DJ Mike "Agent X" Clark has observed the Detroit house and techno scene from numerous angles over his 35-year career. He recalls the high school house parties of the '80s, the commercialization of house and techno in the '90s, and the nostalgic, youthful spirit of ingenuity and competition among Detroit's earliest DJs.
Metro Times: When did your interest in DJing begin?
Clark: In high school, it was a trendy thing for everybody to be spinning in people's basements. That's why, nowadays, if you look at the house scene, the older black audience, you'll see there's a ton of DJs that nobody really knows. That's because that whole onslaught of us, we all started young.
MT: Do you think there was a golden age for the type of music that you play?
Clark: Oh, yeah. We were the group of DJs that started it all. We were just a bunch of ninth and tenth graders doing this crazy stuff. There was so much creativity that was coming out back then that's nowhere near that level today. Because we were kids, we were knee deep in it. We had a certain standard that marked who you were in the industry. There were three to five people per high school that were DJing and there was a spirit of camaraderie and competition.
MT: Do you think house music has lost some of the politics associated with the scene in the past? For example, resisting the commercialization of techno?
Clark: That's tricky, because with the position that I'm in, I know a lot of different angles. When we started doing techno and house music, we didn't really look at it from a marketing standpoint yet.
As the Europeans officially came and licensed our stuff, there was a political thing that happened. When that first EP hit, it handpicked who was going to be the representatives of Detroit's techno scene. You had people who were "selling out" early because people from out-of-town were throwing money at them and bringing them overseas.
Also, the biggest history that a lot of people don't realize was messed up was the initiation of house and techno itself. A lot of people don't realize that house music was strictly a name that came from clubs in Chicago. It had nothing to do with the sound. In Detroit, techno and house music came out at the same time. We were both making tracks. But this is Detroit: We make music. We're the kings of that shit. How the hell are we going to limit ourselves to the sounds that other people were calling Detroit techno? At the end of the day, that's one of things I always fought about with people.
MT: You've used the phrase "beatdown" when talking about local house music. Can you describe what that means?
Clark: Beatdown in its purest form means the sound that comes out of Detroit. A lot of people from the city that spun deep, soulful house couldn't get gigs outside of town. But through the word beatdown, they created that brand and now all you have to do is your own Detroit shit. You ain't got to spin like everybody else, and people accept it because it has that ID tagged to it.
MT: Any plans for the future?
Clark: Right now there are a lot of good things happening with me. I just hooked up with a booking agent in Switzerland and I'm getting more gigs with the younger cats here in Detroit. Once I start getting my out-of-town career on lock, I think I'll be a totally happy person. mt