So, did you hear the one about the gang that walked into a corner Hamtramck bar and then changed it, bitstream by itty bitstream, into a hotspot for Detroit techno, funky house and whatever else is bubbling below the surface on the global electronic dance scene?
That same group then worked its transformative magic on vast ballrooms inside the Masonic Temple, as well as the basement at downtown's Oslo, the recently shuttered Bleu (reads like "blah") and other locations about town. That is, places where this creative but fragile sub-world needed to be modulated just right, and properly executed.
In other words, meet the next gen of local club culture movers and hip-shakers! Ladies and gentlemen, we present the curatorial future of underground Detroit! Proper|Modulation is now at your service. ...
"Providing hospitality and marketing good times is what we do," P|M co-founder Chad Teuscher says.
And how exactly is this different from other Detroit party machines over the past few decades? "Well, we want people to wake up and go 'Holy fuck! What was that?' when they come to one of our events."
Aran Daniels, the group's tall, cool artistic director, comes up with yet another gem: "Some people only market the party, but the party's not enough. The ambience is so important — the experience that never leaves you, even after the party is over. That's the trick in making it really work."
Ah, so they have the attitude and mind-bending aesthetics. What's next? Great taste in music? Well, as a matter of fact, yes. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. ...
This gang of five is lounging, talking and drinking near the dance floor of THC, the clever cannabis-evoking acronym for Trowbridge House of Coffee on Joseph Campau in Hamtramck. This space used to contain Lush, a chilled-out little sister to the hot-blooded Motor from 1996 to 2002. It then became the short-lived Exile before it was reignited last year under new ownership and management.
And the bar manager just happens to be Mike Petrack, one of P|M's founding members, who's sitting on a couch with Daniels. Squeezed in between are Susan Peslar and Sean Hodgson, with Teuscher seated on a chair facing the others. All are holding glasses containing something Irish and creamy, toasting the good health of Petrack, whose 26th birthday is being celebrated. It's being celebrated the entire week, as it turns out.
The seeds of P|M were sown in 2006, when Teuscher asked Petrack (who was working with Detroit-based sound company Burst) to amplify a dance party at his apartment inside downtown's Kales Building. Stacks of speakers were brought in and 150-200 people showed up, keeping the neighbors up until past 4 a.m. Thus, a beautiful friendship in loud repetitive beats was born.
Next came a sicker, more ambitious American Psycho-themed affair called "Dorcia" at the Masonic Temple. It featured Detroit's Seth Troxler and Shaun Reeves, along with Miss Fitz (all current resident Berliners now performing on the Euro club circuit), and stands as the first official PIM event.
Peslar was there, loved the high-volume passion and desire of the hard-charging but welcoming promoters, and asked them to program her birthday party a month later in the same building.
"Susan's Super Sweet Sixteen Party" spoofed MTV's show of the same name. "It literally looked like every Disney and girlie cartoon had exploded on the fourth floor of the Masonic!" Peslar says. "We had an array of character-themed tiaras and accessories for the attendants. It was stellar."
Stellar though it may have been, by all accounts it was then topped by Peslar's second birthday party in 2008 — a Marie Antoinette-themed party called "Guillotine Chic." It can't be confirmed, but it's a good guess that Robespierre, Danton, Saint-Just and Louis XVI were all there (What? No Sofia Coppola?), all getting along and dancing up near the speakers during this fun-filled sonic reign of terror.
"I was inspired by Dorkwave and Sass," Peslar says. "I wanted it to be the way those boys put on parties." In homage to Sass — whose creators DJs Mike Servito and Nathan Rapport moved to New York and San Francisco last year — PIM programmed a reunion holiday event last year, promoting it with a candy-colored video flyer.
Sitting on that couch at THC, Hodgson follows this bouncing ball of history by talking about his introduction to dance culture in the mid-1990s, when he began attending parties put on by the downriver collective Detor. Later, he began doing promotions himself with the group Havoc Detroit, which brought in De La Soul to the State (now Fillmore) Theatre and booked multiple-room raves before disbanding about a decade ago. Hodgson then went to College for Creative Studies and studied digital media. By day, he and Teuscher still work for information technology firms.
One important feature to note about any conversation with this likable crew is that they freely talk about other Detroit promoters with an earnest respect not often seen in this bitterly competitive frontier music town. They've co-produced or cross-promoted shows with Paxahau, Auxetic, CPM, Blank and others.
So what's your secret, P|Mers? How did your parents raise you to be so goddamn friendly, professional and uberhip all rolled into one neat-o package?
Daniels says, for him, it was visit to a London club with his dad in 1999, a moment when a thrash-rock kid originally from Saginaw morphed into the embodiment of Detroit-techno-laidback charm he is now.
"We went to see Richie Hawtin [then still based in Windsor] and Carl Cox at the Velvet Room, and he took me to the [famous club] Ministry of Sound," Daniels says, his baseball cap pulled down so tight that a shadow obscures his eyes. "I came home to the States and sold my guitar amp and bought DJ equipment instead." Daniels now spins at many P|M events, including performances with Hamburg's Sten and Berlin's Klimek, both in 2008, and is in regular rotation with a loose confederation of DJs called the Beat Boys every Wednesday at THC.
During its two years of activity, P|M has been busy bringing in artists no one else will — partly for the challenge of continuing the relationship Detroit has with great techno and house talent in Germany and elsewhere — but mostly for the love and thrill of it all. The group has also booked Efdemin, another Hamburg-based producer, and Mikael Stavostrand, a Swede who was one of the early pioneers of experimental minimal 4/4 tech-house. Most recently, P|M presented Move D, who helped pack the Hamtramck club — and a loft after-party — on a night when temperatures were near ten degrees below zero. Now that's hot.
What should be even hotter, though, is the crew's two-year anniversary bash scheduled for this Friday night at the club, featuring New York new wave disco lunatic The Juan McClean.
Petrack says he and P|M keep doing it for the most basic reason: They like to introduce people to exciting music made by talented people pushing the boundaries, all in a fun environment.
And finally, the million-dollar questions: How does it continue to happen with such verve in Detroit? What is it about this city that gives it such endearingly fucked-up energy?
"Detroit has always had a significant role in dance music," Petrack says. "I mean, dance music in its entirety, going all the way back to jazz!"
Daniels: "History here is important. Our audience tends to be highly educated in regards to dance music."
But the final words belong to P|M's member of the fairer sex, Peslar: "There's an open-mindedness in the scene that allows this to happen," she says, "and a camaraderie that attracts different kinds of people you'd never expect to see in the same building. I knew immediately I wanted to work with P|M. The boys are like brothers to me now."
Proper|Modulation's two-year anniversary party is Friday, Feb. 27, at THC, 10241 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck. Featuring The Juan McClean, with support from Joe Vargas + Steven Robert and P|M residents Aran Daniels, TRS and Metaphaze.Walter Wasacz writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]