I was in the Motor City on Monday evening, where I attended a lecture/interview series featuring two legendary Detroit musicians synonymous with ‘second wave’ techno. I had the rare opportunity to get schooled by Theo Parrish and Carl Craig, a pair of artists that were making revolutionary music back when you were just a twinkle in your daddy’s eye. As the first of a five day series called Motor City Frequencies, one of many such stops in the Red Bull Music Academy World Tour, it set a dizzying pace. The whole night was recorded on video – the highest quality production I’ve ever witnessed in fact – and will be published here when it becomes available in the next couple weeks.
The evening began with an interview with Theo Parrish directed by the editor of music and culture magazine XLR8R, Shawn Reynaldo. Parrish is an unabashed plain-talker and a vinyl purist that oozes street smarts and wisdom, and his segment really gripped me.
He spoke on a lot of subjects – the adverse Detroit environment, the difference in authenticity of a ‘selector’ vs a ‘deejay’, and the superior sound of vinyl to ‘McDownload’ – but the one theme underlying most of his lecture, musings, and interview responses that interested me most was the nature of music. He dealt at length with what ‘makes’ music; what differentiates a cover from a remix, what makes something funk as opposed to techno, and to what extent is the use of sampling ‘authentic’. His thesis: soul and honesty – the qualities that make vinyl a superior format – are the most critical ingredients.
Carl Craig’s segment was equally compelling. Jumping off from Parrish’s point about honesty and soul, Craig spoke at length about the differences between UK and North American music scenes. He admires UK culture very much, describing youth there as “a culture of music lovers, eager for information”.
He had few positive things to say about North American music consumption however, all of which resonated with me. The problems as he sees it; music consumers here are lazy – “slaves to marketing departments”, radio is no longer about local stars, and the era of free music has ruined white label culture. He agreed with Parrish that “vinyl is like a right of passage” and “if you’re not making records, you’re just a consumer”.
As starstruck and cliche as it may sound, I feel genuinely privileged to have attended Motor City Frequencies. My appreciation for the genre is all the greater, having received a first-hand account of the history of Detroit, and the uniquely adverse conditions it imposed on these artists who developed techno from its nascency to where it is today.
Check back tomorrow for a recap of Motor City Frequencies – Day Two, the Detroit stop on the Red Bull Music Academy World Tour.