MusicWe See You
antisocial behavior order: techno pupils
June 24, 2019
“Don’t get kidnapped,” my mom warns me, when I tell her on the phone that I’m heading to Detroit for a dance-music festival. I’d never been to Detroit before, but I have family there on my mom’s side: her brother Peter’s ex-wife and their three adult children.
“As a matter of fact, just don’t tell your cousins you’re coming into town. They might snatch you and ask for a million. But they’d accept ten grand.”
“At least I’m not expensive,” I reply, dryly.
We hit the road!
I pick Sadé up around 7a from her apartment in Bed-Stuy, a little later than we’d hoped but still early enough to get the jump on rush hour and holiday traffic. It turns out that to get to Detroit you just take 80 West across the entire state of Pennsylvania – a lot of rolling hills and farm country. For some reason I hardly look out of the window.
We stop off for lunch at a spot called Plylers and take advantage of the $9.00 all-you-can-eat buffet – the kind of place that I sometimes go and hope it will be cinematic and ironic, but which often winds up visually depressing. This was no exception.
By the time we arrive in Detroit, it’s 7p and we are both hungry again and exhausted. I’m verbally repeating all the commands that Siri is giving Sadé and she rightfully moans “I knooooww” after every exchange. Our AirBnB is on a street that is completely torn up, with tractors and bulldozers haphazardly “parked” up and down the unpaved road. It’s as if everyone went on break one day, and just never came back.
We nap. We eat Shawarma. We hit the streets.
Armed with “the list” of the evening’s potential events, we cab it to the Sound Signature party at Artist Village – Theo Parrish’s annual Friday night kick-off for Detroit’s Movement Festival weekend. The venue is a labyrinth of cinder-block rooms hidden behind a storefront Dry Cleaner, and make up something like an artist’s commune: affordable housing on the upper floors, and an indoor/outdoor warehouse feel on the ground.
The ‘No phones / No cameras’ rule is hand scrawled on sheets of paper posted at the entrance and around the dance floors. Everyone respects it. The music is amazing. From the moment Sadé and I walk in, we’re mesmerized by the diversity of the crowd — the middle-aged, young adults and teenagers, the Black, white, and everything in between. Everyone’s energy is dedicated entirely to the room, absorbing the frequency of Theo’s carefree open-format set – transitioning abruptly between Soulful House, Disco and Techno – and reflecting the frequency right back out again. The small friend groups of OG techno and house heads make me smile – black men in their fifties and sixties with so much swag, a quiet confidence, casually dressed, with close-cropped hair cuts and salt-and-pepper beards, whispering to one another in hushed tones. They frequently glance around the room with a look of humble satisfaction, presumably proud of the endurance of the scene that they created.
We wander into the outdoors room, the dance-floor is going crazy and the dark sky is overhead. I drug my drink and take a seat on a reclining office chair on wheels that somehow found its way inside. From time to time I swear I see lightning flash overhead, but Sadé has gone to the bathroom so I can’t ask her, and am not certain whether it’s that or some other flash, or the MDMA playing tricks on my eyesight.
A young woman with curly hair and a friendly, pale cherubic face slides up next to me.
“Hi!” She says. “What is that?!”
She’s tilting her head towards my Capri.
“Would you like one?”
“Sure!” She exclaims.
I fumble through my purse, handing it over, and light it for her.
We both smile.
“Im Rebecca,” she says.
“Blake” I respond, and extend my hand to hers, already outstretched.
“Lee?!” She yells.
“Blake!” I scream.
“Blake .. like lake with a B in the front,” I try.
She gets it.
“Geez .. I’m sorry that took me so long!”
We both laugh.
“Where are you from?” She asks me.
“New York, do you live here?”
“Yeh I do now. I lived in New York for six years, but moved here a while back.”
“I love your city,” I say, truthfully.
“It’s great!” she replies. “I hate to even say this because it sounds so cliché, but Detroit is like .. what New York used to be.”
“I hate to say this,” I say, “but I agree”.
“You’ve got to come back .. you can stay with me!” She grins.
“I’ll be back for sure,” I tell her. And I mean it.
We exchange numbers.
It seems like it’s been a long time since Sadé left and I excuse myself to find her only a little more than halfway through the bathroom line.
We wake up early, excited to get to Movement, more fondly and colloquially known as the Detroit Electronic Music Festival which has been held in Hart Plaza, a riverfront conservatory in downtown Detroit, each Memorial weekend since 2000. On our way we stop downtown to grab a brunch cocktail with Ian Conyers, a close friend from college-turned-former-state-Senator representing the 4th District of Michigan. As of last year, Ian is out of politics having lost a hotly contested Congressional race, and now he’s working in the private sector. He looks it. He meets us straight from the gym in a salmon colored t-shirt and basketball shorts, his skin still glowing from his workout and the humidity that’s settling over us, threatening rain.
Ian fills us in on the latest in Detroit – politics, property values and gentrification, and speculation about why young people won’t stop killing one another and posting it on YouTube. As we stand up to part ways thunder cracks overhead. Sadé and I sprint down John Conyers Blvd (named after Ian’s great-uncle, the longest-ever serving member of U.S. Congress), just as the sky opens up unleashing a torrential downpour over our heads. Unforgiving gusts of wind are pushing the rain sideways and up from underneath us. We duck under the awning of a closed specialty shop with a display of notebooks and umbrellas in the window.
When the festival opens after a short rain delay, we wander for a while without intention, grabbing drinks, orienting ourselves with the map and locations of the stages. Rebecca texts me three solid red hearts. I reply with the same, and dash to refill my tallboy of Bud Light.
As Sadé and I get swept up in the current of people pushing towards the stage during Art Department’s set we brush past a small cordoned off area with a sign hanging from it that catches my eye: “RESERVED FOR GRANDMA TECHNO,” it reads.
Who the hell is Grandma Techno? I wonder mid-step, and chuckle aloud to myself, thinking “do they mean me?”
At that moment I look up and a young man catches my eye. I’ve bumped into him trying to read the sign and I apologize.
“Sorry, I was .. reading,” I explain clumsily, and suddenly I’m laughing again. He’s grinning, and cracking up along with me. I’m not sure if it’s my laugh that’s contagious or if he has read the sign too.
“Don’t apologize,” he says. He’s tall and very thin, and we’re matching — both wearing black wife-beaters. He puts his hand out to introduce himself.
“I’m Shea,” he says.
“Shane?!” I yell.
“Shea!” he screams.
I nod my head, reading his lips over the bassline of the music.
“You have beautiful eyes”
“Thank you!” I respond. He has an accent. “Where are you from?”
“Montreal!” and he points his hand across the river that is creating a stunning backdrop along the length of the Plaza.
“So many people from Canada here,” I muse.
We shoot the shit a while longer and he asks for my number.
I type “Shane” into my phone and hand it over to him.
Looking down he shakes his head no at the phone, disappointed, and re-enters the proper name along with his digits.
Sadé and I excuse ourselves to find drinks.
My phone vibrates: “Shea :). From Montreal.”
It must be 6p but the sun is still high in the sky, taking pride of place after the morning’s thunderstorm. Maya Jane Coles is on stage now and consistent with her set, the energy in the section has mellowed out. We decide to check out the main stage and stroll over towards Hart Plaza’s concrete amphitheater — concrete ‘stair-steps’ leading down into an open dance pit directly in front of the stage. We walk down a quarter of the way. The sun is finally setting. I unwrap a Sour Apple Blow Pop and put it in my mouth.
We finish off the night by finding the hidden underground stage. Someone tipped Sadé off about its existence in last night’s bathroom line. Neil Landstrumm is down there going OFF. I quickly pound a vodka-RedBull as he drops a Drum & Bass selection I’ve never heard before, something called “Send Back Duppy”. I’m excited to learn about Neil, who is supposedly “Edinburgh’s king of bass,” and one of the true innovators in techno. We dance and jump around in the packed tunnel beneath the earth under the glow of bright red strobe lights until our feet ache.
A short time later back at the AirBnB, I have delusions of grandeur. Perched on the couch wrapped in a towel, still dripping wet from the shower, I manically send Ian screen shots of party flyers. I make big plans to meet back up in the streets with all of my Detroit friends, the old and the new!
“So, just in hotel lobby watching Raptors game” Shea texts me. “Will go up to the room soon to kick it before afters. You’re free to join or just write me after your nap or whatever! Your call.”
That’s hot. His grammar is impeccable. I’m not really sure if he’s trying to make plans to go out later or casually hang and watch the basketball game, or not so subtly get me upstairs to his hotel room.
Either way…I’m down!
I’m also fucking exhausted. Just going to lieeee dowwwwnn for this quuuiiickk napppp.
“My throooaat” I moan, the second I wake up on Sunday, still wrapped in the towel from last night.
Sadé, already awake, phone in hand, and lying not five feet away, turns to look at me. She says nothing and looks back at her phone again.
I shuffle to the bathroom mirror and open my mouth as wide as I can, expecting pustules or white pox, but it’s just a brighter shade of pink than usual, and so, so painful. Outside it is already raining. We stop at CVS on our way to brunch and stock up on Mauka Honey, and, after eating, walk along Michigan Avenue into Corktown, the oldest neighborhood in Detroit.
“Research shows that this home was built in 1849 and while there were many built like this home, it is the only building of its type that has survived since that era,” a sign on the side of a house reads. “The residents represent the people who built Detroit: The Courageous Ordinary.”
Two things stand out as starkly unexpected: The scarcity of any other people on the street, especially for it to be the weekend. And the abundance of house music playing out of cars and restaurants, and the open doors of retail shops lining the street.
When we get to the festival it is still steadily raining so we head underground stage again, where a family with young children in matching outfits is tossing a hula hoop on the side of the dance floor. As day turns to night, I pull three Miniatures of Fireball out of my pocket and down them back-to-back trying, if not to achieve some semblance of a buzz, than at least to quell the persistent flame that’s been steadily kicking me in the throat.
“I don’t feel well,” I finally say out loud to Sadé. It’s as if admitting it has made it real.
“Is it because you just downed three shots of Fireball?” she asks sardonically.
“I only drank those because…” I say, starting to explain myself. Mid-sentence I stop.
Danny Brown is screaming at security to pull some guy the fuck out of the audience and onto his stage so he can fuck him up properly. “Just let me shoot the fair one with this mother fucker right quick,” he suggests. Then, to the audience: “You have to be a certain kind of way to make it out of Detroit. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something in life. You are from DETROIT. You got it out the mud. You are a beast. And you can do anything.”
There is a crescendo as bodies move from one stage to another catching headlining performances to close out the night. The bodies range from the doubled over, to the coming down, to the high and only getting higher, a sight exclusive to music festivals that never fails to excite and worry me. There is an impressive tide of muddy solo cups and empty water bottles rising underfoot. I glance around. It’s time to get out of here.
Monday’s trip back to New York is long. I drive for a few hours and then swap off, slumping over unwittingly in the passenger seat. My body is shutting down. Every hour or so I strain to crack my eyes open. Sadé bought a pack of antibacterial wet wipes at the rest stop, and is aggressively wiping down the steering wheel. A family of cows is grazing. Siri is asking if we accept a faster route. Sadé is accepting. She is driving. We’re almost home.
- Rossi B, Luca & Lenkemz – Send Back Duppy (feat. Killa P)
- Kevin Saunderson & Art Department – Reveal
- Neil Landstrumm – Live at Unpolished 2019
- Fisher – Loosing It
- Kai Alcé – Boiler Room Set
- Carl Craig – Exit Fest Set
- Danny Brown – Attak
(Feature photo: Kate Glicksberg. All other photos: Sadé Hooks)
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