Tag Archives: motown

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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What It Was Like to Record Michael Jackson’s Voice

The Jackson 5 in 1972. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

I was still in Detroit, and I got a call from Berry Gordy — he was out in California — and he said, “We signed these kids. We finished the album and listened to all the mixes, and I don’t like any of the mixes. I’ll send you the multitracks, and I want you to remix the whole album.” And I said, “Anything you want me to do?” He said, “No, do what you think is best.” It was The Jackson 5’s first album. I was in the studio, all by myself mixing. I’ll tell ya, the first time I heard Michael’s voice, my jaw hit the floor. “This little kid can sing!” But yeah, that’s how it started, and, like I said, that’s how he [Berry] trusted people. He trusted my ability to scrap all the mixes that he had, send me the multitracks, and say, “You do it.”

So the first time you heard Michael’s voice, would you say that you instantly knew he was the real deal?

His pitch was great and he had good emotion. He was like an adult in a kid body. He really impressed me. He wasn’t just singing words — he came from the heart. Once I moved up to L.A., I was with him a lot. Michael was a good kid; I really liked Michael. He would sit next to me in the control room and would ask, “What does this do? What does that do? Why does that happen?” He was very into the behind the scenes thing too. He was always fascinated by the equipment, how things were accomplished, and how you do it. He was very soft-spoken and very polite, until he got behind a microphone, and all of a sudden, bang — “Who is that guy?” I liked him a lot. He was a very nice person. He was genuine. It was not easy to be Michael Jackson. He couldn’t go anywhere without putting on a disguise, because he’d be mobbed. I heard one time he had never been into a grocery store, because he couldn’t even walk into a grocery store. Jermaine [Jackson] was telling me they went to a grocery store when they’d closed, and they flipped the manager a couple of bucks so that Michael could walk around. He couldn’t believe all the aisles and shelves of food — that blew his mind.

Russ Terrana, in Tape Op magazine, on his time working as Motown’s chief studio engineer.

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