In the 80s, Detroit took on Chicago House and European electronica and quickly became pioneers in the creation of techno and the myriad of sub genres that followed. As an adverse counterpart to popular music, techno challenged radio ready hits and the contradictory exclusivity of punk while maintaining a sonic political retaliation against inner-city struggle. In doing so the city created a sphere in which bass lines and drum beats invited the world to move both inward and outward.
This past weekend marked what most of Detroit consider to be more holy than Christmas. The Movement Festival honors the birthplace of techno and electronic music by throwing the most playfully outrageous three-day party where freaks can be freaks and non-freaks can unearth their spiritual resonance. Whether you’re finding yourself, losing yourself or just curious enough to feel something new, there is no better opportunity than Movement. Yes, like any festival you can anticipate $4 bottles of water and over policing and under-supplying of toilet paper, but what Movement offers the techno community is a true celebration of one of the most unexpectedly poetic musical revolutions in the history of the city and quite honestly, the world. A culture was born. People found home. And while our pillowcases may feel abandoned as we collectively remove glitter out of our tear ducts, we are still coming down from the trip. Below are some of my favorite sedated, ambient tracks for the end of the after-after party (or just as suitably for the beginning).
Stacey “Hotwaxx” Hale “The PeeKs” (2016)
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Jon Zott “Make Plans” ft. Yellokake (2015)
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Most notably one of the busiest most desirable producers in Detroit, Jon Zott has a remarkable ear for bass line heartbeats. “Make Plans” flirts with pop vocals and muffled beat subtlety that feels sexy and sad.
Carl Craig “At Les” (1997)
Carl Craig is one of the most influential producers and DJ’s in Detroit’s rich techno history. His catalog swells and deflates with a subversive consciousness that gives the aural illusion of time travel; sounds bouncing back and forth off of one another like a psychedelic paradox. “At Les” is a prime example of this restraint vs. release vibe while still remaining stoned and ambient.
4. Cybotron “Techno City” (1984)
Formed in 1980 by Juan Atkins and Richard “3070” Davis, Cybotron paved the way for the echoing, intergalactic seduction that has been a cornerstone of Techno for years. “Techno City” feels grimy and sludgy yet invites you into their underground with a sexual pulse.
5. Kevin Saunderson “E-Dancer” (1996)
One cannot mention techno without recognizing one of the most detrimental founding fathers of the genre, Kevin Saunderson. Having reshaped electronic music with his insatiable knack for channeling both the past and future through trance-like grooves and dizzying tremors, Saunderson’s “E-Dancer” is a great example of his distorted snake funk.
6. BLKSHRK “Arm Floatties (Night Swim)” (2015)
Eddie Logix and Blair French teamed up to form BLKSHRK, an underwater groove that pulses and pumps with a delicacy suited for a tangled dance of sea amoeba and space-age mer-folk.
7. Stone Owl “Chemtrails” (2013)
An elusive twosome, Stone Owl is a local techno cult favorite. Although dance-able, Stone Owl latched onto an underlying sinister playfulness that pokes and prods the darkness out of the light. “CHEMTRAILS” is calming with bursts of anxious energy that sizzles like electricity in water, creating a chasm that shakes you from your hiding place.
If you’ve seen the cover of this month’s TIME Magazine or have recently tuned into any national media outlet, you know that Detroit’s sister city, Flint, is in crisis. Due to corrupt government, dangerous mismanagement, and incompetence, thousands of Flint residences have been poisoned by lead through the water system.
Long story short, Flint was getting its water from Detroit until 2011 when Gov. Rick Snyder, due to economic disparity, decided that Flint would begin receiving water from the Flint river, despite the water’s highly corrosive makeup and the cities aging, weathered pipeline. The water itself is not poisoned with lead, but is so corrosive that it is stripping the lead pipes. Last fall, auto manufacturers refused the usage of Flint water as it was corroding the auto parts, yet it continued to pump into every household, poisoning an entire city. Despite the President issuing a state of emergency and the allocation of 80 million dollars in FEMA relief funds to assist Flint in its recovery, the damage is irreversible.
I know what you’re thinking. What does this have to do with music? Well, nothing, really. Other than the fact that I feel that I bear the shared responsibility of social consciousness as an artist and fellow human taking up space on this floating ball in space. I couldn’t help but search for some convoluted way to draw attention to this issue, while also finding personal solace through the only outlet that I knew. I’ve curated a playlist of “water songs” by Michigan artists with the hope of a healthy resolve for the millions of people around the world who do not have access to safe drinking water, which now include the thousands of children and families of Flint, Michigan. Let these tracks wash over you and extinguish any unwanted fires.
Eddie Logix and Blair French are BLKSHRK. Released last year, Jellyfish on Cassette is an ocean of temperamental pulsations. The project fuses programmed sampled, live takes and improvisation all of which swell. “Arm Floaties (Night Swim)” gives gives the aural allusion of treading deep water.
This alternate take of “Tidal” from 800beloved‘s dreamy sophomore record, Everything Purple, is a trembling and sedated beachside lullaby. Lynch’s breathy vocals paired with the distant and upbeat pop distortions forms the sensation of having a sun stained memory you wish you could return to.
A standout track off of their 2013 album Wormfood, “Water” is drowsy and pleasantly complacent, much like falling asleep in a filled-to-the-rim bathtub. It’s a smug track about the things we normally don’t have the guts to confess about the disinterest in meaningful love and sex. It’s the type of song that demands hydration; a sonic hangover.
Before they dropped the Nascar kitsch, JRJR released Patterns. “Dark Water” is reminiscent of The Shins with hints of Jon Brion, making it both sugary and brooding. The Beach Boys-esque harmonizing and piano crescendo mask the heaviness of the repeated imagery of drowning which makes this bubbly pop track ironic and bittersweet.
One of my favorite Detroit duos, Gosh Pith, channel a sleepy Animal Collective/Vampire Weekend vibe with a track off their 2015 EP, Window. “Waves” challenges the listener to let go, internalizing the symbolic properties of water via a gentle, lapping synth pop track.
The Gories: “Goin’ To The River”
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The Gories formed back in 1986 and were fearless in welding 60’s garage rock with hyper rhythm blues. “Goin’ To The River” from I Know You Fine, but How You Doin’ released in 1990, is defiant and demands rowdiness. This track by The Gories is a perfect example of their lasting and often overlooked influence.
What I consider to be the most under appreciated album in Iggy Pop’s catalogue and one of the most important contributions to post-punk, New Values is full of songs as jutting as this one. “Endless Sea” is particularly provocative. The synth breakdown along with seductive, temperate vocals are the perfect pairing for giving the drugged sensation of literal endlessness.
The Dead Weather: “Will There Be Enough Water”[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]
The Dead Weather may be my favorite collaboration from the diverse repertoire of Detroit’s golden child, Jack White. White along with Alison Mosshart (of The Kills) make for a sexually hypnotic rock experience. “Will There Be Enough Water” is a smokey, blues infused anti-apology that is as thirsty as it is satiated.
The folkiest track on the playlist, “Waterfall” off of Fred Thomas’ Kuma is moody and textured like a messier, sleep deprived Elvis Perkins. The song begs “Come on everyone/it’s time to go see the waterfall” an uplifting chorus partnered with moaning string arrangements keeps “Waterfall” in the heartache category.
This track off of Don’t Wait by experimental pop duo Valley Hush could easily be a secret video game level trudging through sparkling, underwater sludge where Lana Del Rey meets St. Vincent. It’s more sensational than literal, but the ominous gurgling noise is animatedly visual.
If you would like to learn how you can help the residents of Flint, Michigan, click here.