One of the things that tends to be forgotten about Detroit is that it wasn’t just the music which was important. That the great list of people who made techno and electronic music what it is today is top-heavy with Detroit names is undeniable, but there are other aspects to the phenomenon.
I was actually looking for another tune tonight, but got sidetracked on the Discogs Metroplex page. It’s easily done, and I’m sure you have done it yourself. You log on to check something or other and before you know it you’ve spent an hour following threads and joining dots until you’re light years from where you were to begin with. Tonight I ended up trawling not so much through the music, but the record labels that put many of those Detroit names on the map.
I have to admit I’d never really thought about it before, but there are nearly as many famous Detroit record labels as there are producers. What is also worth noting is how many of those labels, especially in the earlier days, each pushed variations of the local techno that went on to heavily inform so much of what came after. Transmat, KMS, Planet E, 430 West, Direct Beat, Underground Resistance, Submerge and a host of others all championed music – both local and foreign – that affected various genres and scenes across the world in different but profound ways.
My favourite was probably always Juan Atkin’s Metroplex. With its output falling somewhere between Transmat’s raw yet symphonic machine soul and the harder UR strains, Metroplex’s net always seemed to be cast breathtakingly wide; even a quick glance of the aforementioned Discogs page will show a label that pushed techno, house, rap, garage and electro. The last of these was the heartbeat of the label, with Atkin’s early Model 500 material heavily indebted to electro’s groove and affording opportunities to other producers who were already fusing the genre’s stark clatter to other tones.
Strangely, given the label’s electro leanings, Metroplex was never as involved in the acidic techno-bass (or electro-funk or whatever) scene that became so important to UR and integral (read:total) part of Direct Beat. And yet, the handful of techno-bass releases that came from Metroplex are up there amongst the best.
I Shall Tek Thee by Erotek was part of a split 12″, the other tune being the slightly less battering Lock It Down by Atkin’s and Derrick Mays’s occasional X-Ray project. Erotek, who also released on Direct Beat under his real name of Dre Brown, took the basic formula and dragged out the raw aggression that lies at the heart of most techno-bass. The tune is frighteningly fast – somewhere well over 140 BPM – and brusque. Except for a brief wash of velveteen synths near the end the tune is a snarl of tight drums and a hissing 303 which back up the threat implied by the dispassionate and mechanical vocals. It manages to be both archetypal techno-bass and somehow different at the same time. Interesting to realise that it sounds even harder today than it did at when first released.
Metroplex are apparently back in business again for the first time in a while. I have a feeling that there is going to be a big electro revival this year. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get some of these genuine classics repressed? Given the current climate for returning to the past, perhaps it’s time we actually gave some proper respect to the labels who recreated our world, and not only the producers? Because without the first, as much as with the second, the music would just not be the same.