As major label A&R folk look to the U.S. electronica scene once again for the next Stardusts and Fatboy Slims, many eyes will be on Detroit at the 1999 Winter Music Conference in Miami this week. The BPM world’s version of New Music Seminar, CMJ and South by Southwest music conferences all in one, WMC holds a key distinction with its Detroit-heavy representation: While only a handful of Detroit-based acts make it into the NMS/CMJ/SXSW rosters, hundreds of Detroit-based ghetto-tech, house and techno producer/DJs and label owners are part of the WMC’s week of seminars and artist showcase parties. Forget playing to wrist-banded college radio nerds at some NY dive. L.A. Williams, for instance, the Detroit-via-Chicago deep-house jock, headlines the Playboy/Bacardi party this year. And Carl Craig’s Planet E records will take over trendy South Beach restaurant Tantra for a night to showcase his roster, with DJ sets from his Paperclip People, Recloose, Mike Clark, Common Factor and Alton Miller, and even a surprise appearance by jazz-junglists 4 Hero member Dego. Says Planet E’s Hannah Sawtell, "The conference is usually pretty heavily New York, but we’re doing what we can to represent Detroit. Plus, we just want to get out of the cold for a week."
What makes this year’s WMC different, however, is that Detroit artists are emerging from the shadow of the albatross-like "birthplace of techno" moniker that has kept Detroit artists in a kind of ghettoized fringe of BPM culture. Over the past year, Detroit’s next generation has come into its own: Windsor’s Plastikman made it into the pages of Time and the Detroit Techno/booty saga was chronicled in Spin, Rolling Stone even the New York Times. Tech-house producer Stacey Pullen signed to Virgin/Science UK and Astralwerks stateside. Likewise, Carl Craig’s tech-jazz Innerzone Orchestra is due out with an album this Spring on Polygram subsidiary Talkin’ Loud and French disco duo Daft Punk remixed Detroit beatdown house master Scott Grooves’ "Mothership Reconnection" track. Even members of the fiercely independent Underground Resistance, once content with being cited as influences by more successful major label UK artists such as 4 Hero, are now stepping up to claim a piece of the pie: They’re now rumored to be collaborating with 4 Hero.
But besides the more established Detroit names blossoming more visibly, new local labels including Intuit-Solar and Jungle Bunny, as well as Twilight 76, Throw and Databass are also heading to Miami in hopes of securing licensing and distribution deals, as well as just getting product in the right hands. Though purists may bristle at the overexposure, and worse yet, the insinuation that success equals selling out or compromising their sound, the fact remains that Detroit has long been hamstrung by its failure to play the game a little more. And now, with the success of labels such as Astralwerks and artists such as Josh Wink and Plastikman in the domestic market, Detroit’s realizing to compete, it will have to try harder and quit resting on its decade-old laurels.
And, as WMC this year shows, they are. Look for a report on Detroit artists at Winter Music Conference in next week’s Pitch’d.
While most of Detroit has closed up shop and headed for Miami, Michelle "The Punisher" Herrman managed to get a few last minute live PAs in before making the trip south with her Jungle Bunny Records partner Michelle Banks. At last Thursday’s "Gathering" jungle party at Motor with Boston’s Tube, Herrman premiered a live set of "abstract" jungle, comprised wholly of beats she dubbed out from her Roland 303 Groovebox and a small sampler. Herrman’s set, importantly, met with enthusiastic reactions from the surprisingly decent-sized Motor crowd, while her use of detached, jerky beats and tones reminded everybody of her deep roots in techno. Herrman then traveled to Cleveland for the Mickey Finn/Ed Rush jungle party "Connection."
Mark your calendars: Ed Rush and Optical bring their "Virus" tour to St. Andrew’s in April; Herrman and Banks’ Jungle Bunny Records will host. Look for a pre-flyer soon.