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.
Detroit-based artist and DJ Sabetye followed with an equally impressive mix, weaving together glamorous slow-building beat drops with whimsical samples. Ichie-Vincent rounded off the night with an undeniably fun set that kept the energy in the room going despite the late hour. In fact, it seemed that throughout all four sets the dance floor was consistently occupied by people enjoying themselves and interacting closely with the DJ.
The thumping beats and meticulously blended mixes of the night felt right at home at Club Above, especially given Ann Arbor’s proximity to Detroit, a city that helped mold the definition of techno music so monumentally. Black artists have been fueling their electronic music with revolutionary themes for decades, creating safe for artistic freedom in the face of spaces of discrimination. Impulse Roots felt like one of these safe spaces, a place for enjoyment and rampant creativity. The show was not only an impressive display of local electronic music talent, but just as crucially, a reminder to acknowledge the community that has allowed the genre to flourish so greatly in the first place.
Follow MEMCO on Instagram to learn more about their monthly events and mixes.
Daily Arts Writer Nora Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.