Our man on the spot, Ryan Hooper, looks back at the latest instalment of the Red Bull Music Academy World Tour in Detroit.
Flat 151 in downtown Detroit boasts a staggering 360º view of the Motor City skyline. But inside, the venue isn’t much more than drywall and epoxy flooring. It’s a room waiting to take shape.
When the RBMA World Tour rolled into town, it was clear the artists were in charge of the décor. The week-long Motor City Frequencies event chronicled multiple aspects of Detroit’s dense musical history from the opening remarks of techno forefather Carl Craig to the incomparable story of Motown mainstay Paul Riser.
The first three days were dedicated to the pioneers of techno and the second-wave producers and DJs who they influenced. Theo Parrish, known for his worldly sound sculptures, and Craig, the figurehead behind the legendary Planet E Records, welcomed fans on day one, reflecting on and offering insight into their accomplished careers.
On Tuesday, the reclusive ‘Mad’ Mike Banks of Underground Resistance (Banks rarely shows his face in public these days) took to the stage to talk with old friend Juan Atkins – one-third of the famous Belleville Three and the man behind electro pioneers Model 500. It was a rare chance to eavesdrop on two of Detroit’s godfathers of techno candidly discussing their pasts, their triumphs and the ever-changing state of electronic music in Detroit and beyond.
By mid-week, Motor City Frequencies was mixing fascinating stories with insights into technical aspects of techno, hip-hop and modern studio production. Local producer Mike Chav recalled the influence late producer J Dilla had on him.
A young Chav was given the opportunity to equip Dilla’s studio while working at Guitar Center. The opportunity jumpstarted Chav's career and eventually landed him in the studio (as engineer, producer and multi-instrumentalist) with Jay Electronica, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Guilty Simpson, Erykah Badu and more. Chav wrapped up his lecture by demonstrating the recording process applied to Badu’s last three albums, dissecting the challenges of turning a relatively basic two-track recording into a lush arrangement.
While Chav’s delivery was laidback, producer and MC Nick Speed’s presentation was anything but. Speed, who famously signed to G-Unit Records after one Greyhound trip to New York, is a platinum-selling producer behind albums such as 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and recently racked up production credits on Danny Brown’s XXX mixtape.
His recipe for success? 'I don’t think about the last thing I did,' said Speed. 'I don’t think about the most successful thing I did. I think about the next thing I’m going to do.'
Speed told the assembled crowd how much he loves the 'gumbo of music styles' Detroit offers and his send-off was a high-energy tribute to all the original music the city has spawned. With one of his own beats blasting through the speakers, Speed stood on the couch and began freestyling for the audience. It was an ideal warm-up for the Three Chairs event later that night, where Kenny Dixon Jr (under his alias Moodymann), Rick ‘The Godson’ Wilhite and Theo Parrish took to the decks to rock a packed TV Bar in Detroit’s Midtown district.