingly more exposed to Chicago house music. He and his friends were playing vinyl and at the time he says “the record purchasing craze was unbelievable.” They were able to tune into house music on numerous radio stations picked up with his roommate’s high frequency antenna. “I remember many a night (sometimes day) we would sit in the dorm room with sounds blasting, writing down what we thought were the names of new music we had never heard. On weekends we would drive down to the Windy City and purchase vinyl or send word to the Detroit buyers to grab some of this new music we’ve heard.”
As he started to become more established within the scene, Bailey and his partner Vern English worked together to found Tandem Entertainment Company. They both had been spinning since college. “We were getting booked individually at a ridiculous clip. One day we collectively decided that we needed to emerge from the underground way of doing business. So, we added eight or so additional DJs, sound techs and personalities to the team to help cover the plethora of events we couldn’t keep up with beforehand. It not only helped us to totally legitimize the steady stream of revenue but also assist us in multiple tax related ways,” he says. “Over the years ‘The Tandem Brand’ has covered a diverse number of events as our DJ services became mandatory from numerous corporate and underground bookings. To this day The Tandem is the most utilized DJ company in Metro Detroit.”
Throughout Detroit he has held residencies in the city’s most reputable spots. Bailey’s first was at Cheeks, a legendary establishment where Jeff Mills’ Wizard persona came to fruition. The spot was also home to moments like the debut of Inner City’s “Good Life”. In 1991 Bailey went on to become head promoter and resident DJ at Club 246 where he stayed for seven years. It was during this time that DJ Minx got her start, Delano Smith got back behind the decks, and the stage saw the likes of so many local favorites like Norm Talley, Moodymann, Al Ester, and Terrence Parker.
“This is arguably the most historic club in Detroit history and the stories from this era are nothing less than amazing. Probably the most memorable was – well let me set the stage first…” he says. “Club 246 was located on the street level of The Madison Hotel in the thick of Downtown Detroit. The night I was given to run was a Thursday. In the early ‘90s you couldn’t get a continuous weekend night to promote house music at any venue downtown, hence the Thursday night sets began. So, I’d say halfway through my seven year run (on a Sunday if I recall properly) I got a call from the owner saying there was a fire in the building. Now keep in mind all the other businesses within the hotel (including the hotel rooms themselves) were defunct except the ordinarily designed Club 246 and it’s adequately sized walkout patio.”
He continues, “So as you’d guess I’m in limbo regarding this situation as Thursdays were definitely the hottest thing going in Detroit at this time, house music wise. The fire department came out and extinguished the fire and it was a mess throughout the building. I knew we’d be closed for some time with a good possibility of never reopening. To my surprise a few days later I got a call saying that we were gonna try and move forward with opening up – I couldn’t believe it. Somehow we opened and it was super successful. Outta the disaster we got an upgraded sound system (so needed) and for maybe a week or two you could smell faint remnants of smoke, but unbelievably not even for one week did it deter the capacity crowds from supporting.”
After Club 246 closed he moved on to a restaurant called Lola’s in 2002. This residency lasted him about five years which he says “catapulted my brand and solidified a switch, as a week later I became the first resident DJ at TV Lounge.” At the time Bailey’s friend, Tree Graves, was the owner. Formerly called Half Past 3 (now frequently called TV Bar) this venue remains one of the strongest Detroit spots. “You see, Half Past 3 was more so the cool spot for the cities jet setters before transforming into the house/techno mega club that it is today. Sport players and dignitaries flooded the venue on Fridays and the Salsa community filled the joint every Saturday.”
The list of residencies and artists that have performed either inside, on the patio or down the alley at TV Bar is innumerable. With a welcoming atmosphere the club’s energy continues strong longevity to this day for locals and visitors alike. Bailey says, “TV Lounge is a family and I’d like to think I did my share of work in elevating it to the worldwide iconic status it receives today.”
There is an undeniable uniqueness to the Detroit hustle. It is grassroots, unrelenting and if you have seen it before you know there is a genuine confidence embodied in the energy. This is why you see (in many Detroit DJs and producers) this particular attitude which makes their presence so special. Especially during the time before technology, there was a limited accessibility in sharing sounds. It took, as Bailey and so many others did, pushing out hundreds of cassette mixtapes. Speaking to people face-to-face and developing real-time connections was the only accessible avenue anyone had to make their name known. In Bailey’s mind it’s how you set yourself apart.
“Here in Detroit you’d never solely make it in the DJ business if you sat back and waited for clients to contact you. If you excelled here in The D, you must be liked, have a solid game plan and also the intellect to overcome obstacles – hell, I always say if it was easy everyone would be doing it (successfully),” he says. When you see Bailey play on home turf it is so apparent that he has developed and maintained relationships throughout the years. Keeping those personal connections alive is a foundation for success is just about anything.
“Certain things you do dictate your character and I believe that represented mine in the best fashion. Of course my original saying had to go on this sign as marketing waits for no one – ‘the brand don’t build itself.’” – BRUCE BAILEY
There is plenty on the horizon for Bailey starting this spring with the release of his latest EP The Detroit Room through Open Bar Music. He says, “This two track release has been simmering for quite a few months. Additional production by Oscar P and Delano Smith make this a sure fire underground hit for the deep house music fan.”
Additionally, you can also look forward to a two-day boutique festival in Detroit during the last weekend of June at TV Lounge. With efforts from Bailey, the venue’s staff, Josh Guerin and Delano Smith, talent is booked and “people can expect the official announcement sometime early May. Collectively we couldn’t be more excited about our first stab at a local festival.”
Within Bailey is a deeply motivated passion to create and build. He blends together his entrepreneurial spirit and his love for music in a way that is tasteful, genuine and inspiring. The name Bruce Bailey, is more than just a name. “Music for me is a collection of emotions. I love it for the way it brings people together and how it unites communities. Without music there would definitely be a void in my life. I look forward to spreading my love of music around more this year as I have road shows in China, New York, Houston, Chicago, Dallas, North Carolina, Los Angeles and Virginia already set for this year. Yup, I love music…”
Catch Bruce Saturday night in Rochester for Signal > Noise.
In a world where society is structured by gender being categorized in two opposite forms, Jarvi Schneider’s gender identity lands fluidly somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, free from segmented definition. Fully enveloped in Chicago’s queer scene, the self-identified nonbinary artist and DJ was raised as a child in the house and techno scene of Detroit.
Jarvi spent their adolescence in Ann Arbor, Mich., eventually moving on to Commerce Township until the end of high school, to finally land in East Lansing, Mich. before moving to Chicago in 2012. The move, Jarvi says, was “to finally free myself from a state of no jobs, lack of public transit, and extreme queerphobia and racism.” Due to this atmosphere and being a hairstylist by trade, the salon was a difficult environment to find comfortable footing in Michigan.
While living in Michigan Jarvi says that “even within the queer communities, there is a lot of ideas of what a queer person ‘should and should not be’ or ‘look like’ to really be accepted.” They came out officially as nonbinary about two years ago.
To identify as nonbinary means one does not identify as exclusively masculine or feminine. “I have always been androgynous. I have always been called a boy. I think the worst of it all was being forced into a queer identity (lesbian), because anything outside of the binary was even too much for suburban Detroit queers to grasp. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard the term ‘nonbinary’ until I moved to Chicago, and even then I could hardly grasp it because of what I was accustomed to all my life. After some major trauma in my life, I realized that I had to make sure for the sake of my own brain and my chosen family, I had to be true to myself and who I am.”
Chicago for Jarvi meant better opportunities and was a cheaper and easier move from Michigan. “I sold my car, packed everything I owned into a Ford Excursion, and my cat, and I moved to Chicago knowing only a couple folks from high school, to start my new life.”
Jarvi is a member of the Naughty Bad Fun Collective crew, a resident of Planet Chicago night at Smartbar, and also runs and curates freaky queer club night Acid Daddy’s Haus of Diesel. Their introduction to the NBFC became a pivotal moment for Jarvi’s life in Chicago by experiencing an open, free environment and eventually learning the art of DJing.
“I found this crew (or maybe they found me) shortly after I moved to Chicago. They threw the best undergrounds in the city, always had the most welcoming vibes, and even outside of the rave we all became more than just people you hang with at the party,” Jarvi says. “After meeting Sam and the crew, I pretty much attended everything that NBFC did and started to help out with setup and tear down. Somewhere between that and the DJ lessons, I became one of the crew!”
It was just before Jarvi’s birthday in 2013 when God Particle label owner and NBFC’s Sam Kern (otherwise known as Sassmouth) gave them their first ever DJ lesson as a birthday gift. Jarvi says that “after two lessons we just vibed and kept working together. I think the bond we share is incredible because I have been listening to and attending techno and house events since childhood with my father, and not one friend or other DJ I have ever met had ever offered to teach me the craft. I’ve always known the music industry is a boys club, and having the opportunity to try to do something I loved and admired for years with a person who understands the struggle of not being a cis man in this scene, is easily the best gift I’ve ever received.”
The NBFC is comprised by Kern, Jarvi, Pat Bosman, Ryan Kelley, and a slew of other DJs, producers and artists that overtime have helped create and maintain the collective. The core crew shares roles collectively when it comes to bookings, design and direction. “That’s one of the best parts about working with these folks is that every last little bit of the vibe is created by all of us. I will say though that setting up sound has absolutely nothing to do with me. I can barely set up my TR8 to Ableton without referring to notes,” Jarvi says with a laugh.
For the month of March both Kern and Jarvi continue to use their established music platforms as a vessel to push and strengthen female, female-identified and queer artists, DJs and promoters by participating in Daphne. The month-long festival hosted by Smartbar will incorporate workshops and events to emphasize that mission. According to Jarvi, the biggest obstacle for women and queer persons is commodification.
“The constant struggle of, do you suck it up and go through it in hopes that you will get closer to being seen, heard, understood? I can’t tell you how many times I read an article about some white cis techno dude talking about his struggle not getting booked and having to work his awful 9-5 when all he wanted to do was play his Surgeon records for a packed underground rave. Sometimes it feels like there’s only a certain allotted amount of women-identifying and queer artists, and the recycling of the same ones can be frustrating not because they shouldn’t be getting all the gigs, but because there are so many of us in the world without exposure simply because so many people who are in charge of bookings don’t want to look. Probably because they don’t REALLY care. I think it’s also important to point out that if your women-identifying idols in music don’t help any other queer, women-identifying and nonbinary, or POC artists, they probably aren’t as progressive as you think.” – JARVI
Motivated by the frustration and with a desire to maintain personal and creative freedom, Jarvi started Acid Daddy’s Haus of Diesel a little over a year ago. The stage persona Acid Daddy came to fruition for Jarvi during Plastic Factory, the first party they were ever involved in at Berlin Nightclub.
“The party was a wild latex club-kid party with wacky installations and performances. La Spacer and I were the resident deejays for the Thursday night monthly, and it evolved somewhat from a joke in our group about how me and one of the other members were the ‘daddies’ of our group, and my love for acid house – among other things.”
Long after the Plastic Factory parties, Jarvi continued on harnessing the Acid Daddy energy. “I was up at a camping trip, Tentsex, when at some point in the weekend our generator runs out of – you guessed it – diesel. In a loopy state, I’m arguing with someone about how to get more fuel for the generator so we can get the music back up and running, and in stubborn Taurus fashion I storm off back to my tent. Sam happens to be in a porta potty and overhears me mumbling to myself something about ‘Acid Daddy, gimme that diesel’. The phrase stuck, and when I was given the chance to do my own party at Berlin [Nightclub], Acid Daddy’s Haus of Diesel just made sense!”
Acid Daddy is so much more than just a name. Jarvi says, “I think what is so important to me about this stage name (that may in the future develop into a moniker for music) is that it really represents the evolution of my gender identity and the happiness that comes from no longer being forced by society to be something I am not.” The name encapsulates and empowers Jarvi’s freedom from the oppressiveness of gender normative roles.
The house and techno scene is historically rooted in providing a free space for people of all types and expressions. There are so many artists, promoters, writers and DJs out there that continue to use the electronic music environment as a platform to promote cultural and social awareness, by cultivating a safe welcoming space. Yet, there are places within house and techno where those roots have been lost somehow. Our music scene is just a microcosm of our society at large.
To deviate from the normalities of any facet can result in a negative response from others. That’s what makes the dance floor so unbelievably significant. That’s what makes artists like Jarvi and so many others equally important. To understand that gender and sexuality are on a spectrum is to see that by inherently breaking binaries we are simply forming unity.
“The gender binary is just a way to keep cis men in control and women-identifying folks subservient. Even the most progressive cis folks I know still show me totally innocent ways of being affected by the binary. I think the most obvious is the inability to use gender neutral pronouns. Folks can learn a new hobby, how to operate a vehicle, or get a certificate/degree in a field they’ve never understood in their life but can’t incorporate a plural, nonbinary pronoun into their vocabulary when they already know the word. I struggled with the use of ‘they/them/theirs’ at first, and I identify that way. Sometimes I think folks can’t grasp the use of neutral pronouns because they still don’t really believe that it exists. I connect very much with femininity and that identity, but not 100 percent. I cannot really say that I relate to anything masculine, and honestly spent a lot of time trying to dismantle the binary connection with words, for example, ‘daddy’. NBD (nonbinary daddy) is a term we use out here in the Chicago queer scene a lot. I highly doubt I started that term, but it definitely fits like a glove.”
What does being nonbinary mean specifically for Jarvi?
“Grey area. In between. Not this, not that. I truly believe there are more nonbinary folks in this world that exist than cis folks. Once the term becomes more common in mainstream queer entertainment (because it has to start there before we get it across the board) I think a lot of folks who realized that this binary they’ve been forced into because of tradition and fear, really is not for them. Some days I feel like wearing a dress, sometimes I feel like wearing a suit, sometimes I feel like growing out my mustache and being topless in a leather chest harness, but not one of those outfit choices express any binary gender to me. when you erase that, you have so many less things to worry about because you just get to be you. However you want to feel or look, it’s just you.” – JARVI
Nonbinary folks fall within the overarching transgender category. By definition transgender denotes a person whose identity and gender do not correspond with their birth sex. Gender expression and identity is expansive and complex, yet simple at the core: people are who they are, and they should feel comfortable being and expressing themselves. But we live in a society where transphobia is very real, causing harm (in varying degrees) to those who identify beyond the binary.
Jarvi spoke a little bit deeper about experiences had alongside Chicago DJ/promoter Ariel Zetina. “My relationship with Ariel, be it romantic or platonic, has always provided us with struggles from the outside cis hetero and cis gay male groups. Whether it’s slurs stemming from binary-loving cis hetero normies, or the hyper-sexualization of both our nonbinary trans identities. By cis gay men, we both encounter negativity even in the most unlikely of places (i.e. queer spaces). I have learned so much from her, especially about POC trans and queer-related events, artists, and struggles that are otherwise swept under the rug so to speak in primarily white queer spaces (which is most of the spaces in Michigan).”
How can we help? Javi says: educate. “If you hear something offensive or hurtful, it’s pretty easy to respectfully explain why that isn’t tolerated and to enforce that strict no-tolerance of hate in spaces, whether it’s rave spaces or the dang super market.”
Music will continue to be the space for Jarvi where there is safety and love. It is so very clear that this deeply rooted passion has helped them evolve and grow into a true representation of themselves. Isn’t that what we’re all really striving for?
“I love music because it saved my life. It can say everything I can’t put into words. The music itself doesn’t judge me, it guides me. Without music I would never know the rave scene. I would never have found my chosen family in the underground where you can be anyone you want to be, as freaky and weird and out there as you want. Like-minded individuals all there together because the world doesn’t see us as the creative and beautiful individuals we are. PLUR forever.”
For years Maya Bouldry-Morrison found herself somewhere between two identities. Through her development with music production, and a positive experience coming out to the public, she has grown ever more comfortable as a trans artist known mostly by Octo Octa.
The Chicago native spent her formative years in New Hampshire, but is now Brooklyn-based, at home with her wife and high school sweetheart Brooke.
Initially she started flirting with electronic music in high school after seeing some friends perform with just a computer, Microkorg and maybe a Roland MC-307. She says, “When they were done playing I asked if I could play with them and I immediately went on eBay and got a Korg Electribe ER-1 for something like $80. From then on essentially every day I would go to my friend’s house and we would play around with what little equipment we had and would make some new pieces through circuit bending. We played a couple shows but for the most part we would hide out in a basement and figure out how to make music,” she says.
While studying at the University of New Hampshire, Maya bought Ableton Live to form dance band Horny Vampyre with her friend Jeremy, while using the Octo Octa moniker to explore experimental solo music.
Horny Vampyre is when she really started delving deeper into performance. “Jeremy and I would play tons of college parties plus other shows and the focus was very much on us being right up against the audience. Most of our friends knew a lot of the lyrics so everything would essentially become a gang chant and everyone would flail around. I later took that feeling and somewhat applied it to Octo Octa,” she says. “I was making a lot of IDM and breakcore at the time which was somewhat dancey but felt more at home at a noise show then a college party. At the end of college is when house music finally clicked with me and I figured out that a 4×4 beat at slower BPM would actually make my solo shows more fun and everyone would dance. Once that happened I was all in.”
She continued to perform and produce eventually releasing her debut EP, Let Me See You, through 100% Silk, the house sub-label of Not Not Fun Records. She says, “I was a big fan of Not Not Fun for a number of years and one day I noticed that they had set-up a side label that was going to be more focused on dance music than noise and ambient material.”
With a history producing mostly IDM Maya says she wanted to send productions to Not Not Fun but didn’t feel they were an ideal fit. “So when I saw there was a sub-label that was closer to what I was making I was excited to send them demos,” she says. With the few demos she had, Maya made a Soundcloud account and shared the link to the 100% Silk submission email. “They got back to me a few hours later and said they wanted to put out the record.”
Since then she has had several releases including the 12” Where Did You Go / Through the Haze under Argot, More Times EP under German label Running Back and Further Trips through Deepblak. Her first three albums have been released through 100% Silk, with the most recent Between Two Selves in 2013. She has also been traveling to perform, playing her first European in Germany at the notable Panorama Bar, held a Red Bull Music Academy residency in Manhattan, and has also performed Barcelona’s Sonar Festival.
Her influences range from classic WARP records, IDM, drum ‘n’ bass, Los Angeles record label Tigerbeat6, and has been supremely inspired by gender fluid trans artist DJ Sprinkles. Also known as Terre Thaemlitz, she is a prominent producer, DJ and theorist in the scene.
“I always like the display of watching people find out she’s a nihilist. I don’t always agree with what she talks about, but watching her be the ultimate curmudgeon is a refreshing perspective that I don’t think we hear enough from,” Maya says, reminiscing about Sprinkles’ lecture at Sustain Release this year. “Terre is significant to me because she was the first trans producer that I knew about that wrote music that directly spoke to me in terms of both ideological content and sound. That was something that had never happened before. I feel like that is something that would happen for a lot of people with like, punk/hardcore. When I was growing up hearing new music for the first time, going to shows and seeing people perform, even if I enjoyed it – there wasn’t a whole lot that connected on a significantly deep level. I was a diehard drum ‘n’ bass/jungle fan in my teens and even that which got me extremely hyped and excited, there was still always a little something missing, even if I didn’t know it yet. Midtown 120 Blues had this pull unlike anything else I ever heard before. It just clicked and I heard parts of myself in it.”
Maya began her own transgender process in 2012 and officially came out just a few years later, inspired by the story of Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace, previously known as Tommy Gabel. Maya first told her wife (a cis woman who identifies as queer) and eventually opened up to her family. Maya made the public persona change from male to female and says the entire process was positive and supportive, except for a couple comments from the public. “I haven’t had many issues being a trans artist beyond the garbage I have to handle when traveling. Dealing with TSA, documentation, and gawking passengers is obnoxious but something that passes once I’m where I need to be. Overall I am a more comfortable performer now that I’m out, so as a whole everything has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. That also might just be the culture as a whole right now especially in underground dance music circles. If I had come out in 2013 like I had originally wanted to I may have had a much harder time.”
“I’m especially happy right now being more involved in the queer community. I’ve identified as queer since I was a teenager, but since I never came out to my parents my queerness wasn’t something that I would publicly discuss. Therefore I also wasn’t seen as someone who was queer and I wouldn’t necessarily be invited to play queer parties even though I really wanted to. They were the spaces I felt the most comfortable in.” -OCTO OCTA
During the same year Maya started coming out, she was also suffering from debilitating anxiety issues. In addition to expressing through artistic creativity, Maya explores further into how she manages her anxiety and promotes self-care in her own life. She passes on advice for others who deal similarly, especially now as there’s an increase in emotional strain during trying times.
“The first thing I try to do during an anxiety episode is figure out if there is an external issue triggering it or if it really is just an internal issue. When I feel an episode coming on and I need to be like ‘am I stressed because there is a deadline, am I forgetting something, or is it just my brain today?’ If it’s an external issue or issues I break it down into discrete pieces and do them one at a time. I also make lists when I’m really worked up and cross them off as they’re completed which will make me feel better. If I’m just having a hard day for no apparent reason then my self-care is to clean my apartment, work on music, take a bath, and maybe go for a walk to clear my head. It may or may not work, but trying anything beyond just shaking and thinking about how screwed I am helps. Talking to friends I’m sure also helps a lot, but if you’re like me then you’ll be like ‘oh I don’t want to burden them.’ I typically wait until my partner comes home and then tell her everything. That’s something I really need to improve.”
Continuing on with producing and performance, Maya has several opportunities on the horizon. This month she’ll be releasing an EP on Paris-based label Skylax as well as Brooklyn label, Love Notes. With an album to be released on Honey Soundsystem this month, she said she’s hoping to make an overtly queer statement with the record, as her last album – Between Two Selves – was more ambiguous regarding Maya’s personal life. Keep a look out later this year for her second 12″ for Argot and a second EP for Deepblak. Additionally, she’s putting out a split record with Ames Henry for her friend’s new label, based on their monthly party Frendzone. “Then beyond that I’m planning some other things. So, busy busy busy!”
You can also catch her playing as Octo Octa for the first time at Movement Festival in Detroit this year. “I am very excited to be playing Movement this year! The only other time I was there I was playing an off-site DEMF party to a couple people. We went to TV Lounge afterwards until the party there got shut down and then I had to fly home the next day. So it was a very short trip. I’m glad that this year will be different.”
From the moment she bought her first piece of gear, Maya has developed an unbinding relationship with music, while simultaneously liberating herself. “It’s the most intimate and participatory art form. I feel like it’s the best art form that you can consistently engage with in different ways and it’s also mobile so you can interact with it anywhere. Sound plugs directly into you. It can strike emotions in me in a way that looking at a painting doesn’t. Being a creative person, music is the thing that’s most connected to me and has allowed me to express myself in a way no other art form could.”
Catch Octo Octa tonight at Strange Allure in Buffalo, NY.
Born in Atlanta, Israel Vines was mostly raised in a small town two hours west of Detroit. By 10 years old he had lived in nearly 12 different houses in six states. After graduating from Michigan State University he moved to Chicago in 1997 where he remained for four years eventually making his way back to Michigan for graduate school. He stayed there for six years before moving to Los Angeles in 2008 where he currently lives with his wife.
He cut his teeth DJing in the early ‘90s and a few years later he delved into production. By 2010 he established his label Borrowed Language and it grew with the help of artists Jeff Pietro and Justin Ivey.
The now retired label nods to the concept that “all music is essentially a borrowed language.” His friend, fellow DJ/producer, Karl Meier came up with that line. For more than a decade the name Borrowed Language was used by Vines for club nights, mixes and the like before creating the label. First and foremost he says that he used this platform to “acknowledge the fact that DJing and making techno isn’t a case of reinventing the fucking wheel. There’s a basic blueprint that hasn’t changed all that much over the years. A lot has changed, but the basic DNA has not. That’s the Borrowed Language part.
“As far as acknowledging the historical background, there are many ways to do that. There are a lot of producers who make sort of throw-back style tracks, which when done right I think is great. Additionally, there are a lot of older DJs who are very much committed to and conscious of playing a lot of older material in their sets – which again, I think is fantastic. I take both of those approaches, but only to a degree,” he says. “I play some classics. I program tried and true electro beats. But more than all of that, I try to keep the original spirit of this music in mind while producing or DJing, and to me that means keeping a sense of wonder, adventure, and tension in the sounds that I’m working with.”
When he speaks about music you will find that he often draws parallels between music and language. Narratives are incredibly present in our lives. In books, film and music we are constantly being told a story. He does so through his sets and productions.
“Without getting too deep, I think that the idea is both basic and difficult. On a basic level, it’s just like anything else with which you create a narrative – words, images, shapes. There are peaks and valleys, there are hot and cool moments, there are things that are soothing, and there are things that are jarring. Fitting them all into a cohesive arc is the difficult part, and there’s no real secret sauce to it. If there were, it would be for sale by now. At the end of the day it’s a feeling that one attempts to translate into something that others can experience with them.” – ISRAEL VINES
Although music has been a driving force for most of his life he says that he is relatively a wallflower to the scene itself. When it comes to the way music has evolved, particularly in the electronic field, Vines speaks on the way trends have infringed on the underground. “I’ve never been all that connected with the ‘scene,’ as it were – but more primarily with the music. One thing that I can say for sure is that I’m glad that the whole ‘MNML’ and tech-house phases seem to have passed. I mean, we have EDM to deal with now, which is fucking annoying, but at least it’s a lot easier to differentiate the underground from what that whole side of things encompasses,” he says.
Underground electronic music can often be misjudged through the surface mainstream lens to be considered EDM. A proverbial tick for the culture, EDM has more or less had an impact on the more authentic lifestyle of techno and house music. “MNML and tech-house producers were sort of wolves in sheep’s clothing in a way, as they were just watered down and non-creative versions of more underground music – but they were close enough in some cases to pass as legitimate. EDM is, in its own way, honest about its awfulness,” he says. But that’s another story for another day.
What makes Vines unique among many other influential artists is his determination to never compromise his vision. His personal inspirations include Marcel Duchamp, Charles Bukowski, Cormac McCarthy, Stanley Kubrick, to name a few. When it comes to producing music he stays true to that mentality. Vines has releases on labels Cult Figures as well as Semantica Records. He has put out remixes for Erika, U.K. producer Makaton, and Chicago’s Stave. Additionally he has been doing collaboration work with Chicago artist Kit Geary and putting our releases under the moniker KGIV.
His WWKD EP launched the Eye Teeth imprint off of Detroit’s Interdimensional Transmissions. The vision for that label is one that encompasses “American Techno” and explores the genre through a contemporary lens. Per the label, Eye Teeth’s output “is Techno from Detroit and America, not Detroit Techno. We would like to see American Techno evolve, and this new imprint is an attempt to be a catalyst in that arena.”
Vines has a long running relationship that is “both old and new” with the Interdimensional Transmissions family. “I was buying Ectomorph records basically from the time that I started DJing, and I came up around the same time as the extended IT family. I was at the first No Way Back party. I played my first DJ gig with Patrick Russell. I had hung out a bit with Carlos and Erika. I knew Servito and Derek. Brendan was the one that I never really hung out with until later. No particular reason, I guess, but mostly because I wasn’t that social in the scene,” he says. “As far as a professional relationship, that didn’t come until I was running my own label. I had put a few records out, and my friend Sarah, who has always been a big supporter of mine, brought the label to Brendan’s attention.”
After he put out a remix for “Gardeners” by Erika, Brendan M. Gillen (otherwise known as BMG) started talking with Vines about Eye Teeth. “Since then both he and Erika have been my biggest support in terms of getting my music out and promoting me as an artist. As far as my music encompassing anything at all – that’s Brendan and Erika’s vision for the label. If that’s what my music does to their ears, well, that makes me happy. I just make the music that I make and hand it over,” he says.
Everywhere he has lived he has explored the music world. Particularly while living in Chicago he worked at the legendary Gramaphone Records and learned more of the intricacies of music history while working there. After opening in 1969 it has seen decades of patrons and has been home to some of America’s most beloved house and techno artists. Currently owned by Michael Serafini, employees of Gramaphone included DJ Sneak, Derrick Carter, DJ Heather, Karl Meier, Sassmouth, Garret David, and Ike Release to name a few.
Vines says, “There are hours of stories there, but the most important thing is that the original owners, Joe, Doug (RIP), and Carl were pioneers. They opened the shop long before house and techno really broke, and they weren’t afraid to welcome it. They had specific buyers for every genre of dance music and ‘trusted the kids,’ as it were, to steer the ship. In terms of what came through – and there were a ton of very knowledgeable people doing as much before I got there and after I left. Michael Serafini continues that legacy today.”
Now living in Los Angeles he can be found balancing two different worlds. During his free time he works on music and performs but by day he can be found teaching high school English. “The worlds don’t collide all that much. I rarely miss school for gigs. Sometimes Mondays are rough, but that’s the way it goes with any DJ who has a day job, I’d imagine,” he says.
Vines received his English degree from Michigan State University where he also studied Political Science, Philosophy, and Religious Studies. He earned his graduate degree at Wayne State University in Detroit and from there pursued his path into teaching. “Teaching is great. It keeps me on my toes and the young people today give me hope for the most part. They’re much more open to people who are different than they are compared to the adults running things these days, and I think that in a few election cycles we’re going to see a huge swing in the direction of a more progressive mindset. This is my hope, anyway. With what has happened in the last year it’s very hard to say with any certainty, but this is my hope.”
Clearly of a poetic frame of mind he says that he previously was a creative writer and in the future, when his music career starts to transform, he may live a life of leisure. “I don’t do much creative writing any more, as music pretty much dominates my creative life. I may go back to it when I get older. I joke with my wife that when I’m older and retired I’ll probably spend my days brewing beer, working in the garden, making drone music, and writing poetry. The joke may very well stick, we’ll see.”
Catch Israel Vines and Kamal Naeem tonight Jan. 7 for his Buffalo debut for the Sequencer/Redux party.
Amidst the breathtaking scenery of the Finger Lakes sits Ithaca, N.Y. A college town engrained with a grassroots approach, this city is also home to record label Blank Slate. Kamal Naeem, the label’s founder, is an Ithaca native and a graduate of Ithaca College.
“I spent nearly 20 years in Ithaca. It’s where I grew up and where my family is. And though it doesn’t have a tradition of electronic music (besides Robert Moog developing his synth up the road), it’s safe to say it was responsible for providing a variety of very strong musical experiences,” he says.
He was raised in a musical household, dominated by jazz, West African and classical Indian music. “My father is a huge music connoisseur, who has that bug that most DJs have, to search for the next piece of music that explains or predates the why of the current favorite record. I grew up going to concerts with my father, starting from a very early age. Shout-out to my mom, too, because she is always very supportive and put up with a huge amount of awful, very loud music in my formative years.”
Often joked to be “centrally isolated” Ithaca is actually 4-6 hours by car to a major city which Naeem says influences the area with an array of world-class music. “There was always a steady stream of jazz,” he says, seeing the likes of Pharoah Sanders, Joshua Redman and the Mingus Big Band, all at local venues. Additionally, Cornell University’s South Asian community hosts classical Indian concerts, from acts like Zakir Hussain and Hariprasad Chaurasia. Local music festival Grassroots has been taking place in Ithaca since 1991 bringing a gamut of global artists.
Naeem says, “When people think of electronic music, I’m sure Ithaca isn’t what comes to mind. In place of the often imagined industrial wasteland, Ithaca offers a gorgeous lake, waterfalls, farms, and some of the prettiest fall foliage you’ll ever see. It’s a place that seems stuck in time and yet, because it’s a university town, every four years, 30,000 of its 60,000 residents are brand new.”
With Ithaca College’s music school there is no lack of talent in the rural city. He continues, “Though Ithacans might not be familiar with electronic music as a concept, we never had to fight for the music to be considered important or a worthy use of our time. And folks were more or less supportive when we started going in the electronic direction. Now Ithaca is slowly developing a tradition of electronic music.” To his knowledge he says there are four labels with ties to Ithaca. Soren went to school at Cornell and while living in the same city he and John Barera wrote the first couple EPs on Supply. Also a native to Ithaca is Mirko Azis who was involved in the Detour Crew while attending Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Penn. Phil Chung and Tahj (Turtle Bugg) Morris, owners of Basement Floor Records, would throw parties along with Naeem during his years at college.
Naeem began development for Blank Slate “out of the desire to contribute to a music scene beyond isolated Ithaca. I had recently returned from my first trip to Berlin, and even in a city where so many people love electronic music, I was surprised to discover I was a fully fledged music nerd there as well.” Solely run by Naeem the label originally was developed with the efforts of Soren Jahan (René Audiard). On the visual side Mathea Millman is the art director for nearly all the label’s B-side art. Azis and Mike Lavigne contributed with design, as well as Max Hull who lent his graceful handwriting for the logo.
“The name Blank Slate does imply a certain level of minimalism. One of the initial ideas was to keep it simple and easy to read in the dark. In retrospect, I suppose the minimal design was another way of letting the music speak for itself,” he says. “There has always been some evolution in the design – the first two records were stamped. We progressed to printed labels, B-side photography was added, and finally color was added for the recent record.”
While the label was in the early stages Naeem spent a majority of 2013 studying in Berlin. He used this time to network and really explore deeper into club culture. “I’d never really been clubbing (I was too young to go out in the U.S.), and it was amazing to be in this seemingly huge city with so much music happening all the time. I came back to Ithaca to complete school and save some money.” Blank Slate began to pick up and he officially relocated to Berlin in January 2015 with hopes of continuing forward as an artist and label head.
It was a tougher transition than expected, he says. “Though Berlin has so many musical opportunities, working here can be quite the challenge. My initial plan was to try and work in the music industry. I found this quite challenging, as the music industry here has a very loose relationship with anything resembling professionalism and there are so many eager young people that businesses often take advantage of this. You’d be surprised at the number of big name businesses here which operate on a steady flow of recyclable interns.” Currently he is working in online marketing for a Berlin startup.
On a music level Naeem has noticed that Berlin is overwhelmingly populated with electronic music and there can be little wiggle room for other genres. Within the U.S. he says “there are so few things going on that keeping an open mind and going to a concert or show you might not like is often how people expand their horizons. Berlin has such a huge electronic music scene that people’s interests often remain very narrow. Folks seem very comfortable going to the same parties and shows over and over again, and not really broadening their horizons.” With an incredibly diverse background in music, he recognizes that on a technical and cultural level music should be open to variation.
“For me, music is about constant curiosity – so this mindset of being satisfied with only one or two particular styles is foreign to me. For all its many musical opportunities, the Berlin music scene is also incredibly white, which doesn’t really do justice to where this music we all love comes from.” – KAMAL NAEEM
With reflections on the Berlin music scene aside he recognizes that Blank Slate being based in Germany is ideal for his releases. It is ripe with networking and access to artists who live and perform locally. “Meeting artists who are much more experienced and knowledgeable has certainly helped me in the running of the label,” he says.
There are many factors that discern what fits into a label’s groove. Naeem walked through the process of putting out a record through Blank Slate and the many considerations that go along with it. Varying for each individual release he says “it’s important to remain flexible with the process, because at the end of the day artists are allowing me to release their work. As the variety of music on the label suggests, I’m not listening for a certain sound. I’m after original work, expressing something of its own.” He listens to the track on repeat and always makes sure he is informed on the musical history the artist is drawing on because if you’re not informed “how can you know if the music is actually original?”
The diversity he strives for not only in his music knowledge and label’s output is also reflected when given the opportunity to DJ. “When I am granted the privilege of playing for others, variety and diversity are very important to me,” he says. ”Sure, playing an amazing set of just house music or just techno is one thing. But the DJs that I hold in the highest light have the ability to transverse timing, genre, geography and pretty much any other imaginable boundary. You might start off listening to something you kind of know and by the end of the night you’ve fallen in love with a type of music you didn’t know existed. I aspire to be able to play all my favorite types of music in the same set.”
This year he was asked by the Pittsburgh-based Detour crew to play Hot Mass and he “was over the moon to have the opportunity to play one of the best parties in the world. When I took the helm over from White Visitation, I was playing some 135 BPM techno tracks from Soren and the crowd kept an open mind and stayed with me as I jumped around from house to disco to African music and, if memory serves, I even got to play my favorite Sylvester track.”
He studied politics at Ithaca College but has yet to pursue anything in that direction but says time will tell if he decides to enter the world of academia. “A close family friend told me that one’s early 20s were ‘a perfect time to make mistakes.’ I’m currently putting music first in my life, so we’ll see how that goes,” he says.
When asked why he loves music, he eloquently responded with relief that he does not have an answer to that question. “My fear is that if I could put the answer into words, the mystery would be solved and my constant curiosity would disappear. A good portion of the credit is due to the household I was raised in. Not only was there always music playing, there was also a steady stream of music from all over the world.”
Catch Kamal Naeem and Israel Vines this Saturday, Jan. 7 for his Buffalo debut for the Sequencer/Redux party.
There is an undeniable passion that drives Derek Plaslaiko, a Detroit native who calls Berlin home base. With more than 20 years of touring internationally, playing extended sets, and producing tracks – in addition to balancing family life – he continues to grow as a beloved head in the scene.
Growing up just 20 minutes outside of Detroit proper, Plaslaiko’s youth was spent exploring and becoming heavily involved in the city’s circuit. He got his start around 1994 when Detroit’s house and techno scene was on a heavy up and he became crucial to both the Analog and Poorboy Parties, along with comrade Mike Servito.
An experience that really brought him into the realm was picking up a job at Record Time. Opened in 1983 by Mike Hime, the acclaimed music shop was a staple for local music lovers. With a couple different locations it became a place where many would converge to explore and discover the multitude of local sounds and music from abroad.
Plaslaiko started working at Record Time around Christmas 1996, he vaguely recalls. Hired by Mike Huckaby he says “I was only supposed to come on for the holidays, but then was kept on until summer 1998, I think? Somewhere around there.”
Other former employees include familiar names Claude Young, Rick Wilhite, Magda, Dan Bell and Rick Wade. The Dance Room at the Roseville location became known as a hub for collecting and selling records from numerous local house and techno producers. Plaslaiko says “the space was was usually pretty hilarious, too. Guys like Gary Chandler & DJ Dangerous would come in and crack jokes with Huck. Have you rolling on the floor laughing.”
Eventually, “I got let go for the same reason 99 percent of the people working there did: being late. They were super strict on it. Even if you were one minute late, then that would be strike one. I then went back to work at the Ferndale location around the spring of 2000 until spring of 2002,” he says. During his time there he was ordering for the dance catalog and remembers it being fun, seeing a range of characters walk through its doors. He commended the staff of Record Time saying it “was nice to see the hard work build into something special.”
The shop was influential in many facets for young Plaslaiko as his passion for music began to transform. “Working there was incredible! Both locations were phenomenal. This music was a lot harder to come by back then. So, working at the source really helped shape my musical tastes. Not to mention working around Mike Huckaby,” he says.
His employment at Record Time helped him earn his weekly residency at Family. Held at the pivotal Motor club tucked away in Hamtramck, this venue played an important role for the scene’s growth and was one of the longest running clubs in Detroit. Jason Kendig and Jeremy Christian were original Family residents. One night at a party in 1998 Plaslaiko found out Christian was leaving his spot and the event’s promoter Adriel Thornton had an opening to fill. Plaslaiko took to the helm and was a regular there for the next four years or so.
It was this residency that convinced Carl Craig to ask him to play the inaugural Detroit Electronic Movement Festival [DEMF], which eventually transitioned to be known today as Movement.
Throughout the years he has found himself playing the annual festival, other parties throughout Memorial Day Weekend and as a resident he can always be found at the otherworldly after-party No Way Back. That is of course with the exception of 2014 when he basically took the year off from DJing altogether with his son’s birth just four months prior. Regardless, experiencing basically every year since the millennium he has seen the festival’s evolution, which is now a pilgrimage for music lovers from around the globe.
“The festival has changed in so many different ways. I mean, the obvious one is that it used to be free. But that was never going to be able to sustain itself. Even still, you can’t beat that first year. The thing about it being free that made it so special was that people from absolutely every walk of life came down to check it out. Every race, every age – you name it and they were down there. But, you start putting a price tag on that, and it’s obviously going to change.”
Prices began increasing, but he says the biggest benefit to Paxahau taking over in 2006 and the higher price tag means a larger scale of production. “Doing something that big down there is a feat unlike any other. I’m super proud of all those guys for doing what they have done with it. And they really do strive to make it better and better every year. I often think they are going to plateau even with the sound systems, but they just keep getting bigger and better … It’s always going to be a super special weekend for me, and I don’t even plan to skip it again unless something major prevents me from going.”
In the summer of 2004 he needed a change of scenery and moved from Detroit to New York City. Eventually he met Bryan Kasenic and went on to become a now 10-year resident of The Bunker parties. During time spent in the city he started producing; his debut output xoxo, NYC was a 12″ released in 2010 through Perc Trax. During that same year, he packed up again to move to Berlin and has since remained. In 2011 he spent a summer residency at Club der Visionaere and frequents the notable and legendary Tresor and Berghain/Panorama Bar among many others in Germany.
Although Berlin remains home he continues to travel extensively playing festivals such as Dimensions in Croatia, Communikey in Boulder, Harvest Festival in Toronto and Decibel in Seattle. He’s shared his music at beloved venues such as Smart Bar, Hot Mass, Good Room for The Bunker, Marble Bar – the list goes on and on.
Still, he maintains his traveling lifestyle as a DJ and balances life at home with his wife Heidi and his son Elliot. Such dedication is no easy feat and I find incredible appreciation for people who are so passionate about their music and are still growing a family. Someone else whom I admire for exactly that is Chicago’s Sam Kern, otherwise known as Sassmouth, who is also good friend of his. I couldn’t help but wonder what sentiments parent DJs must share with one another.
“God, I love Sam Kern. She was actually just in Berlin with Ryan [her husband] and Amelia [her daughter] and we got some great hang time in. I really try my hardest to not let my ‘career’ affect my family life in Berlin. I’ve definitely been more selective of my gigs these days and also very cautious about spending too much time away from home. DJing might be considered a job that I’m doing, but there is no denying that there is quite a bit of fun being had. I tend to feel a bit guilty about it, and feel it’s maybe a bit unfair to Heidi if she’s left to all of the parental duties while I’m out partying in multiple cities for 2-3 weekends in a row. Despite all of that, she is incredibly supportive and is even encouraging me to go out on the road more this next year.”
Elliott will be three in January and since he spends time in daycare and preschool (Kita in Germany) Plaslaiko says things are becoming a bit easier to manage. His wife is able to work consistently at her day job, “so me being gone doesn’t affect her like it would have a year ago,” he says. “Though, I’m sure the early mornings every single day probably wear on her a bit. But, all in all, I’m just trying to weigh everything out so that I’m still doing my part, so to speak. Elliott is at an age where he’s constantly doing new things that are super impressive, so it hurts to be away and missing a lot of these first time moments. I also miss them terribly within two days of being gone. Even writing this, I’ve been gone four full days and it feels like weeks. And I have eight more days to go. So, in short, yeah it’s quite hard to be away from them. Luckily with Skype I can stay a bit connected to them while I’m touring. I have no idea how people would’ve done this 15 years ago!”
For the last stop on his tour he will hit Rochester, NY for the first time at Signal > Noise, which has seen the likes of The Black Madonna, Claude Young, Norm Talley, Mike Servito and more. For a man with more than 20 years of dance floors under his belt he has seen a variety of spaces and crowds. I inquired about his reflections on small city scenes.
“I have never been one to shy away from playing someplace just because it’s scene is ‘small’. In fact, I’m always looking for more cities that fit that description. For years, I have had the approach of hoping to help build something somewhere. It’s important for a scene’s growth to have people come in from outside of the local community and (hopefully) provide a different experience, and possibly inspire those in that community.” – DEREK PLASLAIKO
For almost every DJ that has spoken with Sequencer regarding their insight on intimate crowds and concentrated music scenes the consensus seems to continue. “And smaller scenes usually have some of (like you said) the most passionate crowds. The first two that come to mind are Pittsburgh and Philly! Small scenes for the most part, but I can come in and do seven hours at Hot Mass, or thirteen hours at Inciting HQ and have some of the most engaged dancers I have seen anywhere else in my life! I’ve heard nothing but great things about what has been going on in Rochester, and I’ve been looking forward to it for months now.”
What can we look forward to seeing from Plaslaiko in the future? “I have The Bunker 14 Year Anniversary coming up in January! Definitely looking forward to that. Also, I did a remix for TB Arthur that will be out in late January. I’m also going into the studio with BMG right after I finish this interview, so that’s exciting too!”
Fluidly hypnotic Bill Converse, a DJ and producer, was heavily influenced by the sounds of Detroit while growing up in Lansing, Mich. At 15 years old in 1998 he and his family moved to Austin, Texas where he currently resides and continues to develop an abrasive and immersive experience of industrial techno and acid.
Initial exposure to techno happened for Converse while in Michigan and he started mixing as a youthful teenager. Mechanical Pulse, a college radio station out of Michigan State University, is where he was familiarized with Detroit techno, industrial music, and Chicago selectors
He developed solid roots living in Texas and the friendships he made have kept him there. “Pretty much everyone I grew up with here has been involved with music in some capacity the entire time I’ve known them. I’ve always enjoyed that about this place – even though for a long time I didn’t know any other techno nerds, just other types of music nerds,” he says. “But rent was cheap, friends hooked up free food, coffee, groceries and drinks…now the day-to-day isn’t quite what it used to be but you can still have fun.”
The Rave-O-Lution 309 is the first piece of gear that sparked his entryway into the realm. “I’ve always liked making music,” he says. When Propellerhead’s ReBirth was released he spent his time programing drum tracks and “wanky 303 patterns.” From that point on his journey into production began.
“Finally, I began saving up and buying the machines I lusted after for so many years, got lucky and started buying them before they started wearing the price tags they do now.”
Under the moniker WWC, he originally released 100 copies of Meditations/Industry, a 90-minute cassette of atmospheric acid, in 2013 through Austin’s cassette label Obsolete Future. Three years later the album was edited down and an LP was reissued under the name Bill Converse through Dark Entries, a San Francisco-based label. Establishing a solid foundation for Converse, that record brings a framework to sound that is evocative and dreamy.
“There was nothing pre-meditated about those tracks, they were all sourced from the urge and satisfaction of turning knobs and pushing sliders. Very precious to me. Now the tracks are living on their own, they’ve all grown up and have left the nest – they do what they want to, they have lives and lovers of their own. I’ve had to learn how to let them go. And I still love them very much. They are unfolding into this world quite nicely and I am overjoyed for them.” – BILL CONVERSE
Continuing deeper, the label explored more of Converse’s catalog and released Warehouse Invocation in July 2016. The EP included three remastered tracks from his previous record and one unreleased track that truly encompasses his raw and enveloping production approach.
He draws a crowd in and weaves his signature sound on dance floors throughout the U.S. and on an international level. Through Intergalactic FM, Converse and his crew Timelife Methrave began “Tunnel Dive” – an online radio show with a mission to promote and support underground DJs and producers. Currently spearheaded by Sylvia Shale, the broadcast specializes in the darker side of electronic music.
Whether eyes closed with headphones on or upon a dark floor in front of a system, Converse knows how to take the listener on an introspective trip. His productions and his sets have a very beautiful and ethereal as well as a brash and haunting spectrum. Explore more and hear for yourself. Care to catch the live experience? Rochester, N.Y. party Signal > Noise will host Converse for the next installation on Oct. 8.
Eric Cloutier fell in love with techno at an early age and over the past 20 years has developed into an esteemed selector and curator. Born in Birmingham, Mich. he was first exposed to the culture of the scene while flipping channels and stumbling upon “The New Dance Show,” a low-budget Detroit version of “Soul Train.” As Cloutier grew older he became increasingly more drawn to the techno sound and scene in the city of Detroit.
Moved and moulded by Richie Hawtin’s moniker Plastikman, the 1994 album Musik was “damn near flawless” for Cloutier. In the beginning he moved to Detroit and started working at Oslo on Woodward Avenue, now known as the Whiskey Disco, for resident parties by way of Hawtin and Stacey Pullen. But Cloutier could be found playing or just spending his spare time in the dark backroom pit of The Works.
“Just growing up in Detroit was enough of a pedigree. You’re constantly immersed in exceptionally good and – at that time – groundbreaking music, so it’s near impossible to not have some level of inspiration come at you from all angles,” he says. “Going to raves and such in the late ’90s was a proper blessing. And just on those nights out alone, I think I learned more than I have in the last few years.”
By 2009 he became an official resident of The Bunker, a New York City-based party who have hosted an innumerable amount of incredible DJs. Cloutier first played in 2006 and just a month or so after made the move to the city. He reunited with Mike Servito and Derek Plaslaiko, formerly of Detroit who became Bunker residents as well. The liveliness of New York and the output of music there was an inspirational pool for Cloutier. There was something unique – it was ever-changing.
“Music is my life. It honestly gives me energy in the day, helps me through bad times, pushes me when I’m uninspired, and keeps me calm when I’m on travels, amongst other things. I honestly don’t know what I’d do besides working in music – it’s just what speaks to me the most,” he says. As his career grew Cloutier began landing gigs and exploring the European scene. He picked up his things once again and for the past three years he has been living in Berlin, another city rich in history during the birth of techno. Although he can be found playing clubs throughout Europe, Labyrinth in Japan and performing for thousands at festivals in places like the Netherlands, Barcelona, Russia, Montreal and more, Cloutier still understands the significance of his roots. Born into the concentrated dancefloors of Detroit, he nods to the importance of parties in small cities, and the role they play in the grander scene.
“If it weren’t for the smaller cities none of this would have really pushed boundaries. It’s so easy to rest on your laurels when you’re in a larger city, but when you’re the runt of the pack in a tiny corner of the Earth, you really have to do something profound to be heard and I think it’s exceptionally important for the little scenes to find their voice amongst the masses. All the most interesting stuff comes from the strangest places.”
The most unsuspecting cities, particularly in the Northeast, are establishing strong communities for house and techno. Cloutier says, “Without a doubt the tiny cites go off harder than the big ones, simply because it’s a luxury for an outside guest to come through and they make the most of it. You can tell people schedule their nights out around those once-in-a-while events, and it’s super important to them to get it while they can before it’s gone again.”
During his sets Cloutier demonstrates expert track selection and navigates the crowd, leaving them lost in time and space. His dedication to the music, whether as an opening DJ or headlining, has provided him a platform and a background for growth. For years Cloutier has explored the art and technical skill of DJing and it wasn’t until the last few years in his long career that he became more involved in producing. Although Cloutier releases will be relatively limited as he focuses on quality over quantity.
What’s next for the intrepid traveler? “Not totally sure where life will take me in the next few years. While the missus and I do enjoy Berlin, I can’t see it being the end point for my life travels…but who knows! As far as where to next, I’m always down to move to Amsterdam or the south of France, but…we’ll see!”
He kickstarted the techno scene for the debut Signal > Noise event in Rochester, N.Y. and now Cloutier returns to Western New York tonight for the next installation of Strange Allure in Buffalo, N.Y.
When Peter Croce developed Rocksteady Disco in 2014 he created something more than just a record label. He established a platform where cultural influences of disco and Detroit converge to inspire progression and awareness.
Croce was raised in a musical household in an inner ring suburb of Detroit. His father was a professional drummer who encouraged Croce by age 10 to try his hand at electric bass and his mother “has funk flowing through her veins.” Moving into the city of Detroit he says “shaped my musical tastes; funk and high tech soul music is in our social fabric here.” Raised on artists such as The Gap Band, The Time, Jean-Luc Ponty and Michael Franks, the deeply rooted musical influence of the Motor City has played a formidable role on Croce.
Stylistically his DJing embodies the characteristics of Detroit mixing: gracefully precise track selection that varies on the musical spectrum.
“So many DJs and producers in Detroit are known as techno demigods overseas, and while they are prolific in that realm of music, I admire their ability to blend funk/techno/house/soul/rare groove/whatever in their sets here in Detroit,” he says. “In some ways, the bar is pretty high in this city in terms of technical proficiency and booking talent. Yes it’s true that pretty much any night of the week you can hear some DJ playing somewhere, but I think to be respected by those at the top you really need to come correct with your mixing, track selection, and cultural awareness.”
Rocksteady Disco — “mindful music for the body and soul” — came to fruition initially as a weekly happy hour at MotorCity Wine in May 2014. Due to playing out frequently, others were sending him dubplates and exclusives for his sets; in November that year he realized he had enough tracks for release and Rocksteady Disco was then formed. The label’s hardworking crew is comprised by Croce, Grand Rapid’s Matt Dandois, Pontchartrain, Topher Horn, and Lafleur. With a number of residencies allowing notable artists like Rick Wilhite and Cordell Johnson to the table, the group has since minimized their events to “focus more on quality over quantity.”
Currently Croce is producing in his spare time, but is often occupied by performing, executive production, A&R and other label business. “I’m definitely more of a social being, which makes DJing much more natural for me than producing. I have some productions under my belt, many of which are DJ-inclined re-edits. I also have been playing guitar and bass on peoples’ productions, most notably a release on Fat Finger Cosmic dropping July 2016 entitled ‘Big Kahuna.'”
Under the efforts of Lafleur, Dandois, Pontchartrain, and Topher Horn, Rocksteady Disco now has five records out, with a sixth dropping in August. Croce says he hopes the label will be known for original output, like the most recent release Rocksteady Disco All-Stars Vol. 1. “Our focus is music that is soulful and equally danceable as it is listenable, with the occasional socially conscious edit release.”
Additionally, he has recently developed and launched another label: Mr. PC Versions. White label and vinyl only, Croce will be doing limited runs of freshly edited tracks. “With so many bootleg labels I’m trying to be really conscious of how flooded the market is, and how I’m a white man re-editing (usually) black folks’ music. But some of these tracks just need to be rescued from their LP format and brought into the beautiful world of 12″ singles.”
It is clear through Rocksteady Disco’s ethos that there is an inherent drive to do more than produce music and throw a party. Croce’s personal background has developed a mission to provide a sanctuary, a place of comfort for humans to let go.
“As a selector, a DJ, a lover, a person with a Master’s of Social Work, and a Christian, I have to use my platform to make things right in any way I can. DJing, for better or worse, gives me a fair amount of power to set the tone and mood of an evening. Most every DJ has this power to use this pulpit for good or bad, and in our nation where wealth has stagnated for decades, where women are still assaulted and abused simply because of their gender, where blacks get beat down and murdered by the police rather than uplifted and supported, where my gay and trans* brothers and sisters get gunned down, where my Muslim brothers and sisters get spit at on their walk into the grocery store — how could I make what I do just about me? I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t use this platform to make people feel better for at least the night, or to raise consciousness and build a movement.” — PETER CROCE
When Rocksteady Disco throws an event, inspiration is drawn from David Mancuso. In 1970 this legendary DJ took the party out of the club setting to establish The Loft in New York City. The space played a pivotal role in creating underground parties that maintain legality. Clubs are monopolizing by nature and are not inherently designed to foster social progress. “If anything, I find they more often than not reinforce capitalist patriarchy,” Croce says. “Fortunately though, I only throw parties at places that are notoriously progressive,” hosting events at Detroit’s Temple Bar and MotorCity Wine.
“When you have a place that is not dominated by capitalist patriarchal thinking, it allows people regardless of race, gender, and sexual orientation to transcend their social boxes and scripts we’re forced to live out on a day-to-day basis. When people enter these liberatory spaces something really special happens; they let their guards down, they allow their bodies to move, they allow themselves to become sexual beings without being objectifying beings, and people move to the same rhythm of people older than them or of a different race from them. This last point cannot be overstated: how many intergenerational parties can you think of? In Detroit all the good dance parties are intergenerational. Furthermore, many of the young white folks on the dance floor here were raised in the suburbs. By policy and by definition this means we were not raised around very many people of color or people in lower economic classes. So for many of us white suburban-raised folks, the deepest and earliest relationships we’ve built with people of color was on the dance floor. The fact that music can be the catalyst for this, and that I can be the person bringing the music, is a tremendous gift,” Croce says.
This sense of liberation is exactly the essence of the music that reverberates from Rocksteady Disco. Historically sound, disco as a genre has had an incredible and undeniable impact on both a musical and social level. Hey says, “Disco is liberatory music. It is inherently tied to the civil rights and gay liberation movement, which is why Disco Demolition Day happened. And the way disco DJing was done in the ’70s was completely ruleless — DJs jumped BPMs, styles, geographies (‘Soul Makossa’ being the most notable), and the major focus, aside from sex and drugs, was sound quality and elevating people through music. I just wish I could’ve been in New York the first time Walter Gibbons was beat juggling drum breaks, or when David Mancuso first dropped ‘Drums of Passion.'”
But gentrification seems to be settling into certain areas of Detroit, bringing a sense of worry to some locals. Croce started his monthly event †Sermon† at Temple Bar just a couple months before officially launching Rocksteady Disco, but he has noticed things have changed in the city in a short amount of time.
“Like most heavy issues I feel really complicated about gentrification. Part of the reason I love Detroit so much is because I believe it can be the model for how to redevelop a city in ways that doesn’t displace people, and that uplifts the voices of those who have stayed in Detroit through the gnarly times. There are literally people who have been collecting their own water and living without electricity for months in this city, keeping things moving in their own ways. Somehow, though, they can’t get bailed out but Mike Illitch’s Olympia Entertainment can get a bunch of land for $1 with no community benefits agreement. That’s not justice, that’s not democracy. That’s deplorable.”
He goes on to agree that Detroit in fact needs some cash flow for a steadier economy, requiring new restaurants and businesses, but does it need to be done so through big corporate establishment with no focus on benefits and needs for the community? Croce notes that he defines gentrification not based solely on race, but as a raising of property values which ends up displacing the poor communities. This in turn is effecting the music scene.
“Regardless of the definition, the black population continues to decline in Detroit while the white population grows. This has a variety of implications, but I’ll speak for the dance music scene. A lot of these folks moving into or partying in the city have a really disgusting entitlement problem. The way they treat incredibly talented DJs/bartenders/venue owners is unfathomable to me. So what you’re going to see is these folks taking over downtown and Midtown and some other neighborhoods as well. There’s a number of venues that the heady dance music community just won’t go to anymore because of how suburbanized they have become. I don’t want to DJ some of them either,” he says. “On the same token, a large number of white folks moving to Detroit are moving here to find their souls. So people like myself need to be careful of just writing all new people off. Shoot, I’ve only been in Detroit for 3 years after all. Many of us immediately went traversing in the underground looking for the culturally important stuff. As DJs we can be cultural ambassadors for these folks. So we should trust but verify rather than categorize new people as guilty until proven innocent.”
However, from disparity can grow beauty. The label’s namesake nods to “rocksteady music,” which derives from Jamaican reggae. That time period between first wave ska and modern reggae. Croce says, “I wasn’t in Kingston in 1966, but that summer seemed like a glorious time to be alive. Ska was slowing down and the lyrical content was becoming more soulful. The music was sexy, smooth yet raw, and yearning for some sort of connection. And that sound for yearning for love, community, and connection is precisely what we try to do with our releases and parties.”
Croce says, “My fiancée puts it best: there’s ‘vertical’ music and ‘horizontal’ music. Vertical music would best be defined as a lot of the techno coming out right now. It’s brain music, it’s upright, and it’s stiff. These characteristics aren’t bad, they just are what they are. Horizontal music would be disco, soulful house, and rocksteady reggae. People move their hips side-to-side when they dance, and it’s less individual. Both of these styles have their place, and you’ll hear me touch on all of these sounds in my sets.”
Regardless which way the groove moves, Rocksteady Disco will be there to lift you up and keep it going.
Stay tuned this week for a very exclusive Sequencer Soundcast from Peter Croce.
The cab makes a left down a road toward a dead end. It’s the East Side of Buffalo, N.Y. and there’s no one around. “Where is it? Do you hear anything? Maybe just up there a little bit. Oh, that’s definitely it.” Feet scamper down the road toward a warehouse where a few other souls are found milling outside the building smoking cigarettes. There’s faint light spilling out. Someone, open the door.
Although Buffalo is a Rust Belt city and a primed breeding ground for artful events, it wasn’t until Strange Allure came to fruition just last year that there has been a boost of fueled excitement to the city’s typical party scene.
A man that calls himself Alan Frank was living in Cleveland, Ohio for almost six years before moving to Buffalo about two years ago. He was born in a town south of Cedar Point, right between Cleveland and Toledo, in the middle of nowhere.
When he was just a teenager, Frank was booking and playing punk and hardcore shows. While he was in high school he would book touring bands at a clubhouse by the local reservoir. Grind and extreme music exposed him to seeing the American underground music scene. But overtime, he says, the scene became oversaturated with bands and the payoff wasn’t ideal.
“I had always flirted with electronic music and techno, but all my friends were punk and we all liked hip-hop and dub.” Techno was his guilty pleasure. But Frank grew up with knowledge about turntablism and was semi-familiar with Detroit techno; occasionally he was able to pick it up on the radio due to his proximity being in Ohio. Artists such as DJ Shadow and any of that “moody groovy weird stuff” drew him in deeper. He started hearing more and more about DIY house and techno, and simultaneously began collecting records. A self-acclaimed Craigslist hound, he scored a collection of Detroit techno and dub techno and from that point forward he was convinced. Additionally, “in a crazy stroke of fate” he was able to flip a mediocre pair of turntables for a mint pair of Technics at a price that was somewhat unimaginable.
“I started collecting techno records and there’s a really sick shop in Cleveland called Bent Crayon, which is legitimately the best record store in the country.”
Frank would pay close attention to the owner’s favorite picks that he would showcase in the shop. Additionally, the shop’s owner would throw events and Frank found himself at Regis and Veronica Vasicka. “That was probably the first techno thing I’d really gone to … it was just freaks coming out,” he says.
When Bent Crayon brought Voices From The Lake, Frank ran into previous co-worker Adam Miller and from there they “went down the wormhole” together. Frank and Miller started going to Hot Mass in Pittsburgh in 2013. “That was huge to see – how cool a party could be and how un-club like it could be.
“It was funny because I really didn’t want to go … I was tired,” he says. His interest was piqued for psilocybin, nothing serious and without a very real intention toward it. But Miller approached him – unaware of Frank’s predisposition – and said he had some mushrooms. The romantics might call it fate, regardless, they both hopped on the Interstate 76 toward Pittsburgh.
“[Hot Mass] was unlike anything I’ve ever been to. You know, just a tiny dark room with a killer system. People weren’t talking, people were dancing. You could dance with other people. Totally uninhibited.”
After Hot Mass, Miller invited him to Sustain-Release and with hesitation Frank eventually agreed. “That’s when I got my mind blown about the possibilities of the intersection of DIY culture and dance music … I was dialed in throughout the whole weekend. It’s the most cohesive, perfectly built thing I’ve ever seen. It’s insane.”
The communal vibe of Sustain-Release was a clear inspiration which has worked as the oncoming structure for Strange Allure parties.
“Just seeing all the different people that would come out. Certain people, and groups like Discwoman, using it as a platform to approach real issues and talk about things in a very punk sense, it was really cool. The thing that was cool about Sustain-Release is how represented the female talent was, that was awesome. There have been things that I’ve been to that were clubby and just fucking bros … if there’s one thing I cannot relate to, or one thing that will drive me away, it’s that.” Sustain-Release, a total void of the surface mainstream EDM, became a beacon in his mind’s eye.
“Seeing the detail and the care that all these people put into building this thing and it turning out perfect … such a cohesive idea, seen all the way through – it was really cool.” — ALAN FRANK
Sometime later, friends of his were throwing a Halloween party and asked him to DJ. “It went way better than I expected,” he says and people urged him to continue playing house and techno. In the summer of 2015 he decided to explore something new and assembled a group of 10-12 fresh air punk homegrown people. With connections in real estate he started bouncing with the idea of curating an event in the city of Buffalo.
Frank had the name Strange Allure in mind a long time ago. Inspired by Mission of Burma, a post-punk band from Boston, Mass. in the ’70s-’80s, he scribbled the name down on a dry erase board in his bedroom studio hoping to one day use it for something. Next step was to figure out who to book for the first event. While in Toronto to see Jay Daniel, by happenstance arrived in time for doors; “I was there so painfully early and nobody was there except me.”
Stuart Li, otherwise known as Basic Soul Unit, was there and the two started chatting. Li agreed to come through to play in Buffalo and the first Strange Allure party was born.
After a slight location snafu before the launch party he cold called people for five days straight and eventually landed on the East Side space where Strange Allure held it’s first party. “I was so stressed out because I did not want to cancel that show because I thought we were going to be able to ride something really cool that was happening with Western New York and all this stuff that was coming to a head,” he says. In a warehouse that functioned for powder coating and as a lumberyard in the 1920s, the collective started to turn it into something different.
“That spot was totally haphazardly thrown together. We got in there maybe two days before the show,” he says. “I had no idea how to build it up. We made everything out of stuff that was found there. The sound system, we built that little makeshift stage and all it is was are pallets and drywall. We dropped the subs in front of it and it was perfect, totally flush. The speakers fit perfectly. That bar is just an old headboard. The car seat we put in the lounge area. The table we were using at the door was already there. Everything was just in there.”
The day began at 9 a.m. to prepare the party and after loading in and loading out they cleared the warehouse by 9 a.m., a few hours after the party ended.
Prior to the launch party, the crew put together a fundraiser event at SolRise studio on Buffalo’s East Side. “It wasn’t a great turn out but the people who came out were really excited to see techno in the city,” he says. “We really tried to build it up and promote it as a community-based party and make people feel welcome and make people feel like they’re part of something.”
Working hand-in-hand to create something together, an evening of Strange Allure is one worth exploring and full of surprises.
For the next Strange Allure installation, catch Detroit’s Erika and BMG [Interdimensional Transmissions] on Saturday, June 18.