This time our tribute to some of the most important, interesting and beautifully designed records from Motor City features Moodymann’s timeless Black Mahogani, John Lee Hooker’s first album, Cybotron’s pre-techno milestone Enter and The Dirtbomb’s garage rock blueprint We Have You Surrounded. Four distinct records that underpin how special, unique and uncompromising the Sound of Detroit can be. Below all designs and some introductions to each record written by Alex Chase.
Moodymann - Black Mahogani (Peacefrog, 2004)
This compilation of rare and unreleased Moodymann songs is probably the definitive collection of music by Kenny Dixon Jr., the reclusive Detroit artist behind the Moodymann alias. For once, we can thank the bootleggers: Dixon only put the release together to combat the circulation of unofficial versions of his highly sought-after songs. Drawing on deep house, soul, jazz and more, Black Mahogani is a richly rewarding album from an uncompromising artist. "I don’t make music for the masses to dance to,” Dixon has claimed, “I make music for the small majority that listens.” Moodymann is as good as his word, often DJing silhouetted behind a screen to force the crowd to look away and participate in the dance. In an era of DJs-as-rockstars, that is true rebellion.
John Lee Hooker - The Country Blues of… (Riverside, 1959)
Mississippi-born John Lee Hooker may have run away to Memphis as a youth, recorded many of his key songs in Chicago, pursued a life on the road and served out his final years in San Francisco, but he will always be synonymous with the city of Detroit. He arrived from the South during World War II. In 1948 this short, illiterate young man with a speech impediment cut a single named Boogie Chillen, a raw slice of Delta blues - his voice accompanied by the stomp of his foot and reverb on his electric guitar supplied by an upturned toilet bowl. “I don't like no fancy chords. Just the boogie. The drive. The feeling. A lot of people play fancy but they don't have no style”, he declared. It sold a million copies and Hooker went on to be one of the most famous bluesmen of all time. The Country Blues of… was recorded as his Detroit era ended and saw him return to an acoustic guitar for a more traditional folk blues album. The striking artwork came from Riverside’s in-house team of photographer Lawrence Shustak and designer Ken Deardoff.
Dirtbombs – We Have You Surrounded (In The Red, 2008)
“Don’t be arsing around with sudden breaks to be singing about unicorns or whatever”, instructs Mick Collins, Dirtbombs’ leader, “Just play the f**king beat.” His straightforward approach to making rock’n’roll is part of the city’s make up. “We don’t like a lot of time changes in Detroit”, he noted, “even with Motown songs the beat is steady all the way through.” A former member of cult ‘80s no-bass garage band The Gories, Collins formed The Dirtbombs in 1992 and has since released a slew of concept albums, offering up classic soul, bubblegum pop and even garage rock covers of Detroit techno classics. We Have You Surrounded draws from the dystopian visions of comic book artist Alan Moore and the darkness suits them well. The cover art is by another cult comics legend, Gary Panter, who has contributed covers to Red Hot Chili Peppers and Yo La Tengo, among others.
Cybotron – Enter (Fantasy, 1983)
Cybotron’s Enter sounds something like Kraftwerk with a low budget and an unhealthy prog-rock obsession. The first classic album in Detroit techno history, Enter’s songs covered topics from US military intervention in Central America to environmental awareness, while its breakout hit ‘Clear’ gained more lowbrow popularity in Miami, where the lyric “Clear, you’re behind” was claimed as a booty-shaking anthem. Elsewhere, the song was suspected as being Scientology propaganda. The pair behind Cybotron made an unlikely team: Juan Atkins was a kid into Parliament/Funkadelic who would go on to be regarded as one of the three founders of Detroit techno. His partner, Rik Davis, was a Vietnam vet who spent his combat-disability pay on an Arp Axxe synthesiser, inspired by Italian band Goblin’s electro-prog soundtrack to Suspiria, the best horror film about witches in a convent school you’ll ever see. Jamie Putnam’s artwork perfectly encapsulates Enter’s feeling: the moment men become machines