Amoeblog

TECHNO IS BLACK!

Posted by Mike Battaglia, February 2, 2009 11:00am | Post a Comment

              

Even five short years ago, many clubbers, ravers and dance music fans would be hard pressed to recognize the names Ron Hardy or Larry Levan (above, R-L), let alone acknowledge African American influence on the music they get freaky to on the weekends. Even in the black community, whole generations seem completely oblivious to this part of their musical heritage. Thankfully, that's changing. With a renewed interest in disco, 80's uptempo R&B aka boogie, techno and early house music over the past few years, knowledge of dance music's history and the role blacks (and gays and latinos) played in its inception is growing. Nightclubs where the music was allowed to evolve, like Levan's Paradise Garage (right) in New York, Hardy's Music Box and Frankie Knuckles' Warehouse in Chicago (the latter being where the name House Music was coined) and Detroit's Music Institute remain legendary not because of the venues themselves or the people who owned them, but due to the DJ's who made those places immortal by performing an aural alchemy that transformed the American soundscape.

In honor of Black History Month 2009, I plan on taking a look at these legends so that they might gain a foothold with a new audience. People like The Belleville Three, legendary innovators of techno music from Detroit, or DJ's and producers like Tony Humphries at New Jersey's Zanzibar, that bridged the gap between disco's firey, racist and homophobic "death" and the birth of house and techno. I'd like to visit the lives and careers of people who changed the face of music forever, as well as ask a few questions. Questions like: Why is it that DJ's like Tiesto, Sasha & Digweed, Paul Oakenfold or Paul Van Dyk remain the most recognizable faces in mainstream dance music while Theo Parrish (left) remains an "undiscovered talent," or that popular knowledge of its history seems to go no further than the 90's, when white folks finally caught on en masse to what black folks in Chicago, Detroit and New York had already known for years? Or that the most popular strains of dance and electronic music seem to have erased all trace of African American influence? In a press release for a 2006 conference on techno's black origins at Indiana University, author and professor of folklore and ethnomusicology Portia Maultsby said:

"It is interesting how the music migrated from Detroit to Europe, and...became associated with rave parties, and then migrated back to the U.S., and Americans became involved...and the African American identity became invisible. Music can be appropriated and re-appropriated, and history can be distorted as a result of that ...Very few people associate techno with its African American origins."

                     

(The Belleville Three, L-R - Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson)

I may not even have answers to these questions (but would love to hear people's ideas in the comments), but I think raising them is almost enough. Questioning the status quo has never been a popular idea in dance music, but it's something that skeptical ol' me is hardwired for.

Now, obviously things are changing. These men have been regarded as gods in the underground for nearly 20 years and as new generations discover this music for the first time, it seems that it's the essence they immediately attach themselves to; the music's late 70's and early 80's beginnings are attracting the kids and new artists alike, such as Hercules and Love Affair or New York's DFA label, headed by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy. These artists either consciously or unconsciously are realizing a concept-- that house/dance/electronic music (whatever you want to call it) has lost its way and needs to step back a bit to reflect, to capture what made it great in the first place. To remember the groove.
 

Continue reading...

The Cream of the Crop

Posted by Mike Battaglia, April 25, 2007 02:50pm | Post a Comment

That's right - I said hott - with two "t"'s please. Lots of great music only comes out on vinyl. Here's a few 12" releases that are killin' it for the SF crew:

























































Dub Pistols - "Rapture" (Sunday Best)
Chin Chin - "Toot D'Amore" (Dialect)

Two seperate 12"s here, with the connection being their solid Prins Thomas remixes. "Rapture" is indeed a cover of the Blondie classic with ex-Specials vocalist Terry Hall on vocals, and it works just fine with its bubbling underbelly of faux-acid, big beat guitar riffs and hip-house. Flip the record over, however, and you get some *actual* acid as Thomas' mix is where it's at, adding a smidge of swing and sounding like some proper Chicago action. Chin Chin, on the other hand, come out on top with no less than three PT mixes on one 12". The Diskomiks is a funky congo affair replete with horn section and hella-funky afrodisco percussion while you get two 'bonus beat' tracks that work great as DJ tools or full songs in their own right. SF Electronica floorperson Brian is super geeked out on this as well, so i'll give it two thumbs up.






























Random Factor - "Digitize - The Emperor Machine Remixes" (2020Vision)


Another funky, tripped-out disco remix from The Emperor Machine on this 12" from 20/20 Vision, out this week. Phased sounds begin the uptempo track which is immediately anchored by a gigantic bassline and chicken-scratch guitar licks that firmly plant this remix in rock territory. This groove is worked, heads-down, with vocal bits scattered here and there, straight down to the bone in a punk-funk stylee and it's excellent. As usual, it's the dub on the A-side which wins out, eliminating the vocal and introducing an equally-gigantic 4/4 kick while the track echoes off into space. I will be dropping this at a party this Saturday night, and I have no doubt it'll blow the place up.






Christian Prommer's Drumlesson - "Strings of Life" (Sonar Kollektiv)

Yep, it's Derrick May's stone Detroit classic, reworked in a dancefloor jazz style by Christian Prommer of Fauna Flash & Trüby Trio. I'll admit that I wish it had a bit more kick but it'll still induce dance moves, which I can testify to from hearing this tune played out on CDR in the club by folks like Alex from Jazzanova. After experiencing this on the floor, I picked it up the minute it came in.
Prommer has assembled a trio here, and they finesse their way through the tune in one go with exciting results. The drums are hitting all the right spots and *those* piano chords never sounded so good outside their original use as they do here floating on top a rolling, syncopated rhythm section. No real surprises here, but this will work a treat on more adventurous dancefloors. Flip for "Space Jam 2000.17", a more electronic affair featuring congas, an ethereal atmosphere and a steady house kick, very Joe Claussell and living up to its title.































Attias - "Nebukai" (Still Music)

Finally, we've got two dance-music-producing brothers from Switzerland named Attias. Alex Attias you may know from his high activity in the Broken Beat/Nu Jazz scene under a variety of different monikers and from working with folks like Dego McFarlane of 4 Hero. His brother Stephane is also accomplished, with a slew of releases under his belt for labels like Compost and Laws of Motion (including "Listen Luv", one of my favorite nujazz tracks, off of Compost's Future Sound of Jazz Vol. 7 compilation).
"Nebukai" is a missive sent straight to the heart of the "new deep house" movement, the major proponents of which are folks like Âme, Henrik Schwarz and Dixon and whose sound is a mixture of Detroit techno, NYC soulful house and German ingenuity. The tune sits well in tech-house & electrohouse sets, but also swings enough to compete with yer Osunlades and Kerry Chandlers. It's melodic, thumping, and sets the vibe perfectly. Grab this one now, as it keeps selling out!

More 12" reviews to come next week!


The Scene

Posted by Mike Battaglia, April 7, 2007 05:43pm | Post a Comment
A direct descendent of American Bandstand, and the older, cooler cousin of Dance Party USA, Detroit's own televised dance show The Scene ran from the mid-70's until the late 80's, giving local urban teens a place to strut their stuff and be seen by nearly everyone in the metro area - literally. The show's popularity was so high at its peak that its ratings outshined all competitors, including the six o'clock news. The Scene was the focal point for local kids, as is evident by the enthusiasm of these young dudes:



More pertinent to this blog (and interesting to me) is that The Scene was popular during the birth and growth of Detroit's last enduring gift to the world: Techno.

The show aired on Detroit's only black-owned TV station, WGPR, and had its roots in the swinging disco Seventies, as you can see in this short piece from Detroit local news:


As disco "died", it was replaced by electro, boogie, and the eurodisco now commonly referred to as Italo-disco in the early Eighties. Its use of synthesizers would directly influence Detroit's black youth, not to mention the Belleville Techno triumvirate of Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. Case in point: Scene-sters dancing suavely to Kano's "I'm Ready".



Even more exciting, though, is this spectacular 1982 clip featuring a guys-only dance to "Sharevari" by A Number of Names, believed to be the first Detroit Techno record and coincidentally reissued this past week on vinyl. Peep the dude with the prop guitar!



With all the frenzied screaming, yelping and hollering, the atmosphere in the studio sounds electrified! Silly dance moves and outdated fashions aside, what you have here is a mostly black (but quite multicultural) audience getting seriously down to the sort of thing that was widely (and erroneously) considered "white" music - synthesizers, drum machines, minor keys. Not only did Detroit's musical climate at the time open the doors for this music to be appreciated, it legitimized it in the eyes and ears of a young, urban, black audience, which embraced it and made it their own. Today, it makes Detroit completely unique in the US - there is no other (S/s)cene quite like it, enough so that the Detroit Historical Society now has a permanent exhibit about Techno.