How Detroit Music Found Its New Soul
In our new series, we look at eight cities where live music has exploded — from legendary hubs like New Orleans and Nashville and Chicago, to rising hot spots like Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Portland, Maine. Our latest: Detroit, where pressing plants, innovative studios, and offbeat festivals make it one of the most vibrant scenes in the country.
“Detroit is our own universe,” says underground-rap hero Danny Brown. “Diverse artists — not necessarily what’s popular on the radio or YouTube, or what’s cracking in the rest of the world. We have our own world.” The city that has given us a staggering 30 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees is an insane breeding ground of musical cross-pollination; just stop by one of pioneering DJ Carl Craig’s Detroit Love showcases, or head to Assemble Sound, a former church that’s been recently repurposed into a 24/7 recording studio and “artist development campus” that encourages artists to drop by and collaborate; it’s launched alt-pop favorite Jax Anderson (formerly Flint Eastwood) and Interscope Records up-and-comer Yoshi Flower. Garage rock, soul, and jazz each have their own strong communities and “it all bleeds into one another,” says Don Was, Grammy-winning producer and Blue Notes Records chief. “It’s really that kind of melting pot.”
The Motown Museum is in the early stages of a $50 million expansion, but the original Hitsville USA HQ on West Grand Boulevard is already a gem, with plenty of artifacts and a re-creation of founder Berry Gordy Jr.’s original upstairs apartment. Best of all: the preserved Studio A “Snake Pit,” where you can feel the ghosts of the Funk Brothers in the room. Just a few blocks away, Gordy’s former mansion in the Boston Edison District, with a swimming pool and bowling alleys, merits a visit if you’ve got time.
Jack White’s Third Man Records pressing plant, in Detroit’s Cass Corridor, is a musichead’s dream, with a vinyl manufacturing operation humming along not far from a busy performance space. The 10,000-square-foot pressing plant’s eight Newbilt machines were the first for a U.S. facility in 35 years, and the machinery — including hydraulic generators and a closed-loop water-recycling system — is both state of the art and environmentally friendly. “We wanted to be a label that had its own pressing plant,” White said of the space, which employs a lot of college kids. “It’s been a long time since Capitol and Columbia and all those labels had their own pressing plants.”
Kick Out the Jams
Saint Andrew’s Hall/the Shelter and the multivenue Majestic Complex are fixtures on the touring circuit, as well as ideal showcases for locals. The latter’s Magic Stick joins the nearby Marble Bar and TV Lounge as reliable sites for next-gen EDM, and the Marble’s monthly Motor City Soul Club caters to the old-school crowd. Cliff Bell’s, with its shiny wood finishes and speakeasy ambience, is the spot to hear a steady stream of high-level jazz.
Move Your Body
Detroit has made a place for itself on the crowded U.S. festival calendar. It starts with the Movement Electronic Music Festival, which brings scores of acts (many of them homegrown) and tens of thousands of fans in their best Day-Glo every Memorial Day weekend to dance along the Detroit River. The Mo Pop Festival, another waterside extravaganza, fills two days in August with acts like Lizzo and Brockhampton and more. On Labor Day weekend, the Detroit Jazz Festival is the world’s largest cost-free jazz gathering, with recent headliners including Pat Metheny, Ron Carter, Terence Blanchard, and others. Every December, electronic producer GRiZ offers “12 Days of GRiZmas,” featuring concerts and other activities, from arts and crafts to yoga and even dodgeball. 100 percent of the proceeds go to music, arts and tech programs for local children.
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