Against Detroit’s “industrial exoskeleton,” Resident Advisor has a new documentary short film examining Detroit’s musical revival, an electronic cultural phenomenon that brought healing and new life to a city whose economic livelihood had imploded.

The film is beautifully shot, and wisely starts with Motown and its connections to the auto industry, not simply with an out-of-context look at electronics alone. From those roots come the rich musicianship Detroit offers, a level of musicianship perhaps not generally associated with electronica. The film logically turns to the electronic revolution – and some reminders of just how fresh and modern the tracks sound, even if the, erm, fashions haven’t dated as well. This cultural invention against economic collapse seems about the most fitting picture of America in general one could find – at once cautionary tale and promising parable.

The dead husks of architecture and civic scene prove a silent, empty backdrop. And there’s a tragic side – the week in which England’s police and youths clash to destructive effect, there’s an ongoing inability to reconcile the warehouse music scene with police seeking to shut down raves, a pervasive sense of the city as failed even as the rest of the world might imagine its culture as vibrant. (Yes, I’m certain some Detroit residents are tired of being portrayed as some sort of wrecked quasi-war zone. Let me say this, instead: every major metro area in the US, and many smaller ones, has an area ravaged by economic change, just as America in general has serious challenges facing its poor and unemployed. The most dramatic images aren’t simply emblems of Detroit, but of those crises everywhere.)

But most hopeful, perhaps, is seeing a new young generation embrace accessible computer music technologies, the optimistic tick-tock of an Ableton metronome and a kid’s hands all over a Maschine drum pad controller. The early fathers of Detroit techno were able to produce a musical revolution because machines for the first time became affordable; who knows what musical imaginings these kids are cooking up in hours spent after school, or what greater focus and discipline that can give to their other work. (I can speak for myself: without music to calm me down, to give myself a center, to act as emotional and spiritual outlet, it’s hard to imagine how I ever would have done anything else.)

Detroit from above: Sensor L7 ETM+ on NASA’a Landsat satellite peers at the Motor City from space in December 2001, courtesy the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

It’s wonderful documentary making, and a great editorial contribution on Resident Advisor’s part. Now the next question: can we find a way to make this kind of music vibrancy heal our cities and communities, at a time when economies are in freefall, Americans are out of work in absurd numbers, London is setting fire to warehouses of records, and a thousand other invisible crises worldwide threaten to pull neighborhoods apart? Detroit’s music to most might be some vague recollection of now-extinct Motown or music at parties; when music lovers start to tell a richer story, maybe that role for music will be more widely appreciated.

Some of the interviewees: Brendan Gillen (Ectomorph), RJ Watkins and Henry Tyler (The New Dance Show), Jon Dixon and DJ Skurge (Underground Resistance), Josh Glazer (Urb Magazine), Luke Hess and Brian Kage (Reference), and Mike Huckaby, among others. New sounds and new names are mixed in among the older sounds and veterans. (Kudos to the crew – John Fisher was DP; Patrick Nation and Daniel Higginson produced and directed.)

Oh, and Derek Mahone, age 11. Remember that name.

Real Scenes: Detroit [Resident Advisor]

From the other side of the pond, and poignant given ongoing unrest in the UK, here’s Real Scenes: Bristol. It makes a worthy companion to the Detroit piece. As RA puts it:

The eyes of the world have turned to the UK in recent years and have found some of the most exciting, genre-defying young artists to emerge from electronic music. But while London’s scene can be fractious and hard to pin down, there seems to be something in the air in Bristol that unites its participants. Whether they’re creating dubstep, house, techno or something else entirely, the cross-pollination in Bristol is unique. In RA’s first official entry into video, we journey to Bristol to explore how the city has flourished in recent years, discovering why this small metropolis is one of the most influential electronic music outposts in the world today.

(Apologies to Bristol; I should probably wax just as poetic about your town, but happened to miss the release of the earlier film when it came out!)

Real Scenes: Bristol [Resident Advisor, July 5]

  • bliss

    Another stellar post, PK! Inspirational films.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/cleanlivin/ Drew

    Thanks for another quality Detroit related post Peter. Feels like we're constantly getting our teeth kicked in here, but little reminders like this go a long way towards firming up my believe that my town will never die. 

    Also, I love seeing kids making it happen with Maschine, very cool.

  • Mutis Mayfield

    Second video stops at 9:00?

  • http://www.holotropik.com holotropik

    Cheers for this post Peter :D

  • Smash Hat

    Very inspirational and nice to see them kids on there way to great things. Massive respect to Mick Huckabee.

  • mekon

    and now famous question :D

    whts the song at 16min

  • mekon

    :D flash player crashed before the ending, so I didnt see there is whole tracklist

  • http://theviirus.com Adam

    Detroit LIVES!

  • Kenny

    The Detroit documentary was excellent, thank you so much for posting it. I appreciate the effort to equate Detroit's problems with most other urban centers but I'm not sure that's realistic. Detroit's economic and physical deterioration runs deeper and is spread wider than most of the country can or is willing to comprehend.

    Yet, there is Youthville and other projects that provide positive direction and efforts like it make a real word difference. Much more so than the festival, which gets all the publicity, in every day Detroit, the work that Mike Huckabee is doing with those kids is one the most positive contributions that city has ever known – it's an incalculable gift.

  • http://www.beatmac.es Beatmac

    I love those detroit sounds!