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Wednesday, June 5, 2024


Welcome to Techno City

For many Detroiters, Memorial Day weekend is the most exciting holiday of the year. This is, of course, entirely due to the legendary Movement festival and all that comes with it: the best international talents flying in to play, local legends presenting masterclass sets in DJing, an influx of partygoers from all over the world uniting as a global techno community, the fashion, and electronic music everywhere you go. During this inaugural weekend of Summer, Detroit fully lives up to its Cybotron-dubbed nickname Techno City

The parties rock around the clock. During the sunny days, the vibe is certifiably carnivalesque, as techno barbeques, block parties, and house-inflected garden events simultaneously run parallel to the festival, which remains the epicenter of festivities in the historic Hart Plaza. When night falls and the neon signs switch on, every club and warehouse opens its doors as psychedelic-industrial beats possess partygoers until sunrise. These afters are often just as special as the festival, and there is no shortage of all-nighters to choose from.

This year, on Saturday, many ravers were forced to make some seriously hard decisions as there were four particularly stacked afters of note: Marble Bar's Liquid party featuring Luke Vibert & Soundmurderer, Texture's event featuring a highly anticipated set from Skee Mask, and DVS1's Wall of Sound party featuring Wata Igarashi & Rrose among others. On any other weekend, any of these options would have made for a special night out, but for the  Motormouth crew, one option was the clear standout: Interdimensional Transmissions' Tresor 313 party at Tangent Gallery.

Tresor 313: A Portal Between Detroit and Berlin

As noted in our last show review, we are big fans of Interdimensional Transmissions, the party promotion service and record label run by Detroit techno stalwarts Erika and BMG (AKA Ectomorph). For this first night of their legendary Tangent Gallery takeover, Return To The Source, the IT crew curated an event conjoined with, half-hosted by, the iconic German record label & club, Tresor. As a result, this annual afterparty functions as a historical merging of techno's two most significant cities, cities with haunted pasts and Phoenix-like spirits, cities that united forging sounds of The Future, repurposing industrial space to dance at The End of History.

Photo from the DJ booth of the original Tresor Club in the 1990s

As I noted in my last IT show review, the crew had given Tangent Gallery an "oceanic ambiance", while this time it felt more like we were dancing within the chambers of a volcanic cave, magma flowing and cooling above us. As usual, the sound was immaculate in both rooms. From any vantage point, you were comfortably engulfed in warm-- but nonetheless hard-hitting-- sound without the volume ever approaching a painful level. Outside, vendors offered nourishing and healthy meals deep into the night- something we'd love to see at more shows. 

All of these factors coalesced to set us up for our show of the year. And that it was.

Alien Landscapes: Batu

Kicking off the night, my partner and I arrive as AZA is passing the decks to Batu. Launching straight into a non-repetitive, rhythmic cascade, the Timedance owner dropped us straight into the unfamiliar, left-field territory he's garnered such a reputation for exploring. Though he hails from Bristol, Batu's set evoked an alien landscape, with the sounds of bird calls from extraterrestrial species and percussive hits from warped metals punctuating the elaborately syncopated groove that-- for the first 40 minutes of his set-- refused to let up. 

Finally, as my chest nearly burst open from anxiety, he released us into ever-so-slightly more straightforward territory. Remaining firmly in a future-oriented techno pocket, Batu began the night with a sense of the experimental and bold, which is precisely what I love about the talent that IT brings in.

Throwing Down (Detroit Style): Huey Mnemonic 

Slipping out of Batu's set, me and my partner were on the way outside to greet Motormouth founder Weona Ryder and their partner/Motormouth zine designer cellulost when we were stopped in our tracks by Huey Mnemonic in the gallery room throwing down a mix of Jeff Mills' immortal techno classic "The Bells"

We'll be coming back to this in just a moment I think to myself. 

Eagerly bringing the Motormouth squad into the room, there's a sense of recognition that this-- a no-frills set of hard-hitting Detroit-styled techno-- is precisely what we needed. After they had attended a disheartening series of flop events the previous few nights, Weona Ryder reflected on the feeling of walking into Huey's set saying:

"Finally, I'd been placed in good hands. It was a huge relief."

Good hands indeed.

The Electric Entourage: Model 500

For the magnetic highlight of the night, Juan Atkins was to take to the stage, playing a set using the alias that he pioneered techno throughout the 80s with-- Model 500. Taking to the stage with two assisting band members to play the tracks live using drum machines and synthesizers, his trio resembled a cyberpunk-styled Kraftwerk. Shuffling up to the front, I notice DJ Godfather is on the scene watching. Real recognize real.

I've been lucky enough to see Atkins live several times: as Cybotron, under his own name, and back-to-back with his daughter Milan Ariel (who also joined Model 500 for a few songs at the end of the set). Of all those times, this techno jam band-style set, complete with lasers and projections, was easily The Originator's strongest performance yet. (Though he would outdo even this the next day with Moritz Von Oswald as Borderland, but that's another story). Dialed in and playing with raw energy, Atkins ignited the already lit party with a series of Model 500 staples like "Starlight",  "Sound of Stereo", and "Night Drive". Yet, nothing could compare to the Big One, 1985's club classic techno-starting hit "No UFOs". We found ourselves shouting out:

They say there is no hope
They say no UFOs
Why is no head hung high
Maybe you'll see them fly

Perfect. I was sober but could have been convinced that someone injected ecstasy straight into my veins. And that feeling of euphoria and excitement didn't dissipate as we moved to the next set of the night.

All I Ever Wanted: DJ Bone

How do you compete with Model 500 playing simultaneously in the room directly next to you? DJ Bone knows. 

Popping over to his set for a few minutes while my partner was using the bathroom I find him spinning a high-tempo mix of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy The Silence" (like this on 1.25 speed) to an incredibly warm reception:

All I ever wanted 
All I ever needed
*cuts the beat allowing the crowd to shout it out*
Is here in my arms 

Words are plenty unnecessary, but allow me to regale you. 

Returning to the closing end of Bone's set after Model 500, the squad is entreated to a remix of-- I'm still in awe-- "Mercy" from Kanye, 2 Chainz, Pusha T, and Big Sean. Putting a hard-edged club beat over the 2014 party rap classic was one of the most fun moments of the weekend.

Next time Bone comes around, no matter who else might be playing at the same time, I will be there giving him my full attention.

Out of the Darkness: DJ Stingray & Akua

In the wee small hours... 
It's 4 in the morning, and the party is still going strong, and somehow misty-eyed ravers are still flooding into the space. The late-night dancers are enraptured, and yet another anticipated set is beginning, a back-to-back from Akua and DJ Stingray, the latter my favorite working DJ, easily. 

How would Stingray fare when paired with another DJ? His solo sets were so uncompromising, so uniquely his own, that it was hard to imagine what the Drexciyan might do when sharing the stage. 

Luckily, the duo was a fitting enough pair, absolutely pulverizing the crowd with an unrelenting mix of speedy techno and electro-ragers. Some tracks were clear Stingray selections, like Godfather's "Jit or Die", while others were the more hypnotic hard techno that Akua specializes in. The high-energy set carried us to the closing ceremonies. 

It's A Brand New Day: Daniel Bell's Sunrise Set

Outside, the darkness was giving way to light, the desire for sleep was starting to come on, and the legs were starting to give out... but it's not a Tresor 313 party without hearing Daniel Bell poetically usher in the sunrise.

In Tangent Gallery's alleyway, it's always amazing just how packed the space is at 6 in the morning. But, here we all are, in this crisp morning chill as the first rays of sunlight pierce the sky. 

Daniel Bell, one of the first minimal techno pioneers back in the early 90s as Cybersonik and DBX, is doing his thing in the garden. He's keeping things on the level with a straight-ahead, barely bouncing groove that helps us all stay dancing, while also signaling that, finally, it's okay to head home and sleep. 

So that's what we did. Sort of. Still amped, I laid in bed, eyes wide open, excited to do it all over again. 

A Final Word

In the weeks since the Tresor 313 party, I've continually thought back on just how special of an event it was. On a personal level, I had one of the most exciting nights of my life with my girlfriend and closest friends. But on a broader level, the party reflects just how enduring the spirit of the Detroit-Berlin connection is, and just how impressive it is that DJs working locally remain, arguably, some of the best in the world. From the birth of techno (Model 500) to the spotlighting of the new guard (Huey Mnemonic), Detroit is clearly here to stay. 

Next year, the afterparty decision won't be a difficult one to make. Assuming IT returns for another year of Return to the Source, I'll be back at Tangent, this time with a whole weekend pass. 

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