The future’s always a good conversation starter. Why? Because the future isn’t here — it’s there, wherever the hell “there” is. OK, so far it isn’t the jet packs or the meal-in-a-pill tablets we were promised all those “Jetsons” episodes ago. It ain’t even the colonization of space — scientists discovered that too much time in zero gravity makes your brain explode. Whoops.
But the Blade Runner flying cars — yeah, those are coming. F’real. Just as soon as the FAA can work out flight patterns above highways — that is, when they are done sorting out this airport security thing.
But the idea that the future holds some impending miracle that will render everything around us obsolete in our lifetime is pleasantly unsettling, even if our future fixation is just one big, shared escapist fantasy. Like the P-Funk mothership taking us on out of the world and its ghettos. Or the White Stripes’ “Hotel Yorba” hitting the eject button on city life and popping us out in front of some shack in the sticks where you don’t have to lock the doors.
Which brings us to the point that so much of the future of the future shows up in music, that clumsy drunken hook-up between art and commerce. Especially Detroit music. Motor City tastes have always been a little ahead of national curves — sometimes brilliantly, sometimes just maddeningly oblivious to them. To paraphrase Steven Wright, Detroit’s so far ahead of its time, nobody’s there yet.
First it was techno, then honky rap, now garage rock. Where were the White Stripes sycophants when the Gories were tearin’ it up all those Old Miami shows ago? What about all these hacks too busy flying the flannel with Soundgarden to notice Detroit techno the first and second times around; they’re all over garage rock now? Geez, no wonder these techno guys don’t put out records anymore; they’ve got so many journalists on their jocks they can’t reach their keyboards.
And now the buzzword is New Wave Electro. To which many a Detroiter, particularly those into Adult. or AUX 88 or Drexcyia or Model 500 would say, in the words of Bob Seger, “Shit, I’ve known that for 10 years.” The beauty is, instead of ahead of the curve, Detroit now is the curve. Future, indeed.
And that’s what this column is all about — what’s next? What are those little ideas that start out almost as a joke (they seem so out there) only to take root in the collective unconscious and show up on our doorstep later. That’s what we’ll talk about here in upcoming weeks. Like how this year’s DEMF is shaping up to show the city a good time that’s been a decade-plus in the making. And how area DJ Jay Langa wants to be part of it. A DEMF hopeful who spins pizzas and records — one’s his living, the other’s his future — he hopes to be part of this year’s Memorial Day lineup.
Or to introduce readers to people like DJ P, a hip-hop DJ representin’ Springfield, Mo., who puts together Tom Petty and Public Enemy with the same pioneering spirit Afrika Bambaataa had putting Kraftwerk records together 25 years ago. And, by God, for better or for worse, he just may be the future of hip-hop. Or VHS or Beta, yes, VHS or Beta, a quartet of indie rockers from Louisville, Ky., so enthralled with what European DJs can do with house music, they play like DJs who can make records sound like a four-piece band.
Screwy, ain’t it?
And there are many others who at first seem like musical castoffs from the Island of Misfit Toys who just may be giving us a peek into what’s yet to come. Like former Ann Arborite Andrew WK doing his Rob Zombie-meets-Wesley Willis-over-a-two-liter-of-Mountain Dew-at-a-Quiet Riot-reunion at the Shelter last week. He showed us what popped-rock will sound like once this whole moody rap-rock thing blows over (Hint: more like the Go-Go’s than you might want, but just as much fun as his new disc I Get Wet). Or Texas’ And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, who updated Sonic Youth’s droning alt-rock legacy into an Armageddon Beatles of careening and kerranging Who-bash-’em-ups for the Blink 182 crowd at the Magic Stick last Tuesday. (For those who prefer do their careening and kerranging at home, Trail of Dead’s new disc, Source Tags and Codes, is a good place to start.)
Or, closer to home, Windsor DJ-producers Richie Hawtin and John Acquaviva and their pioneering use of Final Scratch. Two years ago I was at a DJ school in Ireland and a bunch of us riffed to an equipment manufacturer about how cool it would be if there was a turntable that could turn any record into any record you wanted it to be. Like MP3 files or whatever would be turned into the actual record that you could cue up and scratch just like the original. We thought we were just dreaming out loud. But not only does the idea come to stunning fruition with Final Scratch, a computer-turntable interface that indeed turns any digitized music file into the record on the turntable, but Richie Hawtin and John Acquaviva now use Final Scratch with the aplomb of street hustlers playing the shell game in their DJ sets — like they did a few weeks back at Motor. For home listening, Hawtin has DE9: Closer To The Edit, his mix CD of last year, which breaks down tracks by everybody from Carl Craig to German dub minimalists Basic Channel and recombines them one hook and fragment at a time. Hawtin’s new single, “Closer to the (Re)-Edit” (available on 10-inch vinyl, ironically), shows just how far he’s gone with this post-vinyl thing.
Maybe that’s the greatest gift of the future — how it breaks down boundaries by letting ideas bubble up and spill over regardless of where they came from. Remember when Joan Jett was punk rock and Leonard Cohen was this esoteric folk poet? When Cohen finally came around on his tour for The Future album in the early ’90s, it seemed like a joke that his show at the State Theatre was all-ages — like some 8-year-old was gonna wanna hear “Suzanne.” But, by God, peep the Shrek sound track and yep, Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” done by Velvet Underground alum and Stooges producer John Cale, no less, are right there.
Why? Because the future frees things up to seek their own level. That’s the great thing about the prequel to the whole post-Napster debate. The record companies have nobody but themselves to blame; they’re like King Lear giving up his army, then asking for it back having relinquished the control.
“Reason not the need!” Lear yells at his daughters when they asked him why he wanted an army of his own after giving up the big one. And that “need” is just what the record companies are crying about. Because when those sonzabtiches turned records from being these big vinyl things with a big full-color record cover to stare at while you listened to it to a digitized piece of information, they gave up the big one — just like Lear. The music industry made music information instead of an art object, and they wonder why the rest of the world started treating it like that too.
What used to be subversive or at least subdivided is now free of context to be whatever it wants to be. And if that means an attitude-and-estrogen jam by a punky lesbian captures the thug life of an animated character or a maudlin prayer by a black-lung poet nails ogre ennui for 8-year-olds, bring it on. Cameron Crowe was such a fan of Livonia’s Warren Defever’s slanted shoegazer pop band His Name Is Alive, he put a track in “Jerry Maguire.”
Just like Juan Atkins wound up selling “No UFOs” to sell cars made by the assembly line rhythms that inspired it a decade earlier. Epic, I tell ya. As filmmaker Wim Wenders likes to say, “You are in the world to be of it,” and in the future of the future of the world has never been so big — or so small.
As Einstein or Eminem after a day in court might say, “It’s all relative,” so much so it’s damn near inbred.
A monk once told me, “Heaven is all around us, we just keep turning it into something else.” And so’s the future of the future, but here we try to turn it into the present and enjoy it while we can, wherever it shows up.Hobey Echlin believes in the beat. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org