Detroit: Techno City

Detroit: Techno City
Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
27.07.16 – 25.09.16

First Prize
Entry in English

Step down into a brightly lit bunker.

Monochrome paste-ups neatly interspersed with record sleeves, Trinitron monitors on a white plinth.

A Techno soundtrack reverberates, still in possession of transformative power, blasting open time, breaking through the walls of this sanitised space.

Cybertron, Inner City, Underground Resistance.

Sound transports you to a network of derelict chambers, a de-industrialised zone.

It conjures a city where collective memories warp and condense, as civic buildings strain under the weight of abandonment, the curlicues of a scorched ceiling rose.

Window panes scored with agitated glyphs, the marble floor of an abandoned railway station.

A threshold realm, stranded on the cusp between booming motor city, dystopian life – world, and site, of emancipatory potential.

On an end wall, a photographic mural opens up a monochrome vista of downtown Detroit – Grand Hall, Best Sports Bar, East Grand River; names, conjuring an American city in ruins, a city ossified but porous, possibilities opening in fire escapes, parking lots, the liminal zones behind hotels.

The liminal zone is the site of the shaman, the shapeshifter, the one who guides between worlds.

Techno producers emerging in the 1980s – Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson – occupied multiple liminal zones just as they adopted multiple names, a proliferation of selves, a shattering and reassembling of ego – the breaking apart, in order to re-member. For them the apocalypse had already happened, they were living in a dystopian world. Techno articulated an experience of living among the ruins, it took flight above the fire-blackened buildings of 1967, it hovered over the aftermath of the 1973 recession, looked down from a position of supernatural clarity on a city hollowing in the grip of Reaganomic policies.

Ford’s were laying off men and replacing the conveyor belts with robots. It was these new robots that would become receptacles, vessels imbued with the spirit Techno producers would breathe into them. The futuristic oneiroscapes they conjured were about harnessing powers of strategic transcendence, plotting fugitive lines.

Roland synths appear in this room as fossils, uncannily beached as if recovered from the rubble of a collapsed building. They possess a residual power, an alien presence, 808 as relic, the body when the spirit has departed. If the music is spectral, the synths themselves are husks. Hushed beneath the bright strip lights of this white bunker they appear archaic, nostalgic, a retrofuturist fetish.

The walls are punctuated by a singular pedagogic voice, the tone is sensible, playing down race and class, imposing order.

A narrative, easy to follow – distanced, dispassionate, impartial.

Composite images, fluorescent posters, depicting lost scenes – recording studios, mix-tapes, radio stations. I scan the documentaries; the format: men in recording studios always breaking the spell, dragging the music into the realm of the prosaic.

But the spirit, omnipresent in the soundtrack, still contains distilled moments of potential, it opens up futures, albeit ones we might have temporarily lost.

Techno doesn’t lay crude territorial claim to Detroit, instead it glides through walls, speeds across freeways, becomes a nomadic, haunting presence. Detroit is a city riven by boundaries, 8 Mile Road, Base Line Road, the Northern City Limits – lines of segregation between areas mired by poverty and wealthy upper-class suburbs. It is the awareness of these margins and the capacity to transcend them, to warp and distort them, that gives rise to this mesmerising and unearthly sound.

Embedded within the music is a tangible desire to heal, to remember, to put together shattered elements.

Techno as an immersive, auditory hallucination is an escape, not into blissful ignorance but as a strategy of resistance to a ravaged environment and an impoverished everyday life. In the charcoal shells and derelict factories it escapes ordinary space and time.

This room, this brightly lit bunker is polluted, permeated by the quotidian life of the ICA – sounds from the kitchen, clanks, clatters, the piquant tang of lunch. Bright clinking of glasses and middle-class laughter create a jarring sensation, Detroit Techno in the heart of a sealed and socially-cleansed central London. The sublime potential sizzling in the speakers shoots beyond the locked down 1 and 2 zones and connects in places once called suburbs, the 3, 4 and 5 zones. As the Techno geist circuits through Bleep, Spiral Tribe, the Free Party scene, it can be heard in the loci of the ruin, sites of transience and becoming – Edmonton, Croydon, Barking, Tottenham grime, broken beat, dubstep – the fizzing, kaleidoscopic sounds of liminal London.

Speakers here are set at polite volume, the music retains its mesmerising power, but can’t possess the body; it lacks the visceral seizing force of the sound system. I yearn for the electrical charges up and down my spine, those scuttling sensations across my skin.

Record sleeves are pressed behind clip frames, little museum pieces neatly archived, hemmed in. I think of the lost network of London record shops, the basements with racks of jungle, hard house, tech-step and the moody petrochemical scent of vinyl.

First time I’ve really examined these sleeves, my understanding of this music was never encyclopaedic the way it was for my male colleagues in that seething hive of shops. My knowledge came from the rave scene, the proliferation of scenes that radiated from Techno when it landed in Europe, or more specifically when it landed in the North of England. This landing, this cataclysmic moment of emergence resonated across a region that bore an uncanny resemblance to Detroit.

I remember hearing Underground Resistance’s ‘Revolution for Change’ for the first time, in a former pit village in South Yorkshire, in 1992; the track was being blasted from a sound system outside a housing estate. I remember looking out across derelict marshalling yards and the abandoned Cortonwood Colliery, I remember the toxic waste seeping through the ecosystem. The apocalypse had already happened.

Techno, as it emerged in Detroit, was an alchemical conjuring – a series of inversions. It occupied a zone between the louche recklessness of P-Funk and the precision and mathematical ordering of European electronic music.

In the industrial cities of the North of England it encountered a co-ordinate of its inception, a multifaceted range of influences – A Flock of Seagulls, The Human League, Cabaret Voltaire – signals broadcast in Europe, received in Detroit, mirrored and returned.

Blake Baxter – Deep Space Soundworks – Xray – a litany of names taking me back to those Smokescreen parties in Sheffield, to the A1erdark club in Morley, to DiY sound systems in the quarries and fields of Yorkshire in the early ’90s. Industrial infrastructure became host, as moribund mills, factories and clubs were inhabited by countercultural scenes. In that moment, elements of working-class culture were subverted/elevated, the ruins of textile, steel and mining areas were illuminated by a sequence of epiphanies. If Detroit was steeped in the musical imprint of Berry Gordy’s upbeat Motown, Techno disassembled that, it clambered over the ripped-out conveyor belts, it scavenged and rearranged the remnants of the production line and listened to the new rhythms of the robots; in the North of England there was an innate understanding of that.

The question I was asking then still obsesses me now: If grand civic and industrial buildings are the physical containers of our collective memories, what happens to the auditory textures of those memories, when iconic structures lie in ruins?

Techno is the closest I have come to finding an answer; with its rerouting of spatial narratives, the hypnotic rhythms and shamanic beat, it articulates the territory we search for, the site of emancipatory potential. Techno is an echo from a future moment, it appears like a hallucination before it exists in the physical realm. Techno summons multiple futures, by sifting and reassembling fragments of the past, by re-membering those glimmers of light, embers lying dormant in the rubble and dust.

I am reminded of a quote by Fredric Jameson: ‘It would be best perhaps, to think of an alternate world – better to say the alternate world, our alternate world – as one contiguous with ours but without any connections or access to it. Then, from time to time, like a diseased eyeball in which disturbing flashes of light are perceived or like those baroque sunbursts in which rays from another world suddenly break into this one, we are reminded that Utopia exists and that other systems, other spaces, are still possible.’1

1. Fredric Jameson, Valences of the Dialectic, Verso, London and New York 2009, p. 612.






Cybertron乐队、Inner City、地下抵抗。







一面展墙上的单色大幅摄影打开了底特律市中心的风景金大礼堂、好运动酒吧、东大河,这些名字构成了一座废墟中的美国城市,一座石化了的却未必不透风的城市,在它的防火通道、停车场、旅馆后面的阈限空间( liminal zone )中,可能性被打开。


Marie Staggat, Downtown Detroit Marie Staggat《底特律市中心》

Marie Staggat, Downtown Detroit. 《底特律市中心》.

Mark Blower, installation view 装置

Mark Blower, installation view. 装置.

Techno制作人在80年代浮现金胡安阿特金( Juan Atkins )、德里克梅( Derrick May )、凯文桑德森( Kevin Saunderson ),这些人占领了多重阈限空间,就像他们拥有多重姓名,多产的自己,分裂后重新组装的自我金分裂为了重新组合/记住( re-member )。









在Techno音乐之中有一种明确的治愈的欲望,去重组/记住( re-member ),再一次拼凑起那些支离破碎的元素。


这间房间,这个灯光通明的地下室被污染了,被ICA( 伦敦当代艺术学院 )的日常生活所渗透金从厨房传来的声音、叮当哐啷、午餐的欢雀感。玻璃杯相碰的清脆响声和中产阶级的笑声成为了刺耳之音。位于封闭而清洁的中央伦敦的底特律Techno。然而它那壮阔的,潜力无限的节奏从扩音器中传出,弥散到被封锁的1区和2区,并将那曾经被称作为是“城郊”的地方打通,也就是3区、4区和5区。Techno精神在Bleep、Spiral Tribe以及Free Party这些场地间循环,废墟是它的轨迹,在无常和生长的地方,在爱德芒顿、克洛伊顿、巴尔金、图腾哈姆格莱姆,broken beat、dubstep,阈限伦敦传来绚烂的声音万花筒。


唱片封套装在卡纸相框里面,一些博物馆物件整洁地排列着。我想到已经消逝了的伦敦唱片店圈子,满地下室的唱片架就像丛林,hard house、tech-step,还有满屋子令人感怀的唱片那石油化工的味道。





布雷克巴克斯特( Blake Baxter )、深空声音( Deep Space Soundworks )、X光线,冗长的名单将我带回90年代早期谢尔菲德的烟幕排队、莫利的天黑俱乐部、约克夏石矿上和田地间的自制音响系统。工业基础设施成为了主场地,而那些垂死的作坊、工厂、俱乐部则被反文化现场占领。在那些时刻,工人阶级文化的元素被颠覆,人们振奋起来,纺织、钢铁、矿产地区的废墟被持续的顿悟所照亮。

如果说底特律曾沉浸于贝利戈迪( Berry Gordy )那乐观的汽车城的音乐印记中,那么Techno将其瓦解了,它爬上被撕烂的传送带,将生产线的残骸清扫并重组,倾听机器人的新韵律;而在英格兰北部,这样的理解仿佛与生俱来。


Techno是我能找到的最接近的答案。它在既有的空间叙事基础上另辟蹊径,它催眠的韵律和萨满般的的节奏表明了我们在追寻的领地,那是具有解放潜能的场所。Techno是未来刹那的回声,它像是一个还未诞生在现实领域的幻觉。Techno通过细究、再次组装过去的碎片,通过重组/记得( re-member )那些躺在垃圾和尘埃中的光束和灰烬,来召唤多重未来。

弗雷德里克詹姆逊( Fredric Jameson )写过:“最好构想一个另类世界金最好说出那另类世界,我们的另类世界金仿佛那个世界与我们的世界毗邻,但是没有任何联系和通道。而后,时常,就像残缺的眼球能够接收纷扰的光线,正如突然从另一个世界闯入的巴洛克阳光,我们记得,乌托邦是存在的,而别的系统、别的空间,仍旧可能。”1

1. 詹姆逊,《辩证法的多维性》,2009,第612页。