Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

On the Record on the road in the U S of A: Detroit

Gil Scott-Heron had a way with predictions. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”? Check. “New York Is Killing Me”? Yep, the big apple got him in the end. And “We Almost Lost Detroit”? Scott-Heron wrote that song about a 1966 …

Fri, Mar 23, 2012, 08:20


Gil Scott-Heron had a way with predictions. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”? Check. “New York Is Killing Me”? Yep, the big apple got him in the end.

And “We Almost Lost Detroit”? Scott-Heron wrote that song about a 1966 meltdown at a nuclear power plant outside the city, but it wasn’t just a nuclear accident which nearly destroyed Motor City. Instead, urban blight and decay did for the city-centre, pushing the population into the ‘burbs and leaving hundreds of deserted buildings behind.

Walking around downtown Detroit at dusk is a ghostly experience. The workers who still toil here by day have headed home and there’s nothing happening and few left. Just block after block of silent memories of better days gone by. It’s not the deserted, often derelict, buildings which stop you in your tracks, but rather the lack of people. Everyone has left town.

There’s talk and signs of revival and renewal, but it’s a massive task which probably requires more than a beleagured, financially down-at-heel City Hall can provide. No wonder then that many in Detroit talk and dream of what used to be.

You won’t get a better place to dream those dreams than the modest house at 2648 West Grand Boulevard. This is Hitsville USA, where Berry Gordy minted the sound of young America. From this unassuming house, Gordy turned the world onto Motown and acts like Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5, Diana Ross, The Supremes, The Temptations and hundreds and thousands of others.

These days, Gordy’s gaff is the Motown museum, telling the story of a record label which was a big deal in the days when a successful record label was box office. You’ll rarely see as many million-sellers as you’ll find in the Motown back-catalogue these days.

The famous studio in the garage has also survived, the room where the greatest album ever recorded came together. When you sneak a listen to the album in the room where it was actually recorded, a shiver naturally runs up and down your spine.

But that’s the way things were. Detroit, Motown and the music business have changed. New rules are in effect and you’ll find a good example of how things operate now about 10 blocks east.

In a former laundry workers’ union hall where Jimmy Hoffa used to hang out, Submerge lays down a fierce electronic music manifesto. While there’s an exhibition in the building chronicling techno’s past, the future sound of Detroit is most definitely on the agenda under techno grandmaster Mike Banks’ guidance.

In the Submerge HQ, you’ve got producers prepping new work (Buzz Goree says hello to Eamonn Doyle and all at D1), Banks’ sister Bridgette looking after the record shop and a recording lathe waiting to press up more twelve-inch singles.

Submerge is about independence, DIY, passion, integrity and gritty soul. It’s about sticking around when the going gets tough and staying with the project. That, you could say, is the real future for this city.


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