Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect. Cultural liberation and musical innovation. Pyrotechnics, bottle service, bass drops, and molly.
Electronic dance music has been a vital force for more than three decades now, and has undergone transformation upon transformation as it has taken over the world. In this searching, lyrical account of dance music culture worldwide, Matthew Collin takes stock of its highest highs and lowest lows across its global trajectory. Through firsthand reportage and interviews with clubbers and DJs, Collin documents the itinerant musical form from its underground beginnings in New York, Chicago, and Detroit in the 1980s, to its explosions in Ibiza and Berlin, to today’s mainstream music scenes in new frontiers like Las Vegas, Shanghai, and Dubai. Collin shows how its dizzying array of genresfrom house, techno, and garage to drum and bass, dubstep, and psytrancehave given voice to locally specific struggles. For so many people in so many different places, electronic dance music has been caught up in the search for free cultural space: forming the soundtrack to liberation for South African youth after Apartheid; inspiring a psychedelic party culture in Israel; offering fleeting escape fromand at times intocorporatization in China; and even undergirding a veritable “independent republic” in a politically contested slice of the former Soviet Union.
Full of admiration for the possibilities the music has opened up all over the world, Collin also unflinchingly probes where this utopianism has fallen short, whether the culture maintains its liberating possibilities today, and where it might go in the future.
|Publisher:||University of Chicago Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Matthew Collin is a British journalist and the author of Altered State. He has served as an editor for i-D magazine and the Time Out website, and as a foreign correspondent for the BBC and Al Jazeera, and his articles have appeared in the Guardian, the Observer, Mixmag, and the Wire, among others.
Read an Excerpt
Techno Cities #1
WE PILE INTO THE VAN and pull out into the frostbitten afternoon, the raddled cityscape leering back at us like the crooked teeth of a voodoo skull. As we accelerate past the snowdrifts that line the pavements, a powerfully built young man in combat fatigues announces that today, he is to be our guide. 'I'm going to show you the real Detroit, the one that the tourists never see,' he booms in a stern preacher's voice.
Gesturing at various psychogeographical landmarks along the route, he delivers a parable about institutional racism, structural poverty, police violence and urban decay – a tale of curdled dreams that passes through the riots that set Detroit ablaze in 1967 and his own childhood experiences of the decline of this great city that gave the world automotive capitalism. The environment that shaped his music: techno.
His name is Mike Banks. 'Mad' Mike, he calls himself, but he's not at all crazy, just charged up with righteous anger and trying to strike back using whatever tools he can get his hands on. As well as being a compulsive speaker of uncomfortable truths, Mad Mike Banks considers himself a techno militant and a champion of economic self-reliance. Underground Resistance is the name of his crew and his record label, a collective of young black men from Detroit bound together on a mission into the sonic unknown, wherever it may take them. His ideology, he explains, is complete independence from the music business, creating his own networks and systems to ensure UR's long-term survival and creative integrity – in other words, an attempt to ensure they never get screwed like so many other creative young black people have been before them.
This was back in January 1992, deep into another callous midwinter in Detroit, and even though the sun had been shining, the temperature had reached 19 degrees below freezing point. As we cruised onwards, we entered the realm of the truly surreal, a dystopian landscape where entire blocks had simply been torn away, like a petulant child had ripped out buildings from a Lego cityscape, and where nature was creeping back in to reclaim the land. It was turning into some kind of urban prairie; a scene that's often been compared to the mysterious 'Zone' in Andrei Tarkovsky's Soviet-era sci-fi film Stalker, a place where normal physical laws seem to have ceased to exist. Nothing, no photographs, could really prepare you for seeing the ruins of Detroit up close, unless perhaps you grew up in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina; it was simply outside a western European's everyday experience – offensively, heartbreakingly monstrous, and at the same time, compulsively fascinating.
The only establishments that seemed to be doing much business around here were the churches offering heavenly salvation and the liquor stores promising a more rapid respite from life's woes. As the city's social anatomy ulcerated and necrotised, even some of its supposed guardians had become complicit in its demise; the police chief was being prosecuted for stealing from a fund to combat drug abuse, I was told, while part of his force had been made redundant because there wasn't enough money left to pay them. 'Crack ate a hole in the city,' Banks said several years later. 'They dumped that crack and those weapons in here, and it was pretty much an apocalypse – right-wing undercover genocide, if you ask me.'
Passing near the site of the now-demolished illegal soul-music bar where the 1967 riots erupted after police busted up a party that was being held to celebrate two black GIs' homecoming from Vietnam, we end up on West Grand Boulevard, where Motown's old headquarters was now a museum celebrating the production-line genius of Berry Gordy and his glorious roster of stars – 'Hitsville USA', as the sign outside said. In the preserved basement studio, Banks excitedly points out a miniature toy piano that was used for sound effects on some of Motown's sixties hits: 'Just like techno, they picked up any old shit that was laying around and used it,' he enthuses.
Underground Resistance were part of Detroit techno's second wave, building on what had been created in the eighties by the genre's instigators, Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. By the early nineties, UR constituted the heaviest package to come out of the Motor City since Iggy and the Stooges. When they appeared live, they looked like a platoon of shock troops, swathed in black with their faces masked to disguise their identities. Played loud in a club, tracks like 'Sonic Destroyer' and 'The Punisher' felt as if they might shatter your ribcage. Even Kevin Saunderson, a man renowned for his jackhammer drum sound and surging bass noise, told me that he was stunned when he first heard them: 'They're so heavy, they kinda shocked me,' he said. 'I never knew anyone would get that hard in Detroit, especially two black guys. It catches you off guard.'
I had met up with Banks and Mills earlier that day at the UR office, a spartan set-up which consisted of little more than a desk with a phone and a world map tacked to the wall. On the map, South Africa, which at that time in 1992 was still ruled by F.W. de Klerk's white minority regime, had been blanked out with a marker pen, and on the country's black mass was pasted one photocopied word: 'RIOT.'
'A riot is the language of the unheard,' Martin Luther King once said. UR's former MC and 'minister of information', Robert Hood, describes the crew as children of the 1967 unrest in Detroit, driven by an urgent calling to take action, inspired by their mutual hatred of injustice and collective fury about a city that was disintegrating in front of their eyes. 'That was a time when crack cocaine was rampant. You had a lot of layoffs from the automotive industry, families were falling apart, succumbing to the drug epidemic, single mothers were struggling to support their children. You had drug gangs who started to take over and there were drive-by shootings and carjackings. Schools were being closed and more jails were opening,' Hood explains.
'We were observing all of what's going on; we could feel the pressure. The city was imploding. You could feel the grip tightening and how the politicians didn't want to deal with Detroit and how the city was being written off. So when you hear tracks like [UR's 1991 release] 'Riot', that's Detroit screaming from the pressures of a racist society surrounding the city and bleeding it to death from the inside out.'
Their incendiary sound was shaped by these blighted surroundings, as Mike Banks had illustrated on our journey through the city that afternoon in the winter of 1992. But like Sun Ra, George Clinton and so many other Afro-futurist musicians, including Detroit techno originators like Juan Atkins, they also dreamed of loosening the bounds of earthly restraint and escaping into interstellar otherworlds free from oppression and prejudice – visions explored in Mike Banks' releases as The Martian for his other record label, Red Planet, on tracks like 'Cosmic Movement' and 'Star Dancer'.
UR's reaction to the economic hardship they saw around them was to declare independence. They developed a philosophy of self-reliance that might have felt familiar to someone like Berry Gordy, and which would serve them and others who emulated them well in the decades to come. 'We understood how black musicians from the forties, fifties and sixties had been exploited and left high and dry by music industry executives who were savvy enough to take advantage of these artists and their lack of knowledge of the music industry,' explains Hood.
'We could cut our own records, do the artwork, the distribution; we didn't have to concede to any higher power. We could do it ourselves and be self-sufficient. It was a guerrilla way of thinking – nobody's going to tell us how to make it, distribute it or market it. Nobody's going to control our music. We're going to say how it's going to be.'
Their music was also a reaction to the commodification of black American culture, Banks told me in 1992. He was repelled by the glossy aspirational fantasies of contemporary R&B – despicable lies, he said, sold by rapacious corporations to ease the unpalatable realities of African-American lives. He insisted that UR were the alternative, the antidote: 'hard music from a hard city'.
'Black folks don't live like groups like New Edition in $900 suits. Real life is more like Public Enemy portrays it,' he asserted.
'So what we stand for is resistance,' added Jeff Mills. 'We'll always be fighting against that shit. Revolution for change.'
'Our music is a phoenix rising from the ashes of the crumbling industrial state.'
Juan Atkins, 1988
More than two decades later, I'm standing in downtown Hart Plaza as electric snares crackle and fizz like fireworks across the Detroit River shore, the rhythms reverberating around the septet of glass-fronted skyscrapers on the waterfront while Mike Banks and his shadowy crew of techno seditionaries bring the first night of the 2014 Movement festival to a crescendo in front of a reverent hometown crowd.
By this point, Underground Resistance were veterans of a musical genre that had helped to change the sound of popular music right across the world over the course of the previous 30 years. From blues and jazz to Motown, from Parliament-Funkadelic, the MC5 and the Stooges to Eminem, Detroit had nurtured some remarkable sonic pioneers who had redefined what music could be and what it could mean. Now techno's influence could be heard in everything from the most banal of pop hits to the most challenging avant-garde electronica. As Kevin Saunderson jokingly put it: 'We are history now!'
He was correct, literally – at the Detroit Historical Museum, there was a display about techno's pioneers amidst the Hard Rock Café-style memorabilia depicting the city's magnificent musical past, with Derrick May's picture hanging rather incongruously next to a photo of a young Madonna – although perhaps May, Atkins and Saunderson, the genre's founding fathers, should have been in the museum's 'gallery of innovation' instead, alongside Henry Ford and Berry Gordy.
Techno's history was better told by a self-funded and lovingly curated little installation called Exhibit: 3000 on the ground floor of a former laundry workers' union building which now served as the Underground Resistance and Submerge Records HQ, just a few minutes' walk from the Motown museum. Mike Banks, still lean and muscled in his late forties, wearing a khaki T-shirt and workman's jeans with tools dangling from his belt and a paintbrush in his back pocket, opened the front door when I rang the bell. 'Come with me, you got to see this shit,' he urged in that same implacable voice.
John Collins, a senior Detroit DJ who once played house and disco at Detroit's Cheeks club in the pre-techno eighties and later became part of the UR crew, gave me the guided tour. 'The museum was needed. It's important,' Collins explained. 'It's just as important as it ever was because the battle isn't won yet. We still have a way to go – some people don't even know that techno was created by black people.'
In the gallery, there were pictures of techno's originators, but other heroes too – Bruce Lee, Geronimo, Sun Tzu, the Tuskegee Airmen of World War Two, Public Enemy and Nichelle Nichols, the actor who played the USS Enterprise's chief communications officer, Nyota Uhura, in the original Star Trek series – setting UR firmly in the historical continuum of progressive black cultural politics. One photo had a caption declaring Detroit to be 'a city of freaks and fighters'.
But central to the narrative laid out in the old photographs, record sleeves, paintings, magazine clippings and vintage Roland drum computers carefully mounted in glass cases along the walls were Atkins, May and Saunderson, the three young black men who met in the eighties at high school in Belleville, a small and decorously suburban white-majority town on the Huron River some 30 miles west of Detroit.
Detroit's first proto-techno records had come out as early as 1981 – 'Sharevari' by A Number of Names and 'Alleys of Your Mind' by Cybotron, an electronic duo made up of the young, Kraftwerk-obsessed Atkins and a Vietnam War veteran and synthesizer enthusiast called Rik Davis, who named himself 3070. Cybotron were feeling their way towards a new kind of post-electro dance music: 'This stuff was punk: you play it first and then learn what you were doing afterwards,' Davis once said.
Atkins and May also established their own Deep Space DJ crew, with its 'secret weapon', a Roland TR-909 that they used to jack up their mixes. After Cybotron's biggest hit in 1985, the gliding cold-wave electro track 'Clear', Atkins quit the band and started recording alone as Model 500, and all three men launched their own record labels – Atkins' Metroplex, May's Transmat and Saunderson's KMS – to release their music independently. Along with their friend Eddie 'Flashin' Fowlkes, the so-called 'Belleville Three' became the originators of techno as a distinct genre of its own, in parallel to the emergence of house in Chicago. And while they had a clear plan for the kind of sound they wanted to make, they had no idea what kind of impact it would ultimately have.
May adopted the aliases Rhythim is Rhythim and Mayday, while Saunderson took a whole variety of pseudonyms, including Reese, Kreem, Tronik House and E-Dancer, as well as becoming the musical force behind the internationally successful duo Inner City. The Belleville Three drew inspiration from Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra, European electro-pop and Italo-disco, but also from Parliament-Funkadelic and the post-disco, synth-spangled club tracks being issued by labels like Prelude. The wild-card factor was the pervasive otherworldliness of Detroit, where they all set up studios on the same block on Gratiot Street in the Eastern Market district, a stretch that came to be nicknamed 'Techno Boulevard'. 'I just react to my environment,' May told me when I first met him there in 1988. 'The people, the intensity, the paranoia, all the things that make Detroit what it is.'
Another crucial influence was Detroit radio – specifically, the idiosyncratic broadcasts of Charles Johnson, alias The Electrifying Mojo, who fulfilled an inspirational role in the city similar to BBC presenter John Peel in Britain. From 1977 onwards, The Electrifying Mojo's shows defied all the racially defined conventions of US radio formatting; what he once called 'apartheid on the dial'. His links were often lyrical sociopolitical soliloquies or homilies preaching decency and tolerance, and his musical favourites were mavericks like Prince, Parliament, the B52s and Kraftwerk, whose Computer World album he played again and again when it came out in 1981. One of his quotes was prominently displayed in the Underground Resistance museum: 'The price you pay for freedom is very costly. If you are passionate about it, it compensates what you have to sacrifice.'
The young men who would create Detroit techno were all listening, and when they became DJs and producers, Mojo started to play their early mixes. May says that there might not even have been what is now known as Detroit techno without the broadcaster: 'He was a teacher, an inspiration, a visionary. He showed there could be another way.'
Around the same time in the eighties, a young Jeff Mills was developing his discombobulatory fast-cutting DJ style on local radio under the pseudonym The Wizard. From 1987, Detroit listeners could also hear the Fast Forward radio show, which promoted techno as well as 'electronic body music' bands like Front 242 and Skinny Puppy, acid house, Belgian New Beat and British indie dance. It was presented by Alan Oldham, who did the iconic graphic novel-style artwork for many of the city's techno labels and would go on to become an Underground Resistance DJ under the name T-1000.
Like The Electrifying Mojo, the Detroit techno originators had little respect for any of the traditional racial boundaries in American pop culture. 'I remember one interviewer asking me what inspired this, and I was talking about Ultravox and Visage and groups like that, and he was amazed that I knew who Midge Ure and Steve Strange and Gary Numan were, and I said how important Depeche Mode was for the black community here – he was shocked! But to us, it was normal,' May recalls.
'We didn't know we weren't supposed to be digging that shit. Nobody told us that we couldn't get down to George Clinton and then flip the switch and listen to some Visage. Nobody told us, 'You're not allowed to listen to "Fade to Grey", motherfucker!' We didn't know we weren't supposed to listen to the Cocteau Twins or Echo and the Bunnymen or "Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus.'
Kraftwerk were also showcased in the UR museum, their ManMachine album displayed next to a Funkadelic record. The rise of techno and the constant homages paid by Atkins, May and Saunderson burnished the Germans' reputation as innovators, as they have acknowledged. 'Ralf Hütter sat right here in this very spot where we are sitting now, more than ten years ago, and he said to me: "Thank you",' May recalled as we chatted at his studio.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Rave On"
Copyright © 2018 Matthew Collin.
Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Introduction Let the Music Use You 1 Techno Cities #1 Detroit 2 Techno Cities #2 Berlin 3 Fantasy Island Ibiza 4 Electric Dream Machine Las Vegas 5 House Nation South Africa Interlude Pirates of the Black Sea 6 Temporary Autonomous Zone France 7 The Party at the End of the Road Israel 8 The Outer Limits Shanghai 9 Aliens in the Desert Dubai 10 The Promised Land New York Acknowledgements Photography credits Selected bibliography Notes Index