In a basement full of records, collected and categorized both geographically and by genre for the last decade, Michael Geiger backs up, rephrases and disavows almost every musical explanation he uses for the music he creates as a DJ. Like his ambition, the 26-year-old Geiger’s perception of his mission as a lover of music changes with his own experience. Early successes, from raves and Ann Arbor coffee shops to a stint at Richie Hawtin’s Windsor club, 13-Below, have given way to a tempered acceptance of DJ reality: hit-and-miss parties, consistent work followed by drought and a general lack of understanding of what exactly he does.
It is this mixed audience — which may expect “banging techno” but from Geiger gets Latin rhythms for eight minutes at a more leisurely 100 bpm — that makes the DJ ponder his future career. “I can play the same record, at the same speed, in a room full of 20 people as 100. But when I do it in the empty room, the bartenders might come up to me to tell me to ‘pick it up.’ In the full room, they’ll come to me afterwards and congratulate me on an amazing night.”
A well-dressed, clean-cut but frustrated Geiger shakes his head. “Sometimes I just don’t know, man.”
His senior partner, Mike Huckaby, has similar frustrations. The 36-year-old Record Time employee was raised on Detroit’s northwest side in a time of intense cultural creativity and severe societal neglect. Recounting how he got one record player at a time, saving up for months for the other, Huckaby argues that he, as well as many of his peers, always had to hustle: “A Detroit DJ makes something out of nothing, because he never had nothing to begin with.”
But when it comes to the intermittence of his own house-techno production career, the things that dictate what he does produce or on what labels, Huckaby plays things close to his chest. He hints at a future 12-inch, perhaps for this spring, but offers little else. Like Geiger, Huckaby does nothing without first mulling it over but, unlike Geiger, he offers few specifics.
An answer of sorts to the strands of our conversation comes at one point: “There is no history in this shit anymore. It’s only about entertainment, people trying to make money. Don’t think. Just consume.” There is no stream of consciousness or idle riffing in Huckaby’s life.
Or in the music he spins. Huckaby and Geiger’s taste in music, a well-shopped blend of house, techno, tribal beats and remixed R&B flavors, does not play like some stereotypical club night, full of smack-you-in-the-face diva sass. This is not quick-fix house and, in that sense, Geiger and Huckaby’s blend of international and East Coast dance rhythms and textures might make them more Detroit than even a supposedly dance-heavy Detroit can handle.
There is no linear history that can connect the two DJs, from their hood vs. suburbs geography to their ’70s vs. ’80s youths. But after you talk to both of them, the Huckaby+Geiger DJ partnership, one that recently finished a sublime Friday night series at Porter Street (a club in southwest Detroit), makes perfect sense. And though they both have felt the feast and the famine of their profession (making them both frustrated and self-deprecating), their methodical commitment to the music they love continue to provide inspiration.
“You know what a real Detroit DJ is?” Huckaby asks about three-quarters through our conversation. “A real Detroit DJ does just one thing. They put their necks out on the line for that one thing.”
It can get heavy talking with Messrs. Huckaby and Geiger, perhaps even heavier than it needs to be. Huckaby’s own residency at St. Andrew’s Shelter in the mid-’90s has helped encourage Chris Galea, the day-to-day feet and legs behind Organic, a party-promoting family that utilizes Huckaby extensively. It is Galea’s early work with Geiger in smaller hip-hop parties that brought Galea the experience to put together parties in the first place.
Organic, which Galea runs with Geiger and partner Lynn Armatis, started in early 1998 and has brought a number of elite producers and DJs through town, including Joe Claussell and his partner François K., as well as Peppe Braddock (“Burning”) and Miguel Migs (via Naked Music). Each of these events featured Huckaby and Geiger in supporting roles.
“Huckaby and Geiger will always be a part of my parties. Period,” Galea says.
Both Huckaby and Geiger know how good they are. Geiger knows when he’s on, and a small but rewarding every-other-Saturday night at the Buddha Bar (on Eight Mile near Southfield) brings him room to stretch out. Huckaby does not sweat the small stuff, and knows when he hears a true classic and not just a pasteurized dance hit. In a sometimes very unglamorous world of suspicious backslapping and bottom-line thinking, both find pleasure in their callings.
But Galea knows how they both can be: “They’re coming from the DJ end of things and they get frustrated. I’m coming from the people end, when people come up to me and say they they’ve never heard stuff like that before.”
Though understanding what Huckaby says when he argues that there is “no education” going on in today’s dance scene, an education that might bring more people to appreciate his craft and temperament, Galea offers his own mission, which Huckaby and Geiger have made possible. “I’m into educating the people who grew up on the Bad Boy Bills of this culture, people who have outgrown the rave scene.
“They need this.”
Organic presents Joe Claussell, Mike Huckaby and Michael Geiger
Saturday, Dec. 22
715 E. Milwaukee, Detroit Call 313-875-7302 or see www.organicdetroit.com.