DETROIT HAS BEEN AN UNDISPUTED CENTER OF UNDERGROUND MUSIC FOR DECADES – FAR DETACHED FROM THE SHINING LIGHTS OF CHICAGO AND NEW YORK. THE UNIQUE FORMULA AND SOCIAL HISTORY OF DETROIT HAS MADE ITS MUSIC BECOME RECOGNIZABLE AND ICONIC OF A VOICE OF THE FORGOTTEN WORKING CLASS, AND ITS MUSICAL INFLUENCE HAS BEEN FELT ACROSS THE WORLD. IT HAS MADE SUCH A HUGE IMPACT ON MODERN MUSIC THAT WE MUST PAY HOMAGE TO THE MOTOR CITY, AND POSE THE QUESTION (IN THE TIMELESS WORDS OF MARVIN GAYE)….’WHATS GOING ON’?
MOTOWN RECORDS (Originally known as TAMLA RECORDS) – Founded in the late 50’s by auto plant worker Berry Gordy, this is truly one of the most influential record labels of all time. It put Detroit on the map as a cultural hub for R&B and African American talent through the 60’s to the 80’s, spanning three decades of hits. This is hardly surprising with legendary artists like Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Edwin Starr, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Ray Parker Jr. to name a few. Other Detroit based labels like HOT WAX RECORDS were created in 1968 by MOTOWN RECORDS, with the writing team of Holland, Dozier, and Holland. They are a key example of an offshoot label birthed by the greater parts of MOTOWN RECORDS, creating a new musical legacy in its own right. It also gives us an insight into the talent and commercial success of black artists throughout the Motown era, which is sadly littered with tales of exploitation – of record companies crushing the artists and exploiting black talent which unfortunately seems to be consistent in the history of the American music industry. You can see the culture and foundations of MOTOWN RECORDS evident in Detroit today. It’s more than an identity for some of the residents of Detroit – the residents you call ‘’The Funk Brothers’’ are responsible for more no.1 hits than The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Michael Jackson combined. They were the legendary studio band for MOTOWN RECORDS, and they created all the groove based hits that still fills the dancefloors all over the world today. You can check out their legacy in the link below.
STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN – full documentary
Through the disco revolution of the 70’s you had Detroit based artists such as Hamilton Bohannon (Stevie Wonder’s drummer) playing hits like ‘Foot Stompin Music’, while Donald Byrd & The Blackbyrds infused jazz with dance friendly elements, producing songs like ’Change (Makes You Wanna Hustle)’, all leading the way for Detroit’s next generation of artists.
DONALD BYRD – CHANGE (Makes You Wanna Hustle)
THE BELLEVILLE THREE – The title is one of the lesser known aliases of the pioneers of the of the modern techno scene, and yet these guys literally invented the genre and have stayed on top as respected artists since. They kicked things off as early as 1981 with the then titled Cybertron, and found moderate success under Juan Atkins’ label at the time. His DEEP SPACE record label sold 15,000 copies of ‘Cybertron – Alleys of your mind’, leading to the future releases of ‘Cosmic Cars’, and the genre defining ‘Clear’ before Cybertron split due to creative differences. Move forward to 1985 where Atkins founded the label METROPLEX, consisting of Juan Atkins (inventor of Techno), Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May – who collectively got the elusive title after going to school together at Belleville High School, near Detroit. METROPLEX would later find Blake Baxter and Eddie Fowlkes in the rosta of artists. These artists took their influence from Detroit’s legendary jazz, soul, and electro-funk scenes.
Prince, and Bootsy Collins were on the list of favourites and even European electronic artists such as Kraftwerk, Gary Numan & Depeche Mode have their place in defining the sound. The moulding of groove, funk, soul, and electro vibrations created an effect and sound so unique that artists today still recognize it as ‘The Detroit Sound’. Ironically, they never expected anything to come of their late night endeavours, or for the sound they created to leave the neighbourhoods where they gigged. The record that changed everything was ‘’Inner City (Atkins) – Big Fun’’ not just for its place in the UK top 10 charts in 1988, but also because it had the word ‘TECHNO’ across the record sleeve – creating the genre we know and love.
The sounds that defined the genre were machines like the Roland TR-808, Roland TB-303, the Korg M3, the Korg sequential Circuits Pro-1, and later the Roland 909. These artist and instruments paved the way for the next generation of Detroit musical royalty like Carl Craig, Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills, Kenny Larkin, Robert Hood and Scan-7. To get a proper education on the history of ‘’The Belleville Three’’ take a look at the link below.
DETROIT TECHNO – THE CREATION OF TECHNO MUSIC (HIGH TECH SOUL)
UNDERGROUND RESSISTANCE – Founders Mike Banks & Jeff Mills started the iconic label in the late 80’s in Detroit, Michigan.
The label has brought acts like Drexciya, Kenny Larkin, and Robert Hood to the surface – promoting political activism in the predominantly African American working class community that had been put to the economic grinder and left to rot by past president (and deflated leather balloon lookalike) Ronald Reagan.
The inner city crushing ethos of the ‘de-regulated, free-market Reagan-omics’ left the once worldwide hub for the car manufacturing industry in ruin, essentially abandoning the working class to the hands of poverty and cultural decline, essentially to benefit the American corporate interests. You could argue that this is the only environment that could have cultivated the rise of ‘Underground Resistance’, as they were, and still are, essentially an anti-austerity political movement and a futurist statement against the powers that be. To many people they conveyed a message of hope – the rise of self-awareness, not to be a victim of the state, but to create your own path away from the economics or the individual stereotypes that society dictates on you. This mentality mirrored the early hip-hop movement in Detroit and the cities active history with the civil rights movement. It’s not too hard to see the parallels with Detroit’s history and culture to our own in Glasgow, both have been past international giants of manufacturing and industry, both portside cities, both largely populated by a poor lower working class. Both have been left to the triceratops sized shit pile of social Darwinism, and both have had problems with drugs addictions amongst its people for decades. Most importantly, both have a massive appetite for ‘underground electronic music’, and this trend of underground techno seems to follow a certain social formula to have deep cultural roots.
You won’t find a booming techno scene where the sun shines on the wealthy. It could be interpreted as the audible feedback from a social underclass forgotten by an elite who cultivated disparity and forced them into the grip of austerity. The simple message conveyed is one of resistance.
YOU CAN CHECK OUT MIKE BANKS AT THE CLUB ON NOVEMBER 7TH AT THE CLUB…….check out the events page for details and ticket enquirers.
Words: Ryan Townley