Wax Runoff: Detroit Classics [KMS 008] [MS 002] [M-012]
It’s mid May and that can only mean a few things. Kids are excited about ending the school year, gardeners are preparing to watch their seeds bloom, and techno heads are gearing up for their annual pilgrimage to the mecca of electronic music.
Each year thousands of people descend upon the Motor City to take part in Movement, formerly known as the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. The party will rage on in the streets of Detroit and within the scenic riverside Hart Plaza from Friday night until Tuesday morning this Memorial Day weekend. We here at Sequencer thought it was appropriate to have a special Wax Runoff series for the weeks leading up to reflect that. This week’s will showcase the early Detroit labels and records that pushed the city to the legendary regard it now holds.
Intercity’s Groovin’ Without A Doubt [KMS 008] in 1987 set a new bar for production and style during a time when most electronic music producers were still focused on electro styles. The deep rolling bass and compressed drum machine claps began captivating club dwellers and after party know-it-alls rapidly. Kevin Saunderson was exploring new four-on-the-floor rhythms at higher tempos and the reaction from crowds was undeniable. Whereas Adonis was impressing more hip and trendy dance music lovers in Chicago via the legendary Trax imprint, the Detroit boys were hard at work crafting grittier, more rigid and raw tunes that aesthetically reflected the city’s reputation as a working class production powerhouse. These early KMS releases would cement Kevin Saunderson in the techno hall of fame, where he’s been ever since.
That same year of 1987, Transmat records released its second press from Rhythim Is Rhythim [MS 002] featuring the timeless title track “Nude Photo” by Derrick May. With frenzied bass blips and the same hard drum machine reliance as other innovative artists that shaped techno at the time, this track instantly became a frequent choice of all late night Detroit DJs. To this day, it’s rare to spend Memorial weekend in Detroit and not hear this tune, or one of the countless remixes and edits of it. And what’s particularly interesting is that on the flip side “The Dance” took off in Britain, where huge numbers of people that dwarfed the size of the Detroit scene at the time would go crazy for it at warehouse parties and outdoor field raves. It is absolutely one of the records that started a long and storied love affair between the U.K. and Detroit.
The following year in 1988, Metroplex was starting to stylistically catch up with other groundbreaking labels of the era. It was clear that fans of dance music were really responding to this new techno genre. A good friend of Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May – Juan Atkins – was well aware of the shifting trends and released Interference / Electronic [M-012] to create another incredibly influential 12”. There were quite a few versions circulating the city, but all of them featured “Interference” mixes 1 and 2. These two tracks were Detroit’s take on the acid sound that would become internationally known. A relatively inexpensive and disregarded Roland synth known as the 303 was given new application to create wildly slippery mid-range bass patterns that modulated over the course of a track. These acid tunes put dancefloors in a hypnotic state, with long playing times becoming a norm for the style. A recent recovery of the foundations of acid music in past years is a testament to how incredibly important these early Detroit compositions are.
The true beauty of the Detroit sound is rooted in the fact that these records are timeless. Good, solid techno music has not changed much in terms of definition. It is often hard to tell if curious techno bangers are the work of some savvy young producer or are old forgotten gems. While newer stuff may be more technically advanced, the whole idea of techno has never existed as something that aims to exist as a grand gesture. There has always been an infinitely larger focus on rhythms and grooves – the same rhythms of the factories and street life that dominate the city known for it’s most respectable work ethic. Anyone can dance to techno; anyone can become part of the family.
These records are hard to come by nowadays. The early presses of Detroit techno were plagued with shoddy vinyl quality, misprints, and pressing plant disasters. On Discogs, the sneering in-the-know record hoarders will charge at least $20-30, with some Metroplex and Transmat releases selling for hundreds. As with all old records though, there is the constant chance of coming past them in dollar bins at record stores nationwide, presenting an enjoyable and rewarding hunt for those who know.
So whether house, techno, or even newer genres are your thing, for this Memorial Day weekend enjoy yourself in Detroit and look after one another. Be a friend and welcome new people into your world with open arms in the spirit of the original Detroit scene that launched all this crazy music we enjoy so much. And perhaps most importantly, keep your ears peeled for the classic tunes we all love.
Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.