Thursday night’s Taste of Honey at Panacea seemingly has all one could hope for in a club night: A great sound system, free admission before 11 p.m. — $5 after — drink specials (ask before you order … seriously), a beautiful club, and some of the best house music Detroit has to offer compliments of Michael Geiger, Mike Clark, and occasionally Mike Huckaby. But the numbers have been more mixed than one of their overpriced vodka and tonics. Low turnout despite massive promotion and great booking has been daunting. They’ve scrapped Dealer’s Choice Wednesdays with Todd Osborn and Brian Gillespie, and Paxahau promotions recently ended their dance-happy Volume Fridays with D Wynn (who’s been supplanted by Space’s Lisa Lisa). Now the club seems to be making the inevitable step of thinking with its wallet in order to stay afloat. And in Detroit, that seems to mean bringing in the dance-radio juggernaut that is WDRQ to save the day.
Can’t blame ’em, though. The ’DRQ factor is immeasurable. Near-zero attendance on Wednesdays past to hear two of Detroit’s most versatile DJs (for free, no less) turned into a line around the building in the first week of on-air hyping of Top 40 dance DJ Mike Scroggs. What will be left after the culture vultures swoop down has yet to be determined. The one thing that seems obvious, though, is that Taste of Honey is what’s keeping Panacea from becoming just another sugar pill.
So big deal … people like Top 40 dance music. They’re certainly entitled. But go up to a couple of DJs who’ve been around as long as Mike “Agent X” Clark and Michael Geiger and request the new Dirty Vegas single — you won’t likely get it. What you’ll get instead is far deeper and much more nourishing. They spin actual, honest-to-God house music in its many forms — not its watered-down, sped-up, chart-topping placebo.
“I spin an occasional guest spot on 90.9 WDTR on Thursdays from 5-6 p.m.,” explains Clark when asked how radio affects club support. “I think if we could advertise my residency [more often] on the show, it would probably bring that whole crowd. I truly believe if it was just laid out for [the listeners] on a major radio station, or just a local station, that could open the door for a new breed to check it out.”
But the odd set on Theresa Hill’s “After School Groove” program is very small potatoes next to the ’DRQ machine. Certainly, Detroit’s mainstream radio stations have all but ignored homespun talent since the late ’80s (save for ghetto-tech DJs such as Gary Chandler, Zapp and Fingaz, who work furiously to bridge the pop and underground worlds — albeit at 45+ RPMs).
“In order to raise awareness,” Geiger asserts, “we need radio supporting the type of music we play. I think it’s very rare for people to show up to a club [night like ours] for the first time, hearing music they’ve never heard before, and really appreciate it. You have to be an open-minded music lover.”
Until the day comes when local radio support doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of the ’DETs and ’DTRs, Geiger and Clark plan on staying true to the music they love. With the whole Panacea experiment unfolding before our ears, it seems increasingly obvious that Detroit’s subterranean DJ culture needs to somehow expand its 20- and 30-something fan base if it’s ever to support such a large-scale project by itself.
“I think the only way new people will become interested,” explains Geiger, “is if it becomes the popular thing to do. I have a friend who says the whole club scene is like Hollywood now. [People] see the images on MTV and think that’s how a club should be. Clubs didn’t used to be where all the mainstream people went to. It was the underground. So now there is this dilemma of wanting a wider audience but not wanting to lose musical integrity. I think [most clubgoers] don’t quite understand what a true DJ can accomplish in a night if given the chance. People need to have the patience to allow the DJ to take them on a ride through the night.”
Yet Geiger and Clark aren’t as discouraged as they are frustrated. They’ve seen years of crowd attendance ebb and flow. The fact that the club hasn’t lost faith in them is also reassuring. Panacea’s ownership has certainly taken more chances than similar venues have dared to.
Clark, ever the big-smiling optimist, seems too busy looking for the next record to sweat the accounting stats. “I feel that I’ve gotten back what I put into it,” he says. “It can always do better, but the people I play for feel me and I couldn’t ask for more on that level.”
Taste of Honey takes place Thursday at Panacea, 205 W. Congress, Detroit. Call 313-965-8200 for info. For information about Mike Clark, look to www.beatdownsounds.com.E-mail Robert Gorell at firstname.lastname@example.org