Metro Detroit DJs: From A – Z

A little bit o’ Detroit DJ education from Metromode.


Metro Detroit DJs: From A – Z

By: Walter Wasacz, 11/18/2010

There’s something in the local DNA, a gene passed from generation to generation perhaps, that makes metro Detroit twist and shout — all night long if we do it right.

And, as goes Detroit, so goes the rest of the world, grinding, bumping, shaking and sweating to music produced here, brought to a dance floor near you by a beat-matching artist known as, of course, the DJ.

We’ve got a million of ’em. Maybe not quite that many. But a lot. And plenty who rank with the best ever to use turntables and a mixer — or various other hardware and software — to create a thrill-a-minute club, warehouse or festival experience.

Why we’re so influential and inspirational is the question of the ages, or at least of the past 25 years or so. That’s how long the now famous Belleville 3 have been producing “the new dance sound of Detroit” called techno. Those three — Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson — are still spinning around the planet, pushing minds and bodies around in all the right ways.

Want to join those Metro Detroiters who sweat and sway? Well, the venues shift and spin as quickly as the drum machines lay down beats and records spin. Elysium on Shelby and the Works and 10 Critics in Corktown warrant a check in. Motor City Wine Bar is the up n’ comer, rapidly developing a scene.

There’s never been a shortage of media attention on Detroit talent but we have our own spin — pun intended. So let’s just rock it. As Metromode cranks out its first ever primer on metro area DJs from A to Z, a drum roll, please:

A.    The first name on this list is an honorary one. We include the recently and dearly departed Aaron-Carl, who died in September after a short battle with cancer. A-C rolled out a house-techno-electro-disco hybrid sound as a producer and DJ and used a microphone to sing live in the club, or call out fools who forgot what they were there to do: dance. We keep on missing you, big fella.
B.    No one was more responsible for creating a funk-soul discotheque environment than Brad Hales, who launched Funk Night parties (with a little help from his friends) at the old Detroit Contemporary gallery and then converted the buzz into one of the nation’s elite vinyl shops, Peoples Records.
C.    There is only one C in this town. Make that C2, the shortened version of the multi-talented, genre-crossing Carl Craig, who’s been representing the Detroit electronic sound as producer, DJ, label head — his Planet E is a trailblazing imprint — and curator. You name it, he’s probably had a hand in it.
D.    It should come as no surprise that in the D there are a number of notable “Ds” behind the decks. Let’s count Derrick May once more, then add a couple of eclectic collective efforts: Dethlab (Michael Doyle, Bethany Shorb and David Blunk II) and Disco/Secret (Mike Kearns and Tommy Ferrara).
E.    Though not technically a DJ crew, Ectomorph qualifies due to the presence of minimal electro-space-disco theorist Brendan M Gillen. See “I” below.

F.    Let’s keep it fresh, make that Kelly “K-Fresh” Frazier, a writer, organizer and tunesmith whose specialty is experimental hip hop but has as a nice variety of a little bit of everything in his record bag.
G.    The scene would be nowhere, man, had it not been for people like Brian Gillespie, who pushed party culture to another level in the 1990s as part of the Family Funktion weekly and infamous abandoned factory special events at the Packard Plant. Let’s also mention the under-appreciated Andy Garcia, who moved to Detroit from Indiana for the vibe and has released over a dozen high-quality EPs on his mysterious Docile label.
H.    He’s been around for a long time, but the past few years have seen Mike Huckaby’s profile rise and keep rising on the international tip. He’s got so many gigs in Europe, he needs a temporary apartment in Berlin — though he says he has no interest in giving up his metro area condo. He’s a master at deep house transportation and dub techno, in case you’re asking.
I.    You have to give it up for anything abbreviated IT in the electronic music scene. That would be Interdimensional Transmissions, a label and dance force founded by Ectomorph’s Brendan M. Gillen in Ann Arbor in the late 1990s. He DJs under the moniker BMG and now bases his operations in Southwest Detroit.

J.    Call him Moodymann or call him by his proper name, Kenny Dixon Jr., this original West Side Detroiter is a psychedelic soul-jazz man without peer. His shambolic, crowd interactive sets — unless he decides to play behind a sheet and never show his face, which he does on occasion — are legendary.
K.    The newest superstar on the block, Kyle Hall, still in his late teens, emerged in 2009 behind tracks on his own Wild Oats label, and releases on Detroit’s FHXE and London’s Hyperdub. He’s busy, just off the plane from Singapore the last time we bumped into him at Detroit Threads.
L.    Native Californian Monty Luke is another gifted dance commander who moved here for the music vibe and to assist Craig with label duties at Planet E.
M.    The first lady of Detroit house, DJ Minx, has been in a solid groove for over a decade, heading up the tasty Women on Wax collective. And we’ve never lost sight of the skills of Tadd Mullinix, who performs under various names, including Dabrye and James T. Cotton for Ann Arbor’s Ghostly International.
N.    If you can’t get enough house music, rough ‘n’ ready Detroit style, then Norm Talley is your man.

O.    More love for the Ghostly style comes from Todd Osborn, who DJs under his own name but records under the name Osborne and also as Soundmurderer. But we also can’t ignore the irascible Omar S, who has perfected a trippy, stripped down house dialect better understood in the EU than in East Side Detroit’s Conant Gardens, where he lives.
P.    There is a plethora of Ps in the D, including the funky acid-housemaster  Pirahnahead, the silky smooth Marcellus Pittman, Northville-based Punisher, who spins tough but lovely techno jams and longtime ace Stacey Pullen.
Q.    Rest assured all of the work coming out of this region is of high quality, or it just wouldn’t last. No sir, no ma’am.
R.    Rick Wade’s Harmonie Park label — based not in the downtown neighborhood now known as Paradise Valley but in Oak Park — has been one of Detroit house music’s leading champions since the mid-1990s. He can spin with the best of the artists he represents.
S.    Anthony “Shake” Shakir has let nothing stand in way of greatness — not even a diagnosis of MS, which hampers his mobility and has occasionally forced him to DJ from a wheelchair. Shake has been on his techno-house game since the mid-1980s and recently saw a well-deserved resurgence due to the re-release of his Frictional catalogue on Holland’s Rush Hour records.
T.    If Theo Parrish is behind the mixer, all bets are off in terms of set programming. Anything goes — house, disco, techno, synth-pop, glam-rock — anytime anywhere when he’s in the room. See him, hear him, feel him at all cost.

U.    For over 20 years Underground Resistance has produced music and rolled it out live (early shows with original members Mike Banks, Jeff Mills and Rob Hood are legend), but DJs like Buzz Goree and James Pennington (the Suburban Knight) also know how to represent the militant neighborhood vibe.
V.    Voom! Though no longer active, this rave promotions crew is an instrumental piece of the local dance history continuum.
W.     The man they call the Godson, Rick Wilhite has been producing solid house music since the 1990s and teams with Dixon and Parrish in the DJ-production crew 3 Chairs.
X.    If you don’t know what the beatdown sound is you’ve probably never been shoved around the floor by Mike “Agent X” Clark at the controls. Try it, you’ll like it.
Y.    Yes, this is a damn long list. There are probably some worthy others who’ve been missed. Forgive us our sins of omission.
Z.    The ultimate team player, Scott Zacharias has excelled in collaborative efforts Soft Curls, Green Sky, Disco/Secret and the ongoing Macho City (with Mike Trombley). When he goes solo it’s usually as the Relaxer, one of the best ever dance culture noms de plume ever concocted.

Walter Wasacz is Managing editor at Model D, writes a column called “The Subterraneans” on electronic music for the Metro Times and is a contributing writer for San Francisco’s XLR8R.

All Photos by Dave Lewinski

All Photos taken at Ghostly 10+1 at the Blind Pig


~ by thedendetroit on November 27, 2010.

One Response to “Metro Detroit DJs: From A – Z”

  1. brilliant stuff!!! cool article…

    here’s some very cool techno music if you’re bored 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: