The writer makes her case why the annual Electronic Music Festival in Detroit should be a Black event in her BLAC Detroit Magazine column, Detroit Proper
ere's what I see whenever I go to the world-famous Movement festival over Memorial Day weekend at Hart Plaza in Detroit. I see gobs of international tourists who are like pilgrims coming to the mecca of techno music. I see a Woodstock-like embracing of humankind, complete with glow sticks, tutus and hair colors not found in nature.
Here's what I don't see: African-American Detroiters. At least not as many as you'd expect to see at a three-day international music festival that celebrates music born in Detroit. Techno music is credited to the Belleville Three-Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. They were the African-American teens who bridged the gap between man and machine in the early '80s by fusing the rhythms of groups like Parliament-Funkadelic with the stark, futuristic sound of European groups like Kraftwerk.
There are a lot of reasons why Movement is an off-ramp event for many Black Detroiters, including the exclusive access and steep ticket price. When festivals were free at Hart Plaza, more people were likely to wander downtown to people watch and sample the offerings. Compare Movement or the Downtown Hoedown to the free Detroit Jazz Festival, which still enjoys both widespread national acclaim and broad Detroit support.
But perhaps there's another reason: The cultural divide between house and techno. While the Bellville Three are the godfathers of techno, Detroit's Stacey "Hotwaxx" Hale is lauded as the "godmother of house."
"Techno music is more mechanical," Hale says, "while house has more instrumentation and vocals. It's more soulful."
Although the two genres are musical cousins created by African-Americans, techno exploded in Europe while house music evolved as a more urban sound in clubs and parties in places like New York, Detroit and Chicago. To overgeneralize, techno has come to be associated with a White audience and house with a more African-American audience. Both genres (and others) are featured at Movement, but house has a much lower profile.
Hale has been a pioneer in the house scene since the early '80s, when she was a student at Lawrence Tech. Spinning at clubs like Cheeks, she remembers the crowd being "professional, educated and mostly Black. You saw a lot of the Pistons there and celebrities like Anita Baker. It was a regular spot for them."
House music cross-fertilized between Detroit and Chicago. Although it's debated, some say the name came from a club in Chicago called The Warehouse where the music was popular. For Hale, it was a thrill to be pioneering house alongside other DJs like Derrick May, Alan Ester and Jeff "The Wizard" Mills.
Christa Schrupp was only about 15 when she slipped into Cheeks where Hale was DJing. "I was totally impressed that a woman was playing," says Schrupp, a native Detroiter who is now a graphic designer and DJ in Chicago. "It had an effect on me to see a woman in that position. At the time, I never imagined that I'd be DJing one day, too."
Since the '80s, Hale has continued to be a standard-bearer for house music. When Detroit DJ Jenny "LaFemme" Feterovich and promoter Maggie Derthick decided to do a documentary about female DJs called Girls Gone Vinyl (scheduled to be released this year), they immediately turned to Hale. Feterovich told the Huffington Post in 2012 that the most moving part of the experience was watching Hale receive so much respect in Berlin. Schrupp, who has also traveled with the film crew, agreed. "Even in California, they knew Stacey as the 'Godmother of House.'"
Because the godparents of techno and house are Black Detroiters, it's a shame that Movement is such a non-event for so many of us. For her part, Hale just keeps pushing the edge. When she's not working or DJing, she's talking to youth about the music industry and advocating for music education.
"There are so many variations of house out now," she says. "I see White kids embracing 'soulful house' that comes straight out of the church. I see them taking Motown sounds, slowing down the beat and calling it 'minimal house.' In the end, it's not about the race or gender of the DJ. It's all about the music."