The techno rebels of Underground Resistance fight the power.
Wed Aug 8 2007
“We urge you to join the resistance and help us combat the mediocre audio and visual programming that is being fed to the inhabitants of Earth, building a wall between races and preventing world peace. By using the untapped energy potential of sound we are going to destroy this wall much the same as certain frequencies shatter glass. We urge all brothers and sisters of the underground to create and transmit their tones and frequencies no matter how so-called primitive their equipment may be. Transmit these tones and wreak havoc on the programmers!”
The above declaration is taken from the creed of Underground Resistance (UR for short), the Detroit electronic-music label and DJ-producer collective founded in 1989 by techno pioneers “Mad” Mike Banks and Jeff Mills. (The latter ventured off on his own in the 1992, and is now one of the international scene’s biggest stars.) The mission statement positions UR far from your average dance-music posse, which more likely would have “make people dance and get paid for it” as its motto. Nonetheless, people will be dancing when three of UR’s core members, Suburban Knight, DJ Skurge and Nomadico, are playing a DJ gig (or what UR refers to as an “assault”) at the Beach Party on Saturday 11.
Cornelius Harris, the cadre’s communications specialist—and, more prosaically, label manager—explains that UR came about from Mills and Banks’ intense dissatisfaction with the music-business status quo. “They both realized that the industry was not looking out for our interests,” he says. “And it wasn’t interested in exploring possibilities. It reinforces stereotypes, it does not at all respond to what people want to hear or what people are thinking, and thinks that people aren’t smart enough to be able to handle hearing something different. UR is rebelling against that, and about subverting musical stereotypes that are created by the industry.”
Stylistically, that translates to a discography—produced both collectively and individually by the group’s 20 or so members—veering between hard techno, smoother house and what UR calls “hi-tech jazz.” (Even casual clubbers will be familiar with one-time UR member DJ Rolando’s “Knights of the Jaguar,” a monster deep-tech club hit from 1999.) “There’s a whole range of emotions being explored in UR’s music,” Harris says. “It’s not just anger. Okay, there is a lot of anger—justifiable anger—and as long as we live in a culture that promotes materialism and the abuse of others, and makes it seem like those things are cool, you’re gonna get mad. Liquor stores next to high schools, video games about carjacking and beating women…” So, no UR tracks on the next edition of Grand Theft Auto, then? “Actually, we did do Midnight Club 3,” he laughs. “That one’s just about cruisin’ around; it’s much more appropriate. But we were like, ‘You’re making money off the kids here; you should give some money back.’ And they did; we got them to give some money to youth organizations here in Detroit.”
And it’s that kind of community-service thinking that belies UR’s militant veneer. “We’re always doing benefits,” Harris says, “and we try to support any number of causes in any way we can. We all feel that you have to take responsibility for what’s around you.” Such altruistic notions can be rare in the hedonistic world of nightlife, but Harris holds no ill will for those who enjoy clubbing purely for its visceral thrills. “The dance community at large might not look at things the same way we do,” he says, “but it serves a purpose as well. There are lots of people who were lost, or feel alone and isolated from the world, but when they go to a club they can feel like a part of something more.”
If it sounds like Underground Resistance is manned by a bunch of softies, well, maybe it is. “We know we have the reputation for being hard,” Harris says. “And a lot of us are—but we’re not crazy. We know that the DJs, and the vinyl that they spin, are the basis for everything else. In the end, it’s all about making people dance.”
Suburban Knight, DJ Skurge and Nomadico spin at The Beach Party on Sat 11.