Can a sound without words say anything? Can it create change or even a revolution?? The lanmind has been deployed.
Mad Mike, 1999
I found the above quote, by techno pioneer and Underground Resistance co-founder Mike Banks, on the side of a display in the techno museum Mike and his colleagues built in Detroit. It was part of a collage called ‘The Virus’, meant to represent a grouping of inspirations for UR and their work over the years that also includes Jackie Robinson, the Tuskegee Airmen and more.
It goes without saying that while the quote most likely refers to techno music, a sound without words, it’s easily interchangeable with production in general, with beats, with electronic music, any music without words in fact. But perhaps more accurately it’s applicable to any music without words that was born of struggle or placed within the confines of modern music’s evolution.
What does UR and techno have to do with a book about modern hip hop production? The easy answer is ‘more than you might think’. Another could be ‘everything’. And yet another would be that, in Detroit certainly, the two sounds – techno and hip hop – have always been way more intertwined than media and close-minded cultural representations would have you believe.
I met Mike Banks by total chance, following an interview with Waajeed. The little time I spent with him was illuminating and we ended up ‘bonding’ (if I may be so bold) over hip hop beats, discussing the work of the Hipnotech label that UR distributed and parented in the 1990s.
I visited the techno museum that’s housed in the Submerge building, from which Mike and UR operate, on my last day in town. It was an inspiring visit after nearly ten days spent discovering the city’s divisions, its fascinating landscape and interviewing artists for the book. It was so inspiring in fact that I ended up writing a piece on the experience, and its relation to my work, for VICE’s Thump website.
This piece is the first bit of writing I’ve done since my trip (publicly anyways) and will certainly be incorporated into the book in some shape or form. The ideas I touch upon are likely to be integral to the Detroit parts of the book, alongside other ideas I’ll be coming back to in the coming months/years as I finish this mammoth project.
Exhibit 3000 is the real home of techno. Nobody will tell the story for them in Detroit, and so they took it upon themselves. To most Europeans America may seem like a cultural wasteland – a place with little history – but that’s too easy a trap to fall into. I should know, I’ve been guilty of it in the past. Visiting Exhibit 3000, meeting the guys and experiencing the city for myself, I’ve come to understand that while America may be young compared to Europe, it is no less culturally and historically rich. It just hasn’t had the same amount of time to understand the value of preserving and upholding its history to the rest of the world.