Kyle Hall, the brightest of Detroit’s new breed, knows a thing or two about the Motor City.
Hall has spent “99%” of his 21 years in Michigan’s industrial nerve centre, growing up in the North-West sector before settling down in the bustling Midtown region. More importantly, Hall is thoroughly immersed in the city’s long and complex musical history. Not only is he well-schooled in the work of those that came before him, but he’s whittling his own fascinating branch on the techno family tree.
Hall was barely a teenager when he began spinning records. Under the personal guidance of folks like Mike Huckaby, Rick Wilhite and Omar-S, he elaborated a distinctive production style. His subsequent releases have shown a startling musical maturity. 2007’s ‘Plastik Ambash’ was an astonishingly well-realised set of tape-saturated bricolage. 2008’s Worx Of Art EP and 2009’s ‘Bsmnt City Anymle Kontrol’ EP saw light creeping into his sound, and Hyperdub saw fit to release his 2010 barnstormer ‘Kaychunk’. Hall’s work often nods towards Kenny Dixon Jr’s baked techno, but there’s a languid quality that makes his sound his own, not to mention a rhythmic sensibility that often feels closer to jazz than Juan Atkins. He’s not afraid to go hard either, as last year’s walloping WO6K 12″ proved.
Hall’s Wild Oats label are gearing up to release a new 12” and CD-ROM of “darker, atmospheric techno” from Manuel Gonzales, and Hall himself has a collaboration with Funkineven in the works (they also do a natty line in branded bibs). The young producer will also be appearing at this weekend’s Movement Festival in Detroit, and will be stopping by at Sankeys Ibiza on August 11. Hall took half an hour to walk us through some of his favourite spots in the city. The resulting Rough Guide is a veritable techno topography, encompassing happening bars, prime digging spots, and the best tofu patty in Michigan.
10238 Jos. Campau Hamtramck, MI 48212
Kyle Hall: “Detroit Threads is located in Hamtramck. It’s a shop that’s also a thrift store. They have a lot of older vintage clothing, collectible action figures, collectible magazines, buttons, glasses – they have quite a big selection of sunglasses there – from vintage kind of things to weirder stuff. It’s a pretty cool shop because they sell a lot of Detroit dance music, a lot more of the older stuff and recent stuff too, which makes it one of the different shops in Detroit. A lot of the dance shops closed, like Record Time and Vibes New And Rare Music. Buy Rite’s still open, but they don’t really provide too much new dance music, anymore, it’s just not really so lucrative as it is say in Europe, selling dance records. Threads sells new stuff.”
“I couldn’t really imagine living anywhere else.”
Where exactly do you hail from in Detroit?
KH: “I’m actually from the West Side of Detroit, where a lot of the older guys came from, like Rick Wilhite. Moodymann, he’s from that area: you’ll hear him talk in his song ‘’Forgotten Places’, naming geographical areas where he hangs out. I came from the North-West side, to be specific. I started out being downtown at an early age because my mum worked in the university when she was young. She stopped when she was pursuing her singing career more. Then I ended up ogin to high school down here [in Midtown], so became really familiar with the area in my teen years. I went to a school called The Detroit School Of Finer Performing Arts, it’s a really cool facility. They have a lot of technology – that’s right in the heart of Midtown.
“Some people just stay in their neighborhoods, I wasn’t that type of person. My parents never contained me to just one area. It’s kind of unfortunate that someone who lives on the East side of Detroit have never even seen downtown. Some people stay in their one area. And people in the suburbs do the same thing. People who live outside the city will be overseas, you’ll ask them ‘Where you from?’, they’ll be like ‘I’m from Detroit’. No, they’re from fucking Birmingham or something, which is ten minutes away. I had somebody say, ‘I’m from Detroi’t, and they were from the UP, the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, which is basically in Canada – that’s like six hours away! They’re still in the same state, but they’ll be like, ‘I’m from Detroit’. No you’re not, you’re from No Man’s Land! I’ve always enjoyed staying in Detroit, I couldn’t really imagine living anywhere else. I’ve lived in some small suburbs before with my mum, I lived in Oak Park before, but I’ve lived in the city of Detroit for 99% of my life.”
13210 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, MI 48126
Kyle Hall: “Stormy Records is more of the leftfield kind of store. It’s just on the South Side of Detroit – it’s a suburb, kind of similar to Hamtramck, it’s still in Detroit but it’s five minutes away. Detroit is made up of a lot of suburbs also. There’s the city proper, then there are a lot of things that are right outside the city that a lot of people that live in the city have to go to. There’s not a whole lot of stuff concentrated right in the city. A lot of people commute back and forth.
“Stormy Records is run by two Detroit artists, Windy and Carl, and they’ve been making music since the Nineties. They do a lot of ambient – I describe it as space-rock music. There’s not really any drums in it, it’s just pretty drone-y with vocals. They’re a really cool, Mom n’ Pop shop. They remind you of your older middle aged parents a bit. They’re kooky, but cool.
“They sell a lot of really exclusive music, like Third Man Records – Jack White will send special editions of records, special colour vinyl, made for sale at Stormy Records in Detroit. That’s a really important spot for me because I find a lot of music that inspires me to make music myself there. I find a lot of really interesting records that get my mind going. Windy and Carl are always feeding people with new music. It’s really how a record store should be, it’s like a proper education when you go in there.”
“It’s really how a record store should be, it’s like a proper education when you go in there.”
It sounds like a digger’s paradise.
KH: “It’s not a dusty store by any means. They tell me when I come there, ‘Kyle, you’re in the extension of our home living room, that’s what it is.’ It’s very neat, they know where every little thing is. They’re really connected to it, and have such an eclectic blend of music there, music that’s not really conventional stuff, a lot of the independent stuff from various genres. They have a whole indie section: when it says ‘indie’, that just means independent music, so that could encompass anything from underground hip-hop stuff to leftfield noise stuff. It’s kind of like how I think: instead of classifying things by genre, it’s more just about the vibe, and the visual appearance of it too. A lot of it is very visual, you’re drawn to certain things. It feels like it’s placed in a certain way for you to be brought in. They even sell cassette tape projects, all kind of pretty things. They’ll order in special things – I’ve been getting a lot of the BBC Radiophonic Records from there. Really cool stuff: Daphne Oram, the Oramics box set I bought there. The Dr Who BBC Radiophonic blue vinyl, and some other ones too. It’s always an education going in there, they’re really knowledgeable about music.”
4100 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201
Kyle Hall: “Every shop has it’s own character. Peoples Records is in the heart of the city in Midtown, sort of the area where I live. It’s more for funk, soul, Northern soul, rare kind of things, but it’s pretty gritty too, so it’s got that earthy diggers feel. That’s a digging shop. The guys that work there are really cool. One of the guys, Brad Hales, he’s a pretty known funk collector from the city. He’s a DJ also, he plays funk 45s - he’s a really cool guy.
“Again, you go in there and talk to them and you’re learning new stuff. I’m there digging through records, they’re putting something on the player, there’s this spontaneous thing going when they’re playing things, I’m like “What’s that?”, and that sparks me to look for something else. “Check over there”. They’ll hold certain records for me and say “Kyle, remember we were listening to this? I found another copy!” “Oh shit!” Sometimes I’m just hanging there and will just stumble into things. That’s how it compares to Stormy. I’ll come in there saying “Tell me something to expand my mind and blow my mind”. Whereas, with People’s, it’s a stumble-in thing, where I’m falling into things I like.”
“People who are consumers of blog music have no concept of placement of music, no concept at all.”
How important is it to have a one-to-one relationship with a record store owner, giving you recommendations, pointing you in the direction of things?
KH: “It gives you a whole insight on a lot of histories of things, and it puts a lot of music in context for you. That’s the problem with a lot of people consuming music: they don’t have any contextual value of what they’re consuming, so they don’t know what’s good and what’s bad. So, that’s the thing I have with records. It gives you experience without you having to have lived decades a go. It gives you a sense of time and where things are, so you know what’s valuable music and what’s just trash, to put it bluntly.”
On the internet, that sense of a timeline – where things place in relation to one another – is gone.
KH: “It makes people kind of stupid. People who are consumers of blog music have no concept of placement of music, no concept at all. They think something old is new. I’ll be playing records, they’re like “Is this Motor City Drum Ensemble?” I’m like “Fuck no, this ain’t Motor City Drum Ensemble! This shit came out in 1991, man!” They’ll see so-and-so play the song out and think they made it – they won’t have the context of an idea or where it comes from. That has a lot to do with how you purchase your music and how you consume your music. It makes you a lot less intelligent just using the internet. Ironically enough you’d think it would make it easier for you to gain knowledge, but you’re just getting it in fragments. Because there’s so much of it, you’re not getting fed any full lessons. It’s like if you’re trying to learn chemistry, and you decided to read an encyclopedia with definitions of how fission works. You’re looking at a very fragmented piece of it, you’re really not going to know anything other than the name. It’s just a free-for-all, it’s a mess.”
1459 Bagley St, Detroit, MI 48216
Kyle Hall: “It’s in Corktown. It’s an Irish area, you see a lot of the culture still there. The pubs, the colours, even the architecture and the houses and stuff. It looks really funny there – I guess there was just some architect who just decided “I want these houses to look like little small cottages”. It’s really crazy. That’s also where the old Tiger stadium used to be, so you can feel the excitement that was there. It’s still evolving. I feel the energy always transfers when it comes to Detroit. One thing might be strong for one minute, but then that same energy might travel on to something else. A lot of people come to Detroit and think it looks beat up and depleted and things like that, but you have to remember that once this was a really thriving city. You can still feel remnants. There are some really important things that just stood the test of time. You can feel the energy of when it was really booming as a city.”
“You have to remember that once this was a really thriving city.”
What areas in the city are up-and-coming?
KH: “This area I reside in, Midtown, is the most up and coming part of the city, I’d say. There’s a lot of initiatives to create – taking old things and repairing and reusing what’s in the area. But there’s also a lot of new developments, in terms of things being brought down and built into new structures. Which in some cases I like, because some of these old buildings look way better than these newer things, but I think it’s for the practicality of the students. This is a university area, there’s a university called Wayne State right in this area, and they’re trying to accommodate more students I feel. So there are lots of things to serve young people round here.”
2548 Grand River Ave (2nd Floor), Detroit, MI
Kyle Hall: “TV Lounge is a club/sports bar. They actually have TVs in there, so that’s why it’s called TV Lounge – I think that was the theme. It can kind of be annoying sometimes to have those bright TVs on when you’re trying to get down in the club! [laughs] Sometimes they put different things on the screen, so they’ve kind of figured that out. Since I’ve gone there, they’ve put some graphics on there.
“TV Lounge is owned by this guy – he had a salon upstairs. I wasn’t ever really around when it was active, but I remember a few times when I went up there were all the chairs and machines and all that. It’s a really nice club space, it’s really progressed and grown as a space over the years I’ve seen it. That was one of the first clubs I was able to play at, where I’ve gotten an opportunity to DJ. So I’ve got a lot of good memories there, it’s a good spot. We did a Resident Advisor video to celebrate the launch of that Real Scenes: Detroit thing, and that was really cool. All the old people were there and young people were there – everybody mentioned it. The younger generations were exposed to the real shit, so that was good.”
“TV Lounge was one of the first clubs I was able to play at, where I’ve gotten an opportunity to DJ.”
Do you often get to play on bills with older generation Detroit artists, or is there some degree of segregation in the way promoters book their nights?
KH: “It’s not as organized as you might think. The Detroit scene of dance music at this point is in a reconstruction period. It is pretty segregated, not even by the fault of promoters so much, I don’t know…I guess so in a sense. If you’ve been programmed to see certain people and expect certain people in certain types of parties, I guess it is a sense of programming.
“It all goes back to the high school days with a lot of those older guys, because that’s where a lot of this started, through the crews and stuff in the high schools. DJ crews like Direct Drive, Shari Vari, Deep Space. There were crews, DJs, party throwers…a lot of those older guys in their forties hold onto that in a subconscious way. They’ll be just playing with their friends! [laughs] The parties are based on their old high school circles – it’s all nostalgic. I remember I could never really play at those parties. Even now with those guys, some of whom I came up through, they wouldn’t let me ever play and shit. It was real like: ‘Nah, you’re not in on our generation. You don’t get it. You don’t understand.’
“It changed, it changed. I didn’t get much opportunity to play with those older guys, so I was always hanging out with the younger kids, trying to develop something here. I don’t think that’s really proved too successful because it’s so hard in Detroit, but now since me and my friend Jay do our own night at Motor City One, we’re getting a diverse group of people. A lot of the people I see coming out are people I don’t see at any of the other parties, so that’s really cool. Like, ‘Where did you guys come from?’. And they’re like, ‘Oh, we just wanted to see some good music or something’. Some of the other things are more focused on one vein of thing, and if people aren’t into that…it kind of excludes people. I wanted my party to be able to pull everybody together just to hear good stuff, that being the type of idea around it.”
MOTOR CITY WINE
608 Woodward Ave (2nd Floor), Detroit, MI 48226
Kyle Hall: “I have my monthly at Motor City Wine – that’s a spot right downtown, right on Woodward, on the main street. Great wine, great people…soundsystem’s getting better…”
“Great wine, great people…soundsystem’s getting better…”
Are you leading the charge on the new soundsystem?
KH: “Yeah, I’m pushing for it. But he’s working on it, the guy who owns it is really cool, he listens to music. There are so many different things that go on there other than my night. They have a jazz night there: the other night I saw Rick Wilhite and Craig Huckaby (Mike Huckaby’s brother) playing percussion, that was just a great party. There’s so much stuff that goes on there, there’s always something to do!”
11917 Conant St, Hamtramck, MI 48212
Kyle Hall: “That’s my favourite place to eat! [laughs] I can always trust ZamZam, man. It’s just so dynamic, it just goes to show that the cultural mix in Detroit is amazing. You had Bangladeshi people that came here and settled, and didn’t really assimilate so much – I mean, there’s some assimilation, but in Hamtramck, it’s communities of people who’ll still speak their own language and things. It looks very much like a different country when you drive over there. That’s right around the corner from Threads. Over there, you also have a Polish community. That’s where Kowalski Sausages is based, in Hamtramck.
“ZamZam, dude. Good quality food! You’re always going to get full for a good price. I’ve never been disappointed. I’ve taken everybody there, all my friends. I’ve taken Carl Craig there – he was like, ‘Yeah, that was great!’. I’ve taken everybody, everyone’s positive, then they take other people there and it just builds. It’s not open super-late, but its stays open til 11, so that’s pretty good. It’s a dope place. That’s what I like to do when I’m home, eat there.
“I’ve taken Carl Craig there – he was like, ‘Yeah, that was great!’.”
“There’s so many selections and options – I have a sushi restaurant right across the street from my house that’s also dim sum too, so if I wanted to hit that, that’s great. Then there’s the health food market down the street from my house where my friend Jay works, the guy that I do my night with. He works at this place called Goodwell’s – they have a thing called the Pocket Sandwich, which is this tofu patty with all kinds of vegetables, carrots and things. It’s pretty health-conscious down here I’ve notice in the Midtown, the part that’s being recreated.
“It’s really forward-thinking down here, a lot of art. The C Pop Gallery is down here. There’s a modern art museum down here, and the normal museums too – DIA, The Detroit Institute of Arts. You have the main library down here, the Detroit Historical Museum. There’s just tons of stuff to keep you busy out here. There’s tons, man. There’s just so much!”