In Central Illinois, Justin Cudmore was raised with Midwest sensibilities. His environment, he says, was simple but there were structural bounds that kept him from feeling truly free. When he was in his youth and started to feel he didn’t fit in with the the people around him, he found sanctuary just next door.
“There are straightforward expectations about what you’re supposed to do when you grow up, how you’re supposed to act, what you’re supposed to look like,” he says about his hometown of Springfield. “My family and my surroundings taught me to be genuine, polite, helpful…but anything different or out of character was pushed away. My family was not religious but still clung to conservative ideals on family and politics.”
Around middle school Cudmore started feeling estranged from his youthful peers. “I never opened up to my parents about these feelings, instead kept them inside. My neighbor growing up next door was an old hippie and I think she could tell I was different. She would invite me over for tea and we’d listen to The Beatles, go rummage through junk, make sculptures. That was an outlet for me I didn’t have in other places. She really opened up the world and my mind to let me think maybe it’s OK to be different; maybe there is more out there.”
Her name is Janis and one specific memory he has of her was when he was around 13 years old. “She invited me over and we were going through all the ‘junk’ she collected in her garage. She loved garage sales. We’d go out hunting for items on the weekend. On that day she showed me this collection of all blue glass bottles she had been keeping. Anytime she went to a rummage sale or antique mall there were certain items she looked for and loved to collect. These blue bottles were one of them,” he says. “She brought them out and we used metal pipes stuck into the ground to display them, almost as a bouquet. I vividly remember creating this decoration from nothing with her. It’s still there in her yard as you drive in. I loved these moments of creativity. I don’t think I realized at the time how comfortable I felt around her or how much I could be myself but looking back it was really special. Having that time helped me find myself at crucial points in my teen years. Janis really shaped me. She always encouraged travel, the arts, exploration, fun. Major contrast to my more conservative parents. I don’t think I’d be where I am without her guidance and love.”
Music eventually became a grounding creative expressive outlet as he processed these feelings. He found his rhythm playing drums in grade school and continued until the end of college. “Percussion is something that always came easy to me. Jazz, concert, marching – I did all of it. Band was a place for weird kids to feel at home and have something to concentrate on,” he says. While attending the University of Illinois he played in some jam bands. Inspired heavily by dance-driven beats he would incorporate post-punk sounds when they played. “New wave groups really captured my ear,” he says. “The melodies were uplifting and the bass/drums driving still. That combination stuck with me.”
Cudmore started DJing in college and went on to host a club night called Physical Challenge. “I played a house party sophomore year for Halloween that was a big success. It was probably a mixture of blog remixes, ‘90s house classics, some of my own music, Girl Talk edits. Anyway, it went really well. The owner of the local club hit me up and asked if I’d like to help run this weekly night at The Canopy Club – one of the oldest spots for live music in Champaign-Urbana.” He agreed but only after returning from a six-month study abroad stint in Norway’s capital, Oslo. This trip became pivotal in expanding and fine-tuning Cudmore’s music taste.
“Living in Oslo those six months was a big shift for me. Dance music was just getting cemented as something I really cared for, I was started to dig, buy records – then I left to go live in a place where I could club at 19. I would go almost every weekend to different parties. Blå was my favorite. Locals like Todd Terje, Prins Tohams, G-Ha, this party called Sunkissed – really left an imprint on me,” he says. “Cosmic house but with a groove and a bassline. I returned from Oslo that summer with a whole new perception of dance music. It became clear to me just how little I knew and how much there is to know. It humbled me. I tried to bring that attitude to the club in Champaign every Wednesday, trying different combinations of things – disco, house, techno. I learned you didn’t have to stick to one sound.”
After college he moved to Chicago where he immediately delved into the scene, frequenting spaces like Smartbar, Danny’s, Berlin Nightclub, and warehouse parties such as No Affiliation. Somewhere in the mix he met Steve Mizek, founder and A&R head of Chicago labels Argot and Tasteful Nudes, as well as founder of now defunct website Little White Earbuds. The two started talking and Cudmore started working with Mizek on the website. He says, “I would assist with site architecture, coding, ads – we were trying to make some money off LWE. This is actually when I started first meeting a lot of New Yorkers over email like Bryan Kasenic. He would purchase ads for The Bunker in NYC. My big contributions were two Curator’s Cuts mixes, along with some end of year lists. LWE opened up a whole new world of underground music for me. It was kind of like going to Oslo all over again but even bigger and I felt more connected this time. My record collection at home was starting to grow and I felt confident to contribute a mix that I’d be proud of and one that would suit the style of LWE. To this day that final mix remains one of my favorites.”
At 21 years old and new to the clubbing, Chicago’s Smartbar became influential as he explored his sexual freedom. “Smartbar is dark, it’s seductive, no one seems to care what you do. It’s how clubs should be. That was the first basement club I went to. And really I did all my formative clubbing there. Nothing in Oslo really matched that layout,” he says. “At that time in Chicago, Queen hadn’t started yet. Sunday’s there was this party called Dollar Disco. But Boystown was close and sometimes gays would wander over. It was the first place I felt comfortable dancing with a boy all night to house music. It is a special place. Nowhere else could I have done that. That’s why places like this are so important. They allow us to be ourselves in the dark, in the fog. We can act on our curiosities and let the music take us over.”
From a childhood feeling different and out of place, he felt comfortable enough with himself around 22 years old to come out to his parents, “And it didn’t go well,” he says.
“That started a slow descent in my relationship with my family which wasn’t always the best to begin with. And so when Jordan, this boy I loved and cared for, said he got a job in New York and was moving – I didn’t know what to do but follow him. Also after two years of Chicago I felt like I was ready for more. As eye-opening as Chicago was for me, it does have a level of stagnation that I felt. I could have stayed in Chicago and really buried into my music production. I could have seen myself become a sort of Smartbar hermit – run with the same circles and be a bit of a techno recluse.”
He continues, “I moved to New York only for Jordan, my boyfriend; I didn’t want to lose him. Work/music was an added benefit of moving here. I really had no intentions of a music career coming here. I got a job at a startup, Jordan started his job, and we continued our lives pretty much as is in Brooklyn. I would come home from work every night, get stoned, work on music, dig for music. But not to play – not to release things – music at that point was always a side hobby. Sometimes I think I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing now without all those years of simply going out, hibernating on music, learning things. Too many people jump right to the DJ thing. That was never a motivation of mine. I was curious, just like way back when I was young, hanging with my neighbor learning new things. It was always like peeling back a page on something new – new sounds, new labels. There was always something more to know. In my eyes, it was not my time to be playing in New York. There are plenty of people who have put in their time and know loads more – they should be playing.”
He began networking and connecting to people in the New York City realm, including folks at The Bunker like Bryan Kasenic and Mike Servito. Cudmore met Servito after making a comment on his Boiler Room set. A conversation started and a friendship blossomed.
“I went to see him play at TBA Brooklyn. That’s where I met him for the first time. There was some natural friendship chemistry between us and we stayed in touch. I went to see him play at the Bunker and Out Hotel. And soon hanging every few weeks turned to texting, meeting up after work for a margarita, getting dinner. Our relationship started and remains to be just because we get each other,” he says.
“We had similar problems with our family growing up about being gay. We were both searching for this kind of escape. Our friendship grew stronger because we could talk/share music but Mike was more like an older brother to me. He has shown me a lot, and how to be an adult.” With similar taste in music they would have lengthy email chains of tracks sent back and forth. Cudmore eventually introduced Servito to his boyfriend Jordan and Chris Miller (aka Gunnar Haslam). Miller, Servito and Cudmore eventually went on to start performing together as Hot Mix. He says, “Just three boys sharing stories, laughing about music – we had each other’s backs. I started regularly attending The Bunker probably six months into my friendship with Mike. I eventually met Bryan and the extended Bunker family. He probably wondered who was this kid Mike kept putting on the list.” Cudmore’s introduction to the Bunker were post-Public Assembly days, when parties were being held at Output.
“The Bunker family is made up almost entirely of Midwest expats with a love for Detroit techno. They all sort of welcomed me in. Just as I have seen a handful of new faces welcomed in after me. Having never had a family that supported me for me growing up, here in NYC I had that for the first time, and I could be myself. Everyone had my back and I could be myself. I partied and met people and learned about more and more music along the way.” – JUSTIN CUDMORE
While living in New York City he continues to work on music, perform and push forward with the “Bushwick hustle” by picking up any occasional part-time job to make money on the side. New York, he says, “is an expensive city for an artist. But also all these friendships and opportunities would not have happened if I wasn’t here. I also wasn’t searching them out. I was just following my interests.”
Cudmore was fiddling around with production, sending little demos to Servito for constructive criticism with no real guided intention toward a certain label. “Sometimes he’d give some feedback, other times he’d say what he liked. But I wasn’t trying to make things for him or any label in particular so I just followed my own ear. One time I was playing with this acid line and sample and jammed this track together.” He sent the demo over to Servito. “Unlike other times, he reacted immediately and freaked out. He insisted to have the WAV so he could play it that weekend at Bunker. That was actually the first time Mike used a CDJ – before that he was always vinyl only. The track went over well.”
A huge opportunity came to fruition for Cudmore after Servito dropped that track during a Honey Soundsystem party in Folsom, Calif. Soon thereafter the label members made their way to NYC to chat with him about “Crystal”. A completely inspired Servito and Cudmore started working on a remix together. “We had never thought about working on music together before but it seemed natural – so we sat down and me as his engineer sort of built what he had in mind. The inclusion of Chris was a no brainer,” Cudmore says. “He was our boy and our DJ partner. He was of course extremely happy to contribute a remix. The whole package came together really naturally and nothing about it was forced. I think that’s why it was the success it was. It made sense on that label and came out right before the summer. Timing was on our side.”
Since the track’s official release on HNYTRX in 2016, he has had subsequent releases on The Bunker as well as Interdimensional Transmissions for the Acid Series project. Performing throughout numerous venues in New York City, he has also been booked at TV Lounge and Tangent Gallery in Detroit, Hot Mass in Pittsburgh, and Spybar in Chicago. Abroad he has played at Berlin’s ://about blank, as well as in Barcelona and Ireland. He says he can feel that he’s on the scene’s radar, but at heart he will always cherish being an anonymous rave soul among a crowd of so many others still seeking the comfort he has always been on a mission to find.
“It’s cool but I feel this constant need to prove myself over and over every weekend. Mike says this won’t stop and he still does it to this day. But there is something about just being that kid in the background of the party dancing in the fog that I miss,” he says. “Now I’d be crazy to sit here and say I wish I still had a full time job and didn’t get to do music full time. I feel very fortunate to be where I am and not have to get another job after I was let go last fall. In a way I guess this was my dream and I didn’t know it yet. I feel like life kind of unfolded this path for me and all I was doing was following my interests and staying close to my friends.
“Every weekend I play I learn some things and also realize how much more there is to learn. It can be intimidating to be affiliated with such giants like Mike, The Bunker, Derek [Plaslaiko], IT Detroit. I always think that if I was some kid on the outside I’d be like, ‘Who is this kid anyway?’ I’ve always had some confidence issues and it’s taken people like my neighbor or people like Mike to pull me out of my shell. Mike is truly my mentor and best friend. He shaped me into who I am today. Maybe he saw something in me way back when we first met and groomed me for this. I just hope that everything continues to be fun and I can still have those moments lost on the dancefloor.”
Attendees of Sustain – Release will be able to catch Cudmore play a sunny poolside setting next weekend. His fourth record is currently in the works and has had two mixes recently released from TRUANTS and also through Is Burning with Servito.
“The list of things ahead of me seems daunting. Every weekend is like a new challenge. But would I rather be sitting in my office working on something I don’t believe in? No way.”
An abandoned Detroit building with an infamous leaky roof. Twelve hours of sonic exploration and psychological liberation. Interdimensional Transmissions. Ten years ago, No Way Back became a party like no other that would last throughout the years, constantly evolving yet the unchanging threads have maintained that inexplicable enchantment.
Detroit native Brendan M. Gillen, otherwise known as BMG, founded Interdimensional Transmissions in 1994. Just a few years later Erika Sherman joined as conspirator. With years worth of history and memories, they celebrate their 10th anniversary during Movement Festival in Detroit this weekend (Saturday, May 27 – Monday, May 29) with three very special events. Coined “313: Return To The Source” the name draws parallels of each unique party, and how as a whole they create a story arc between them.
Gillen says, “My original inspiration for the Return to the Source name comes from the Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia “Exit 23” where they sample Timothy Leary saying ‘Return to the Source.’ That song still gives me chills. I heard it when it was new – it just became part of my brain, so when we were trying to name the whole weekend, it just popped in and I felt like it really said it. This is a chance to do just that, through carefully curated events, stellar sound, venue transforming decorations and a strong connection with music. It’s important to do this ritual at least once a year, it ultimately leaves you feeling inspired and refreshed. And in today’s insane news cycle, we need this reset more than ever.”
But first, let’s start at the beginning. A party’s growing years.
No Way Back came to fruition as a means of reigniting the local Detroit scene after a lull at the turn of the millennium. Derek Plaslaiko received a call from Gillen with an idea to throw a 12-hour party to get feet moving and reawaken the scene.
“We kinda just discussed what we thought was needed at the time in Detroit’s somewhat stagnant state. Don’t get me wrong, there were good things going on. But, we kinda longed for the old days when a great party was just 3-4 DJs in a dark room with a punishing sound system. There was definitely a party in mind to model it after: Hardware. That was a small set of parties that Dean Major (Syst3m) put together circa ‘95-96 in an old hardware store up on Jefferson near Belle Isle,” Plaslaiko says. “For me, it defined exactly what I felt an amazing party was. I’m guessing it was about 150-200 people maximum, completely losing their shit in just a simple sweatbox. Things were often like this in Detroit. While other cities were focused on making their parties bigger and brighter, Detroit just seemed to find a pure formula that worked perfectly for us. I hold those times extremely precious, and I think all of the No Way Back crew agreed.”
Plaslaiko continues, “Eventually he told me he thought he had a perfect space for it (he was right!) and Erika, Patrick and Brendan started putting it together. At this time, Erika wasn’t DJing and Servito wasn’t in the mix yet. So, the first one was just Carlos, Patrick, Brendan and myself. The party was perfect! Even with the rain/mud and sweat dripping from the ceiling, the party was incredible. Brendan, Erika, Amber and Patrick all did a phenomenal job of transforming that space into what I remembered best about Hardware.”
The location was an abandoned bank near the Woodbridge Historic District. Regardless of the dilapidated structure, the crew worked together to launch the first ever No Way Back. Gillen paints an image of what the party was like, the space itself and how in just a matter of 12 hours, something special was created.
“Fucking crappy building. It was so bad. We had to bring in a giant jet engine heater and porta johns, there was no running water. The roof shocked up and leaked all night, as the snow melted from the dancer’s heat. Maybe at it’s peak it was around 150-200 people. The party felt magic, I can’t describe it. We had imagined people needed this, and it turns out it was even more profound than we had thought. So many original ravers and promoters came through. A highlight was Dean Major, of Syst3m, volunteered to run the door for us, himself a major inspiration for these kind of parties. His Hardware parties were the last real underground thing in Detroit of the original rave era. This party was a nod to the rave, taking inspiration from that Detroit outlaw vibe, but advancing the music with much finer curation, insanely deep selectors. Many cycles of life experienced in one party, and the energy was just so amazing. We were supposed to end by noon, but went until 5 in the afternoon. Derek ended up running through the wall. It was crazy. It was so special that we wanted to share it with more people, it was what we wanted to show visitors about Detroit. What they couldn’t get anywhere else.”
A rekindling of the grassroots, underground world that the sound was born in, this party served as a reminder. The name deriving from the classic acid track by Adonis perfectly reflects the raw and unstoppable energy the party invokes. Plaslaiko, BMG, Patrick Russell, and Carlos Suffront played records that night into the early afternoon.
“Well, I was in attendance at the inaugural party, and these stories have been told many times…the leaky roof, Derek’s head going through the wall, etc. I had actually gone home and then I got a call around 9 in the morning from a friend who said the party was still going, so of course I gripped a cup of coffee and went back until the end,” says Israel Vines, who records for IT’s sister label Eye Teeth. “That was probably the first time I ever properly met Brendan, but I already knew the rest of the bunch. I do remember thinking early on in the night that this is what an underground party should be. And I must say that last year’s NWB was one of the most intense and immersive party experiences that I’ve ever witnessed. I’m really looking forward to the whole weekend at Tangent once again this year.
The following year the 12-hour party moved to the Atlas Building, this time as an after party during DEMF weekend. A few No Way Back events, including this one, were split-structured with Too Far Gone lasting from 9 p.m. until 1 a.m. and then No Way Back until 9 a.m. the next morning. Too Far Gone, presented by Dethlab, was the segment of the night that had some room to expand beyond just heavy-hitting techno and acid records.
“‘Too Far Gone…’ was a way to have a more free-form, open-minded exploration through music. It’s totally another kind of DJing. It didn’t have be dance floor, dark room, totally lost in it stuff – just appropriate for the time and context, before the main event of No Way Back. Music that represented our wider view on music, and a place for people to be before the party that wasn’t somewhere else,” Gillen says.
Added to the bill was Detroit native Mike Servito, now based in New York City where he also holds residency for The Bunker parties. From this grew a long lasting love affair between Servito and IT, as he played nearly every year following.
“My favorite No Way Back memory is the very first one I played in 2008 during Movement at the Atlas Building on Gratiot. I have such vivid memories about that late night into morning,” he says. “I remember the energy and that space and the excitement. I played an extra hour because someone was having a little too much fun (nudge nudge Plaslaiko!)”
For the next few years, No Way Back nestled into the Bohemian National House, a historic structure built in 1914 by the Bohemian Society on Tillman Street. By 1960 it transformed into a Lithuanian Cultural Center, and then in 1996 was sold and redesigned to be a multi-cultural performance and art space.
“The space initially was magical. Off the beaten path, in a neighborhood, kind of looked like a school from the outside. It’s a building from the 1900s that had been created as a space for people from Bohemia,” Gillen says.
The “Bo House” had a controversial foundation. John Sinclair, co-founder of the White Panther Party (a far-left anti-racist white American political collective) previously resided there and would be constantly bothered by the CIA after a political bombing in the ‘60s. Due to this the space became a target for additional surveillance, which would play into the transgression of the location a couple years later.
“This venue had the most renegade feeling of them all, even of the first No Way Back in the leaky bank. The building itself was a maze of rooms and corridors, with many different spaces contained inside – it had several levels, with many staircases and hallways and rooms,” Sherman says. “Over the years, I experienced so much different music there – bands performing on a stage, jazz musicians moving around the room, a disco party with an elevated dance floor installed for the night. For the parties we threw there, it was possible to create completely unique experiences for each party by using different rooms, dividing or orienting rooms differently – even using rooms that had never been used before, or creating new pathways and connections between spaces.”
Recorded live that night was Plaslaiko’s 4:30-6 a.m. set. Looking back over the past decade, he shares with Sequencer his favorite No Way Back memories over the years.
“Jesus, where do I start!? I guess everything about the first one would be the first favorite moment. Brendan at the one where Serge From Clone played (who was also incredible). There was also the time Traxx jumped on near the end and tagged a bit with Carlos. That was pretty mental. I guess I sorta think of every NWB as a continuation from the previous one. The party generally feels the same, but different records are playing. As a whole, I’ve always felt like we are all playing one long set together at each one so it’s rare when any particular set stands out for me. We are all attempting to play our absolute best because we know whoever is playing before and after our sets are in the exact same mindset. As I stated in my previous answer, this party isn’t for everyone. But, if you like crazy acid freakout records, you’re gonna hear all of us playing our favorites and you’ll likely go home happy and hopefully saying “that was my favorite No Way Back yet!”
The following year No Way Back took place within another area of the Bo House. Gillen says, “Our new space was the Ukrainian room. It’s hard to fully describe, because the place felt anarchic, I think that was the magic – it felt outlaw.” IT also brought back the Too Far Gone…No Way Back format that year, allowing the 12-hour party to diverge in energy as the sounds and sunlight shifted.
“No Way Back has a specific vision, but we enjoy so much more music than what fits it. Too Far Gone let us open up and explore different types of music by having bands play and inviting people to play non-techno sets, starting early and building the vibe before transitioning the room to NWB. It let us explore music within the confines of a single room,” Sherman says.
That year the venue’s longevity came to an end. Gillen recounts, “The owner started to focus on other projects, neglecting to renew his licenses, or to protect the building from mold, and in 2011 a special task force came right at the end of Carlos, Scott Zacharias and Sal Principato tagging as the Too Far Gone portion of the program was coming to an end. They had the crowd divide into two lines, one for people over 21, one for people under. Only one line formed, the youngest person was 23. Then they asked us if we had heaters. CCWs? The crowd had no idea what they were asking and spontaneously laughed when they finally asked us if we had guns. They threatened the sound guys with impounding all their gear if they had to come back. They failed their mission and were disbanded over wasting so much resources over nothing, but we couldn’t do our music safely there again. Rare moments like that never last, but it sure was special.”
A pivotal moment for future No Way Back events, and other parties thrown by IT, safe locations became paramount.
“The prime thing to us is that people be safe. I don’t want the people to have to deal with police, task forces, any of that. The place can’t have mold, toxic waste, all these things in old Detroit warehouses that could alter your health and change your life for the worse,” he says. “The place has to be legal, clean and safe. Tangent has one of the only 24-hour occupancy licenses in Detroit; it’s a very rare license. We even added another fire exit off the main No Way Back room this year, so people can get outside easier.”
From the Bo House, IT made their way deeper into Downtown Detroit to 1515 Broadway.
1515 Broadway was previously known as the Music Institute. Inspired by Chicago, the club was developed by Chez Damier, Alton Miller and George Baker. Sparking the second-wave of the city’s techno producers and performers it served as a unifying place for Detroit’s legendary DJs Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson among pioneers Eddie Fowlkes and Blake Baxter.
“I first met the place when I went to the Music Institute as a teenager. I had seen Derrick May annihilate the universe in that room in a way I wish he still did. I want everyone to experience that. The place was small, with a floor made of marble and terra-cotta. They had a few stage risers for shows that we would put out for a partially wooden dance floor, so the DJs and the dancers could be on the same level. It was really dark in there and you couldn’t see what was in front of you, barely. You entered off the street, we had a zone where you could buy records and shirts and buy a wristband to get in,” Gillen says. “That was the entrance, the exit was through the same door, but on the other side of a stairwell that went upstairs, and there they sold juices and coffees and fresh organic food. From either side you could walk into the dance room, which was a hot box. On the left of the DJ you could walk back to the bathrooms and the outside alleyway. The venue was already under siege by investors who were trying to buy the whole block. We had to hire a guard for the back door to explain to people where not to stand in the alley – because the building next door that was owned by a circuit court judge was experiencing ‘demolition by neglect’ – bricks would occasionally fall off of it.”
In addition to a new venue, New York City’s The Bunker began officially working alongside Interdimensional Transmissions to put on No Way Back. This collaboration came to fruition with the connecting link of Plaslaiko. Gillen explains, “Derek had moved to NYC and was The Bunker resident, and introduced me to Bryan Kasenic. I checked out Bryan’s taste in music and it was deep and we really connected on so many levels, we love so much of the same things, that it just felt natural. They had done some other weekend things at Oslo earlier and decided that No Way Back was what they wanted to be part of in Detroit, so we discussed it and it grew naturally from there.”
Kasenic says, “Despite the lineup being almost exactly the same every year, each edition of NWB is it’s own beast, and there are so many great memories attached to each one. I think that’s why people keep coming back for more every year, it always delivers, and is a unique event that can’t really be re-created any other place and time than Memorial Day Weekend in Detroit!”
“One of the defining things for me about NWB at 1515 Broadway was the small size of the room, it would be packed wall-to-wall with people – but not by cramming in like sardines at a rock venue. People were there to dance, so there was room for dancing and expression. The DJ booth was on the same level as the crowd, so you were connected right to the people and their energy, the vibe was a two-way street…the room had a very special, super tangible feeling when it was really going off.” – ERIKA
Carlos’ set was released under IT’s podcasts. The description of the mix paints a perfect picture. “Come experience the edge of your consciousness in distorted rhythms and dirty acid. Here is Carlos Souffront playing the prized 4:30 AM slot at No Way Back At All, Sunday 5/26/13 at 1515 Broadway during the Movement weekend, where Carlos fulfilled the promise of his legendary ‘truth in advertising’ set at the original leaky warehouse No Way Back. Vinyl artifacts intact, set includes one record that was stepped on at the first NWB. Set begins with Carlos mixing in the AFX’s ‘Elephant Song’ over BMG playing the unreleased Shake Remix of Alpha 606.”
Resident Advisor chose Mike Servito’s 2014 No Way Back set as Mix of the Year, which not only gave the party serious exposure but also helped fuel Servito’s career as a DJ.
“2014 was the last year the party took place at 1515 Broadway before it moved to Tangent Gallery. My friend Mike Servito’s set has become rather infamous from that evening. He smashed it. Mike came swinging with new records stitched together in a way only he can do. That was a pretty special moment! Things really took off for him after that.” – JUSTIN CUDMORE
Servito shares his reflections of that night. “All I can really remember about that party was that it was maybe one of the hottest on record, and by hot I mean warm. I can’t believe no one died, seriously. Orphx had just finished and they were so phenomenal. The room was waiting for more. No pressure there. I think I was ready to have a good time. I had specific records that I wanted to play and I think I managed to get it all in and deliver what I wanted to. It’s still a surprise to me that RA recognized that mix as online mix of the year. It was such an honor and a launching point for me! That night and that mix was validation not only for me, but for IT and The Bunker family; that we can doing things our way and succeed.”
Patrick Russell also reflects on that night as one of his favorites. “It’s difficult to pick one favorite moment from all the years, but I’d say the impromptu three-hour tag set with Carlos Souffront in 2014 is right up there,” he says. “None of it was planned whatsoever, it just happened in the moment. Packed, hot, and completely unhinged, I think that night as a whole really made a statement and set the bar for following years. Completely unforgettable!”
As interest grew for No Way Back, so did the need for a bigger space. Tangent Gallery became the new home for Interdimensional Transmission’s annual party. Among the varying transformations, even the decorations have had their own evolutionary process and have become an iconic visual for underground techno heads.
Gillen says, “Before even No Way Back, Amber [Gillen] has always been about creating fascinating environments. I will take this story back to Syst3m, who we threw the Love From Beyond party with in 1998, and Amber and Dean Major collaborated on the Burns Room at St. Andrews Hall. She brought this projector and a series of images, and Dean was so inspired by her aesthetic and her Infinite Dimensions crew that he created this clear plastic shell to the room that she could project on – it was an amazing collaboration.”
Beyond the doors of the Ballroom techno dungeon you become enclosed in womb-like darkness. Large parachutes stretch above with simple (but at times disorienting) laser projections. Military netting drapes throughout the room which sends you to another time and place and behind the DJ stretches the signature hand, glowing like a signal for your surrender. The room allows you to expose the deepest parts of your mind. Memories might rapidly make their way into your conscious vision. You start to deal with it. You have to listen to it. With simple but well-thought out decoration, a box with a door becomes something else.
Gillen explains, “At first the parachutes and netting were a nod to Syst3m and to Tim Price’s decorations at Plastik Produkt parties. But as Amber interpreted these things, they came out in an all new way. She was already an accomplished artist, but with her collaboration with IT a whole new thing has developed with it’s own organic logic. What started as very male and military has morphed into a very mentally liberating environment. She says she thinks about it like a cave, something that surrounds you. I personally feel that when you walk into the space, you see visually and feel viscerally that this is safe space to let go and be yourself. You can actually see that we are committed to this, which makes it easier for the audience to commit and be able to fully connect to the music.”
With multiple rooms the crew was able to construct lineups fitting for two very different, but complimentary, environments. The notable Outer Space Room is where the party explores a more ambient, cooled out setting. Sherman delves deeper into what makes this room special in the scope of the party.
“It’s somewhat similar to Too Far Gone, but since we can run two rooms at once in this venue, we are no longer bound by a strict timeline. So it is an evolution of this idea, designed as a companion rather than a warm-up, allowing the presentation of an even wider range of music, while being tied even more closely to NWB as its true companion, in that the chill out room was separate from the dance room at the parties we experienced in ’90s,” she says. “And it’s a rare opportunity to hear this style of music be so enormous, through such an amazing and enveloping sound system. The focus is truly on the experience of losing yourself in music without dancing, being able to come and go from the intensity of the dance room without leaving the overall experience. The room itself undergoes a complete transformation over the course of the night, beginning as a chill out room but in the morning, it transitions into a slo-mo free-form dance party, as a comedown, not a warm-up.”
“Most of my NWB memories are not for public consumption, however I will say Carlos playing Current 93 in the Outer Space room last year was one of the highlights of my raving career. I was super into Current 93 in high school and kinda put them on the shelf when, all of a sudden, there is Carlos radically re-contextualizing them to make one of the trippiest things I’ve ever experienced. Oh, and my track ‘Ground Score’ was inspired by real life NWB events, but that is all I can say about that.” – JASEN LOVELAND
The Outer Space room happens simultaneously as music beats down in the main room of Tangent Gallery. While the main room will send you into a realm that you may have not experienced before, the gallery is a perfect space to grab a seat, take a deep breath and experience consciousness in an easier environment.
“Ambient, chill, experimental music means so much to us. People deserve a place to decompress, to just be, and explore inner and outer space. That is what this room is about. It turns out that now this is the only place in Detroit where you can experience this kind of environment all weekend,” Gillen says. “Everywhere else you are being constantly bombarded with the beat. It’s at the restaurants, it’s everywhere. So here is a place where you can let go and experience the music. Chill out rooms were always such a pleasure, having seen Mixmaster Morris play so many cool weird records, or Clark Warner or Carlos in the chill room was always a highlight. But to me this is an evolved version of that, with music perfect to let your mind go. It is the perfect contrast and foil to the main room at No Way Back, it really completes the whole vision of a place where you can really stretch out your brain.”
313: Return To The Source will consist of three events: “Berlin / Detroit – Building Bridges” – a night presented by IT and Tresor, the 10th year of No Way Back, and an evening with The Bunker. For those dedicated to completely immersing themselves at Tangent all weekend long, the IT crew has offered a Super Deluxe Weekend Pass which includes entry for all three parties as well as a tote bag and T-shirt from Interdimensional Transmissions among other gifts. Gillen says, “The Bunker is giving us CDs of their new Gunnar Haslam album, one of my favorite artists and people, and he’s on our Acid Series with Tin Man as Romans. Tresor has a few special gifts, the one I can tell you about is Drexciya’s ‘Harnessed The Storm’ album on CD. Drexciya is such a giant inspiration for me, I was very excited at the idea of sharing this music with more people.”
Berlin and Detroit have a long-standing symbiotic relationship when it comes to techno. Respectively shaped by their own unique destructive history, from the struggle grew communities that sought freedom and unification. After techno originated in 1980s Detroit, the German sister city became incredibly influential in the growth, support and reciprocation of the genre’s creation. Among rusty safe deposit boxes, Dimitri Hegemann helped make music history by opening Tresor Berlin in 1991 after the fall of the Wall. “Detroit and Berlin – both cities represent the most singular, resistant and significant correspondence in the history of electronic music – the Techno Alliance,” he says.
On Saturday, May 27 the second annual collaboration of IT and Tresor will pay homage to that history. The title “Building Bridges” discerns this party as an effort to provide a continual bond between the cities that once fed each other during the birth of techno, and have continued to do so since. Gillen says, “The event celebrates the storied history of Tresor and it’s place within Detroit, balancing the past with the future.”
Hegemann offered Sequencer some exclusive insight about the significance of this weekend’s collaborative event.
“In 1989, when Mr. Gorbatschow opened the Berlin Wall, he triggered off an incredible euphoria in Berlin. People and families that had been divided for over more than 30 years came together again. Following the fall of the wall, from 1990 until 1994, authorities had to deal with fundamental issues, such as bringing a socialistic system and a capitalistic system together on one ground, under one administration. Subcultural movements used those years of freedom.
Berlin became the platform for many artists to start an international career. The circumstances of this historic moment were perfect: incredible energy, no curfew, many empty spaces and the new sound that came from Detroit. Germans from both East and West loved this hard instrumental form of music, coming from a hard city. Techno became the soundtrack of the country’s reunification. Yes, the real reunification took place in different dark basements of Berlin.
The peaceful togetherness of people became a mythos that lured people from all over the world into Berlin’s nightlife, to discover a new quality of freedom and tolerance. It was the start of what came to be one of the largest youth movements in the world.
With time, an entire economy shaped around the nighttime, influencing many new startups, transport, accommodation. The spirit of Berlin was the natural incubator for the recently found sharing economy. A new capital was rebuilt based on humane rules. Techno also gave yet another new direction to Berlin: Culture and appreciation for the alternative arts. Today they call it creative industries.
After 25 years, Berlin’s techno-club Tresor continues to identify with Detroit’s techno music.
Berlin’s history has shown how the power of disused spaces mixed with Detroit’s original music has changed the image of a city entirely. Let’s then compare both cities and their creative advantages.
Learning from Detroit – Learning from Berlin.” – DIMITRI HEGEMANN, TRESOR
Last year, the Berlin club celebrated its 25th anniversary during the evening prior to No Way Back during Movement weekend. Tresor’s Diana Alagic had been attending the Detroit party for years. Completely inspired she told everyone she worked with how much it meant to her. Eventually IT and Tresor collaborated not only for the anniversary but have delved deeper, further strengthening the already established trans-Atlantic connection. A round table initiative titled “The Potential” has developed on behalf of the Detroit-Berlin Connection to help bring even more growth to Detroit’s music environment.
Gillen says, “When I first went to Berlin in the early ‘90s, you could feel this visceral connection to Detroit. Underground Resistance had become to their scene what Minor Threat had been to American punk. The kinship is so strong. It was time for the Cold War to end, and who wanted out of that more than Berlin and the forgotten people of Detroit?”
A live debut performance from Berlin’s Flowing and Detroit’s Terrence Dixon will serve as the proverbial bridge. Flowing is prominently known as one half of The Orb and a founding member of 3MB with Moritz von Oswald. In the ballroom you will find an opening set from Silent Servant, a live set by Civil Defence Programme, Christina Sealey of Orphx with a hybrid live/DJ set, and a closing set from L.I.E.S. founder Ron Morelli. Moving the floor in the gallery will be Claude Young, Marcellus Pittman, and Intergalactic Gary. “This year promises to be even more sonically adventurous and fearless,” Gillen hints. “Not to mention all the surprises that you’ll only find out about when you arrive at the party…”
Extending its hours for the 10 year celebration, No Way Back will start on Sunday, May 28 at 11 p.m. and will continue on until Monday at noon.
“No Way Back is special for so many reasons. What started off as a raw ‘back-to-basics’ party in 2007, a real anomaly in the post-minimal Detroit landscape at the time, has grown into a destination of like-minded folks from around the world. Seeing the love, devotion, and energy the audience brings to this party makes my heart swell every year. For me personally, it’s where the IT family gets together to present something sonically unique; we get away with playing some really out-there stuff, music we wouldn’t dare play any other time, and yet people go nuts and love every minute. They just…get it. The party is a true symbiotic relationship, and I feel deeply honored to play for that crowd.” – PATRICK RUSSELL
Sounds from the usual suspects will be heard throughout the caverns of Tangent Gallery: Erika, BMG, Derek Plaslaiko, Carlos Souffront, Mike Servito, Bryan Kasenic, and Scott Zacharias. There will be a special lineup for the Outer Space Room, an unannounced guest, in addition to a live set from Outer Space (John Elliott and Drew Veres), as well as Grant Aaron.
A man who has been influential since the party’s inception, Plaslaiko expands on how he has seen No Way Back change over the past decade. “Well, it’s definitely gotten bigger! The first NWB probably had around 100 people come through the whole night? Maybe more, maybe less… I’m really bad when it comes to numbers for these things. When we started doing them during the festival, we weren’t concerned with getting tons of people there because the spaces used couldn’t necessarily hold tons of people anyhow. This party wasn’t for everyone, and we knew it. So, we started making sure NWB was thrown on Sunday because that’s when the boat party would normally take place. I guess we felt like anyone who might come to NWB and then complain about it would probably prefer being on a boat rather than a dark, dirty and sweaty party on the outskirts of downtown (when it was at the Bo House). It was all about quality, not quantity. It still is, but it’s gotten way bigger than I think any of us possibly imagined. I attribute that to the right people coming over the years, and then they in turn invited the right people for the next year and so on. It’s been amazing to watch, and we are all extremely proud of it.”
Wrapping up the marathon weekend will be the second annual presentation of The Bunker during Movement on Monday, May 29. Although the full lineup will be announced May 28, it’s already pre-loaded with Chicago’s Hugo Ball co-founder Eris Drew, Antenes, Israel Vines, Hot Mix (comprised by Servito, Cudmore, and Haslam) as well as a surprise international guest closing each room.
“I’m part of the extended [Interdimensional Transmissions] family, as it were. We’re all folks from the same era of Midwest techno, particularly the Detroit scene – so there is a particular background that binds the crew, but everyone has their own take on things, which is what I think makes this group a special one.” – ISRAEL VINES
Tweaked to be geared for the energy and context of Monday night, Gillen says one room during the party at Tangent will mirror the classic second room at a typical Bunker party. The Ballroom will have “echoes of the highlights that you would experience in the main rooms of their parties, again altered for this context, and a little more personal and fun – it’s Monday night!” he continues.
Although IT and The Bunker have worked so intimately for No Way Back itself, there is something particularly special about the dedicated Bunker night at Tangent. With many people gone home after the conclusion of the festival the floor is more intimate, elevated and lucid.
“No Way Back could only ever be on Sunday night. Saturday night people are still nervous, they want to achieve something, goals of what they imagined they would do in Detroit during the festival. On Sunday, people have invariably experienced something incredible and now are just in the groove. The Sunday night energy is what makes No Way Back so special. Monday has another energy altogether. People are exhausted but still up for it, the music now has another meaning,” Gillen says. “The whole night starts strong, so you can get there early and be already seeing headliners and if you need to crash early, you will have experienced something special, or maybe the music and the people will provide all the energy and motivation you need to make it through the closers’ sets. I remember seeing Voices from the Lake one year at a Monday of Movement Bunker and thinking I would just go check it out and becoming so captivated and excited for the music that I stayed to the end.”
He says he hopes that The Bunker party will resonate with more people and perhaps this can be an event to be held every year to come.
Interdimensional Transmission’s label has been picking up creative momentum with a project that will be unfolding most likely over the next year. Several records will be released for the Acid Series, each production drawing upon personal inspiration from the evocative energy of No Way Back.
“I began the project last summer after I got so excited by so many demos I was receiving. Anyone who runs a label knows how rare that is. I had been thinking about a way to celebrate there being 10 years of No Way Back and this record series seemed like the perfect way to do that,” Gillen says. “It was a chance for the ideas to come together, for there to be a series of music on IT that directly communicated the sound of No Way Back. The series will last until all the records come out, it may take until next year’s No Way Back because there are so many great ones (all so different from each other) to come.”
The Acid Series will include productions from Tin Man and Ectomorph, BMG and Derek Plaslaiko, Jordan Zawideh, Romans (Tin Man and Gunnar Haslam) and Dona. All of which will be packaged in a special sleeve adorned with a design inspired by the iconic decorations of the party itself. The first two records come from Jasen Loveland and Justin Cudmore and will be available at the merch booths of all three parties.
“NWB is not a party for the faint of heart. You will be uncomfortable. Amber manages to turn the space into a predatory jellyfish. It gets hot. People turn into animals. You can’t get away from the sound system. It gets into your mind. This was what I wanted to try to capture in the EP. The paranoia, the claustrophobia and even the fear that grips you when you are at a party that is too much for you.” – JASEN LOVELAND
Los Angeles-based Acid Camp producer Loveland kicks the series off with his debut recording. “I’m from Chicago and cut my teeth raving in the Midwest during the ‘90s. This record amounts to my raving resume. It’s what I’m about. Each track is stripped to its bare essentials, using only a couple pieces of gear. No superfluous bullshit. Intentionally demented, the tunes aren’t meant to be light-hearted party bangers or even playable outside of a NWB context. Music to embrace The Void to.”
Originally from Illinois and now based in Brooklyn, Cudmore lays down productions for Volume 2 of the Acid Series. The Bunker resident had his debut release on Honey Soundsystem Records in 2016, shortly after Gillen asked him to contribute a record for this series. With instruction from Gillen to “make it sound like No Way Back,” Cudmore says he had two months to produce the four-track record. He continues, “I tried to keep my point of view, but try something a little tougher, headier, bass-heavy. ‘Sleazy’ is the word BMG uses most often to describe No Way Back, so I tried to approach the tracks from that angle.”
Gillen explains, “The idea to represent the sound of No Way Back as a series of records was inherently absurd, we know we can’t do every aspect of the sound, but in a record art kind of way, this communicates something. In this kind of music, there is way through releases that we communicate ideas all around the world, you might connect with something and never meet the person, but still know so much about them. The series starts with artists I met in the crowd at No Way Back. They were inspired by the feel and sound of the parties and started sharing unreleased songs with me.”
With the commencement of this 10 year celebration, let us embrace the expansion of time. Let us reunite together on the dance floor as we share laughter and joy. May we heal together. Embrace the wounds from our past and relish in the beauty of a bright future. Return we shall to our roots. A return to the dark underground of which we were born in. Let us return to the beginning. Return to the source.
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!”
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.
Detroit native Mike Servito needed a clear slate when he decided to move to New York City. Inspired at an early age he would tune into The Wizard, Jeff Mills’ nomenclature while on air for Detroit’s WJLB. Servito debuted in 1995 and continued to build his repertoire throughout the years, establishing a reputation that incites early feelings of house and techno roots.
Starting with the Poorboy parties, he then became an originator of Detroit’s decade-spanning party Dorkwave. Branching off with DJNathan Rapport they developed SASS, a popular monthly queer party. Servito has blown minds playing the beloved No Way Back parties, hosted by Interdimensional Transmissions, during Movement (Detroit Electronic Music Festival). Resident Advisor named his 2014 set as mix of the year and the publication commented, “His headsy but party-rocking selections are ceaselessly flawless, his quick and cut-happy mixing style is a riot, but perhaps the real winning ingredient is the pacing and programming.” Additionally, he holds residency under record label Ghostly’s UNTITLED and is represented by Beyond Booking in North America and Odd Fantastic in Europe.
His residency with The Bunker is what really got the gears in motion, although he says “I spent the first year in New York detached and quickly becoming disillusioned by the vanity of the city. I think when you leave a city for another, it seems like a fresh start but it was isolating and depressing.” Luckily, the spark reignited in 2012 when Bryan Kasenic asked him to become an official resident of The Bunker, a party based in Brooklyn, NYC.
Servito says, “That was the affirmation. I was having a good run with Movement in Detroit doing No Way Back and a few Bunker events prior to my residency. I was playing really solid sets and then it escalated to this point of wanting to play more and more. Bryan asking me to become a resident reignited the spark. It came out of left field honestly and I am so glad it happened. It’s pushed me and driven me to become a better, more focused DJ.”
“I feel super lucky to have come into my own over the past few years. I would’ve never foreseen this outcome, getting gigs and traveling as much as I am right now. I know I’m in a really good place with my Bunker family: Bryan, Seze, Derek, Eric, and all our extended family,” he continued. “It’s really important to make those connections as friends and as colleagues. There is a mutual respect. I want to do my best for The Bunker and I know they want me to succeed.”
Inspiration derives from so many places for an artist and Servito constantly nods at his fellow influences like Mike Huckaby, Derrick Carter, Derek Plaslaiko, Richie Hawtin, Derrick May, and Theo Parrish to name a few. However, inspiration may be found beyond the realm of the art form we work in, often reflecting something significant. Servito has been finding meaning through dreams and similar to his classic way of performing, he gains creativity through looking back on what was to create something new.
“I’ve been having dreams about my youth a lot lately. Sometimes lucid, sometimes not. I don’t know what that means but, I guess I am inspired by my youth currently. But not in a retro sort of way. I really enjoyed my freedom as a kid, exploring and learning about new music and art and discovering things in a way that we don’t necessarily do present day,” he says. “I find inspiration in my dreams, reading about art I enjoy, watching old film clips and videos, old fashion-related things. I find inspiration in the past a lot. I love a good reference point.”
The artist’s vinyl collection is heavy weight, and with such an extensive library he maintains flow with track selections to feed an ultimately seamless set.
When it comes to selection Servito doesn’t think of classic versus modern productions. “I think about how this track fits with this track. How this hi-hat sounds over this bassline. It’s really interesting to be playing music from 1988 with music from 2015. It’s about connecting the dots, but, it’s also about blurring the lines too. I have a thing for cohesiveness. I think the newer generation throws that out the window completely and that’s fine. But, I need to stay locked into my groove. I don’t want to jump from 125 BPM to 140. That’s just not my style.”
Servito chooses his tracks based on feeling. “I know it when I hear it. There is an excitement that occurs when I hear a bassline or a drum kick or a really good sample. I am just well aware of what kinds of sounds I like. It’s basically whatever moves me and what I want to dance to. Those are the biggest factors. Would I personally wanna dance to this track? Is this going to make me lose it?! Those are the prerequisites to enter my bag.”
With a steady uptake of records he says “it’s important to keep things changing. I have my staples, the ones that I play a lot. It just depends. I’m always putting things in and out of rotation. I try to buy new records at least once a week. I have a problem. It’s a big vice for me.” Swinging between house and techno he curates a set and pulls records appropriate for all aspects of the party.
“I think that’s important. Making sure you are pulling the right music. You don’t want to be playing deep house records if you’re opening for Silent Servant, or you don’t want to play too aggressive when you are opening for Kerri Chandler. You have to be aware.”
During a set there is so much stimulation: the lights, the crowd, each person reacting to the music on their own, yet the whole space is simultaneously emitting a general feeling. The Sequencer asked Servito about his headspace during a set. Does it become lifted into a meditative state, or perhaps to maintain such fluidity of motion does he require meticulous and mechanical focus?
“I like this question. There’s definitely a lot going on. There are so many elements all at once. I’ve always been a person who is easily distracted. I think being focused and being insanely meticulous leads to a meditative state when I am playing. There’s definitely a zone state that is acquired while I play and it needs to happen. I’m at my best uninterrupted,” he says.
An uninterrupted state is not a constant for a performing DJ. Continuing on, he discussed this as a major issue of depiction that is very prevalent for performers in the scene.
“I am not a hype man. I’m a DJ. I think people have to realize that there is some technique and effort to what we are doing. I think that it’s undervalued. You would never interrupt someone playing the piano or the drums to tell him those notes sound nice while they are playing. It’s the same idea. I wonder when people will take that into consideration. It is tremendous work to create this experience and environment. I find it funny that people always want to talk to me while I am mixing. I seriously don’t get it. I’m sure people think I am a bit of a diva, but I am a perfectionist. I want things to go well 110% full on. That requires all my attention to the work. It’s always about the details.” – MIKE SERVITO
For an international DJ, parties from New York City to Berlin more or less have an established crowd. Although with the heart of the same animal, those major scenes beat differently than those tucked away in smaller cities. Yet these lesser populated places are receiving rave reviews from high-caliber artists. Norm Talley, Sassmouth, Black Madonna and Shawn Rudiman have all played Signal > Noise parties in Rochester, N.Y. and speak well of it. What is it about these places that evokes such excitement?
From Servito’s perspective he says, “I think an environment in which it is more intimate is preferred. You are more likely to have everyone’s undivided attention. You know everyone is there for you. The allure is quality programming and a quality crowd. When it’s intimate, you know everyone is there for the same exact reason. There is just a greater, direct connection with artist and audience. You lose some of that when you are playing these 4-5 thousand [or more] capacity events. Everyone needs an escape so it’s really important that more cities — such as Rochester — do these kinds of events with extended sets. You get the full experience. Not just a sample.”
The spotlighted artist will be making his way to Rochester for the next Signal > Noise installation, to be held on Saturday, Dec. 12 at 45 Euclid in Rochester, N.Y. His message for all those making their way to the ROC: “GONNA MAKE YOU JACK. ;)”
Find more information on the Facebook event page.