From anarchic punk to self-destructive shock rock to the electronic revolution to Kid Rock, the awards always reflected Detroit’s impact on the music world and the world’s impact on Detroit music. The vibrant mod rock, garage, pop, jazz, experimental and punk scenes still alive today further represent the city’s need for its own awards show. Otherwise, how would the masses of musicians know how much they’re appreciated? It’s easy to get lost in a crowd. Some have said that it’s easier to light a match underwater than get the recognition you deserve as a musician in Detroit.
Even though giving recognition is the music awards’ intention, it’s still not enough. Great bands get overlooked due to the nature of the voting. It’s basically a popularity contest and Metro Times has never tried to deny it. The event always has dedicated itself, however, to showcasing talent from the Detroit area, new and established alike. Local and regional favorites have entered the Hall of Fame alongside national acts.
Artists could enter the virtual hall through a direct vote of the judges (a big cross section of industry figures and music supporters) or by winning their category three years in a row. Looking over the list of Hall of Famers, one notices nationally recognized artists such as Aretha Franklin, George Clinton, MC5, Was (Not Was), Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. One also recognizes the bands that built up their names through a strong Detroit push and some touring: the Mutants, Inside Out, Black Market. Talented musicians in the jazz community are strewn throughout the list of Hall of Famers: Marcus Belgrave, Earl Klugh, Straight Ahead, the Sun Messengers.
A rap-techno category was added to the awards in 1991. At the 1995 celebration, a tribute to techno included a lifetime achievement award given to Juan Atkins and his Metroplex Records label. The genre’s popularity in Europe was displayed with a lengthy video, which (in effect) revealed the scant attention given to electronic music in Detroit. That has since changed with techno, jungle, house, deep house and drum ’n’ bass nights popping up all over the city, not to mention last summer’s Detroit Electronic Music Festival, where hundreds of thousands of visitors proved the impact the music has had locally and internationally.
In the same year techno was honored, Robert Bradley won the award of “New Group or Performer Deserving Wider Attention.” The success of Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise and its most-recent release proves that attention did finally come. The ever-evolving Howling Diablos have consistently performed at the event and taken home plenty of awards. Their hard work will be paying off soon, however, with major label attention (Top Dog-Lava-Atlantic) and a new album to be released this fall that’s sure to include plenty of special guests.
Looking at all the changes brings to mind the context that enveloped the years covered: Reagan, then Bush, then Clinton. The Berlin Wall, the Soviet Union, Desert Storm, Monica Lewinsky. Cable television, computers, the Internet. Mass mergers between record labels and corporations, ultra-division in the genres, Napster. Kid Rock’s Kid ’n Play-Aqua Net hair and baby face versus today’s cowboy hats and hookers. Patti Smith belting out punk poetry and calls to action, then belting out punk poetry and calls to action in a concert last summer. (Some things don’t need drastic change.)
I remember driving to high school and listening to Charm Farm songs on the radio. Now the group has spread out into three different bands. One of the spawn, Gold Cash Gold, played at last summer’s Sonic Boom. Sponge, Verve Pipe, Majesty Crush: These names bring back fond memories of a time when I was still giggling at “Ask Isadora” over coffee with friends after school. Sponge also gave birth to a batch of bands. Vinnie and Joey, once of Sponge and now in Crud, are going to perform Sponge songs at Metro Times’ 20th Anniversary Party at the Roostertail, Friday, Sept. 29. Some things change, some evolve, some provide consistency. Some go around the bend and return to what works. But in no way is Michigan a static, unaffected place when it comes to music.
A steady flow of talent continues to grow along Woodward, Gratiot, Jefferson. At Alvin’s, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Lili’s 21. The Metro Times Music Awards provide us with snapshots of the childhood and maturity of the area’s various music scenes. Flip through them sometime and no matter where you’re coming from, fond memories are bound to flood your consciousness. Melissa Giannini is the Metro Times music