Following its estimated $20bn municipal bankruptcy in 2013, the largest in US history, Detroit has been quietly regaining the culture that once made Motown the crown jewel of American music. Despite blight still being the visual calling card of the city, people young and old — the hustling and the wealthy — care tenderly for pockets of hope.
Music has remained one of the primary outlets for voicing the struggles, successes, and overall mood of Detroit. Going out to a show, whether it’s in Midtown or Downtown, the music tells a story, and lately the story has been one of passionate and pissed off revival.
Young people, black and white, continue to crowd the city streets and local hotspots to pay reverence to the history, participate in the present, and shape the future of Motor City. “It seems that there is a more youthful and hungry vision now that the economy is getting stimulated a bit more and people are moving in,” says Jeremy Howard, aka Sinistarr. The internationally known DJ/producer/remixer is a Detroit native and has been involved in the music scene for nearly a decade. Howard is not alone in his observation. The hunger is real. Whether it’s fueled by the corruption of the notorious Detroit mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, or the desire to develop a sense of community in the heart of despair, young people are determined to grow roots in the city and surrounding areas. Brands like ‘Detroit Hustles Harder’ and ‘Detroit vs. Everybody’ are testament to the combative nature of Motor City life, and this mentality impacts upon all residents: “…it’s really putting a fire under people to work harder”.
Howard grew up to the soundtrack of Detroit Techno and the legacy of the Motown sound of the ’60s. He explains, “I came from a different cloth than most in the scene – although I did start DJing and making house and techno coming up, I set my sights towards more faster-tempo and broken beat sounds like ghettotech and jungle.” Sinistarr seamlessly blurs imaginary boundaries set by musical genres, showing they are exactly that – imaginary. Musically, his hometown has been pushing the envelope of style for more than half a century, and artists like Sinistarr ensure the city’s future as a relevant metric for the pulse of cutting edge music, while he also sees it in a wider context: “It’s safe to say that the scene in Detroit and growing up around its rich history helped me to at least show some connection between Detroit techno and drum & bass from the UK.”
In this city experiencing a revival of its own, a drum ‘n’ bass renaissance is alive and thriving. With such a culturally rich musical history, from Motown to the techno origins of the ’80s, it is no surprise to see that, even now, the world takes its cues from Detroit.
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Cover photo by Kevin Keeley