Coming into the DJ scene in the mid 90s, I was inundated with soulful, spacey music. Lounge was king, Techno was dark, House was deep and most tracks seemed geared more for after hours parties than for the peak of the evening. In contrast, my tastes ran more towards straight-ahead bangers — music for ass shaking, glass breaking and pill taking. I wasn’t looking for smart music, I was just looking to get the party started. Because of that early over-exposure, it has taken me a long time to come round to subtler dance music sounds.
Detroit’s Moodymann has built a career crafting the kind of music I never really dug. He famously said “I don’t make music for the masses to dance to, I make music for the small majority that listens.” Well, I finally started listening, if only because I got tired of everything sounding the same.
A devoted and vocal proponent of Detroit’s Jazz, Soul and R+B heritage, Moodymann, aka Kenny Dixon Jr., champions Techno’s early stripped-down sound and the Black artists who built the genre. He’s also a huge supporter of vinyl, often stoping tracks in the middle of DJ sets to proclaim that his women prefer 12”s. This made his choice to release his newest “record” digitally via Scion A/V a surprise, but a pleasant one.
The opening track 9 Nites 2 Nowhere features a driving disco pulse, blaring synth stabs and super dry white noise snares. Moodymann saves the reverb for the unexpected horn interludes. It’s as if the door to a hole-in-the-wall jazz club has swung open as a drunk stumbles out. Just as he moves out of the lamp light and into the darkened streets, we’re back to the tight, hypnotic beat.
If you’re not having fun yet, then you need to join the crowd that sets off Basement Party. The funkiest cut of the 8 tracks, it’s got a Parliament feel to it, propelled by a wild swinging LFO sample and a nasty fartastic bass synth. The production is purposely mixed so it sounds like it’s coming through the floor boards. In case the name didn’t tip you off, Moodymann is more interested in creating a mood than anything else.
Saturday at the Rock is upbeat and creepy in just the right Detroit techno way. There’s a background melody burbling like curbside muck or drainpipe runoff from some abandoned industrial building. The interplay between the snare hits and the sci-fi synth stabs is both seedy and robotic. It’s Kraftwerk on food stamps.
U Ranaway opens with a stray R+B a cappella that runs for 1:36 before a clicky Minimal Techno metronome and druggy organ noodling enter. Discordant spaced-out House pads complete the track, which was designed to be played in places with no sign out front that don’t open till every place else is closed.
Uplifting and simple, Pray 4 Love is a dubbed out Space Disco track. Catchy hooks and a positive vibe are like the comedown after an all-nighter with the P.L.U.R. crowd. It recalls the 70s via the 90s. It’s Donna Summer but cooler and with less production muscle. Think Paradise Garage Sale.
Hold it Down is like listening to a Smooth Jazz band playing along to Prince’s answering machine message. The flute solos and glistening cocktail hour piano contrast oddly with the soul shout-outs to various cities. The singer’s insistence that we hold it down is almost comedic considering how down everything already is. In fact, if things get held down any more, I might need to order a cheese plate and some red wine.
With a rubber band rhythm, slinky guitar riffage and various vocal samples., Got 2 Make It is what Daft Punk might sound like if they were produced by DJ Shadow. The opening and closing of the track break down to the underlying infectious beat. It’s a bit like Mylo’s Drop The Pressure but unplugged. It’s so simple, yet so good, you are left wishing the whole track sounded like this. That’s probably why there’s also a dub mix.
Picture This is a love letter to Detroit music, be it Soul, Jazz, House or Techno. It’s Black, sexual, spooky and … well, moody. But it’s also fun and danceable, at least at moments. This is not music to be ignored or relegated to the wee hours and back rooms of places you shouldn’t be in the first place. This is headphone music, car music and dance floor music that proves every record doesn’t have to be 128 beats per minute. More please — some of us are actually listening.