MEMCO and the celebration of Black history in techno and house music

When we think of the origins of techno and house music, it’s easy to imagine the genre sprouting from somewhere deep in a smoky Berlin nightclub, where it is frequently played. Yet Black American musicians like Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles, the latter sometimes dubbed the “Godfather of House Music,” were largely instrumental in the genre’s early origins in cities like Chicago and Detroit. Although the general imagination today might not techno with its black roots as readily associate as, say, hip-hop or R&B, house music is intrinsically connected to these trailblazers that first put it on the map. This past weekend, MEMCO, or the Michigan Electronic Music Collective, put on its fifth annual Black History Month event, Impulse Roots, to highlight just this.

MEMCO is an active student-run DJ collective here on campus. Every month, the organization holds “Impulse” parties at various local venues, showcasing both student and professional DJing talent in accessible environments for the Ann Arbor community. This month’s Impulse Roots was dedicated to highlighting the revolutionizing efforts of Black musicians in the house and techno genres, donating a portion of the proceeds to the United Community Housing Coalition, a Detroit non-profit working to assist low-income residents in securing housing. LSA sophomore Matt Allen and Art & Design senior Kilala Ichie-Vincent were accompanied by guest DJs Problematic Black Hottie and Sabetye in serving up mixes that celebrate the deep-seated influences of Black artist in the electronic music we’ve come to recognize today.

Held at Club Above in Kerrytown, the venue is nestled above a German restaurant and bar, its walls splattered with black-lit neon paint and city skyline murals. It’s the kind of campy decor that usually signals the high probability of a good time, and the energy of the artists and crowd alike did not disappoint. Students and Ann Arborites filed up the stairs and onto the dance floor with palpable enthusiasm. Allen took to stage first, zapping the steadily swelling crowd with infectiously danceable beats. Next followed Problematic Black Hottie, a Detroit-based visual artist and DJ, blending vivacious Afro-beats and contemporary hip-hop and pop hits seamlessly. With each track, the small, raised stage where the musicians performed became more and more tightly packed with concertgoers bathed in pink and purple light. On the outer orbits of the dance floor, the atmosphere seemed just as intimate, as friends and strangers mingled in uninhibited dancing.

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