Impulse Ann Arbor explores Michigan’s thriving techno scene

. February 1, 2020.
Jordan Stanton’s Impulse Ann Arbor documentary chronicles the techno music scene via MEMCO (Michigan Electronic Music Collective).

Thirty Years and Counting

Jordan Stanton’s Impulse Ann Arbor documentary chronicles the techno music scene via MEMCO (Michigan Electronic Music Collective)— a university-affiliated group of student DJs, promoters, fans, and dancers. This DIY collective has roots that can be traced to 1980s Detroit. It’s a wonder to see how this music has evolved and thrived in the Michigan area for over thirty years, just under the popular culture radar.

This collective provides a platform for electronic music on campus and teaches students the “art” of being a DJ using club standard equipment, host events, and the opportunity to collaborate with local musicians. MEMCO hosts Impulse, a monthly event at a local venue, which provides the name for the documentary.

Stanton talked with Current about the documentary and what makes this music scene so unique.

Zach Saginaw, who records as Shigeto, of Ghostly.

How did you get interested in techno and MEMCO?

I am originally from New York and was exposed to techno there in clubs in Brooklyn. I was probably the youngest person (at those clubs) by at least a decade. When I was a freshman (at UM), my friend brought me to a MEMCO party. It was the first time I ever encountered a techno event, and it was 30 or 40 kids in a basement dancing like no one was watching. That was the first time I saw kids my age getting down to it. Not only that, but they were responsible for the production of the entire event. There were the people who were DJing, setting up the speakers, and creating the event.

Kayla “Khlonez” Hensley, WCBN DJ

Around the same time, I started doing freeform DJing at WCBN, our campus radio station. My show was called Night Kitchen. It was purely freeform. I just played music I didn’t know, to learn and to expose myself to as much new music as I could. The local electronic vinyl stored in the studio was from some of the most influential electronic music artists from the Detroit area. When I was in a pinch and didn’t have a track to play, I would grab something from the local electronic music section to play. I didn’t understand the techno music as a cultural phenomenon until I started working at WCBN. That was the spark that got me interested in the music and its connection to the area.

Do you plan to make a longer feature documentary?

With four months left in the area, I don’t know if it’s realistic anymore. Although I wound up with a lot of footage of artists who were essential to the roots of this movement, I had to leave out a lot of Ann Arbor and Detroit’s history in terms of techno as a musical phenomenon. I am still hoping to do some more interviews to shed some light on artists I feel like I missed, but I don’t think that will take the form of a documentary. It will probably be spotlight videos. Hopefully, this Impulse Ann Arbor piece could be the first domino in a wave of curiosity surrounding the electronic music scene here.

The documentary is also from my perspective as an outsider who came here as an out-of-state student privileged enough to go to the University of Michigan. I am not an Ann Arborite, or one of the “OG’s” who were here before there were student high-rise buildings. MEMCO’s target audience is definitely U-M students, but the original scene was locals, Now both of those scenes cross over and inspire each other.

Victoria Johnson aka V, DJ and MEMCO member.

What events are coming up?

Impluse Ann Arbor can be seen at the A2 Tech Film Showcase and on YouTube (youtube.com/watch?v=SU80GOTCxLU). We have workshops and speaker events coming up, including events for Black History Month. 

For a list of events visit Facebook at facebook.com/memcollective.

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