Following their recent outing on 20/20 Vision 'One LFO' Ralph Lawson caught up with ATAXIA to discuss their home city of Detroit, their Friday Night Machines parties at The Marble Bar, Movement Festival and more. They also served up a double dose of the Detroit Techno & Electro in their 20/20 Vision Podcast recorded in Motown.
Let’s start with an introduction to the band and where you come from?
We are Detroit based. We’ve lived all over the state of Michigan. We met in the woods…
How important is Detroit to Ataxia and where did you cut your teeth in the city?
It’s the place we call home. The only place for us to hold it down…we cut our teeth on gigs with our o.g. Detek crew at The Works, Exodos Rooftop and Oslo, notorious Detroit venues for house & techno. In 2010 we became residents at TV Lounge, and in 2011 became residents for Paxahau, the team behind Movement Festival. We still play for TV & Pax to this very day…crew love.
There are so many electronic music legends living in Detroit, who do you feel directly inspired Ataxia?
Just off the top of our heads…so many and hard to boil it down...
Carl Craig. Delano Smith. Norm Talley. Stacey Pullen. DBX. Minx. KDJ. B3. Chuck Flask. Keith Kemp. Bruce Bailey. Jared Wilson. Mister Joshooa. Agent X. Spleece. Servito. Ectomorph.
Plus some folk who were from Windsor or aren’t living here anymore…Hawtin. Justin James. Marc Houle. Punisher. Magda.
Do you feel the Ataxia sound is evolving? What is exciting you at the moment?
We’ve been trying some new things in the studio with our workflow. Some of the music comes from raw jams, composed only with live takes off our Allen & Heath console…other new material came together with loops & samples. We’re all over the place, really. Our upcoming releases all touch on different nuances of dance music, from electro, to house, techno & of course plenty of acid tinged freak jams. Really, it’s Detroit music that excites us most. Nothing is better than seeing your homies shine on. New joints on FXHE are fire (1992, new Tink Thomas, new Norm Talley, Interdimensional Transmissions, liking some more recent imprints like Detroit Vinyl Room & Portage Garage Sounds, new Soiree 12” is tight too, hmmm..Cryovac is always a winner…lots of hometown cuts).
What’s the studio set up for the project?
This release for 2020 was recorded at our My Baby Records studio in Detroit. The drums are spliced together from a few different drum machines, a couple of Roland staples & the MFB Tanzbar. The bassline came from our trusty blue SH-101, and the rest of the synths came from DSI Prophets 06, 08 & 12. Plenty of geeky outboard effects coming from a pedal section on our desk as well. We mixed on our 32ch A&H console and then sent off to Kage Mastering for final tweaks…and voila, One LFO.
We first met during Movement festival at TV Lounge, which is a super cool underground space with an outdoor terrace for summer parties. Can you explain a little to people what TV Lounge is all about and how clubs are in the city right now…
TV Lounge is a downtown Detroit venue with a ton of history in the community for both contributing to our local causes & renegade dance parties. It’s a 3 room space, with two indoor dance floors & a huge outdoor terrace. For many years, it was one of the only places to get access to house & techno in the city. We basically lived there every weekend, from Thursday to Sunday. So many legends have played there at this point, it’s a beautiful thing to see what the club evolved into. It's had legendary parties like House of E Funk, Circoloco, Resolute, Shit Show, and of course the most fun annual shindig we play during Movement, OK Cool, where we met you Ralph! We'll be back there again this year for 2019 on the Sunday of festival weekend.
Mister Joshooa is the talent buyer and manager there. He doesn’t mess around about making a good time for everyone. For example, tonight they’re having Lucky Charms for everyone in attendance. He’s our best brother, studio mate & we all work together on My Baby Records, a vinyl label that Josh started with Rickers. Everything about TV is family to us.
Ataxia hosts our Friday Night Machines party series at a venue called The Marble Bar. It’s a two room, indoor/outdoor space that is off the beaten path outside of downtown Detroit. Ted books talent there, and works to keep a stream of unique international DJs & strong Detroit talent, plus plenty of our friends in the mix. They've had loads of Paxahau parties, guest nights with other tight local promoters + showcases with Yoruba, Perlon, Visionquest, Ghostly + sets by legendary Detroiters like Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Jeff Mills (+Tony Allen) Carl Craig, Moodymann, Stacey Pullen, Mike Huckaby & regular appearances by Omar S, Dan Bell, Andrés, Delano Smith, Norm Talley, Rick Wilhite, DJ Minx & Hotwaxx to name a handful + 100's of other guest DJs & live acts from out of town.
While we recently lost a club we’ve held court at for sometime as well (The Works), there is a comeback of a classic Detroit club called Backstreet, and they’re having a grand opening with Silent Servant this March. Excited to see what kind of energy the space will conjure up and happy to see Dani Lehman take on a role as booker. It's a welcome addition to the mix here in the city.
Motor City Wine, UFO Factory & Temple Bar are nice small rooms for quality house & disco. There are actually countless other spaces to catch DJs at in the city, and a huge rock scene as well. You can find underground music any night of the week here.
Movement festival itself is just such an immense event, I was really taken aback at the scale of it all when I visited in 2018. When did you first go and how do you feel it has changed over years. Is it still as crucial and relevant for the city and scene as ever?
Movement is something that will remain relevant year in and year out because of their commitment to techno music, something that is core to our city’s heritage. They are always inclusive of local talent, and work to keep things fresh on the headliner side with plenty of acts that are in the midst of their first years of the limelight.
Every year it seems that the sound & lighting get better and better. Last year the production during Seth Troxler’s set was mind bending. Aaron Kulik’s visuals were multi dimensional and the light show to accompany the visuals was truly a work of art. They have corn dogs & iced coffee on site too, so you can be nutritious all weekend long.
What happens the rest of the year in Detroit once the tourists leave?
Detroit is full of life year round. We have plenty to enjoy here, tons of walkable city miles, bike lanes, beautiful parks (Belle Isle is a must see!), and there is always a festival of some sorts happening during the warm months. Our food scene is outrageous, tons of new restaurants popping up constantly and some classic joints that will never grow old.
Over in Europe people are still stuck with the impression that Detroit is a ghost town and dangerous city. Yet nothing could be further from the truth Downtown with it’s gleaming black skyscrapers, hipster coffee shops and high class shops. Is the story still different in the suburbs and do you feel Detroit is developing in the right directions for everybody?
Detroit has qualities about it that the media could never properly convey. It's a fierce debate here on what the impact this "New Detroit" is having on our already existing beautiful culture. While there are remarkable improvements in development and housing, there are neighborhoods and many aspects of a public school system that have yet to experience a positive impact from these recent milestones. It's tough to see massive investments in commerce and commercial real estate in areas considered to be financially viable, while the education of our youth, safety and improvement of neighborhoods outside of downtown seems to be continuously overlooked and vastly underfunded. Systemic injustice has sadly plagued our city for many, many years. There can be healing and reconciliation if people are able to open their eyes and see what a beautiful place and people Detroit has always been.
Alongside the 20/20 Vision release you have also recently recorded for Carl Craig’s - Planet-E and Kevin Saunderson’s KMS. There’s not many artists that can claim that accolade, especially in such a short span of time. What are the next recording plans for Ataxia?
What an honor! We are flattered to be able to make music for the catalogues of such legendary Detroiters and their labels.
We’ve got a big collection of music coming for Seth Troxler’s Play It Say It, our 4th and longest release for the label. That should be out in the summer. Working out details on another project for Leftroom for summer ish as well, plus a 2nd EP for you guys @ 2020 later in the year!
A huge stack of demos is following up all this work for the year, so we are keeping on keeping on. All in all, we have about 3 hours of new music signed for release in 2019! Some of it might stick, and some might suck. We've got an open mind...
How hard is it for American artists to make it in Europe? Do you think artists still need to live in Berlin to make it work?
It’s hard to make it as an artist, period. Wherever you are. There is an obsession in America about bringing DJs over to the states…but often times, it is our own infrastructure here that doesn’t support the talent in it’s own back yard. Of course there is a stigma about a lack of reciprocity from across the pond. It isn’t easy to get noticed by the perceivably well oiled European dance music machine in club and festival land. Our approach has remained steadfast, let the music do the talking.
When you focus on the music you make and play, instead of “making it”, it makes the long haul easier, without such an ego about your own work. Using your craft to create and inspire fans with original content, instead of using your image on social media to subdue your audience into unconsciously supporting your marketing seems to be the only way to separate yourself from the pack these days. Respect will always get you further than popularity.
Berlin is an incredible place to dance, network, create…but you can develop your craft anywhere in the world at any time. You’re the one writing and playing the music, not the city you’re in. Plenty of Detroiters that live here are touring most of the continents. If you want to get work in Europe, you can go there and find it. However, if your music catalogue is prolific enough, being based in America shouldn't be the divider between you being "discovered" and having an intercontinental presence.
Tell us something about the 20/20 Vision record, who do you have on there representing?
Our debut on 20/20 Vision is an eclectic piece of wax with touchstones of a few key Detroit sounds. Our single “One LFO” is a cut with a bit of an electro feel mashed up with some punk & acid house. Our friends Luke Hess & Delano Smith came on board to do reworks. Luke’s interpretation is a sick dubbed out techno roller, while Delano has an incredibly tight reconstruction in the dubby house realm. Super nice to work with some of our local inspirations on a record like this. And for those who are on the digital tip, there is a rad digi only remix from 20/20 co-founder Ralph Lawson! He surprised us with this funky deep house version in our mail, and it’s rocked the house at all of our recent gigs. The experience of coming on board the 20/20 crew has been eye opening and challenging. Ralph really pushed us to get this one right and it shows with the final product.