A Movement in Detroit Music: A Mini Memoir
Ten years ago, when the Detroit Electronic Musical Festival was born, I was working for a Detroit-born record label called 430 West founded by the Burden Brothers of Octave One. The job was perfect for a restless 24 year old —I traveled the world with the 430 West crew, learning the language of the independent music industry and the politics of nightclub promoters, doing something I believed in. The year 2000 was a big year for the label— it was the ten year anniversary and we were building up for the a massive push of the smash “The Jaguar” by Underground Resistance’s DJ Rolando, in a standoff with Sony BMG in Europe. 2000 was a special time in the Detroit music scene. We were on the Billboard map with our indie rock and hip hop scenes and the nightlife was happening. The music was right, and in retrospect, the energy in the city was creative, optimistic and infectious. We buzzed about the festival at a birthday BBQ I attended at Carl Craig’s place on Cass Ave a few days prior to the event. Everyone at the party (photographers, filmmakers, DJs, clubbers, writers) was excited about the potential, and had some kind of duty, but truthfully, no one knew what to expect. We pulled together regardless, contributing what we could despite our limited resources.
On the eve of the festival, I drove around town with DJ Korie Enyard and Hannah Sawtell (a British DJ and Carl’s ex-wife) from gay clubs smattered across the Eastside to the River Rock off the waterfront, urging people to come to the free festival. Everyone in the scene at that time has a story of where they were that night. In essence, it was truly a collaborative effort amongst a few hundred people passionate about Detroit techno. Not everyone was optimistic about the outcome, but it was exciting to be involved in something new and fresh that went against the odds — dancing in the Detroit streets. The 430 West label had booked our Swedish artist Wild Planet to play and Rolando would spin as well (no cameras allowed for his performance by UR code.) It was going to be a hectic Memorial Day weekend. In tandem with the festival, I organized the label’s ten year anniversary party at Kevin Hansen’s gallery in the Eastern Market, scheduled to start after the festival ended, where all of the label artists would perform and DJ. I also organized a brunch for out of town guests at the old Submerge building; no coffee shops would be open in Detroit on a holiday weekend.
Even back then I was dabbling in writing, with columns about Detroit arts in the Italian mag Blow Up and the German weekly De:Bug and the Midwest zine Massive. I pitched a friend who was the editor at Urb for a story on the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival that would run in the following issue. Little did I know, I was the only writer to secure advanced coverage in an American national magazine. That tide shifted when the festival began and throngs of people took to Hart Plaza. At first, it was a dreary, drizzling Saturday afternoon, and volunteer sleepless workers were scurrying around the plaza with supplies as beats bounced against concrete. But, by that evening, in a magical moment, Stacey Pullen took to the stage, for the largest above ground party Detroit had ever seen. The crowd was jubilant, discovering what the techno scenesters had long known — that dancing elbow to elbow with friends to continuous bars of music strung together by high hats, bass line, and a well-placed vocal is a tremendous amount of fun.
Other moments stood out, hearing my favorite UR tracks echo in the night sky under Rolando’s deft fingers, the Roots and Mos Def bringing glamorous hip-hop funk to the mainstage, Dego’s boom bap drum n’ bass wowing the crowd against the backdrop of the Canadian skyline. Mostly what struck me was watching Detroit take pride in it’s ability to party, as senior citizens and children danced with abandon, and the b-boys sweating it out in ciphers. The emotion at the first DEMF was overwhelming — it was a glorious weekend. For a town known often riddled with apathy and petty infighting, this coming-together was unprecedented. It was a proof in the pudding of the power of music to tranform and inspire. That weekend I felt part of something important to the cultural landscape and while I didn’t grow up in the thick of the inner city, at that moment, each and everyone one of us who contributed something to this Movement, felt like we had found our way home. Four days later, I emerged sleepless but buoyed by Detroit and the potential of its creative community.
The text I wrote for the 430 West release is after the jump courtesy of friends from Renegade Rhythms:
430 West Celebrates a DecadeWith Tenth Anniversary Party and Special Releases
April 6, 2000
Ten years ago, three brothers made a commitment to a vision. They sought a forum for musical expression, creative control and for the exploration of original concepts. They had experienced industry success with their first single on “I Believe” instantly charting 3,000 miles away from Detroit, but Octave One’s vision was more rooted in behind the scenes content than fleeting success. They began from the basement of their parents’ house 430 W. Eight Mile Rd, Detroit’s infamous city/suburban border, with $500.00 and a dream. Thus, the legendary Detroit techno label, 430 West Records, was born.
Ten years later, the Burden brothers have expanded their label to include all five brothers ‚ Lawrence, Lenny, Lynell, Lance and Lorne, and a cast of extended family that reads like a who’s who of techno and Detroit culture. On Saturday, May 27, 2000, the Burdens will celebrate their successful family operation that has grown from the original three brothers to the international success that it is today. 430 West Records invites friends and fans to pause and join in on an evening of retrospect and futurism, celebrating a decade of musical excavation at the Charles Johansen Gallery, 1345 Division St. in Eastern Market.
A birthday party could not take place at more exciting time in Detroit. The party is planned to offset the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival taking place in the daytime that same weekend at Hart Plaza, and a number of other special label-oriented events. 430 West takes its place as an instrumental contributor to the Detroit techno scene and international dance music movement.
The ten year celebration is offset by a flurry of musical output. 2000 is a year packed with new releases: the first full-length Random Noise Generation album – Links in the Chain, the compact disc version of Rolando’s instant classic, “Jaguar,” 12″s by Octave One, Wild Planet and Kaotic Spatial Rhythms, Dijital’s mix cd on 430 West’s sister label, Direct Beat and an upcoming Octave One album. 430 West shows no signs of slowing down production.
For more DEMF coverage see Resident Advisor’s Oral History.