Tag Archives: electronic music

Can Detroit’s Legendary Techno Scene Survive Gentrification?

Stacey Pullen performs at the 2016 Movement Electronic Music Festival in Downtown Detroit's Hart Plaza. (Tanya Moutzalias/The Ann Arbor News via AP)

Techno emerged in Detroit’s minority and queer communities as the city descended into decay in the late 1980s. A couple of decades later, after having reshaped electronic music and club culture around the world, the scene is alive — but changing. At Roads and Kingdoms, Akhil Kalepu writes a history of techno that goes all the way back to Motown. But he devotes special attention to a contemporary tension between the genre’s diverse, underground origins and an increasingly white, affluent scene in Detroit and beyond.

In Detroit, much of the electronic music world rejoiced when techno veteran Dimitri Hegemann of Berlin’s famed Tresor nightclub announced plans to open a branch in Packard Automotive Plant, a former DIY venue for the local rave scene. For many locals, though, it was yet another example of a white European taking something made by their predominantly black city: the gentrification of a genre seeping back into physical space.

Despite its genuine Detroit roots, Movement [Electronic Music Festival], too, has had its part to play in the gentrification of electronic music and, by extension, Detroit. The inaugural festival, held in 2000, was the brainchild of Carl Craig — a second-generation techno star in his own right — and Carol Marvin of the event production team Pop Culture Media. They saw Hart Plaza, dead in the center of Detroit’s beleaguered downtown, as the perfect place to host a techno festival, even if most of the city’s residents were unfamiliar with the scene.

Since those first years, Movement has gone from a free event to a paid one, passing through the hands of several directors along the way. Despite changes in leadership, Movement still plays an important role in the narrative of Detroit Rising, which is also the story of Detroit Gentrifying. Hart Plaza itself is now the centerpiece of one of Detroit’s many “revitalized” neighborhoods. As in similar urban zones across the U.S., rising rents have driven out a predominantly middle-class economy, replacing local businesses with high-end establishments and luxury apartments—the early stages of the trend that turned former underground capitals like New York, London, and Tokyo into velvet-rope and bottle-service cities. Growing electronic music scenes in Asia, Africa, and South America show promise, though most investment in those regions goes to venues that cater to the developing world’s growing elite.

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Grimes and the Changing Face of the Music Industry

In the newest issue of The New Yorker, Kelefa Sanneh wrote about Grimes, real name Claire Boucher, whose history in underground experimental music led her to making homemade electronic bedroom pop. Last year, Pitchfork named her song “Oblivion” the best song of the decade to date, and as she’s preparing to release her second proper album, she and artists like Lana Del Rey are redefining what pop music and independent musicians are.

Boucher has a hard time censoring herself in interviews, or on social media, which means that she provides a steady stream of content for music Web sites, whose readers love to express their sharply differing opinions of her. “I feel like if I read about myself from the media I would hate me,” she says. “I’d be, like, ‘Fuck that bitch!’ ” Online, she has shared not only her enthusiasms but also her frustration with the music industry, where “women feel pressured to act like strippers and its ok to make rape threats but its not ok to say your a feminist.” Her outspokenness has helped to make her something of a role model. Musicians are now expected to advertise their political beliefs, but Boucher is unusually thoughtful and passionate about social injustice and environmental degradation. (She travels with a canteen, and has essentially banned plastic water bottles from her tour bus.) One particularly trenchant Tumblr post, from 2013, earned a vigorous endorsement from Spin, under the headline “GRIMES’ ANTI-SEXISM MANIFESTO IS REQUIRED READING (EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT A FAN).” That last phrase hints at what is, for Boucher, a disquieting possibility: that her online presence might be even more popular, and more influential, than her music.

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