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FEATURING: Andrea Long Chu, Brandy Jensen, Rona Lorimer, Cyrus Dunham, Dan Sinykin, Stephanie Wong, Ricky Varghese, Martha Southgate, Jonathan Alexander, Charles Fourier, Eberick Hashvay, Irene Silt, Elaine Hsieh Chou, Juan Cárdenas, Lizzie Davis, Katherine Hill, Chelsea Bieker, Brian Tierney, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, Erika Meitner, Rose DeMaris, and Omotara James.
Featured Artists: Ron Miyashiro, Lloyd Kofi Foster, Yayoi Kusama, Sirkhane DARKROOM, and Gillian Garcia.
I recently spent a weekend in the birthplace of techno falling in love without saying so. Techno was born in Detroit in the ’80s, and so, like me, it’s a millennial, carrying some of our most defining features. I had already fallen in love with techno in its foreign outpost, Berlin, where I spent the previous year falling out of love with a bet as safe as the city itself.
Love is a plot device, second only to death in its dependability for drama. Both make for excellent beginnings, middles, or ends. But its mirror image, the unloved and unlovability of humans, provokes every reader and watcher just as much. Doesn’t it? Didn’t something provoke you to pick up this issue, with its horrible question because you too wanted to know the answer?
Between unlove and love, there is a dangerous tightrope. Everything leading up to the admission of love is a moment of total exposure. High risk. That moment is where I hunkered down, techno rave after rave, in that airless, hopeful, despairing space.
We waited for our friends to arrive. Their car had hydroplaned on the way into town, done three 360-degree spins across traffic, hurtled toward two semi-trucks, and was stopped only by a randomly placed beam in the middle of the median. Each passenger, five in all, retold the story with a smile as they finally arrived, rain-soaked in a rental car, for the first dance. Sonali is the kind of person who walks into a party like she was born there. She hugs a few people on the dance floor even though her home is 14 hours away and takes over; her arms are out to her side, knees flying up to her chest. We all back up and watch. Yeah, we almost died, she shouts across the dance floor, but I just kept saying, it’s okay, okay, as I watched the semis heading toward us.
There’s a Vice article from 2019 that has since been stuck in my head, “Millennials Will Get Sick and Die Faster Than the Previous Generation.” Above this title is a stock photo of a smiling, stylish woman my age relaxing in an armchair in front of a fiddle-leaf fig. Sylvia Plath was right, dying is an art. We get better and better, faster and faster, each generation, at our short high-risk moment.
On our last night in town we went from a ghettotech barbeque on the periphery of town to a club where the local legend Theo Parrish was billed to play continuously from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. Theo has been spinning vinyl in the basements of Chicago and Detroit since house was born. The beat is in his shoulders as much as it is in the steel drums, the horns, the synth, the snares bouncing off opera that holds a molasses space between tracks. He thinks it’s funny, his own swagger, and I hear him in my head telling the promoters: I’ll play the whole night. The whole night? Till morning. And as the night drags on, we try to leave, try to head for home, but we can’t because there are endless hooks, and we are caught. Theo is a psychologist-archivist-conductor externalizing everything internal that is Detroit, which is to say Caribbean, Idlewild, Africa, Yemen, Syria, industrial scratches, motors — but not mechanical, not like Berlin tekkno, not computer love, not clean tracks on clean equipment. He plays no safe bets as he pulls worn vinyl record after record out of his crate.
The plot thickens at 7:00 a.m when he does not stop. Theo thinks it’s even funnier when the sun starts rising and he begins to mess with the crowd, bringing us up and down song by song, so that each finale is its own dawn and dusk at once, like Dante coming out of Purgatory into Earthly Paradise, where the streams flow in two directions, one to forget and one to clarify. Doctors will tell you that a disco track with a 100 bpm provides an ideal beat for performing the chest compressions needed to resuscitate someone. Detroit techno has layers, set erratically, some going as high as 130 bpm, played on broken equipment with errant, lustfully offbeat sounds. It’s repetitive, and possesses your heart, but one could not resuscitate to the beat and that’s why it pairs so well with this moment of risk between the question and the answer — it’s more verve than just surviving. By the next rave I still will not have dared ask it.