Learn How to Produce From the Legends Who Started it All [GIVEAWAY]
Detroit has a reputation.
While many picture the former manufacturing mecca as an urban wasteland, crippled by a combination of racial segregation and a nation's dependency on foreign labor, Detroit is much more than the decrepit buildings portrayed on prime-time nightly news.
Detroit, is a city of culture. It's a city with grit, a city that knows how to give a few punches, and take a few. It's a city that creates powerful art out of it's urban surroundings; where others see decay, Detroiters find beauty in space, community, and a hope for a better future.
It's also a place where electronic music thrives.
As the birthplace of Techno, Detroit became the wellspring for a global music revolution 30 years ahead of it's time. Birthed in the 80's, Detroit brought the sounds of house and techno across the water to Europe, creating an underground culture that would catch like wildfire. Largely unknown to the American audience, Detroit bred many leading figures in dance music long before deadmau5 ever appeared on the MTV Video Music Awards.
Now, some of dance music's pioneers are coming together in support of a worthy cause aimed at planting a seeds in the bright minds of some of Detroit's urban youth so that they too can germinate to become some of the city's future creators.
For the Community, By the Community
Detroit Electronic Music Camp is leading the charge to create a world-class production institute that truly gives back to its community. The grassroots organization is bringing together some of Detroit's finest to teach a 2-week production camp taking place at the Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME), aimed at giving aspiring producers and DJs an education from some of the global pioneers in dance music. Featuring master classes and workshops taught by the godfathers of techno, Juan Atkins and Derrick May, as well as underground icons Stacey "Hotwaxx" Hale, and several members of the now-legendary collective, Underground Resistance, DEMC is bringing an international production school that is any would-be producer's wet dream. Additionally, DEMC will also feature in-depth instruction in a small classroom setting from major brands like Roland, Ableton, and Serato.
But this is periphery to the true message of the Detroit Electronic Music Camp, which is to give young students an educational outlet that will help to foster growth, creativity, and future job opportunities. As a non-profit organization, DEMC is funneling its tuition back into its youth production school programs. Partnering with Chile's premier Loft DJ school, proceeds from Detroit Electronic Music Camp will sponsor young students from Detroit's SPIN Inc. DJ School to participate in a 2 week production camp in Santiago, Chile.
We got to speak with the man behind this massive undertaking, Ron Johnson, about the importance of giving back to your community to help create future leaders.
What is Detroit Electronic Music Camp?
The Detroit Electronic Music Camp is a 2-week, comprehensive, intensive, in-depth course, featuring programming from DJ Wask, Stacey Hotwaxx Hale, DJ Head, Amp Fiddler, and master class collaborator Juan Atkins. And it will entail DJ Professional 1 & 2 and Ableton production.
Who are some of the major sponsors helping to put together this event?
Roland, Serato, Pioneer, Ableton, and matter of fact, we have a Roland sponsored Boiler Room on Friday, May 26th at Queens Bar that is available to VIP only. But it will be streamed through Roland and Serato’s live feed.
How did you get all of these major brands on board?
Persistence. Finding out who to talk to. I’ve always been someone that if there’s someone I want to talk to I’m going to talk to them. The internet has leveled the playing field so much that you can find anyone with a keystroke, and so I contact them and tell them my cause.
I’m going to tell you a funny story, how I got my Native Instrument connect was through my concierge business. And it’s crazy because that day I asked my son to work, and he gave me a list of excuses, and I said, “It’s not that son, it’s about building a certain work ethic. And you’ll never know who you meet.”
So that night I’m talking to these two men and we’re talking about Ableton and a guy two person down said, “I hear ya’ll talking about Ableton, I work for Native Instruments.”
I said, “You work for Native Instruments? Hold on brotha, let me talk to you for a minute, I’ve got a non-profit. I need some help getting some equipment.” He says, “Here’s my card.”
And he came through with that equipment!
Big Nate, from Native Instruments, my man! He came through. And he sent us a lot of equipment for the J Dilla Day, the students were excited. He gave us 15 keyboard machines, he gave us a lot of equipment to actually fill up two classrooms.
Detroit breeds creativity. You’ve got to think outside the box in Detroit. Everybody’s not built to have a job. Everybody’s not built to go to school. But the way we build here, we’re going to make a way out of no way. Against all odds.
And this is going to raise money to help fund a youth DJ Academy taking place in Santiago, Chile. How many young students are in the course?
Well we have several students in our classes. We have 4 or 5 students enrolled in our summer program. And actually we actually have a couple community centers that we’re involved with. So we’re not just offering this to the people involved in the community centers but we’re going to open it up to the community itself. So that’s a good way to expand the program to get more youth into the program and then we can see who’s worthy to go to the program in Santiago next year.
So it’s healthy competition?
You’ve got to work for something! And we're also working with local arts foundations to create a fall classroom program. So this is a high school and they have a lot of the equipment and we’re going to provide the instructors and lesson plans for the DSA, and that’s going to be a two-year program.
So will these be weekly classes?
We’re still working on the program schedule, but it will probably be different courses throughout the whole week. Just like you have electives you take in high school, these will be part of the electives and will all be focused on DJing and production.
Of course, Juan Atkins is a part of Detroit Electronic Music Camp and I know that he’s been a behind-the-scenes player in all of this. How did he get involved in all of this?
I approached him. A lot of people don’t know me in the mainstream as a DJ, but I knew that I had to get some top guns in the school to help make an international school with international star power, such as Juan Atkins and Stacey Hotwaxx. Derrick May is doing a workshop with us, I had spoken with him and had told him the same concerns I had about DJs coming together for the schools. And he said he would help. And that’s why I want to bring all the DJs from Detroit together. Doesn’t matter who you are. “Are you from Detroit? Let’s get together.”
Let’s work towards giving something back to our children that’s worthy. Y’know, this DJ culture. It’s a worthy cause!
Detroit is one of those cities that internationally you say Detroit, and people say, “Oh I love Detroit.” But people from Detroit don’t realize that there’s a lot of culture here...
This is De’troit. We are an international city with an international port. We don’t see our selves as an international city. When you think of an international city you may think of Los Angeles or New York, and Detroit wouldn’t look like an international city. But it’s international.
I remember seeing barges in the 80s coming down the Detroit River from Russia with CCCP (USSR) on the side. We export international music. When I was in Germany in the late 80’s and went into the clubs, they weren’t playing German music, they were playing Detroit music.
So that makes us an international city. We short-change ourselves because we don’t see outside of what we see here in the city. And if you go through the city in certain neighborhoods it’d be hard to see anything different.
We also want to create something called the Detroit Digital Orchestra, which would be comprised of traditional, analog, and digital instruments and musicians. Where we could all play together, in time, on time, and at the right time. And that would be something that our children could look at and say, “Wow. I was a part of that and be able to create some beautiful music.”
Talking about your time in Germany and how they played Detroit music, how do you think manufacturing played into the sound of Detroit? Do you think being an industrial city had any influence?
A lot of our music got to Germany through brothers that were in the military. Direct Drive was in the military at that time. A couple other DJs at that time that had the opportunity to go to Germany went there and took their DJ skills with them. I met with a couple of brothers that were DJing at some of the posts and they were some COLD DJs. And we loved their music. And they played outside of the base and went into where the Germans lived and played in their clubs. So that’s how the music spread.
Germany, by being a mechanized, industrial powerhouse of Europe…same thing in Detroit. ‘Cause of the association of the advancement of the freeways, the cars, the blue collar worker. Struggle. Pain. Difficulty. Lack of resources. But still, music can transcend all of that and be created even out of those conditions.
Coming back to the DEMC, what are your goals moving forward in the next few years? In a perfect case scenario, what would you like to achieve with this?
We would be able to have our school develop to where we have multiple curriculum platforms. We also want to create something called the Detroit Digital Orchestra, which would be comprised of traditional, analog, and digital instruments and musicians. Where we could all play together, in time, on time, and at the right time. And that would be something that our children could look at and say, “Wow. I was a part of that and be able to create some beautiful music.”
Detroit breeds creativity. You’ve got to think outside the box in Detroit. Everybody’s not built to have a job. Everybody’s not built to go to school. But the way we build here, we’re going to make a way out of no way. Against all odds. And even developing a school, y’know, I was going against the odds. Because there was a void that needed to be filled and if I wasn’t going to do it, who would? And I wouldn’t want something outside of Detroit to bring something to Detroit that Detroit already has within itself. So, this is an actualization of my love of DJ culture, my love for the DJs here, to be able to teach and share with others here in Detroit.
Head to Detroit Electronic Music Camp for full program and workshop details!
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Born and bred with the Detroit techno scene, I pledge my allegiance to the underground.