The Music Institute was Detroit’s answer to such legendary house and garage clubs as New York’s Paradise Garage and Chicago’s Powerplant.
At the beginning of this music, the MI was the only place where you could hear Detroit Techno the way it ought to have been heard; loud. Bumpin’. Funky.
The MI (along with the smaller UN club) was the last gasp of young, black intelligentsia; the final celebration of the unique, creative vibe of the “cool” kids from Northwest Detroit; a vibe long since supplanted in more recent times by the relentlessly shallow and low-class “gangsta” aesthetic of hip-hop.
But in 1988 and for two years, Derrick May (aka Mayday) rocked the turntables from midnight to 8-9 am with UK Acid House, Chicago House and the first Detroit Techno classics that the world would later come to know: Suburban Knight’s “Motor City Pressure” (later to be released as “The Art of Stalking”), Model 500’s “No UFOs”, Inner City’s classic “Good Life” and his own anthems, “The Dance”, “The Beginning”, “Nude Photo” and many others. Although others spun at the venue; Mayday was the star of the show… Many times, he’d play tracks right off a Fostex two-track recorder that he’d just cut hours before at his studio, something I never got over. He’d beat mix between the reel to reel and 1200s and back, using the pitch control on the reel. He’d cut, edit and destroy other people’s tracks, too, as he did with his… psycho re-edit of the MI theme “We Call It Aciiiieeed” by D-Mob (which I still have on reel). Although some newer heads deride him as a has-been, Derrick in those days did by hand what many of the current Techno producers do
But, ultimately, that’s what did MI in at the end. The frat boys wanted alcohol. The older kids didn’t like high schoolers there. The girls came to dance, not to get hit on; which made the straight guys mad, as did the healthy presence of a gay clientele at the club (in fact, in those days, the only white faces in the crowd would be the more-adventurous House-loving gay kids). digitally. No DATs. No acetates.
The MI, through Derrick, brought a European vibe to our city, something that there never was before. Before, we were just a bunch of middle-class black kids who read The Face and GQ and Melody Maker and dreamt about what London or New York would be like; now ABC and Depeche Mode came to the MI in its heyday to witness the relentless Mayday at work, and to hang out with us. Real Brits! Real accents! In our club!
A no-liquor (pop and juice only) policy kept the MI open without incident to all comers. The older kids, the Cass Tech and Renaissance high school kids, the gay crowd and girls girls girls. All in one house; pre-rave, pre-drugs. One strobe light and House Music All Night Long.
Then with the twin debuts of NWA and 2 Live Crew, gangsta hip-hop and booty music (always an East Side thing in Detroit) supplanted House and Techno with the youth. Europe became more lucrative for a lot of Detroit producers as they turned their sights overseas. AIDS destroyed the previously open and fun-loving gay community who had always welcomed straights into their world, and whom House Music had belonged to before Chicago, New York and Detroit had given it to the rest of the world. The talented, smart kids went on to college, only to ultimately leave Detroit (and who could blame them ?).
But for a second, it was there…
There were tears and hugs on the last MI night back in 1990. Every person in Techno at the time, along with a house packed to capacity, jacked their last jack (“jack your body” was current slang back then) at their beloved club. Derrick May’s final record was the sad and plaintive “Pacific State” by 808 State; made even more sad by this new context.
Detroit plunged into the Bush years… And we said goodbye.
But not before a lot of young, talented black people were inspired to take up this music and one way or another, make it their lives. Then go on to rock the planet.
The Music Institute was created by: George Baker (owner). Derrick May. Juan Atkins. Kevin Saunderson. Alan Ester. Alton Miller. Chez Damier.
Alan D. Oldham (1997) via Hyperreal.org
Listen to a mix by Derrick May recorded LIVE at the Music Institute, 1988