On June 12, as the Black Lives Matter movement was peaking in the heat of summer, Detroit techno auteur Theo Parrish released a sprawling, six-track, two-and-a-half-hour mix and meditation on Soundcloud called We Are All Gorgeous Monsterss [sic] that touched on police brutality, political malfeasance, and music-industry chicanery.
He uploaded another version of the mix on June 23, with new tracks and monologues.
And then All Gorgeous Monsterss disappeared.
I don’t know when it went away, or why, and based on some October Google searches, nobody seemed to notice, since I can’t find people speculating about it, or even a bootleg copy.
But it’s not like Parrish is shy about politics. After all, he wrote this on his Facebook page in 2016: “How do you dance when we still swing from trees, when we still are murdered in front of our loved ones, murdered while subdued and harmless?”
While techno is usually associated with raves, parties, and fun — the antitheses of politics — Parrish and fellow Detroit scene veterans have always included politics as some part of their dance floor jams and artistic aesthetics.
When Detroit’s Underground Resistance collective formed in 1989, the trio of Jeff Mills, “Mad” Mike Banks, and Robert Hood came across as the Public Enemy of techno, creating music specifically to inspire inner-city African Americans to stand up for their rights, create the positive culture they wanted to see around them, and reject corporate hegemony. Sure, they had playful song titles such as “Living for the Nite,” but Underground Resistance also dubbed tracks “Riot,” “Fuel for the Fire — Attend the Riot,” “Your Time Is Up,” and “Message to the Majors.”
That sense of purpose behind the music has never left early exponents of Detroit techno. For instance, this year Hood released tracks named “Ignite a War” and “The Struggle,” the latter of which features a fiery speech by Women’s March leader Tamika Mallory.
Meanwhile, Parrish released a “proper” album, Wuddaji, in October on his long-running Sound Signature label. It’s a tremendous eight-song collection of woozy, broken-beat techno that might seem apolitical on the surface. But the album’s cover is a collaged map of Idlewild, the vacation town once called the “Black Eden of Michigan.” Located in the northwest part of the Mitten and surrounded by the Manistee National Forest, Idlewild was a refuge for African Americans for much of the segregated 20th century.
The only overtly political track on Wuddaji, “This Is for You,” featuring vocalist Maurissa Rose, is a percussive, three-chord, working-class anthem for Black people who are striving for a better tomorrow, for their families and their communities. Early in the 10-minute song, Rose sings, “Brother, this is for you. … For the way you gave sacrificially, this is for you.” And soon after, she begins a series of lines that start with “I see you, brother …”:
“I see you going to work every day.
“I see you out here trying to make way.
“I see you trying to hold everything and everybody together.
“I see you trying to keep us from killing one another.”
Rose later adds, “I see you, sister — keep on keeping on, ’cause this is for you,” before chanting the philosophical mantra of Detroit techno’s earliest creators:
“Keep on, keep on, keep on, keep on trying, keep on pushing, don’t stop — don’t ever stop.”
Purchase Wuddaji at soundsignature.net.
Plus, 3 other notable releases
The Wait Stripes
Third Man Records kept the tracklist for the White Stripes’ forthcoming Greatest Hits package a secret, so as of press time, it wasn’t clear what would be on the highly anticipated two-LP set (which dropped on Dec. 4) other than “Ball and Biscuit.” Will it include “Seven Nation Army”? The huge demographic of deluxe-vinyl-collecting rabid sports fans will riot in their home team’s third-alternate jerseys if, for some perverse reason, it isn’t. In the meantime, a three-volume set featuring a record of White Stripes B sides and rarities was also available as of October as a preorder. Purchase Greatest Hits at thirdmanstore.com.
If the Shoegaze Fits
Another new Third Man Records release is the two-LP Southeast of Saturn, a 19-track compilation that traces the early to mid-1990s Detroit-area micro-scene that played space rock and dream pop. It’s an assemblage of breathy music made by young record collectors hypnotized by the hazy sounds of British shoegaze music. I know because I was one of them: Two songs I released on my record label, Audrey’s Diary (Thumbling’s “Butterfield Eight” and Asha Vida’s “Eskimo Summer”), are included along with tunes by almost-stars Majesty Crush as well as Windy & Carl, one of the few groups from the era that’s still around. (They’re married, so breaking up would take on a whole new meaning.) Purchase Southeast of Saturn at thirdmanstore.com.
Woodbridge in Focus
If you’re a photographer based in Paris, you could spend your whole life there and not lack for cool things to shoot. But for a new Wayne State University book, French photographer Elene Usdin left the City of Light and spent 2019 as the inaugural artist-in-residence for the Sauvé Art Foundation’s public-art project Art in Woodbridge. She documented the diverse and eclectic neighborhood near Wayne State University and Midtown/Cass Corridor for the book We Are Woodbridge, which features 150 color images along with Usdin’s hand-drawn notes and maps. Purchase We Are Woodbridge at wsupress.wayne.edu.