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Detroit Hustles Harder

I feel fully in the throes of festival season following last weekend's Movement Detroit - it was a great way to make my debut in the city, with a Saturday main stage appearance in an impressive amphitheatre location.

The previous 2 overseas festivals I’ve been booked to play, Playground in Australia (March) and Rainbow Disco Club in Japan (early May), were both frustratingly cancelled due to flooding. This time, despite a spot of rain early in the afternoon, the sun decided to smile on Detroit and it was a glorious day, made all the more satisfying via the feedback from both the audience and those backstage. I couldn’t have wished for a better response – it made me feel right at home, despite never having been in the city previously (recording below via Paxahau SoundCloud). I was part of a main stage DJ line-up that day (really well programmed, I must add) that also included Mark Farina, Todd Terje, Derrick Carter and Lil’ Louis. Here’s a short piece about the day from Detroit’s Metro Times:
http://blogs.metrotimes.com/index.php/2012/05/movement-day-1-electric-love/

 http://soundcloud.com/paxahau/greg-wilson-at-movement

Movement, which was originally set up in 2000 to celebrate Detroit's Techno legacy, is now one of the USA's foremost electronic dance gatherings, with over 80,000 people attending the 3 day event this year. The location put me in mind of when I was a kid, going on my holidays to Blackpool (the UK’s Coney Island) and buzzing off the sights and sounds of the fairground. Looking around, I was struck with the thought that festivals are, in many respects, modern day fun fairs, with youthful energy in abundance and an atmosphere both thrilling and edgy, as otherwise disconnected groups of people are brought together in a communal celebration of music. With this in mind I began to see each stage providing a different ride for the crowd to enjoy, as they boarded the rollercoaster and reacted in unison to all the climbs, dips and bends which the DJ’s provided.

All the tribes were out in force, a multi-cultural melting pot of humanity, reflecting the city's rich diversity. Detroit has a rugged quality, it knows how to roll with the punches having seen its once prosperous car industry drastically downscale in the past 40 years, prompting an exodus that has caused its population to more than halve from its 1.8 million peak in the 50’s. This is starkly illustrated by vast derelict areas once full of life and endeavour, but now unnervingly desolate, not to mention highly dangerous if you wander off the beaten track. Perhaps the greatest symbol of this fall from grace is Michigan Central Station, a giant amongst buildings (once the tallest rail station in the world), which has been subjected to the scars of abondonment since the last train stopped there in 1988.

This decline has been documented in a recent book of photographs by Julia Reyes Taubman called ‘Detroit: 138 Square Miles’ – there’s a short piece about it here on the BBC website:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18271118

Although contemporary clubbers revere Detroit for its Techno heritage, it’s Hitsville USA that defines the city for me, and many others of my generation - the house where all-time greats including Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Four Tops , Diana Ross & The Supremes, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Jackson 5 etc etc etc, gave the world the gift of so much cherished music. This is, of course, the hallowed home of the Motown sound - if you want to trace dance music in its modern context back to source, all roads lead to Detroit Michigan, Motortown, Motown.

I consciously paid my respects by playing a couple of re-worked Motown classics at Movement, the Drop Out Orchestra's take on 'My World Is Empty Without You' by The Supremes and Bermuda Traiangle's edit of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell's 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough', and before I headed back to the airport to catch my flight home, Organic promoter, Chris Galea, was kind enough to drive me to Hitsville. Unfortunately it’s closed to the public on Mondays, so I couldn't go inside and see ‘the Snakepit’, the somewhat sacred main studio at Motown where so much incredible music was recorded during those halcyon years from 1959-1972, before the company’s founder, Berry Gordy Jr, moved operations west to LA, bringing to an end a truly golden era. Although it would have obviously been great to look around, I was happy enough just to make my personal pilgrimage, and stand outside the building in which so much history was made - hopefully I can venture inside next time.

I was acutely aware that I was in the city that had set in motion my love affair with music, for Motown was very much my first love (or Tamla, as we were more likely to refer to it in the UK back in the 60's, the iconic black Tamla Motown label being the catch-all outlet for releases that came out on a variety of Motown imprints stateside - Motown, Tamla, Gordy, Soul, V.I.P etc). The British youth had a special obsession with this music, so much so that the whole unique sub-culture of Northern Soul was born out of the quest to find more and more (which equated to rarer and rarer) records with that distinctive Motown flavour. Growing out of the Mod movement of the 60’s, where Soul was the music of choice, a well of black gold was discovered, often via obscure Detroit labels whose artists were chasing that era defining Motown sound, sometimes bringing in moonlighting members of The Funk Brothers, Motown’s legendary in-house musicians, for full authenticity. There were a lot of great recordings made in Detroit during the 60’s that weren’t successful, vanishing pretty much without a trace at the time, and it was this treasure that the Northern Soul aficionados dug deep to unearth. Touching on the roots of Tamla Motown in the UK, and the subsequent Northern Soul movement, I refer you to my blog piece ‘The Original Soulboy – Dave Godin’:
http://www.gregwilson.co.uk/2011/03/original-soulboy/

To get a level of just how influential Motown was, it’s worth considering the remarkable statistic that The Funk Brothers played on more #1 records than The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys combined! Detroit was the World capital when it came to hits.

There’s history all around you in Detroit. After the festival I headed along to St Andrews Hall, where I was making an after party appearance. This is the venue where Eminem regularly played before he was famous, and which featured in the movie ‘8 Miles’ (Hip Hop was also evident at Movement, where Public Enemy closed on the Sunday night, with Ice-T making a guest appearance).

The P-Funk of Parliament-Funkadelic is also part of the city’s DNA (or should that be LSDNA). Their recordings 2nd only to James Brown’s as the most sampled in Hip Hop history. Once again, music that provided a big personal influence, this time during my mid-teens.

Apart from its black / dance music legacy, it’s also the city that played a major role in the conception of Punk, via the late 60’s emergence of cult groups The Stooges (with legendary frontman Iggy Pop) and the MC5, whose raw energy was an inspiration for so many bands who came after them. From Alice Cooper through to The White Stripes, the Rock tradition has continued to flourish in the city ever since.

As the popular slogan says, ‘Detroit Hustles Harder’, for that’s the cloth it’s cut from. It also has an indomitable spirit, which I’m sure will serve to regenerate a phoenix from the flames resurgence, of which Movement is certainly a key part. I’ve no doubt that a lot more people from the UK will head over in the coming years – America is the new frontier as far as the dance festival is concerned, and Detroit is right at the vanguard of this, having a dozen years development already under its belt. I anticipate a high demand for tickets in 2013, and beyond, as the word continues to spread ever further afield – you can’t keep a good city down, and this is truly a great one, a city like no other. I just hope they ask me back next time.

Detroit Electronic Music Festival Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detroit_Electronic_Music_Festival

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15 Responses to Detroit Hustles Harder

  1. Richard Maher June 1, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    Great piece Greg. You really summed it up very nicely.

  2. Mave June 1, 2012 at 8:06 am #

    Don't forget Madonna as well. Top article. The film by Julien Temple "Requiem for Detroit" is a must see also

  3. TC June 1, 2012 at 8:19 am #

    Great piece.

  4. Vladimir June 1, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    Now I want to visit Detroit - definitely.

  5. Karin June 1, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    Super piece and fantastic set. Really gutted you didn't get to go inside the museum - we'd have taken you ourselves on Sunday had we have know it would be closed on Monday. You'll just have to come back again! All the best, K&A

  6. Aaron Lada June 1, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    Thanks for the great read, Greg. We loved having you here and having the privilege to finally get to hear you play live in our city. There's not a doubt in my mind that you'll be gracing our presence another Memorial Day weekend down the road! Paxahau, make it happen!

  7. Travis Mac June 1, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    Nice piece on The "D" Greg. I really enjoyed getting to hear your set at the Main Stage Saturday and it was an honor to meet you just as Public Enemy was going on! Hope to see you back soon!
    Travis Mac

  8. Michael Walsh June 1, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    Fantastic piece, Greg. Had a great time chatting with you at the festival and enjoying these revelations of what Movement has become.

  9. Specom June 3, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    Funny a Brit picked up on that slogan. I keep wanting to make up a t shirt that reads "Manchester 'ustles even 'arder"

  10. Dr Detroit June 4, 2012 at 5:09 am #

    Thanks for the honest, well written piece. It's interesting to hear your point of view. I try to remove myself mentally and emotionally from the situation and be more objective about Detroit's future prospects but I find it nearly impossible to do so. The general sentiment of the people in the greater Detroit area is that the city will never recover. Of course, as Americans, superlatives relating to time and history get thrown around quite a bit and mean almost nothing when coming out of our mouths. I really believe and see it as nearly inevitable that Detroit will recover. I just hope we can stop the dozers from ploughing anymore history away in the meantime. Next on the list is the Packard plant.

    Now I want one of those shirts Specom, Bring them next year.

  11. superjoint June 4, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    amazing set on the main stage / saturday night in the world famous shelter! see you next time. thanks, -j

  12. Terry June 5, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    Thanks for great sets in Detroit, Greg! Thanks, too, for your educated and nuanced observations on the city and its musical history. It's rare that anyone, local or visitor, member of the media or casual observer, offers a perspective that's unvarnished but fair; as with so many other things, I guess, people tend to have very extreme opinions about Detroit when the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.

    As you're clearly a student of musical history and apparently a fan of the Talking Heads, I thought you might find David Byrne's writing about Detroit of interest (that is, if you haven't already read the book from which it's pulled, "Bicycle Diaries"): http://journal.davidbyrne.com/2010/09/092310-dont-forget-the-motor-city.html

    Hope to catch you Stateside again sometime soon.

  13. jimmyQuattrocki July 16, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    Greg was my first time hearing you live. Thanks for writing this piece is great to get a history lesson from such a great dj. looking forward to catching your set at smartbar on August 24th :)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Early UK Electro DJ/Producer Greg Wilson (Liverpool, UK) Interview @ Movement 2012 | 130bpms Electronic Music - June 14, 2012

    [...] Greg Wilson is one of the world’s most accomplished DJs, a performer and remix artist who was once a resident DJ at the legendary Hacienda club and currently plays some of the world’s top festivals. Wilson is know for his use of reel to reel tape recorders during performance, and for playing throwback disco/funk inspired sets that recall the best of the 70’s and 80’s, updated for a current dance floor. We recently caught up with Wilson just before his performance at Movement 2012 and chatted about remix culture at large. Wilson has also published a fantastic blog piece of his own about the Movement experience, which you can read on his blog. [...]

  2. » Early UK Electro DJ/Producer Greg Wilson (Liverpool, UK) Interview @ Movement 2012 huntz… huntz… huntz… - June 19, 2012

    [...] Greg Wilson is one of the world’s most accomplished DJs, a performer and remix artist who was once a resident DJ at the legendary Hacienda club and currently plays some of the world’s top festivals. Wilson is know for his use of reel to reel tape recorders during performance, and for playing throwback disco/funk inspired sets that recall the best of the 70’s and 80’s, updated for a current dance floor. We recently caught up with Wilson just before his performance at Movement 2012 and chatted about remix culture at large. Wilson has also published a fantastic blog piece of his own about the Movement experience, which you can read on his blog. [...]

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