Dusted Features


today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Features

Brendan M. Gillen sounds off on middle America's contributions to music modernity and the cultural blinders of bicoastalism.


"To live in the Midwest is to live with cultural blinders on. The metropolises are few, far between and hardly the hot-spots of celebrity and coolness that New York City and Los Angeles are. Culture is found in MTV, the mall, and magazine racks. While LA kids are buying Dr. Octagon from Aron's Records, Midwest Kids are buying the clean version of the Biggie Smalls double cassette from Walmart. While NYC kids are seeing Make Up play with Jeru the Damaja at Irving Plaza, Midwest kids are driving five hours to catch Pantera at Joe Louis Arena with fifty-two thousand other kids."
– Ian Rogers, in the Kid Rock article in Grand Royal #4, Spring 1997.

And it goes on and on today. L.A. and NYC have a long history of ignoring the Midwest, and then catching up to its musical revolutions far too late. But we in the Midwest would much rather be in a place where originality and individuality are the focus – not hotspots of celebrity and coolness. Since the media isn't paying much attention, it's easier to push ourselves further: Midwest kids have been making their own cultural revolution for years without any thoughts of being co-opted by the Industry. To live in L.A. or NYC, on the other hand, is to live in total mainstream media saturation. I'd argue that because L.A. and NYC are such Meccas of wannabes and magnets of hype, they have turned into carnivals of poseurs and paparazzi scrambling for attention and success. Ian Rogers, in his essay, actually donned his own "cultural blinders," truly seeming to believe that there was no culture to be found anywhere between L.A. and NYC.

It would be all too easy to mock L.A. for its Hollywood hype, celebrity guest lists and bad hair bands. The same goes for New York, if just for the very existence of the Suburban Apocalypse known as Long Island, clubkid/drugkid/Peter Gaiten nightlife, and New Jersey hair bands. It's important to know that the unclued masses exist everywhere, alongside kids who do have a clue. And there's been no shortage of the latter between the coasts.

The Midwest’s history of musical innovation is as vast as the fields of cows that bicoastalism sufferers imagine. Before I get into the thick of it (and this could easily be a book), I'll name check a few from around here. Great labels like Fortune and Tribe. Amazing jazz artists like Yusef Lateef and Alice Coltrane. Residencies of great artists like John Lee Hooker's post war stint in Detroit or John Sinclair and the MC5 putting up Sun Ra in the Sixties. That Motown/Soul thing – y'know: Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Jackson 5, Aretha Franklin. The ahead-of-its-time Ohio punk scene with such bands as Pere Ubu, the Electric Eels, the Mirrors, and Devo. Chicago may have given us electric blues, but let’s not forget its greatest export of the last 25 years: House culture. People such as Lil' Louis, who was pulling in crowds of 1,200 or more to roller skate gigs when he was 13, or Larry Heard, Phuture, Armando, Cajmere/Green Velvet, and Ron Trent. Don't forget the electronic music culture that has existed for so long in Detroit, either. Detroit’s isolation translates into individuality; we produce auteurs unlike the kinds the coasts have ever seen. People who can do everything: write all the music, play all the instruments, record the music, design the record jackets. People like Stevie Wonder, Prince, and Carl Craig.

Midwest Funk then begat Gangster Funk. For those of you who have missed the past two decades, funk has come back in a strong way, most notably due to the production genius of Dr. Dre and his influence over gangster culture in the ’90's. The infamous "G-Whistle" – those high pitched analog Moog and Arp tones which first appeared in hip hop via NWA's “Gangsta Gangsta” (and so many after it that, including the Spice Girls) – comes directly from the Ohio Players' “Funky Worm.” Do I need to tell you where the Ohio Players are from? Out of the genius minds of George Clinton, Bernie Worell, Bootsy Collins, and Eddie Hazel creeped the best and freakiest music of the 70's: the Motor City's own Parliament and Funkadelic. Check Maggotbrain and the Motorbooty Affair for some truly mind-blowing experiences. The Parliafunkadelicment Thang is second only to James Brown as far as sampling in Hip Hop. Perhaps third are Roger Troutman and Zapp from Cinci whose synthesized funk put in much more bounce to the ounce. The-Iggy-Pop-Alice-Cooper-Demolition-Doll-Rods-Performance-Continuum-exposed-cocks,-rolling-around-on-broken-glass,-pythons-and-guillotines,-horror-make-up,-a-guy-in-drag-and-two-women-in-nothing-but-pasties-and-g-strings – now that's performance! What you got? People who look at their shoes or hide behind their hair wishing they had enough guts to actually go out on stage, lay it on the line, and give the audience something approaching what they paid for. The audiences are way tougher here: they know their music and they want a memorable experience. Occasionally, they actually watch the show instead of schmoozing at the bar. Pure performance, primitive music, and raw power are all we have to offer.

And that Electronica thing…It's so nice to see that the two coasts are all into Electronic music now. Well, get this: Techno started as a black music here in Detroit in the early ’80's. It is a true underground culture that happened entirely without the American Media Machine even noticing. It makes sense – we were good with cars, why wouldn't we be good with drum machines? Techno musicians like Derrick May and Juan Atkins, who forged his early electro classics as Model 500, came from here. Detroit has been home to visionary electro acts like Drexciya, Ectomorph, Dopplereffekt, and Le Car, as well as street level "bass" acts like Aux 88, DJ Godfather, DJ Assault, Electric Soul and Will Web. This city has a very unique street culture where black and white cultural traditions collide and if a DJ plays a record for more than a minute he must be getting some digits. If the media here resembled its bicoastal brethren, Detroit turntablists like Jeff Mills, Claude Young, Terrence Parker, and Rotator (this guy makes his own constructions for the turntables, bringing performance art to the decks like no one since Christian Marclay) would be American household names, doing to techno, house, and jungle what the Skratch Picklz and the X-Men do to hip hop. We don't go to the DMC mix competitions here, because if you best someone in Detroit in a DJ battle, you might get shot. People from the South Bronx are scared of this place. I would like to see that no-talent media farce DJ Spooky step to someone with the musical talent and skills he professes to have. If you don't have skills in Detroit, no amount of hype or publicity will get you on the decks. Press coverage won't make you big here, but radio play will. In a town that in certain ways is so culturally illiterate that the Nuge has his own radio show, we nevertheless have WCHB, a black-owned and -operated community commercial station in Detroit where DJ Fingers once had an all-jungle mix program, and of course the Electrifyin' Mojo…

In spite of all this, most people in America still think techno is from England. Techno was, for all of its greatness, yet another black music form that had to be legitimized and sold back to its original audience – another in a long series. The Midwest tractor-pull stereotype just makes it too difficult for kids in NYC and L.A. to recognize the kind of culture embodied by techno which continually comes out of this region. But, we between the coasts have a past and a future, which in an ideal world would be recognized nationally as they occur. The Midwest can see what's happening on the coasts quite clearly; bicoastalism is the real cultural blindness.

Originally printed and revised from WCBN 25th Anniversary Program Guide, 1997.

By Dusted Magazine

Read More

View all articles by Dusted Magazine

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.