Teen party clubs like Charivari started the Techno Movement in Detroit

Teen party clubs like Charivari started the Techno Movement in Detroit
Film Music

“A Number of Names” was the band responsible for one of the first techno tracks that was released in Detroit. Just as the Stooges and MC5 and Death laid the blueprint for the genre called punk, some say the track released by A Number of Names laid the blueprint for Techno. Most agree the House and Italo Disco inspired “Sharevari”, the track released by A Number of Names, was the first Techno track created in the genre’s place of origin– Detroit. A Number of Names, released this track in 1981, the same summer Juan Atkins’ and Rick Davis’ Cybotron, released “Alleys of Your Mind” (see the Detroit Techno Timeline for more info). Which track was recorded first and which was played first by the visionary DJ “The Electrifying Mojo” is up for debate. That said, while both tracks came out around the same time, “Sharevari” had a House inspired vibe that was inspired by “party clubs” where the movement was born and its lyrics predicted the future of the Techno sound that thrived on the streets of European cities like Berlin. The track was also faster and was closer to the tempo we recognize today as characteristic of Techno. While dystopic future soundscape illuded to in the lyrics of “Alleys of Your Mind” was more based on the abstract funk that inspired Juan Atkins to buy his first synthesizer. That said, both Detroit tracks were pure proto-techno. Incidentally both techno and punk took roughly the same amount of time to develop into the genres they now represent.

Teen party clubs like Charivari started the Techno movement in Detroit and the song Sharivari was its Anthem

In 1981, high schoolers Paul Lesley and Sterling Jones decided to finalize their long-brewing plans to form a music group. The group was inspired by the flourishing scene of teen party clubs that was buzzing on Detroit’s West Side. These groups of Afro American teens would rent church halls or multi-use spaces like Barth Hall, or even gymnasiums in the local YWCA to throw parites. With the right DJ these club promoters would earn thousands of dollars a night, and pack the spaces with hundreds of dance-crazed teens at $3-$5.00 a head.

Detroit was a city that benefitted from the largest middle class in the nation and there was plenty of disposable income, fueled by the flourishing auto industry. So the kids of this flourishing demographic had hot cars and the hottest clothing straight from the fashion magazines like GQ, Vogue, Interview, Playboy, and Playgirl (as mentioned in the track Sharivari) and they emulated the “Playboy” lifestyles portrayed by actors like Richard Gere and Bill Duke in films like American Gigolo which was scored by the synth pioneer Giorgio Moroder. Fashion and music were the currency of these teens and it spawned designers like Maurice Malone and musical artists Mark Kitchen (MK) who were both a part of this scene and they even played together in a short-lived punk-inspired band called A Portrait of Radical People. These young entrepreneurial party promoters would compete for who had the best; logos, flyers, merch/clothing, but most importantly, who could rent the best sound system, and who could hire the best DJs to move the crowd. There were huge sums of money to be made in this teen-influenced scene that could draw hundreds or even thousands of partygoers if the venue could accommodate the crowd. This scene that was born in North West Side neighborhoods flourished and spread across the city, filling the void left by Disco, and following the model of the “Cabaret” parties that their parents attended in the same church halls and rental spaces. And their kids had disposable income and expensive tastes. Many of them drove expensive cars (of their own or of their auto industry-connected parents) that enabled them to bounce back and forth to parties all over the city flaunting the latest styles, in search of the “perfect beat”. This Detroit scene also drew teens from high schools in Detroit and surrounding suburban high schools like Southfield High, Lutheran West, Mercy High, Cranbrook, Detroit Country Day and yes, even as far as Belleville High (the rural high school where Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May met) into the city to be a part of the unique music-fueled party scene that was erupting in Northwest Detroit.

DJ’s like Ken Collier paved the way for the sound to emerge as Dj’s to began matching bpm’s and mixing records in Detroit.  DJ’s like Steve Dunbar, Darryl Shannon, Delano Smith assimilated his style of spinning records and became the biggest draws to these teen parties. As the friendly competition became more fierce, promoters like Todd Johnson formed DJ crews like Direct Drive featuring multiple DJs (like Darryl Shannon, Tim Slater, Hassan Nurullah, James Wells, Mike “Agent X” Clark, Alan Ester, Kevin Dysard, Duane Montgomery, Ray Barry, Alan Heath,  Mike Brown, Theresa Hill, Jay Ralston and more), upping the ante by providing huge sound systems and lighting arrays to meet the demand for club-style parties that rivaled the party scenes in NY and Chicago.

T Carlita’s homegrown Detroit video show “In My House” (below) interviewed Todd Johnson and Darryl Shannon in 2014 about Direct Drive. The program shows a variety of flyers, merch, and even dance moves from this era.

Later DJ crews like Deep Space (Eddie Fowlkes, Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson)  emerged from the suburbs as competition, and as the tastes of the audience of teens matured, this DJ crew innovated and began integrating live drum machines like the 808, synthesizers in their sets. DJ’s also began using reel-to-reels tape decks and evolving from 2 turntables to three (as Jeff Mills popularized as the Wizard) to extend the mix and create their own signature sounds. These young DJs, and party promoters blended a mixture of Disco, Italo House, Chicago House, Electro, Industrial, New Wave, and Funk into the core ingredients that defined and gave birth to the new genre called Techno.

These party clubs were made up of fraternity-like cliques comprised largely of guys who were tastemakers in their style and musical tastes. The party clubs went by names like; Charivari, L’Uomo, GQ, Gables, Courtier, Schiaparelli, Remniques, Giavante, Ciabittino, Cacharel, Arpegghio and Avanté, Ciabuttino, Brats, Hardwear, and “Snobbs” (who eventually spawned a sister club called Darla). One of the most popular clubs was Charivari, which was co-founded by Todd Johnson of Direct Drive. This club took its name from a chain of upscale NY clothing stores, and as with the names of many the party clubs, these names were associated with the elegant lifestyles of the celebs and jet setters that these teens aspired to become. While the scene was dominated by groups of young men, the group Co-Ettes, an exclusive high school debutante club that dates back to the 1940’s in Detroit, also generated huge followings to its fundraising parties. This group is still influencing and shaping the future of young ladies in Detroit.

ANUMBEROFNAMES

Paul Lesley and Sterling Jones started out by forming their own party club called Capriccio. The duo also wanted to create a band to play to the eclectic musical tastes of these clubs. Once the members were chosen the first song they released was fittingly created in tribute to their friends and rivals, one of the most prolific local clubs Charivari.

Listen to a rare and EXCLUSIVE interview where David Grandison Jr (Producer of the film and curator of the Music Origins Project) interviews A Number Of Names in the film God Said Give Em Drum Machines’ podcast:

They recorded “Sharevari” (and changed the name spelling to avoid legal conflicts) with the help of multiple friends. Lesley contributed the lead vocals and bass synth and Jones wrote the lyrics, the song was arranged by Judson Powell and Robert Taylor. Taylor also provided the vocals on the chorus, the vocals were distorted to sound more electronic like the scene itself it emulated a European vibe. The effect was created using an early synth effect that was created by their studio engineer. Sheila Wheaton and Ira Cash provided the vocal chant that followed the chorus call-and-response. Roderick Simpson, who also received a songwriting credit, played the main melody.  They took an unfinished version of the song into one of the Charivari parties, had it played by DJ Darryl Shannon, and — the crowd of teens went nuts. They also took it to the local radio station, WGPR, where the Electrifying Mojo hosted his legendary “Midnight Funk Association” radio show nightly and he played the track on air for the first time. He eventually invited the unnamed group that was responsible for the song to WGPR to join him in the booth for one of his shows. The group showed up, and while they were in the studio with Mojo, they talked about not knowing what to call themselves. Mojo suggested “A Number of Names” and the name became their moniker.

This archival footage of the Detroit TV program “The Scene” from 1982 shows how the track Sharevari made Detroiters move.

After the first version of “Sharevari” was completed, the track was pressed into 12-inch vinyl at Archer Record Press and Capriccio the label the track was released under. The 12-inch single was released with the track “Skitso” on the B-side. The song was born from the local scene of Detroit kids who wanted to party and aspired to be a part of the global party scene. Thanks to the support of the radio DJ Electrifying Mojo and DJs across the city, the song became an instant classic and a source of inspiration that has lasted decades, not just for Detroit DJ’s and producers, but for Techno artists around the world.

Sharivari Lyrics

Some bread and cheese and fine white wine
Designer chic is a matter of time
Could this be the real thing?
Or is this just another fling?
Seen by millions nationally
L’oumo Vogue, Playgirl, G Quarterly
Because he’s down on his etiquette
Shari Vari is really it

*chorus*
Shari Vari
Shari Shari Vari

Smoking on his cigarette
Listening to his car cassette
Cruising with his hot playmate
In his Porsche Nine Two Eight
Heading for the highest heights
For the climax of the night
The people there they just won’t quit
Because the music’s really it

< *chorus*
Shari Vari
Shari Shari Vari

*chorus*
Shari Vari
Shari Shari Vari

Smoking on his cigarette
Listening to his car cassette
Cruising with his hot playmate
In his Porsche Nine Two Eight
Heading for the highest heights
For the climax of the night
The people there they just won’t quit
Because the music is really it

*chorus*
Shari Vari
Shari Shari Vari

As the teens who formed the party club scene graduated from high school and went on to college, the promoters and DJ crews like Direct Drive and Deep Space expanded to promoting college fraternity and sorority parties into the late ’80s across the country.  Todd Johnson has also carried on the legacy of the party club scene into this era by creating the Charivari Detroit Music Festival music festival. He has re-envisioned the legacy of the party club as a music festival that is held each summer much like the Movement festival except that the focus of this festival is to highlight local Detroit DJs and artists.

Charivari Detroit Music Festival

The Charivari Detroit Music Festival is an annual three-day Electronic Dance Music (EDM) festival held the first weekend in August. Charivari Detroit celebrated its 8th year in 2021. Charivari Detroit was a celebration of Detroit and it’s contributions to electronic dance music (EDM) and Techno its pioneers and present day DJs, producers and masters of the genre. Charivari Detroit is a multi-faceted, multi-stage festival that promoted health, art and of course music including the all-female stage. Every DJ, producer, Yogi or Artist who participated had a direct connection to Detroit. The goal was to showcase the local and internationally renowned talent that hails from this great Detroit.

About David Grandison Jr.

Music Origins Project is curated by David Grandison Jr. This site aims to remove the chronological and geographic barriers faced by music aficionados, students and travelers seeking to learn about the origins of the various musical genre while providing a platform for young writers and content creators to be published so that their voices can be heard.