By Mawuse Ziegbe
Memorial Day weekend ’08 I wasn’t passed out, tummy distended, on somebody’s gritty Brooklyn “rooftop lounge.” Instead, I trekked to the Midwest to take in The Detroit Electronic Music Festival. Everyone from Mark Farina to Richie Hawtin to Benny Benassi to The Cool Kids camped out near downtown Detroit’s Renaissance Center as I spent Memorial Day weekend in a flurry of D&B, hard house, deep house, minimal tech and corn dogs (I’d never had a corn dog before, those things were delish!).
I began my Midwest sojourn by flying on the ever dodgy Spirit Air which had $9 fare sales but the seats looked like they were ripped open by a cat. An angry cat. When I touched down my friend gave me two things that apparently make Detroit really special: Faygo soda and BetterMade chips. They were like Sunkist and Lays on steroids. Angry steroids. Favoring proximity to the festival over any semblance of quality, we checked into the Comfort Inn; replete with unidentified stains on the curtains and a view of, um, the parking lot. But that night I hit up a party with a grip of house artists (what is the point of Detroit without house music) just off Jefferson ave. We got there wicked late and the music was fine, sultry, epic deep house. But loud. Lawd-a-mercy, everywhere in the D everything was just too dang loud! We went to sleep to rest our swollen eardrums.
Real Detroit © Mimi Louya
Comfort Inn was giving us the willies so we upgraded to the St. Regis which at least looked like there was a washing machine on the premises. Then we got brunch at the Detroit Breakfast House and Grill. A lot of restaurants in the Motor City have adorable entrees like “Shoo-Bee-Doo-Waffles” and we tucked into some Bananas Foster pancakes and sky-high stuffed French toast. With our diabetes-inducing brunch packed in our stomachs we moseyed to the festival. Raves are still de rigueur in the D as tweeny girls with neon clip-on dreads and buzzed guys with Freshjive wide-leg pants milled about (Since pants are so passé, many girls just cut off the pant legs and taped them around their thighs). The festival grounds included two stages, two DJ set-ups and this underground lair called Real Detroit. Egyptian Lover put on a truly epic hour-plus performance on the Red Bull Music Academy stage and later I caught Mike Grant puttin’ it down in the lair. The hottest part of the night was Pete Rock who threw down a Pu Pu Platter of regional classics with early ’90s jams by Snoop Dogg and Biggie. The crowd was ravenous for more, even though the sound cut out on the last song, his own hallmark track with C.L. Smooth, “T.R.O.Y.” We ended the night watching Moby pack the Vitamin Water outdoor amphitheater with tons of die-hards bopping to Basement Jaxx and beyond. It was like something straight out of the ’9-9-6.
photo © Mimi Louya
All day we’d been jonesing for a party that was straight of the ’9-7-6: Soul Skate ’08. It was a skate-party at Northland Skating Rink where even Amp Fiddler came to roll, bounce. And this is one of the ways the Midwest kills New York: good clean fun. There were couples, singles, groups and teams teeming with good Midwestern spunk, gliding along while Motown favorites and funk staples blared from the speakers. Then there was a skate competition where suave teams from Chicago, wiry pimpalicious old-heads and fresh young anklebiters in sagging pants went at it, flippin’ around, spinning on one skate and whatnot. But the victors were a buxom couple that swirled along to Ne-Yo’s “Can We Chill.” Three cheers for love.
After another boozy…er, social brunch, we went thrifting where I picked up a checkered gingham number (you just don’t find quality gingham in the city) and a tailored gray shift. Then, galvanized by the wonders on wheels from the night before, I promptly bought some roller-skates (I’ve been actually wheeling around at parties like a lunatic since). We made it back to the festival grounds where we saw the one-man party that is Girl Talk. Known for his storied, blithe electro mixes he was all brash, shirtless cock-rock excess, playing to a stacked crowd of admirers. On the other side of the festival and the performance spectrum, Carl Craig spun a tidy, minimal house set that, sadly, served as little more than electronic muzak.
Afterwards, we jetted to Detroit venue The Magic Stick where 2 Live Crew performed. We wanted to go to check out one of the legendary pillars of shock rap who even fought for their right to be nasty all the way to the Supreme Court. Following a warm-up by Peanut Butter Wolf, they demonstrated many reasons why today they can barely pack a living room. For one, those fools have no stage presence. What’s changed now is that they’re older and creaking across the stage, damn near wheezing out their rhymes. And their rhymes are not good elbow-nudging fun; they’re horrifyingly obtuse, boorish and offensive. Times when a swear word is far from necessary, the Crew will jam in three. What really torpedoed my innocence were their dancers. Women who were probably full of life and naturally occurring collagen back in 1992 were slower, um, wider and less artful about jigglin’ it. One lady went completely topless as flabbergasted fans flashed camera phones and dollar bills. It went from Magic Stick to Magic City with one flick of a tube top. Even The Cool Kids watched, mouths agape, at the pandemonium. I was pretty much done.
I had an early flight and went straight to the airport after the show. Overall, I really found the city charming. There’s not much development so it’s fixed in time; lots of grand marquees and restaurants that haven’t switched up the décor since the 1930s. Not many people and very spread out so it’s a relatively quiet big city with a pretty cool view of Canada. It’s scrappy and things shutter early but it was a welcome respite from the glass castles, grimy debris and endless buzz of NYC. Beer, brunch and beats – I could call the trip “Shoo-Bee-Doo-Wonderful.”