#TBT: Back to 1988, when techno innovator Derrick May was just getting started

In 1988, Detroit techno innovator Derrick May was just beginning to make his mark. This story from June 6 of that year, for a feature called “Young Entrepreneurs under 25”, talks about how May had just signed a contract for $200,000. His then-new music label, Transmat Records, brought in $30,000 the year before and just $5,000 in 1986.

May and Transmat would go on to become storied names in electronic music. May still maintains a successful career as a DJ, regularly traveling to gigs in clubs around the world.

— Aug. 27, 2015; Crain’s Detroit Business


Study puts value of Detroit music industry at $1 billion

Music in Detroit amounts to a billion-dollar industry.

That’s the summation of a study conducted for Crain’s by East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group LLC, which inventoried the number and types of music businesses and employees in Southeast Michigan, defined as Wayne, Macomb, Oakland, Livingston and Washtenaw counties.


Renaissance artists: Creative community revives overlooked block near Eastern Market

Service StreetTurnover of buildings on one block of Gratiot Avenue has set the stage for a transformation of an area familiar to anyone who regularly visits Eastern Market for weekend shopping or Detroit Lions tailgating.

The block is across the street from Gratiot Central Market, with Russell Street lining its western flank. Most visitors probably pay it little mind, other than to contrast the daytime bustle on one side of the street with the apparent emptiness of the other.

That’s understandable. Most of the block’s Gratiot-facing façades have looked dormant for years.

But that’s changing. Of the 13 buildings on the block, six have changed hands in the past three years. A seventh was sold in 2006. The six recent sales went to artists or businesses engaged in the arts — a fitting takeover for a block that’s harbored artists and their studios since the 1970s. All but a handful of buildings in the block have artists as owners, tenants or both.


Detroit’s challenge: Using city’s musical heritage to build deeper industry

For many people throughout the world, Detroit is as synonymous with music as it is cars. Whether they’re techno enthusiasts in Berlin and Tokyo, Detroit rock fans in London, or Motown fans just about everywhere, people recognize Detroit’s musical pedigree.

And yet, the music industry here barely registers on the map, according to a study by the Martin Prosperity Institute in Toronto. The study looked at figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis to pinpoint where music professionals and businesses are clustered among U.S. metropolitan areas.

Cities such as Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Austin, Texas, were among the top.

Detroit, however, came in at No. 37.


Eastern Market developer on track to open spaces for restaurants, creative businesses

New spaces in Eastern Market could become available for creative entrepreneurs in 2013 if all goes according to plan for Robert Heide, owner of the FD Lofts in Eastern Market.

Heide is working on a deal to buy a former Department of Public Works maintenance building from the city of Detroit for $150,000 and expects the deal to finalize in the first quarter of next year.


Making it here: Hackerspaces celebrate hands-on spirit

At one point about 100 years ago, there were hundreds of automobile companies in the Detroit area, born from the hands of tinkerers. That
hands-on ability has long been pointed to as the source of what made Detroit a 20th-century industrial powerhouse.

New groups of tinkerers are paying homage to that tradition, coming together in what they call hackerspaces or makerspaces, where members share resources, skills and equipment to make anything they can manage to build, be it a piece of art or a mechanical oddity. These relaxed groups don’t much care what its participants are working on, as long as it’s creative and hands-on.

“Hackerspaces care about things, so they’re wonderful to work with. They’re collaborative, they share open-source values. When things fail, you want them there for you,” said Sherry Huss, the director of Maker Faire and “maker in chief” for O’Reilly Media Inc. in Sebastopol, Calif., which organizes the events.

While the groups are not a Detroit phenomenon, it’s fitting that a few have arisen here, organizers and participants say — not just because of the automotive past, but also the availability of space and people, allowing for ideas to take form with speed.

“In New York, you either have to have a lot of money or get a lot of influence to make things move,” said Jeff Sturges, lead organizer of a group, OmniCorpDetroit LLC. Originally from Massachusetts, he attended Cranbrook Academy of Art and was attracted to the relative lack of pretense in Detroit.

“You’ll find out pretty quick here if someone’s full of s—. I hate wasting time.” OmniCorp has metal fabricators, custom bicycle crafters, engineers, artists, teachers, network administrators and music producers working within its Eastern Market walls. Though registered as a business, it’s really more of a clubhouse. Members pay $95 a month in dues to share lease and utility costs.

The space is easy to miss. Tucked behind the sheds on Russell Street, the old sign on the building suggests the building houses a produce distributor. Stickers bearing the OmniCorp logo on the black steel doors are the only official indicator of its presence. The logo looks like some sort of Masonic secret society emblem.

“That was on purpose,” said Sturges, who prompted the organization to form in early 2010, though he and other members emphasize there is no one person who sits atop the organization.

But once in a while, a tinkerer’s legs can be spotted poking out from underneath a car outside. Or vehicles can be seen gathering outside for one of the Thursday “open hack nights,” where the doors are open to nonmembers to explore and share ideas.

Inside the doors one day in spring was a grimy, cluttered room with a large, unorthodox bicycle frame and the smell of welding in the air. Adjoining rooms lead to other projects and storage for parts and equipment.

Upstairs is where the main clubhouse is. There, an expansive wood-floored loft is filled with workstations covering a range of activities. One station has soldering equipment to modify electronics. A drum set sits at the far wall, behind a booth housing electronic music gear. Next to that is a jewelry crafter’s desk.

There are about 25 members in OCD. There’s no hierarchy of membership, but anyone interested in joining must be approved by existing members. It’s close-knit.

“It’s kind of like roommates. You want to meet someone before you let them in your house,” said Brandon Richards, a founding member who spends his days working as a mechanical engineer at Harman International Industries Inc.‘s Farmington Hills office.

Members share space, materials and expertise, giving them the structure to explore talents used in their day jobs without the pressure of the workplace.

“At a gym, you might go and get a release, but you’re not using the skills you use at work,” Sturges said.

They aren’t looking to make money and so aren’t pushing to add more members. The added money would just cause fights, Richards said.

“Then again, if I made money I wouldn’t be bummed,” Richards said.

But they do talk about how this easygoing, indirect approach could cause them to stumble into a product with sales potential.

“They’re sort of unintentional incubators,” Sturges said of hackerspaces. “If you cluster creative people, eventually you can make money.” Falling costs for fabrication equipment and technology are accelerating the practical creativity among hackerspaces everywhere, said Huss at O’Reilly Media “The next wave of products probably is going to come from these groups,” she said.

Sturges recognizes that potential in his community education work. Before OmniCorpDetroit, he participated in New York hackerspace NYC Resistor, one of the more widely noted groups. But he moved back to Detroit for the specific purpose of organizing a group called Mt. Elliott Makerspace, an east Detroit neighborhood hackerspace that teaches hands-on skills to city youth and recruits retired engineers as teachers. The Kresge Foundation funded it with a $200,000 grant in March 2010.

Some of those youths were learning to solder at OCD at one open hack night in May when about 20 people showed up. Members of a bicycling club called the East Side Riders. Guys sitting in a circle, each with a laptop. An urban farmer.

Richards and another member, electrical and software engineer Alex Manoulian, explained some of the items at OCD.

There’s a mind-controlled balloon popper. The headset of this large, wiry construction, they said, has three metal points that touch one ear, plus an arm that touches the forehead. By getting hyped up (or whatever mental state works), the user can make a long, sharp, metal point slowly extend until it pops the balloon.

Another project is a jar that uses baking soda and a battery to produce hydrogen and that can be hooked to a small engine.

Manoulian said the $95-a-month fee is worth it for the access to the tools, talent and space.

“I couldn’t put a drill press in my apartment,” he said.

One project he had been working involved a spinning screw powered by an electromagnet. But the screw part kept falling over. Manoulian probably would have figured out a solution, but why take the time when there’s someone around like Richards, who walked over, took one look and identified the torque dynamics at play? Similar sentiments were echoed one night at i3Detroit, another local hackerspace.

Engineering jobs often don’t have much engineering to them, members said. It’s easy to fall into a job that has more to do with filing papers or dealing with customers than building things. Or the engineering job is about building, but at such a small part of a long, segmented process that it’s unfulfilling, they said.

Hackerspaces give engineers, designers and artists a place to play.

I3Detroit (the I’s stand for “imagine, innovate and inspire”) began in 2009. The group is housed in a building on Ferndale’s industrial east side. Organized as a nonprofit, the group has about 70 members who pay either $39 a month for a basic membership or $89 for a membership that includes voting rights. All members have 24-hour access to the building.

Daytime work for i3Detroit’s members is heavy on software engineering but, like OmniCorpDetroit, includes other types of engineers, as well as artists, electricians, machinists, fabric workers, welders and carpenters.

People’s ages range from the 20s to 50s.

I3’s reputation got a national boost this summer because of its work for the Red Bull Creation challenge.

The energy drink company’s event culminated in New York on July 7-10, when the groups had 72 hours to create something. I3 was a finalist with its Squiggle Trike, a compressed air-powered tricycle that uses the side-to-side motion of a figure skater to move the wheels.

“I3 is an incredibly well-respected group,” Huss said.

I3Detroit is looking to grow and hopes to have 100 by end of summer. What i3Detroit provides its members is the space. The equipment within is provided by members for general use, and that equipment includes a CNC plasma cutter, an arc welder, drill presses and circuit testing equipment. The membership fees cover the lease and utilities.

Also scattered about is a barbecue, an old player piano with new wires sticking out of it and a box full of “noodle” flotation devices.

“I3 owns some shelves, some chairs and that’s it,” said Ross Smith, current president.

Nick Britsky, one of 10 founding members, provided about half of the machine shop; some items were purchased by members who pooled money.

“We offer a place for people to try out capital equipment,” said Smith.

The group also performs a networking function, since so many of the members are professionals.

“A lot of people have gotten jobs as a result of i3,” said Eric Merrill, a board member and vice president.

Unlike some traditional tinker groups, such as ham radio clubs, i3Detroit keeps the activities open-ended, Smith said. So while some ham radio enthusiasts might be i3 members, that is just part of the spectrum of activity.

“A nerdy polymath personality walks in and gets it immediately,” he said.

The point is not to make a single home-run product, said Smith. The point is in not knowing what might come out of what he half-jokingly refers to as a “pre-incubator” or “conception chamber.” Cherish Lallone, a member in her 20s, works as a database manager but likes animatronics and puppetry for fun. Access to the machinery at i3 has helped her with her hobby, she said.

“People in my age group aren’t familiar with any kind of machinery or manufacturing processes. Here, you can get lessons on CNC machines or drill presses,” Lallone said.

During one of the club’s membership meetings, several people displayed their latest projects. One guy was working on a racetrack for toy micro-helicopters; another showed off a decal he made of Calvin from the “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip urinating on… another Calvin, making fun of the widely-seen car window stickers.

But the main piece, to be shown at this year’s Detroit Maker Faire, is the ChronoTune, an old-timey radio torn apart and reconfigured to play audio clips for whatever year a person dials it to, between 1850 and 2050.

Members are still adding sound files. Some of them are recordings they made themselves, such as a reading of Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” Thomas Edison’s recording of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” is on there. For recordings in the future, they are putting in prankish items like a joke told in binary, said Nate Bezanson, one of the lead makers.

“There is no requirement to be serious,” he said.

July 21, 2011 | Detroit Make It Here (now defunct), and Crain’s Detroit Business


Harmony comes to electronic music fest: Paxahau brings bizlike approach

Paxahau“Quiet” usually isn’t the adjective a music festival promotion company wants associated with its events. But for Paxahau Inc. in Ferndale, it works.

The company, which runs the Movement Electronic Music Festival, has generated few headlines of the sort that stole the show in the event’s early years, when infighting and financial troubles were an inevitable accompaniment.

The power struggle reached fever pitch in 2001, the second year of the festival, when weeks before the event, Carol Marvin, head of festival organizer Pop Culture Media, fired Carl Craig, the pioneering Detroit techno disc jockey who was the event’s artistic director. …


The sordid tales of Dan Sordyl: News cameras long gone, owner of former Motor nightclub talks openly about his experiences

Motor ad_small A young woman, having taken too much Ecstasy, overheated. The nightclub’s head of security frantically dragged her into a snowbank outside the Hamtramck bar to cool her off. She died a few days later.

A young man was shot and killed outside the club. This drew out a local TV news crew, cameras blazing. Doesn’t the reporter care about hurting the business? No.

There wasn’t even much profit when these events occurred in 2001. Customers got in free, thanks to a generous guest list. The DJs were pushing their fees well beyond $10,000 just for a few hours of mixing records — at a club that could only hold only 1,000 people.

Yet the club proprietor describes himself as one of the luckiest people ever to have run a business.


Robocop statue kick-starts Le Tigre Park idea

In the wake of the Robocop statue project and all the debate it caused, a project to turn one of Detroit’s vacant lots into an art park has gained new life.

Hamtramck artist Marianne Burrows is spearheading the project, called Le Tigre, and set up a fundraising page for it at on Feb. 16. That was the same day the Kickstarter campaign to build a Robocop statue in Roosevelt Park reached its $50,000 goal and ignited a debate about the statue’s purpose and symbolism for the city.


Steadily growing Dirty Show sweeps up arts community

What started out as a lark for former alt-monthly publisher Jerry Peterson and his friends has grown into one of Detroit’s largest annual art shows, and the 12th installment is coming up Feb. 11.The Dirty Show, a showcase of international erotic art, drew at least 10,000 attendees last year, Peterson said Jan. 28 in the then-cold, empty Bert’s Warehouse Theater space in Eastern Market, where the show is held. It’s shifted to ever-larger venues over the years.

“It started out as a private party in the abandoned offices of Orbit (in Royal Oak),” said Peterson, the show’s head organizer.

Orbit was the iconoclastic, free monthly magazine Peterson founded and published from 1990-1999. Tom Thewes, Mark Dancey, Triston Eaton and Glenn Barr were among the artists whose work appeared in the magazine.

In the beginning years, 30 to 35 of Peterson’s artist friends participated, many of them carried over from the Orbit days. This year, Peterson received 5,000 art submissions, of which 400 were accepted. The show charges a 30 percent commission on art sales.

Peterson said the Detroit show is profitable but declined to share revenue.

Mosaic Productions LLC in Detroit curates art for shows and manages art sales for the Dirty Show. President Billy Hunter is also on the five-judge panel that determines which submissions are accepted.

He said 56 pieces sold last year, from under $100 to $2,500 for pieces by artists Colin Christian and Brian Viveros.

Total sales came to about $20,000, Hunter said.

Hunter said the Dirty Show is the biggest annual themed art show in Michigan, both in attendees and number of artists featured.

“Artists throughout the world submit pieces to the show,” he said.

Juxtapoz, a national art magazine, has been a show sponsor since 2005.

“We never expected this. It happened organically,” Peterson said of the show’s growth. “Every city needs a Dirty Show. They just don’t know it.”

The organizer of the Damned show, who prefers to go by the initials DVS, also said the Dirty Show is the biggest show around that isn’t one of the many large annual fairs, such as Arts, Beats and Eats or the People’s Art Festival. The Damned show, featuring dark and introspective art, drew 1,800 attendees last October, its third annual installment.

It took a few tries before Detroit photographer Bridgett Ritz got her art accepted in the Dirty Show. When she finally did last year, her piece sold on the first night.

Having her work in the show won her respect in some lofty circles, including The Scarab Club, where she is a member.

“You wouldn’t think a show called ‘dirty’ would give you credibility, but it does,” Ritz said. “It’s taken seriously.”

The show’s demographics are not what people might think, Peterson said. It draws men and women in equal numbers, with a few judges and a “lot of lawyers” attending the show — not just goth kids.

“You’re just as likely to see a soccer mom here as a boy dressed like a soccer mom. … We’ve had people in here pushing grandparents in wheelchairs.”

The show is meant to be fun and unpretentious, he said. Attendees are not required to wear anything wild like all-leather outfits or rubber suits.

“Nowhere in the Dirty Show do you have to be anything,” he said.

Most of the art is not gothic and much of it isn’t even all that explicit. One example Peterson offered was a nude made out of Legos by Detroit artist Henry Birdseye. The work looks like a nude painting until the viewer gets close and sees it’s actually a sculpture.

So-called suspension art, wherein people suspend themselves in midair from their body piercings, has been reduced in part because it’s getting old — and because it actually manages to gross out the lead organizer.

“That stuff, I can’t even look at it,” Peterson said.

The Dirty Show has drawn enough interest to add a “half show,” held every three years in addition to the main annual show. The show also has traveled to Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles. Shows in Zurich and Sydney have been held under the Dirty Show banner, with Peterson’s permission.

Peterson said two British blokes living in Shanghai came close to holding a Dirty Show there, until they were threatened with deportation if they went ahead.

Peterson’s favorite memory throughout the years of running the show is that of the L.A. show, held in November 2009 at a “sleazy no-tell motel” where he rented a wing to hang the art.

With prostitutes fighting outside his window amid used condoms and empty crack cocaine vials, the venue’s dirty aura topped even that of Detroit’s dark warehouses.

“The place was a hellhole,” he said.

One artist traveling with them ended up with a roach problem after returning to Detroit and not leaving luggage in the car long enough to freeze.

Although that show lost money because of the travel costs, Peterson wants to make another go at it.

“We’re going to go back,” he said.

Courtesy Jerry Peterson

 The show runs six days this year, opening Feb. 11. The ticket price has been bumped up $5 to $20. Peterson advises people to buy advance tickets; last year’s show hit capacity by 9:30 every night.

Fetish photographer and filmmaker Rick Castro is this year’s special guest. He will be flown in from Hollywood, Calif., where he owns Antebellum Gallery.

More stage performances and performance art are planned than in years past.

One additional selling point from Peterson, who also uses the moniker Jerry Vile:

“We have more genitalia per square inch than the DIA and Cranbrook combined.”

More info:

—, Feb. 3, 2011


Artists could soon overrun vacant corner at Nine and Woodward: Rust Belt Market to take up entire former Old Navy space

A young married couple from Oxford is preparing to turn the vacant Old Navy shop at Nine Mile and Woodward in Ferndale into a business for artists to sell their works. Chris and Tiffany Best have been molding the idea for the space for a year, talking with artists and forming a business plan that just this week has become official.

The Rust Belt Market would allow artists to rent spaces and sell their works during weekends. It is on track to open in March or April.

The enterprise was initially named NOCO, for Nothing Corporate, but was changed after artists said the name might turn people off or limit the scope of the business.


Thinking small: Micro-projects give creatives new options in a sputtering economy

It doesn’t take an MBA or an open line of bank credit to get a business or creative project going in Detroit.

Creative and social entrepreneurs alike are realizing that smaller amounts of money raised from large groups of people can be just as effective at launching efforts.

The film, “Lemonade: Detroit,” is about the spirit of entrepreneurship rising from the rubble. But the film itself is an exercise in creative finance, with the producer, Erik Proulx, raising funds for the project by selling individual frames of the movie for $1. Buyers will get listed as producers in the movie credits.


Movement 2003: Festival electrifies downtown

Story as originally posted at The Detroit News –

(Contributing writer)

Unpredictable weather thins crowds, but Movement festival doesn’t miss a beat

Mother Nature proved to be a fickle electronic music fan, ultimately affecting crowd turnout during the three-day Movement 2003 festival.

By 4 p.m. Monday crowds were in excess of 550,000, according to Laura Rodwan, spokesperson for High Tech Soul.


Music festival spins cash into Metro Detroit

Story as originally posted at The Detroit News –

(Contributing writer)

DETROIT — For Cliff Thomas, the throbbing bass filling Hart Plaza at Movement 2003: Detroit’s Electronic Music Festival sounds sweet, but the ringing cash registers at his Buy-Rite Records store on Seven Mile sound even sweeter.


Meet the artists at Movement 2003

Story as originally posted at The Detroit News –

Profiles of some of the main acts at this year’s Movement electronic music festival in Hart Plaza.


Richie Hawtin jumpstarts weekend of electronic music

Story as originally posted at The Detroit News –

Foreshadowing the Movement 2003: Detroit’s Electronic Music Festival in Hart Plaza this weekend, electronic music artist Richie Hawtin plans to play tonight at Ann Arbor’s Necto nightclub.

The club can hold 400 people, which is far less than the number of people who want to see him.

“We are looking forward to opening the festival … at a club with a different atmosphere,” Hawtin says.