DEMF weekend was not for the promophobic. Promotional CDs — being the business card du jour for any aspiring wannabe of the digital age — reached critical mass around Memorial Day. A cornucopia of gems, next-thing jams and soon-to-be beer coasters bulked up the pockets of industry and media folk. DIY spirits were buzzing in more ways than one as tomorrow’s talent was seemingly ubiquitous. And even with the influx of big-timers freshly shipped from Metro Airport, Detroit artists came prepared — many served up some technologically advanced efforts.
But as the sadly frank saying goes, it’s not the size of the artist, it’s the motion of the promotion (… or something like that). Unlicensed mix CDs, random-track samplers from the unsigned, 12-inch EPs and shiny new albums were doled out to the press like free first-time crack rocks to street urchins. In moments like these, the promo can act as a great equalizer. Removed from the pretense of bubble-wrapped mailings and hyped-up PR sheets, a steady flow of honest handshakes and nods reassured us that it was all about the music and its accompanying sideshows. Here are some highlights of what was handed to me:
Japanese ex-pat Kaku puts forth a steady mixture of midtempo, minimal techno-fueled click house that methodically drives through a layered series of laid-back grooves. Its drone is often intoxicating, but since the tempo and mood are left alone, it occasionally drags, and some tracks would sound better if reshuffled. Kaku sits back a bit on the decks, but most often this technique works to his advantage as he slowly orchestrates a structurally sound and thought-provoking compilation.
Public Transit Recordings
Winner of this year’s most convincingly soulful white-boy award, Kevin Moon (aka Moonstarr) is undoubtedly a hero in the making. Dupont is the debut album from this Toronto-based DJ/producer with a flair for the funk. It’s unclear whether Moon will receive more props for his production work or his astonishing turntable skills. Those who witnessed his set at the Vert party May 24 at CPOP got to hear the best of both worlds as Moonstarr combined live programming with his trademark DJ style of layering otherworldly, broken-beat minimalism. Dupont is a fantastic collage of nü-jazz hip-hop groove. It’s in the Luke Vibert vein at times, but less kitschy and more mix-friendly.
Keith Kemp had some gigantic shoes to fill at this year’s DEMF when Kenny Dope, one of the weekend’s most highly anticipated house acts, didn’t show. But Kemp rose to the occasion with a relaxed performance so powerful it elicited crowd-surfing. With a hypnotically smooth ebb and flow, Kemp is almost continually in the mix with vinyl haute couture from the likes of Pantytec, Bryan Zentz (via a Kenneth Graham remix), Multipurpose and Matthew Dear. Kemp has found an inspired balance between polyrhythmic headiness and techno-infused house-music cool. Look for EPs on Out of the Box and Ferrispark records.
D records DJ/producer Rex Sepulveda does for techno exactly what Kemp does for house — he plays new records and knows how to create a story by gradually shifting the pace and mood selection. Percolating midrange melodies meet with conga thumps and pounding bass grooves that morph into 909 drum kicks without squinting. “Rex ’n’ EFX” seems a fitting title as Sepulveda utilizes a more complex DJ rig reminiscent of Richie Hawtin’s mid-’90s configuration. During his performance, which followed Vladislav Delay, at Panacea, Rex turned a house-hungry dance floor into a techno-crazy sweatbox in a three-track segue.
Alan Oldham’s (aka DJ T-1000) Generator imprint relaunches big with this 10-track comp that features artists from this year’s DEMF, which Oldham helped book. Although it’s unmixed, the results certainly are. Big-name producers Dave Clark, Mike Dearborn and Adam X come up empty with unlistenable banger tracks that sound like cinder blocks crushing kittens on a steel floor (meouch!). But Bryan Zentz, Stewart Walker, the Advent, Chaos, Ignacio and Oldham himself score much higher with tracks that taste fresh despite some older tones. The biggest surprise is newcomer (and Oldham’s soon-to-be in-law) Tang, a Chicagoan whose moody opus “Ominous” is classic Detroit techno a decade later.
Omoa Music Presents: Ayro
Ayro is one part Stevie Wonder and one part Aphex Twin, shaken and served over ice. Featuring the tracks “Drink” and “Let This,” Ayro’s debut is a collage of broken beats, warped organ melodies and lyricism. Smooth-jam clichés never sounded so abstract, updated or palatable.
The Electric Disco Excursion
This mix from Numbers’ Tuesday resident, Jan D, is lush, song-driven electro-soul. TEDE features all that’s good from the more humane side of the robo-fetish coin. Electro DJs often come across as cold, antiseptic and soulless, but Jan D opts for warmer sounds and complementary tones, demonstrating a sixth sense for track selection. TEDE is a gymnastic roll call of Detroit’s melodic, electronic best, showcasing the sound’s lineage without pimping it. Drexciya, Chaos, Rob Hood, Shake, Ectomorph, Aubrey Hoermann and Felix da Housecat add more sparkle after a nice polish from Miss D’s mixer.
Livewire records sampler
DBit is a local post-rave technophile who’s kept a steady ear to the hardcore. Nursing two labels through infancy (Livewire and Music in Formation), DBit’s sound is not for the faint of ears. This is chugging, diced-up techno that evokes Adam Beyer’s Drumcode releases. His remix of Metamatics’ “SoS” is introspective hard-techno genius.
If you missed Gary Martin’s DEMF main stage set at the crack of noon on Sunday, May 26, there’ll be plenty more chances to catch this maestro of floor-shaking techno and tribal house. Martin’s latest EP, the ultrasuave “Pimping People in High Places,” is prominently featured herein along with a bevy of rolling rhythms, organic instrumental compounds and breakdowns that work without being presumptuous. There’s no doubt that we’ve got a serious crowd-mover on our hands.
The Mechanics of Destruction
Matthew Herbert is Radio Boy, and his live set at the Planet E All Access 2 party was probably the most shocking live electronic performance since the Theremin was unveiled. Think of Radio Boy as Herbert’s Jackson Pollock-of-sound alter ego. Cereal boxes and televisions were destroyed, plastic cups bounced on mics and corporations were issued a sonic “fuck you.” Radio Boy’s track titles (“McDonalds,” “Oil,” “Starbucks,” “Nike,” “Manufactured Music”) are also his enemies. Radio Boy’s corporate outrage is sublimated in a fit of spontaneous, sample-based track creation — a jazzy house shuffle comes to life by killing a Happy Meal, etc. Yet trapped on a recording — which is only available free from Herbert directly — the routine doesn’t work. But what better way to push one’s message than issuing 1,000 free CDs at a party?
Defiant The People’s Movement IM Records
At his main stage DEMF performance, DJ Defiant opened his set saying, “C’mon, Detroit! Y’all never seen this before!” Indeed we haven’t. A 40+ MC tag team was plenty to get Hart Plaza bumpin’. Detroit’s underground hip-hop community displayed a common front through one act. Too many MCs, not enough mics? More like u-n-i-t-y. Cutting up the instrumental tracks on the B-sides of hip-hop singles, Defiant gives a chance for local rhyme slayers to shine through a linear tag team that never seems convoluted. Consistently intelligent and positive, TPM’s talent pool is a mix of floaters and swimmers, but it’s the highest honor that a group can pay to the true spirit of hip hop.
Mr. Hampton has been around for a while. Maybe that’s why this would-be house mix features a lot of techno classics. With a don’t-make-’em-like-they-used-to swagger, Hampton creates moments like “Jam the Box” (Carl Craig as “69”) into “Energy Flash” (Joey Beltram) after skillfully traversing a jak-heavy 10-track house progression. Hampton makes the classics come alive, and even the occasional diva sounds believable in this mix proving that genre rigidity will get you nowhere.
Author’s note: Every mix above is better than the majority of sterile, licensed, formula mixes that have been sent to me this year. Rah, rah, Detroit.Robert Gorell covers the beat for Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org